Declaring Racism a Public Health Crisis

I believe that everyone has a basic human right to security and opportunity; and that our community is not just or fair until we all enjoy an equal chance at prosperity. It is our moral responsibility to tackle inequality and racism wherever and whenever we encounter it.

racism-public-health-crisis

Why This Problem Matters

Milwaukee and its surrounding communities have repeatedly been reported as one of the most segregated areas in the United States. This has become a pandemic. On May 22, 2018, the members of Wisconsin Public Health Association unanimously passed a resolution declaring “Racism a Public Health Crisis.” This resolution acknowledges that racism causes persistent discrimination, is a social determinant of health (SDoH) and is linked to poor health outcomes.1

As defined by the World Health Organization (WHO), SDoH are “the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age. These circumstances are shaped by the distribution of money, power and resources at global, national and local levels2.”

As the local governing body, we must realize that social systems shape policy and contributes to disparities—a higher burden of illness, injury, disability, or mortality experienced by one group relative to another. A race conscious approach to analyzing problems holistically allows one to identify root causes and contributing factors to disparities.

What is Health Equity?3

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) suggests health equity means that everyone has a fair and just opportunity to be as healthy as possible.

RWJF believes this requires removing obstacles to health such as poverty, discrimination, and their consequences, including powerlessness and lack of access to good jobs with fair pay; quality education and housing; safe environments; and health care.

For the purposes of measurement, health equity means reducing and ultimately eliminating disparities in health and its determinants that adversely affect excluded or marginalized groups.

Health inequities as defined by RWJF are produced by inequities in the resources and opportunities available to different groups of people based on their racial/ethnic group; socioeconomic, disability, or LGBTQ status; gender, and other characteristics closely tied to a history of being marginalized or excluded.

Milwaukee is continually targeted for having poor health equity. The Milwaukee Health Report found that socioeconomic status is one of the most significant reasons for poor health in our neighborhoods. In fact, in the last report, those in lower and medium socioeconomic brackets were much worse off than the rest of Wisconsin and the U.S in terms of health outcomes. 

Our friends and neighbors who are living in poverty continually face stress about housing, food, and other basic necessities. This can cause significant harm to both their mental and physical well being.

Why Lead with Race?

Race Forward4, an organization whose mission is to catalyze movement building for racial justice and in partnership with others to build strategies to advance racial justice in our policies, institutions, and culture suggests leading with race can do two things:

  1. Puts a discussion of race and racism in the foreground of national debate
  2. It addresses racism explicitly but not necessarily exclusively

By having our policy discussion lead with race, Milwaukee County will work to amend the segregationist policies that have plagued the area for so long. The only way forward is by heeding the calls of our neighbors, and especially those neighbors who have too often been ignored, forgotten, and marginalized. I pledge to reach out to make sure their voice is amplified and heard. 

Investing in Minority-Owned Businesses

As Milwaukee County Executive, I will make sure the county invests in minority-owned businesses. Engaging business owners in the community and supplying opportunities for minority-owned businesses to grow will not only stimulate the local economy but provide an opportunity for equitable growth for the county. Increasing minority-owned businesses can help dismantle the lines of segregation within our communities. Additionally, the county will continue to contract with minority-owned businesses. We will be leaders in helping our neighbors become successful. 

I will continue to work with Community Business Development Partners to ensure our Targeted Businesses Enterprise firms and our Disadvantaged Business Enterprise firms are given an equal opportunity to create a thriving business in Milwaukee County. 

Strengthening Milwaukee County Transit

As Milwaukee County Executive, I will work to ensure transit routes serving our community are dismantling, not furthering, segregation. We are facing a budget deficit in transit which has the potential to hurt many neighbors who have limited access to transportation. When I started in county government 12 years ago, I fought for dedicated funding for our transit system. I will continue that fight until Milwaukee joins every other major metropolitan area in the country and gets dedicated funding for our transit system. 

Ending ICE Raids in Our Communities 

Milwaukee County should be an open and accepting community. As a State Senator, I have worked with my colleagues to draft bills that would end the use of Wisconsin facilities as detention centers and stop local law enforcement from assisting ICE. 

Milwaukee County does not participate in the racist and xenophobic 287g policy which allows local law enforcement agents to carry out immigration officer duties. I will continue to ensure that our community protects families, and don’t waste taxpayer money on resources of this nature.

Additionally, as State Senator I supported drivers license legislation for undocumented workers. These neighbors are ingrained parts of our community and an important part of our workforce. This measure is also favored by police departments. Milwaukee Police Department Alfonso Morales said it best, Maybe if we [the Hispanic community] get in an accident we’re not going to flee from the police – because there’s no need to flee. And for law enforcement, we need to identify who’s driving that vehicle when something happens. So it’s a win-win for all of us. Values of inclusion, safety, and security for all is what I will continue to support as Milwaukee County Executive. I will fight for the human rights of our immigrant neighbors alongside organizations like Voces de la Frontera Action. 

We must send a message to our neighbors that we are standing up for their human rights, dignity, and justice. 

Reducing High Eviction Rates

A component in housing in Milwaukee is the high rate at which people become evicted. This process can be traumatic, and cause a family to become either category 1 or 2 homeless. Once a person has an eviction, it becomes harder for them to rent again, as future landlords will probably look into future tenants’ records. I will work to increase mediation services for landlords and tenants, an incentive to not evict so readily, and an accessible means of expungement for evictions are ways that this area can be targeted. 

For more information on how I will reduce family homelessness within my first term, please see my Developing Affordable Housing and Tackling Homlessness plan.

Mass Incarceration

Currently, the state of Wisconsin is incarcerating 23,000 of our neighbors in state prisons meant to house 17,000. On top of that, Wisconsin counties are incarcerating over 12,500 more, with 66,000 on parole. It is time that we get smart in addressing the incarceration epidemic, and that begins with reforming the government to reflect the wishes of the people while recognizing and eliminating historical bias in county ordinances, policies, and policing. 

As a state legislator, I have fought for reforms in our criminal justice system that would bring meaningful change. I have stood up with community allies to end crimeless revocation as 3,000 of our neighbors have reentered the prison system due to a non-criminal parole infraction. This tears apart families and stalls or destroys any progress an individual has made to better their lives. 

Additionally, I have also authored legislation to collect data on the race of individuals stopped by law enforcement in an effort to expose and address police profiling and advocated against cash-bail for nonviolent crimes as it disenfranchises people in poverty and needlessly overcrowds our jail space and penalizes our neighbors before a fair trial.

In Milwaukee County, we face many barriers to change; but we have the power to overcome. Mass incarceration is a symptom of a broken system; we as Milwaukeeans must band together and fight for justice reform within our county and state if we seek to make meaningful change. I will continue to address these issues.  

As a local governing body, we need a common language for talking about equity and inclusion. Along with a shared analysis and understanding of concepts for examining and working toward racial justice.

As County Executive, I will dedicate myself and my administration to factor race into my analysis of causes to the problem I seek to address. It is not enough to address the disparity between races only, but also health inequities.

1 = Press Release: https://www.wispolitics.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/WPHA-Press-Release-Racism-as-Public-Health-Crisis-072919.pdf
2 = WHO (World Health Organization). 2012. What are the social determinants of health? http://www.who.int/social_determinants/sdh_definition/en/ (accessed December 30, 2019).
3 = Braveman P, Acker J, Arkin E, Proctor D, Gillman A, McGeary KA, Mallya G. Wealth Matters for Health Equity. Princeton, NJ: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, 2018.
4 = About Race Forward. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.raceforward.org/about