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Lawmakers name racism as a public health crisis

By Lucia Starbuck

As COVID-19 disproportionately impacts people of color, Nevada lawmakers named racism as a public health crisis during the last day of the 32nd special session.

There have been nearly 53,000 positive COVID-19 cases in Nevada, and the largest demographic of those cases are from the Hispanic community, at 36%. Nationally, African Americans are dying from COVID-19 at two times greater than what would be expected based on their population in the United States, according to NPR.

In response, Democratic Senator Pat Spearman, (D-Clark County), put forth Senate Concurrent Resolution 1 to address structural racism and the public health crisis in Nevada.

“Racism hurts the health of our nation by preventing some people the opportunity to attain their highest level of health, and maybe some who think that this is out of line because it’s not COVID-19 related, but I beg to differ because what we’re talking about in terms of health disparities have always existed. They’ve always existed. It’s just that COVID-19 has pulled back the curtain and allowed the rest of the world to see what people like me have experienced our whole life,” Spearman said.

While the resolution is largely symbolic, it brings attention to the effects of systemic racism and discrimination and the health disparaties communities of color are facing. It reads, in part:

“Systemic racism and structures of racial discrimination create generational poverty, and perpetuate debilitating economic, educational and health hardships and disproportionally affect  people of color, causing the single most profound economic and social challenge facing Nevada.”

Under the resolution, lawmakers are requesting that federal funding be distributed equitably based on the percentages of members of communities of color. 

Republican Senator Keith Pickard (R-Clark County) spoke in support of the bill.

“There are some facts that are simply indisputable and that is the disproportionate impact of many things in the United States because of systemic racism. So, I appreciate the intent of this legislation, or this resolution, and I urge it’s adoption,” Pickard said.

Democrats in the Senate strongly backed the bill, including Melanie Scheible (D-Clark County).

“I get to sit in a body that considers these issues, a body that would bring forward a concurrent resolution that recognizes something that we all know to be true, which is that racism exists. It exists in structures and institutions that we are all part of,” Scheible said. “I think that this resolution should help us to get past any stage any of us may be in of denial. I think that most of the people who I grew up with were white, and my family is white, and I think most of us have had to reckon with our responsibility for being a part of this system, and for contributing to the various systems that have oppressed people of color for many, many generations.”

SCR1 will be addressed again during the regular legislative session in 2021. Democratic Senator Julia Ratti (D-Washoe County) said there is more work to be done.

“I want to pledge personally to do my very best to not just vote for this today, but to actually do what the resolution asks, which is in our next legislative session, make sure that structural or institutional racism is addressed in its many forms, to be thoughtful about that, and to make sure that those voices that are being lifted up, to ask us for that, are continued to be lifted up when we’re back here again, and that we not just vote for this today because we want to be good people, but that we actually follow those words with some action in the next legislative session,” Ratti said.

Governor Steve Sisolak signed a similar proclamation Wednesday.

A number of other states and local governments have named racism a public health issue, including Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin.

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