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San Antonio Declares Racism A Public Health Crisis, Some Find Proclamation Divisive

Demonstrators at Arneson River Theatre protest police brutality and in support of Black Lives Matter on June 8, 2020.
Kathleen Creedon | Texas Public Radio
Demonstrators at Arneson River Theatre protest police brutality and in support of Black Lives Matter on June 8, 2020.

The City of San Antonio has declared racism as a public health crisis. On Thursday, the City Council approved a resolution with nine affirmative votes and one abstention.

The resolution denounces historical and systemic racial inequities like segregation, redlining and Jim Crow laws — many of which lead to unequal educational opportunities and negative health outcomes for people of color. It also affirms a commitment that the city will advance racial equity efforts and engage marginalized communities in those efforts.

Whereas, federal redlining policies designed into San Antonio and other cities across the United States, and sanctioned by federal and local government, deemed Mexican and Black/African American communities in San Antonio unfit for investment based on racist characterizations, such as having “an unproductive class which constitutes a burden to the community.” This type of institutional racism further segregated San Antonio and reproduced racially divided communities, and left a legacy in which communities of color often still have less access to jobs, services, high-quality education, safe streets, reliable transportation, and other essential ingredients of economic and social success.

The resolution comes about two months after residents across the U.S. — including San Antonio — protested racial inequalities and police violence against Black people.

District 2 Councilwoman Jada Andrews-Sullivan, who represents San Antonio’s East Side and the only Black council member, said racism has been a plague for far too long in the U.S.

“This declaration and this resolution speaks to inclusiveness,” Andrews-Sullivan said. “We are addressing the monster that has divided our nation for far too long.”

While most resolutions are declarations of council policy, this resolution places some requirements on the city staff to provide updates to the council on the progress of eliminating racial disparities. It requires that the city review policies for the purposes of eradicating implicit and explicit racial bias and promoting policies that advance racial equity.

A majority of citizens who spoke on the resolution were in favor. Morgan Craven, national director of policy, advocacy and community engagement for the Intercultural Development Research Association spoke in favor of the resolution, saying the lingering effects of racist policies can still be seen in classrooms today.

“We continue to see this negative and persistent impact of the long history of racism today because education is a key social determinant of health. Racially unjust policies that impact educational attainment can compromise the health and lives of people of color,” she said.

But not all citizens were in support. Michael Knuffke said the resolution was divisive

“My opposition is that Black Americans, Latinos and other people of color need real help, not just dividing words like this declaration,” he said. “It seems that the City Council name-calling us during an election season, how convenient it seems.”

The resolution received broad support from the majority of council members.

“Systemic racism is killing our people, and we need to do something about it, and this resolution is the first step of many that we will take,” said District 4 Councilwoman Adriana Rocha Garcia.

District 8 Councilman Manny Pelaez was absent for Thursday’s vote, and District 10 Councilman Clayton Perry abstained from voting, saying language in the resolution was divisive. 

“I believe some of those words will undoubtedly lead to unnecessary divisions in our community,” Perry said. “Regardless of my vote, I’m confirming to you in the community that I’m open to continually learn and grow in these issues. I take my oath of office to serve this entire community very, very seriously.”

Andrews-Sullivan said the resolution is not meant to divide but call attention to the effects of racial inequities.

“The wording of this document, if it hurt you, that is what it’s meant to do. It is meant to bring out the areas that need to be addressed, and that is what the City of San Antonio City Council is here to do,” she said.

Joey Palacios can be reached at Joey@TPR.org and on Twitter at @Joeycules.

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