Sac County Supervisors Prodded To Honor Their Pledge To Address Racism As A Public Health Crisis
By Robert J. Hansen | OBSERVER Staff Writer
Public Health Advocates and Decarcerate Sacramento called on the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors at its July 11 meeting to honor its commitment to addressing racism as a public health crisis.
County supervisors in 2020 passed a resolution acknowledging racism as a public health crisis. They committed to identifying and implementing solutions to eliminate systemic racial inequity in all county-provided community services, such as protective services, homelessness and housing, economic development, criminal justice and law enforcement.
April Jean of Public Health Advocates said the county has made a series of missteps that have led away from addressing racism as a public health crisis. It instead has focused efforts and investments in a diversity, equity and inclusion approach that is outdated and ignores the needs of the community.
“If systemic racism is a problem, then we need to pursue approaches that explicitly name race as the root cause and aim to heal that problem specifically,” Jean said. “However … we see that the county has taken a key misstep by centering diversity, equity and inclusion instead of naming and centering racism as a key and primary issue.”
The county contracted with an out-of-state consultant who is not connected to the needs of the community and neglected to meaningfully include impacted communities in the process, according to Jean.
Health advocates said a legitimate racial-equity policy cabinet would consist of community members who discuss policy changes, the county budget and how to make systems work for everyone. The City of Sacramento has formed a racial equity council and is doing this kind of work far more effectively than the county is, advocates said.
“This kind of group could make progress toward solving the public health crisis of racism,” Hewins said.
Liz Blum, co-founder of Decarcerate Sacramento, told supervisors the promises they made in 2020 have yet to be delivered.
“We’re asking to center race in the solution to mass incarceration in Sacramento County,” Blum said, noting Black people make up roughly 39% of Sacramento’s jail population while making up just 11% of the county’s population.
“Black people are the most represented group in our local jail system,” Blum said. ”Sacramento County jail reduction plan does not mention race once. The metrics of success are simply the number of people served.”
Local psychologist Corrine McIntosh-Sako said Indigenous, Black and other people of color experience disproportionate levels of trauma as structural and systemic racism continues to challenge their ability to thrive in their environments.
“Black adults in the U.S. were more likely than white adults to report a persistence of emotional distress,” McIntosh-Sako said, noting her work in antiracism has taught her everyone has “blind spots” to racism they are unable to identify.
“By definition, it is impossible to be aware of our blind spots without the help of others,” McIntosh-Sako said. “County leadership neglected to engage the experts right here in our community that can help Sacramento County to develop a community-driven, racial equity strategy, focused on system change.”
Kula Koenig, founder of Social Justice Politicorps for Sac County, said she has battled the county since 2020.
“I was battling people that I helped get elected; I was battling friends that I knew,” Koenig said. “I was at home and I heard [Supervisor] Sue Frost say that America is not a racist country.”
Koenig said she battled Supervisor Phil Serna, who is a friend, over how to spend federal Covid-19 funding.
“I’m back here today saying the same thing that I’ve always said … and asking the same things that I’ve asked for so long and I don’t think you guys even hear me,” Koenig said. “Racism is a public health crisis and you can see it because the people asking for more money are the Black and brown folks who take care of our people.”
Public Health Advocates suggested the county open a new request for proposal and find a local consultant who understands racial equity and public health; that it create a plan to engage the community on racial equity and include the relevant county groups and commissions left out of this process; and that it evaluate the racial equity impacts in county budgets and contracting decisions.
No supervisors responded to Public Health Advocates’ public comments.
However, Supervisor Rich Desmond directed county staff to create a report about the county and its agencies’ efforts to address racism as a public health crisis near the end of the public comment period.