Racial Equity Ordinance Signed Into Law
First major piece of legislation addressing racial inequity since Milwaukee County declared racism a public health crisis.
It was approximately a year ago that Milwaukee County declared racism a public health crisis. The ordinance, introduced in early February, develops new policies for county government aimed at making the county workforce more diverse, tailoring county programs to resident needs and implementing a new racial equity budget tool.
Unfortunately, after the ordinance was introduced, the COVID-19 pandemic struck and has since highlighted the real effects racism has on public health. During Wednesday’s county COVID-19 update Abele pointed to the disproportionate impact the virus has had on the black community in Milwaukee County and said, “The disparity in these numbers during this crisis is the starkest illustration, and most tragic you could ask for, of conditions that have lasted for decades.”
Dr. Ben Weston, director of medical services for Milwaukee County said, “We know an African-American person is three times more likely to die from COVID-19 as a white person in our county.” And these disparities exist outside of the pandemic, Weston said, adding that African-Americans have worse health outcomes with heart disease, stroke, cancer and infant mortality.
Nicholson said the ordinance is an example of Milwaukee County government directly confronting racial inequity. It does this in a couple ways.
One significant way the ordinance does this is through the racial equity budget tool. The ordinance states that Milwaukee County will “use racial equity tools to evaluate the impact of decisions on black and brown communities” in the areas of the budget and all “processes, policies and procedures.” County Executive-Elect David Crowley said this tool directly connects a racial equity lens to investments and disinvestments made in the county budget.
The ordinance also prioritizes hiring a more diverse workforce for county government.
Another part of the ordinance is the direction that county employees on the frontline of administering county services should have their perspectives considered when policies and practices are being evaluated. And that the people who use county services should have more involvement in the decision making behind the services they use.
The ordinance also calls for the county to improve its data collection and analysis to understand its impact on county residents. And for the county to pursue additional revenue sources so it can better fund its services.
All this is aimed at eliminating racial inequity and the disparate health outcomes the phenomenon produces. Nicholson and Crowley both pointed out that Milwaukee County is ranked second to last in public health outcomes.
“Health outcomes in the black community are even worse, because of racism embedded in the structure and culture of local governments and really society at large,” Nicholson said. “And that’s not okay.”
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