Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh made news last Friday by declaring racism a public health problem and outlining plans to redeploy $12 million in police overtime funding to other programs, targeting challenges rooted in systemic racism and economic and racial inequities.
But even though he garnered headlines, Walsh told Michelle A. Williams, dean of the faculty for the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, on Tuesday that the change was actually long overdue.
“Racism exists in all parts of our society,” said Walsh. Responding to a query from Williams during the School’s “Voices in Leadership During Crisis” series about the origins of Friday’s declaration, the mayor enumerated manifestations of the problem in the city in housing, access to capital, business and employment opportunities, public safety and policing, and health. “One of my regrets will be not making this declaration earlier,” Walsh said. “Moving forward, we’re going to be focused in many different areas.”
This move builds on prior efforts, he said. Early in the pandemic, the city created an equity task force to address the disparity in testing between primarily white communities and those with mostly Latinx or Black residents. However, even before the spread of COVID-19, differing rates of diseases such as prostate and colon cancer and asthma highlighted inequities in health and access to health care in communities of color, he said. As part of the initiative, he said, the Boston Public Health Task Force is gathering information to release a report recommending specific actions directed toward health inequities.