Oakland declares racism a public health crisis

The Oakland skyline is seen from Lake Merritt on Wednesday, March 4, 2020, in Oakland, Calif.
The Oakland skyline as seen from Lake Merritt.
(Ben Margot / Associated Press)
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Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Wednesday, June 15. I’m Justin Ray.

The city of Oakland has declared racism to be a public health crisis.

Members of the Oakland City Council recently voted to make racial equity a priority in the city. The resolution dedicates as much as $350,000 for the hiring of a data analyst and consulting services to help facilitate “necessary improvements in systems for collecting and processing data to track performance and equity progress.”

“Structural racism has led to a public health crisis in the City of Oakland,” a report by Oakland city officials states. The report gives an example: Residents in a historically white neighborhood in the north Oakland hills can expect to live an additional 14 to 15 years longer than residents in historically Black and Latinx neighborhoods in west Oakland and the east Oakland flatlands.

“Similar disparities between Black Oaklanders and their white peers can be observed in preventable hospitalizations, rates of diabetes, asthma, hypertension, and heart disease, death rates due to opioid overdose, babies born with very low birth weight, infant mortality, and beyond,” the report states.


Darlene Flynn, executive director of the city’s department of race and equity, said in an interview with KRON 4 that the pandemic made racial disparities visible.

“It also tends to exacerbate the impacts on communities that are already stressed by racial inequities, and we’ve seen this in other disasters as well, like Hurricane Katrina,” Flynn said. “Whenever a big stressor hits a community, it really highlights what the underlying conditions have been for a long time.”

Oakland is not alone. In 2020, Marty Walsh, then-mayor of Boston, made a similar proclamation and transferred $3 million from the police overtime budget to the Public Health Commission to tackle racial inequality. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Medical Assn. also have released statements highlighting the impact that race has on health.

“What we know is this: Racism is a serious public health threat that directly affects the well-being of millions of Americans,” Rochelle Walensky, the CDC director, said in a statement last year. “As a result, it affects the health of our entire nation.”

Data have revealed the disproportionate toll COVID-19 has had on Black and Latino residents, as well as people living in poorer neighborhoods. One reason is that people of color live in areas with less access to resources such as hospitals and pharmacies.

“It’s really clear that where you live and where you work have an impact on your health status. It’s no different for COVID than it is for a host of other illnesses,” L.A. County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said at a briefing this year. “Certainly where you live has a tremendous impact on what’s available to help you be as healthy as possible.”

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

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Our next L.A. Times Book Club event will be a discussion with Ibram X. Kendi. The author will discuss his book “How to Raise an Antiracist.” You can get tickets to the June 22 event here. Ahead of the event, Kendi talked to The Times about fatherhood, empathy and what he hopes readers will take away from his new book. Los Angeles Times


Column: Doctored memo is latest sign of right-wing extremism in law enforcement. Columnist Gustavo Arellano reported that Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department deputies circulated a memo among employees that made a joke about President Biden. Arellano calls the situation “yet another indication of how far down the polarization hole too many officers and deputies have fallen.” Los Angeles Times

A motorcyclist holds a flag that says "Let's go Brandon."
A motorcyclist holds a flag with what columnist Gustavo Arrellano calls a “weak-salsa insult” of the president.
(Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Landlord-tenant disputes reach record levels. Last month, Los Angeles Police Department officers responded to 279 “landlord/tenant/neighbor” disputes. That is the highest monthly total ever, according to LAPD data. In fact, four of the five highest monthly totals have happened within the past year. Crosstown LA

Two El Monte police officers were shot and killed Tuesday evening while responding to a possible stabbing at a motel. The violence left many in the suburb east of Los Angeles stunned. Los Angeles Times

The California Highway Patrol on Tuesday arrested a 33-year-old man on suspicion of attempted murder in the shooting of a CHP officer during a traffic stop in Studio City on Monday night. Los Angeles Times


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A Chino Hills man is suspected of holding a woman against her will in his home for months. Peter Anthony McGuire, 59, has been charged with torture, kidnapping, mayhem, assault with a deadly weapon, false imprisonment by violence, rape and other crimes. He was arrested Saturday morning after an hours-long standoff, police said. Los Angeles Times

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California vineyard laborers wanted wildfire safety. Then came a shadowy counter-movement. The laborers have pressed officials to enact stronger worker protections during wildfire seasons. They are calling for hazard pay, disaster insurance and safety training translated in Indigenous languages. “In turn, a surprising counter-movement has arisen — one that has the veneer of being worker-led, but is driven by the wine industry itself,” writes Alleen Brown. The Guardian


Amazon says it will start using drones to deliver packages for the first time this year. Residents of San Joaquin County farming towns Lockeford and Acampo, as well as parts of Lodi, will be able to order “thousands of everyday items” online and can expect a drone to drop them in their backyards in less than an hour, a company spokesperson said. Los Angeles Times

Dozens of Starbucks employees in California have joined the national movement to unionize stores. Recently, employees at a store in Anaheim voted 10 to 1 to join Workers United, a national union affiliated with the Service Employees International Union, which is helping the largely grass-roots campaign to organize. Starbucks has hired Littler Mendelson, an anti-union law firm based in San Francisco. Capital and Main


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Today’s California memory is from Sue Uustalu:

In the 1950s my family often traveled to visit my grandparents in Bakersfield. Traveling over the Grapevine with no air conditioning in the summer needed to be done early, as my father often reminded us. Many times we would see people at Frenchman’s Flat sitting at a picnic table cooling off while they filled their radiator with potable water that was conveniently there for travelers with overheated vehicles. I knew we were almost there as the cotton fields came into sight and I recognized the “Bakersfield” sign over the freeway. Grandma would be waiting with homemade biscuits and gravy.

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

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