(Photo courtesy of Ohio House Dems Instagram account)
Collaborative effort Led by House Rep. Juanita Brent
A new proposal was introduced in a historically collaborative effort put forth by House Rep. Juanita Brent (D-Cleveland) and Ohio House Democrats to declare racism as a public health crisis. Following last month’s announcement of the cumulative Cannabis Bill Package, Brent introduced a new proposal of legislation which would add autism spectrum disorder to the Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program’s list of qualifying conditions, as well as “…repeal criminal prohibitions for possession and trafficking of cannabis, including vacating cannabis possession sentences and expunging cannabis possession offenses from the record.”
A respective substantial amount of Ohio House Democrats are backing the newly proposed statewide resolution. If the proposed resolution is passed, Ohio would be the first state in the nation to declare racism as a public health crisis.
In a statement from Rep. Brent (D-Cleveland), she declared racism a public health crisis, saying, “Ohio must address racism by developing policy to address racial equity to protect all Ohioans, not just certain people. There are racial disparities in healthcare, housing, workforce development, and every fabric of our system. All Ohioans must feel protected. That is why we must continue to stand together, let our voices be heard, and fight just as our ancestors did. Revolutions are not a one-time event.”
Paving A New Path Forward
The new proposal developed following a surge of protests in Columbus that have spread across the Buckeye state. This effort comes to forge progressive headway, as more preliminary protests continue to take place across the state highlighting the death of George Floyd.
As a result, a wide array of protests against police brutality and minority rights have been ignited throughout the nation and abroad.
“Racism has plagued this country since its founding and it must be dismantled. We see how racism has adverse consequences on the public health and well-being of Black people and people of color. Discriminatory policies and practices play out every day in healthcare, education, housing, employment, and criminal justice systems. This pandemic has only highlighted the inequities as it relates to the number of cases, testing, treatment, and deaths. Racism is the most dangerous pre-existing condition. As a Black woman and a legislator, not only am I obligated to call out racism in every form but also to implement policies that will counteract the harm that racism has caused. This resolution declaring racism as a public health issue is a start. Every person, no matter their skin color, should have the opportunity to live the American Dream right here in Ohio, I want that for myself, my children, and every other Ohioan,” stated Rep. Erica Crawley of the 26th district (D-Columbus.)
The Fine Print of the Resolution
The resolution has highlighted 11 objectives to better address this issue:
• Establishing a glossary of terms and definitions concerning racism and health equity
• Assert that racism is a public health crisis affecting our entire community
• Incorporating educational efforts to address and dismantle racism, and expand understanding of racism and how racism affects individual and population health
• Promoting community engagement, actively engaging citizens on issues of racism, and providing tools to engage actively and authentically with communities of color
• Committing to review all portions of codified ordinances with a racial equity lens
• Commitment to conducting all human resources, vendor selection, and grant management activities with a racial equity lens including reviewing all internal policies and practices such as hiring, promotions, leadership appointments, and funding
• Promoting racially equitable economic and workforce development practices
• Promoting and encouraging all policies that prioritize the health of people of color, and support local, state, regional, and federal initiatives that advance efforts to dismantle systematic racism and mitigating exposure to adverse childhood experience and trauma Training of all elected officials, staff, funders, and grantees on workplace biases and how to mitigate them
• Partnering and building alliances with local organizations that have a legacy and track record of confronting racism
• Encouraging community partners and stakeholders in the education, employment, housing, and criminal justice and safety arenas to recognize racism as a public health crisis and to activate the above items
• Securing adequate resources to successfully accomplish the above activities
Anti–Racism Support in the Buckeye State
Ohio Senate Minority Leader Kenny Yuko (D-Richmond Heights) and state Senator Hearcel Craig (D-Columbus) issued a joint statement following the protests that took place in Senator Craig’s district:
“Martin Luther King was right when he said that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. That truth was on display last night as the anger and the pain over the senseless death of George Floyd reverberated from Minneapolis to Columbus. The demonstrations are a reflection of the frustrations shared by many Americans with the long-term systemic problem of racism. We not only have the right to speak against these horrific injustices, we have an obligation in fact to do so. People of goodwill cannot sit on the sidelines any longer. We must demand accountability and real change. We stand by all those who protest oppression peacefully and demand a better future for our children.”
Affirmative Action in Ohio
Ohio House Minority Leader Emilia Strong Sykes (D-Akron) is currently organizing discussions surrounding the statewide protests as a call for immediate and sweeping legislative reform to address racism.
“If you feel uncomfortable talking about racism, imagine what it feels like to live with it,” Leader Sykes said. “Black Ohioans are not ok. We need immediate action, not the creation of another task force or study group to confirm what we already know is wrong and broken. The time for studying racism is over. We have reports and recommendations that are created, publicized, and then placed on a shelf and forgotten about, but never codified.
In order to have real and meaningful change in our society, we need EVERYONE to stand up and denounce racism, have the uncomfortable conversations to better understand one another and end it, once and for all. This state and this nation are witnessing a reckoning right now. And the current white, Republican leaders controlling all the power in Ohio need to listen, act and be on the right side of history. Black Ohioans deserve to be heard today, tomorrow, and always,” Sykes said.
Humanitarian Action Prevailing
From the proposal of the Cannabis Bill Package to the Resolution to declare Racism as a Public Health Crisis, the combined efforts of state legislative officials and civilians statewide are showing signs of dedication and restoration to what Skyes called the “Ohio Promise.” This promise is a committee dedicated to re-establish the state’s promise of improved employment and the goal to continue working collectively to extend opportunities and establish an economic climate that is feasible for all.
Rep. Brent, on behalf of the proposed cannabis legislation, also echoed that police have better things to do: “Our police should be focusing their time and resources on more serious crimes. This is also an opportunity to strengthen our workforce with more tax-paying contributors, instead of keeping people from a job because of a background check.”
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