Tag Archives: systemic racism

On RTM Agenda: Racism As A Public Health Crisis

Most Representative Town Meeting agendas focus on local matters. The 36 members discuss budgets, the library, parks and recreation, public protection and transit issues.

Occasionally though, national events intrude.

In 1972 the RTM made the New York Times, with a 17-15 vote demanding an immediate withdrawal of US troops from Vietnam.  In 1982 the body voted 24-2 (with 7 abstentions) in favor of a nuclear arms freeze.

On Tuesday, October 6 (7:30 p.m., via Zoom) — after voting on new lights at the Greens Farms Field, and replacing 40-year-old transfer station doors — the RTM will “take such action as the meeting may determine” to adopt a sense-of-the-meeting resolution asserting that “racism is a public health crisis affecting the Town of Westport and all of Connecticut.”

The proposed resolution — sponsored by Harris Falk, Mark Friedman, Amy Kaplan, Sal Liccione and Lisa Newman — says that “racism and segregation have exacerbated a health divide resulting in people of color in Connecticut bearing a disproportionate burden of illness and mortality including COVID-19 infection
and death, heart disease, diabetes, and infant mortality.”

Because “Black, Native American, Asian and Latino residents 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” — and because those inequities are “themselves a result of racism” — the sponsors want the town to commit to “progress as an equity and justice-oriented organization, by continuing to identify specific activities to enhance diversity and to ensure antiracism principles across our leadership, staffing and contracting,” through a variety of means.

In addition, the sponsors hope to “solidify alliances and partnerships with other organizations that are confronting racism and encourage other local, state,
regional, and national entities to recognize racism as a public health crisis.”

The October 6 RTM meeting will be livestreamed at www.westportct.gov, and shown on Optimum Channel 79 and Frontier Channel 6020. Emails to RTM members can be sent to RTMmailinglist@westportct.gov. Comments to be read during the public portion of the meeting can be emailed to RTMcomments@westportct.gov.

Here’s the full text of the proposed resolution:

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WHEREAS, racism is a social system with multiple dimensions: individual racism that is interpersonal and/or internalized or systemic racism that is institutional or structural, and is a system of structuring opportunity and assigning value based on the social interpretation of how one looks; and

WHEREAS race is a social construct with no biological basis; and

WHEREAS racism unfairly disadvantages specific individuals and communities, while unfairly giving advantages to other individuals and communities, and saps the strength of the whole society through the waste of human resources, and

WHEREAS racism is a root cause of poverty and constricts economic mobility; and

WHEREAS racism causes persistent discrimination and disparate outcomes in many areas of life, including housing, education, employment, and criminal justice, and is itself a social determinant of health; and

WHEREAS racism and segregation have exacerbated a health divide resulting in people of color in Connecticut bearing a disproportionate burden of illness and mortality including COVID-19 infection and death, heart disease, diabetes, and infant mortality; and

WHEREAS Black, Native American, Asian and Latino residents 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 and these inequities are, themselves, a result of racism; and

WHEREAS more than 100 studies have linked racism to worse health outcomes; and

WHEREAS the collective prosperity and wellbeing of Westport depends upon equitable access to opportunity for every resident regardless of the color of their skin: and

WHEREAS in August 2005, recognizing the need to achieve and celebrate a more welcoming, multicultural community, the Town of Westport established the TEAM Westport Committee to advise Town officials; and

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the Town of Westport asserts that racism is a public health crisis affecting Westport and all of Connecticut;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Town of Westport will work to progress as an equity and justice-oriented organization, by continuing to identify specific activities to enhance diversity and to ensure antiracism principles across our leadership, staffing and contracting;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Town of Westport will promote equity through all policies approved by the Town of Westport and enhance educational efforts aimed at understanding, addressing and dismantling racism and how it affects the delivery of human and social services, economic development and public safety;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Town of Westport will improve the quality of the data Westport collects and the analysis of that data-—it is not enough to assume that an initiative is producing its intended outcome, qualitative and quantitative data should be used to assess inequities in impact and continuously improve;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Town of Westport will continue to advocate locally for relevant policies that improve health in communities of color, and support local, state, regional, and federal initiatives that advance efforts to dismantle systemic racism;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Town of Westport will further work to solidify alliances and partnerships with other organizations that are confronting racism and encourage other local, state, regional, and national entities to recognize racism as a public health crisis;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Town of Westport will support community efforts to amplify issues of racism and engage actively and authentically with communities of color wherever they live; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Town of Westport will identify clear goals and objectives, including periodic reports to the Representative Town Meeting, to assess progress and capitalize on opportunities to further advance racial equity.

Why Is Westport So White? The Discussion Begins.

The title was provocative: “Why is Westport So White? What Can You Do About It?”

The speakers were heartfelt. Their list of examples was long, at a meeting last night that covered topics like long-ago real estate practices, current zoning regulations, and the roles of schools and police.

The event — organized by a group of residents ranging from long-timers to newcomers, as well as TEAM Westport — drew a crowd of about 75 (outdoors and socially distanced) to MoCA Westport. Another 25 or so joined via Zoom.

Black residents spoke of their experiences as a very small minority, in a very white town. In one compelling example, Ifeseyi Gale was confronted by a suspicious family when she pulled into a driveway to pick up an item.

Ifeseyi Gale addresses the crowd at MoCA.

2020 Staples High School graduate Natasha Johnson — now a Wharton student — sent a recorded message that recounted many painful experiences, starting in elementary schools.

Many speakers described their love for the town. For example, TEAM Westport chair Harold Bailey noted Police Chief Foti Koskinas’ grace and calm, and applauded new Superintendent of Schools Tom Scarice’s openness to hearing about what can be done differently and better, in terms of diversity and inclusion.

But they did not shy away from demanding that the town do a better job in race relations.

A white student described a survey, in which recent Staples grads were asked about their preparation for living in a diverse society. Many noted that they had been led to believe the world is color-blind — but it is not.

TEAM Westport sponsors an annual high school essay contest. Past prompts have included micro-aggressions, and taking a knee protests. TEAM Westport has spent has spent nearly 2 years working with the school system on a framework including training, hiring, curriculum and staffing that would address diversity and inclusion. Winners of the 2019 TEAM Westport essay contest are (from left) chair Harold Bailey, and Chet Ellis, Angela Ji, Daniel Boccardo and Olivia Sarno.

Planning and Zoning Commission chair Danielle Dobin discussed how the lack of diverse housing impacts who lives here. She urged elimination of Westport’s cap on multifamily housing — which limits the total number of those units to 10% of total town dwellings, many of which are age-restricted and do not allow families — along with removing a restriction on “accessory dwelling units” with full bathrooms and kitchens. Permitting property owners to rent guest cottages, or create separate private living space, would expand housing stock and increase affordability and diversity.

Over the past few months, the entire country has talked openly about race. Organizers expressed hope that last night’s event will be an important beginning — not a one-time event — for their town.