Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot issued a declaration on Thursday decrying systemic racism as a “public health crisis” and announcing that the city would divert $10 million in grants from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), meant to be used to address the COVID-19 pandemic, to establish “healthy Chicago equity zones.”
“At almost every point in our city’s history, sadly, racism has taken a devastating toll on the health and well-being of our residents of color, and particularly those who are black,” Lightfoot said at a press conference on Thursday. “Without formally acknowledging this history and reality, and the continuing impact of that infamous legacy, looking at the root causes of today’s challenges, we will never be able to move forward as a city and fully provide our communities with the resources that we need to live happy, vibrant, and fulfilled lives.”
Lightfoot noted that it is not overt racism that poses a significant health crisis, but rather the effects of “systemic racism” which, she said, has a “deadly” impact on physical and mental well-being.
“When we think about racism, many of us think about it in visible and audible forms, but the reality is the insidious nature of systemic racism has other impacts that are every bit as deep and harmful, but often ones that we can’t see, like the impacts on the psyche and other impacts on our bodies that are just as, if not more deadly,” Lightfoot.
Lightfoot claimed, in her speech, that the city’s efforts to battle the COVID-19 epidemic “laid bare” the difference in how communities of color weather a health crisis — a revelation documented in a “Chicago Department of Public Health released a study earlier this week, showing Black Chicagoans have a shorter life expectancy rate. On average, Blacks in the city lived 71.4 years while non-Blacks lived 80.6 years. That gap is 9.2 years, but depending on the neighborhood it gets even wider,” per WGN News.
“COVID laid bare a lot of disparities. When we started looking at the disproportionate impact of COVID on communities of color, in particular, there’s a straight line to the lack of access to safe, affordable, high-quality healthcare,” she said.
The city, Lightfoot said, would put money behind a solution, taking directly from a CDC grant intended to help the city battle the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The health department is allocating $9.6 million in Covid relief funding from the CDC, to establish ‘healthy Chicago equity zones,'” WGN noted. “The six geographical areas cover the entire city and will focus on creating ways to improve wellness.”
“Community groups in each of those six areas of the city will lead efforts to come up with targeted strategies to improve community wellness. City officials have chosen six organizations to lead those efforts in each of the six Healthy Chicago Equity Zones,” CBS Chicago added.
Although city officials may be shifting focus to “systemic racism,” it appears the single most significant health crisis facing Chicago residents is gun violence. There have been 295 total gun homicides year-to-date in the city, and 1,587 people have been shot, according to The Chicago Tribune.
On Tuesday, Lightfoot addressed that issue, suggesting that lenient gun laws in other states were responsible for Chicago’s spike in gun crime, and demanded that state and federal governments step in to help Chicago curb the violence.
This article has been revised for clarity.