Minn. House declares racism a public health crisis

By a 82-40 vote on Monday, July 20, the House passed House Resolution 1, which declares racism a public health crisis and promises that the House will study the issue and pass legislation in order to “actively participate in the dismantling of racism.”

While the Legislature remained gridlocked through Monday evening on proposals for police reform to address racial disparities in policing, HR 1 was one piece of legislation addressing racism that made it across the finish line since Floyd died on May 25. Rep. Rena Moran, D-St. Paul, said Monday that HR 1 is dedicated to civil rights giant and “the conscience of Congress” U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia, who died Friday.

Rep. Ruth Richardson, D-Mendota Heights, said on the floor Monday that, “Behind the mask of ‘Minnesota nice’ lies some of the nation’s widest and deepest disparities.”

She told the House that economically, Minnesota ranks 50th in the nation for median income equality, and 49th in home ownership equality between Black and white Minnesotans. Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic — which, itself, has infected and killed a disproportionate number of Black Americans — and resulting economic fallout, she said the Black unemployment rate in Minnesota was double that of white Minnesotans.

Minnesota also ranks at the bottom in the nation for educational achievement gaps between white students and students of color, and Indigenous and Black children are 10- and eight-times more likely to have school disciplinary records than their white peers, respectively.

And in addition to COVID-19’s toll on Minnesotans of color, Richardson said health outcomes are vastly different for between white and non-white Minnesotans. In maternal health, Black mothers are three- to four-times more likely to die during pregnancy or childbirth than white mothers. 60% of these deaths are preventable, she said. And across all genders and age demographics, Indigenous and Black Minnesotans have the highest excess death rates of all populations in the state.

“Racism is literally killing our communities,” Richardson said. “Racism is a public health crisis just as COVID-19 is a public health crisis. And just as we as a body confronted the crisis of COVID head-on with reforms and legislation, we too should be confronting the deadly impacts of systemic racism.”

Rep. Ron Kresha, R-Little Falls, acknowledged the existence of racism, but said he didn’t support Monday’s resolution because he said it is “impossible” encapsulate the broad issue of racism in one resolution. He also said he thought HR 1 divides the House, rather than unites.

“One of the best solutions to combating racism is to have conversations and build shared experiences allowing people to realize the challenges, difficulties and obstructions that exist,” he said. “This resolution is forcing an opinion based on words. This resolution is forcing members to decide whether they agree with all the words on a page, rather than how to actually solve the real-world issue.”

Moran said that what the resolution does is take the first step in acknowledging the presence of racism in Minnesota and, “If we are going to prevent this racism from living in this state, from living within the state, we must first acknowledge that racism is real.”

“It is the root of all of the great disparities we see in our state, within our systems,” Moran said. “And we must, and you must, be better listeners of those impacted by racism to legislate and make better opportunities that lift up all of us.”

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