June 26, 2020 — Several prominent community health organizations with decades of experience in HIV/AIDS advocacy today served the New York City Board of Health with a formal petition calling for an emergency meeting to address racism and over-policing of Black and Latinx communities as concurrent, city-wide public health emergencies.
The petition, issued by National Black Leadership Commission on Health, Latino Commission on AIDS, Housing Works, and Treatment Action Group on behalf of the organizations themselves and the communities they serve, was created in response to the dramatic COVID-19 health disparities experienced by Black and Latinx New Yorkers, the history of over-policing and mass incarceration of Black and Latinx New Yorkers, and the recent incidents of violent over-policing experienced by people demonstrating for racial justice. The petitioners note the June 8, 2020, statement by Commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH), Dr. Oxiris Barbot, declaring “racism is a public health crisis” and referencing the “trauma of state sanctioned violence” experienced by Black and Latinx New York City communities.
The petition includes specific rule recommendations for immediate implementation by the New York City Board of Health to combat the public crises of racism – in the short and long term – including better tracking of the disparate impact of COVID-19 on Black and Latinx New Yorkers in order to tailor services to address inequities; racial equity and inclusion across NYC agencies and communities; and concrete plans to improve the health of communities of color. To address the public health crisis of state-sanctioned violence, the petition calls for an end to violent over-policing tactics, regular reporting by NYPD and Department of Corrections to DOHMH of law-enforcement involved deaths and injuries – as well as the transfer of responsibility for responding to those classified as “Emotionally Disturbed Persons” and those experiencing homelessness – away from NYPD to separately funded and operated entities with the expertise and experience to respond in a manner that optimizes individual and community health.
“The disparate impact of COVID-19 on Black and Latinx communities in New York has made the impact of structural racism on health outcomes abundantly clear,” said C. Virginia Fields, president and CEO, National Black Leadership Commission on Health. “Meanwhile, people from every walk of life have been marching in our streets to demand that Black Lives Matter. ‘Black Lives Matter’ is more than a slogan. It is a demand for real structural change.”
“Profound changes are needed in our approach to public health safety,” stated Guillermo Chacón, president of the Latino Commission on AIDS and founder of the Hispanic Health Network. “Excessive force by police is particularly disturbing given its disproportionate impact on people of color. We envision a country where law enforcement treats all communities with respect and dignity, employs restraint on police power, and uses force as the last source to maintain the community’s safety. We believe in building lasting community trust with all institutions; the police are part of these efforts. Positive actions are fundamental for all.”
“The tragic reality is that racism and over-policing both grossly endanger the lives Black and Latinx New Yorkers” stated Charles King, CEO and co-founder, Housing Works. “The Board has authority under the New York City Charter and the City Health Code to engage in specific rulemaking that will give meaning to Dr. Barbot’s statement by putting in place new rules and reporting requirements that will better enable DOHMH to ‘address structural racism’ in the form of real policy change. As organizations committed to public health, we feel it is our responsibility to take action now.”
“Like so many other health crises, the epidemics of HIV, COVID-19, and police violence disproportionately affect Black and Latinx communities,” said Mark Harrington, executive director of Treatment Action Group. “New York City can and must stop the structural racism that underlies these tragic disparities.”
The full petition, including detailed recommendations, can be found here.