Public Health Advocates, Decarcerate Sac Urge Sacramento County Supervisors to Honor Promise to Address Racism as Public Health Crisis – Not One Supe Responded

Social Justice Politicorps for Sac County founder Kula Koenig telling the Board of Supervisors how the board is failing the commitment it made to addressing racism at the Tuesday, July 11, 2023 meeting. (Photo by Robert J. Hansen)

By Robert J. Hansen

SACRAMENTO, CA – Public Health Advocates and Decarcerate Sacramento called on Sacramento County Supervisors at Tuesday’s meeting to honor the commitment they made to addressing racism as a public health crisis.

County Supervisors passed a resolution in 2020 acknowledging racism as a public health crisis and committed to identifying and implementing solutions to eliminate systemic racial inequity in all community services provided by the county such as protective services, homelessness and housing, economic development, criminal justice and law enforcement.

Abigail Hewins, with Public Health Advocates, said since that time, the county has made a series of missteps that have led away from addressing racism as a public health crisis, focusing its efforts and investments in a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) approach that is outdated and ignores the needs of the community.

“First, the county contracted with an out-of-state consultant who is not connected to the needs of the community and neglected to meaningfully include impacted communities in the process,” Hewins said. “Consider steps that have been taken so that we can truly and effectively address the crisis.”

Health advocates said a legitimate racial equity policy cabinet would be made up of community members who discuss policy changes, the county budget and how to make systems work for everyone. The City of Sacramento has formed a racial equity council and is doing this kind of work far more effectively than the county is, according to advocates.

“This kind of group could make progress toward solving the public health crisis of racism,” Hewins said.

Co-founder of Decarcerate Sacramento, Liz Blum, told supervisors the promises they made in 2020 have yet to be delivered.

“We’re asking you today to center race in the solution to mass incarceration in Sacramento County. Sacramento county cages Black people at four times the rate of white people and Black people are by far the most over-represented group in our local jail system,” Blum said.

Black people make up roughly 39 percent of Sacramento’s jail population while making up just 11 percent of the population in Sacramento County.

“Sacramento County’s jail population reduction plan’s proposed evaluation metrics do not even mention race once. Most proposed metrics of success are simply number of people served,” Blum said.

Local psychologist Corrine McIntosh-Sako said Indigenous, Black and other people of color experience disproportionate levels of trauma as structural and systemic racism continues to challenge their ability to thrive in their environments.

“Black adults in the U.S. were more likely than white adults to report a persistence of emotional distress,” McIntosh-Sako said, noting her work in anti-racism has taught her everyone has “blind spots” to racism they are unable to identify.

“By definition, it is impossible to be aware of our blind spots without the help of others,” McIntosh-Sako said. “County leadership neglected to engage the experts right here in our community that can help Sacramento County to develop a community-driven, racial equity strategy, focused on system change.”

Social Justice Politicorps for Sac County founder Kula Koenig said she has been battling the County of Sacramento since 2020.

“I was battling people that I helped get elected; I was battling friends that I knew,” Koenig said. “I was at home and I heard Sue Frost say that America is not a racist country.”

Koenig said she battled her friend, Supervisor Phil Serna, over how federal Covid-19 funding would be spent.

“I’m back here today saying the same thing that I’ve always said … and asking the same things that I’ve asked for, for so long and I don’t think you guys even hear me,” Koenig said. “Racism is a public health crisis and you can see it because the people asking for more money are the Black and Brown folks who take care of our people.”

Public Health Advocates suggested the county open a new RFP (Request for Proposal) and find a local consultant that understands racial equity and public health, create a plan to engage the community on racial equity and include the relevant county groups and commissions left out of this process and evaluate the racial equity impacts in county budgets and contracting decisions.

None of the supervisors responded to any of the public comments made by public health advocates.

About The Author

Robert J Hansen is an investigative journalist and economist. Robert is covering the Yolo County DA's race for the Vanguard.

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