Local leaders can declare public health emergencies for a range of reasons, but one recent proclamation is stretching those boundaries.
Boston, Massachusetts, Mayor Marty Walsh, a Democrat, declared racism a public health emergency on Friday, which allows him to redirect funds from police departments to community programs, according to The Hill.
“Go far beyond the current crisis”
“Today I am declaring racism a public health crisis in the @CityofBoston,” Walsh wrote on Twitter. “The health impacts of historic and systemic racism are clear in our #COVID19 case numbers, and the impacts go far beyond the current crisis.”
His announcement comes amid ongoing protests against police brutality that spread across the nation after the death of George Floyd in Minnesota last month. The mayor attached his executive order to the tweet.
Citing the disparate impact of the coronavirus on different ethnicities, Walsh wrote that the “pandemic has revealed, reaffirmed, and cast in sharp relief the emergency nature of these pre-existing inequities caused by systemic racism.”
He supported the assertion with documented rates of infection across the city.
“In cases where race and ethnicity is known, the rate of reported COVID-19 cases for Black Boston residents is 268.8 per 10,000, compared with 213.2 per 10,000 for Latinx/Hispanic residents and 89.8 per 10,000 for white residents,” the order continued.
“Transferred from the police overtime budget”
As part of his response, funds originally intended for police overtime will now be put into “community programs for youth, for homelessness, for people struggling with the effects of inequality.”
Overall, Walsh’s plan calls for redirecting 20% — or $12 million — of this fund.
“We will be backing this declaration with an initial investment of $3 million that’s going to be transferred from the police overtime budget to the Boston Public Health Commission,” Walsh added. “The health commission will work with our city’s departments, including our police department, on strategies to directly assess any impacts racism have on the lives and the health of Boston residents.”
In addition, Walsh announced that a task force will be created to implement the changes and seek out other possible reforms.
Other cities have similarly taken steps toward reallocating local law enforcement budgets. As many communities are impacted by the criminal elements of ongoing protests, however, a large number of citizens are likely to side with the Trump administration’s firm stance against defunding the police.