By Jim Bloch
Two weeks after the Port Huron City Council declared racism to be a public health crisis, the Marysville City Council followed suit and unanimously adopted a similar resolution.
The council took the action at its regular meeting June 22.
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The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the racist distribution of health and wellness nationally and locally.
In some states, such as Michigan, Wisconsin, Kansas and Missouri, and in the District of Columbia, people of color have died from COVID-19 at rates four to six times higher than whites, according to Scientific American. Overall, the death rate of people of color is about twice that of whites.
“Race doesn’t put you at higher risk,” longtime public health specialist Dr. Camara Phyllis Jones told the magazine on June 12. “Racism puts you at higher risk. It does so through two mechanisms: People of color are more infected because we are more exposed and less protected. Then, once infected, we are more likely to die because we carry a greater burden of chronic diseases from living in disinvested communities with poor food options [and] poisoned air and because we have less access to health care.”
The resolution noted that Marysville currently employs the first Hispanic city manager in Michigan in Randy Fernandez, who also happens to be the only minority city manager in St. Clair County.
It also underlined former Mayor Dan Damman’s role in co-founding the Diversity Initiative of St. Clair County, a group that grew out of Jean Cramer’s notorious platform to keep Marysville white, enunciated in a meet-the-candidate forum last August. The incident drew national attention. Cramer dropped out of the race, but still attracted votes in November.
“The city of Marysville supports the mission of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to secure the political, educational, social and economic rights … of all persons,” read the resolution. It urged residents to vote for candidates at all levels who advocate against racism and social iniquities.
Resolution against racism
Race is a social construct, the resolution asserted, with no basis in biology. It is woven into the American social system at every level, from the values and ideologies that impact interpersonal relations to the operation of the social institutions that inequitably structure the distribution of opportunity, education, income, wealth, health and power.
Racism “saps the strength of the whole society through the waste of human resources,” the resolution said.
The city promised to “identify specific activities to further enhance diversity” in the city’s leadership, staffing, contracting and policies. The city pledged to work with various organizations to “improve health in communities of color.” It promised to “implement social equity training.”
Fernandez told the council that Kevin Watkins, president of the Port Huron branch of the NAACP, contacted him shortly after Port Huron passed a similar ordinance on June 8 and one condemning the killing of George Floyd.
Fernandez, Mayor Wayne Pyden, council member Dave Barber and Public Safety Chief Tom Konik met with Watkins on June 11 and agreed to adopt similar stances.
In a second resolution, Marysville condemned the police murders of Floyd in Minneapolis on March 25 and Breonna Taylor in Louisville on March 13.
Voices for change
At the meeting on June 22, seven people spoke in favor of the resolutions. No one spoke against it.
As heard on the recording of the meeting posted on the city’s website, Watkins quoted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “The time is always right to do what is right.”
With less overtly violent law enforcement agencies in the county, Watkins said, “I don’t believe in defunding the police. I believe in reforming the police.”
Liz Masters, the supervisor of Wales Township, also spoke in favor of the resolutions.
Another speaker urged action to flow from the words in the resolutions: “Until black lives matter, no lives matter.”
“I want to make sure that if I’m driving through Marysville and I get stopped, I’m actually doing something illegal,” said Pastor Tray Smith. “My other concern is if I have an issue with anything in Marysville, we can at least talk about it.”
“Our cities and our councils are stepping up and moving this forward,” said Pastor Kim Brown. “Until we are all free, none of us is free.”