Karen Lin, Staff Photographer

Last week, the Board of Alders voted to approve and endorse the recommendations of the Racism as a Public Health issue working group.

On Jul. 6, 2020, the Board of Alders voted to recognize racism as a public health issue in New Haven and initiated a working group, which had the goal of developing a series of recommendations in the city. These recommendations intend to dismantle systemic racism in New Haven public institutions and reevaluate policy in the city that perpetuates discrimination. Ward 26 Alder Darryl J. Brackeen, Jr. was at the head of the resolution and guided the working group to develop their recommendations. It is now up to the Board of Alders to begin enacting the recommendations suggested by the group.

“Systemized racism is a practice that is often times embedded as “normal practices” of how the government engages with the residents of the city,” Brackeen Jr. told the News in an email. “This resolution is meant to lay the foundational ground work to dismantle racist practices that are within our government functions and provide a guidelines for positive public health impact and outcomes for our communities of color, in particular our black and brown communities.” 

Brackeen Jr. said that the death of George Floyd last summer prompted the Board of Alders to respond. He developed the working group in collaboration with Board of Alders president Tyshia Walker and Young Elected Officials — a networking group for elected leaders under 35. 

The members of the working group consisted of alders and health officials including New Haven Public Health Director Maritza Bond. 

The official recommendations of the working group cite that Latino, Black, Asian and Native American residents of the city are “more likely to experience poor health outcomes as a consequence of inequities in economic stability, education, physical environment, food, and access to health care.” These disparities are a result of institutionalized racism, the document argued. The recommendations also stated they intended to address inequalities in housing, employment, education and criminal justice. 

The working group held multiple public hearings from community members to incorporate their input into the final document. Last Monday, the recommendations were unanimously approved by the Board of Alders. 

The document is divided into sections, with recommendations attached to each one. These sections include: Institutional Commitment, COVID-19 Response, Health and Healthcare, Mental Health, Economic Security, Housing, Law Enforcement, Food Insecurity, Food Systems and Transportation. Recommendations range from free and affordable public transportation in the city and prioritizing food accessibility in public schools to increasing minimum wage to $25.31 an hour and supporting efforts to hold Yale accountable for hiring New Haven residents.

“[The recommendations are] laying the groundwork for further work and deliberate changes to how our government seeks to eliminate systematic racism, from the roots,” Brackeen Jr. told the News. 

Some community members, however, expressed disappointment in the overall strength of the proposals. Chaz Carmon, president of local youth development organization Ice the Beef, called the proposals “a start,” but said he was uncertain about the level of substantive changes they would tangibly bring to communities. 

He said part of his concern was that the recommendations placed a lot of emphasis on gathering new information — through studies and data collection — as opposed to changing existing policies. For example, one recommendation reads “the New Haven Police Department should advance data collection on racist incidents.” While Carmon said information was important, he wanted to see more concrete changes in the city. 

“It is good to get that data and look at what has worked in other places,” Carmon said. “But what’s next? That’s not going to be the end all be all if you just have some data. I would like to see some real measures in place.”

Justin Farmer, who serves on the Hamden Legislative Council, echoed Carmon when he said that the anti-racism initiative could go much further in its policy goals. Farmer took particular issue with the recommendations listed under Law Enforcement.

In addition to data collection, these recommendations include an external review and accountability plan for police department practices, mandatory in-service training for police, judges and prosecutors, adopting “sufficiently broad” legal definitions of racism, advocating for the release of youth from confinement in favor of school re-entry and the use of police substations as safe havens. 

With the exception of the school re-entry initiative, Farmer classified these recommendations as “vague suggestions” and said they were goals that would not be very challenging for the city to meet. For the most part, he said, the proposals are worthwhile — but like Carmon, he did not believe they would bring substantive change for New Haven’s residents of color. 

“Can we name what systematic and institutional racism actually are, or are we just saying nice words?” Farmer said. “For me, as a Black legislator, the words are only as valuable as the efforts and advocacy that are done after.”

Farmer said examples of policies he thought would have been more effective would be removing police officers from all city schools and reforming the surveillance methods used by police in communities of color. Both him and Carmon were also frustrated that no section of the recommendations was dedicated to racism in education. 

Overall, Farmer said the project has raised just as many questions as answers.

“Who is determining what is competent training on bias?” Farmer said. “How is racism recorded right now, and what are the repercussions for failing to do so? Who is doing the training for these officers and judges? Is it law enforcement agencies?”

In defense of the plan, Brackeen said both the working group and the Board of Alders are heavily encouraging community collaboration and input on all initiatives, as well as on how the proposals might be reformed. He said the work of dismantling institutionalized racism legislatively would require people from everywhere in  New Haven to “roll up their sleeves.”

“The power that we have as local legislators is the power of the pen,” Brackeen said. “So we are going to continue to use that pen and make due on the demand of the people, and make the changes needed within our government.”

The full report and recommendations can be found online.

Thomas Birmingham | thomas.birmingham@yale.edu

Ángela Pérez | angela.perez@yale.edu

Ángela Pérez is City Editor of the YDN. She was a former beat reporter, covering City Hall and Women's Volleyball. She was a former editor and writer for the WKND desk. She is from Puerto Rico and plans to major in Architecture.