Racism is not just a moral issue, it’s a matter of life and death, City of San Antonio officials said Thursday as City Council approved a resolution declaring racism as a public health crisis.

“We are addressing the monster that has been biting our nation for far too long,” said Councilwoman Jada Andrews-Sullivan (D2), who co-drafted the resolution with Councilwoman Ana Sandoval (D7) during the summer amid Black Lives Matter protests locally and around the world.

Councilman Clayton Perry (D10) abstained from the vote, citing what he called “divisive” language. The resolution was approved with nine votes as Councilman Manny Pelaez (D8) was not present.

The resolution symbolically commits the City to root out systemic racism throughout local government based on the racial disparities seen during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Andrews-Sullivan, the only Black Council member, then read the entire resolution into the record – pausing to hold back tears as she described racism and its health impacts.

“Over 100 studies have linked racism to negative health outcomes,” she read. From an increase in stress hormones to epigenetic changes linked to mental and physical conditions such as cancer and suicide.

Several Black and Latino community organizers and activists said they appreciate the sentiment of the resolution, but want to see meaningful change in the City’s budget to put “your money where your mouth is” and reallocate some police funding to social services.

The resolution acknowledges the dark history of racism – including redlining and lunch counter segregation – in San Antonio that has led to systematic issues while establishing steps to address it.

The resolution language states:

  • Reviewing policies and procedures for the purposes of eradicating implicit and explicit racial bias and promoting policies and procedures that advance racial equity, including policies and procedures that govern boards and commissions; and
  • Engaging historically marginalized communities in the development of policy solutions for local issues related to health equity; and
  • Improving data systems in order to disaggregate health data by race/ethnicity and income and facilitate data-informed decision-making processes to address the health disparities in our community; and
  • Improving efforts to ensure the creation of racially and economically mixed neighborhoods through planning, housing regulations, and rental assistance programs; and
  • Working to mitigate housing and job displacement from driving further racial and income segregation by developing strategic initiatives such as land use and affordable housing finance regulations and housing stability programs; and
  • Promoting racially equitable economic and workforce development programs and policies.

The significance of the City taking this step should not be understated, said Morgan Craven, a national director for the Intercultural Development Research Association.

“Racism is a threat to the lives of people of color and declaring it as such through this resolution is critical,” Craven said. “In naming the many victims of racial violence, we commit to honoring their lives and actively challenging the systems that contributed to their deaths. This is why so many people around the world insist on saying the names of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and Atatiana Jefferson, as they said the names of Longino Flores, Emmett Till, Antonio Rodríguez, and the countless other Black and Latinx people who have been murdered in this country.”

The police killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, in Minnesota in May sparked worldwide protests, and cities across the U.S. have adopted similar resolutions.

“As we name racism as the cause of this violence and of so many other linked systemic inequities from public health to public education, we must also commit to do the hard work to address it,” Craven said.

The resolution, though not legally binding, is a “long overdue” first step toward meaningful change, Sandoval said. She called for an equitable expansion of public health programs.

Two of the nine residents who spoke during the meeting Thursday advocated against the resolution, citing its “divisive” language, echoing Perry’s sentiments.

Perry suggested several edits to the historical context provided in the resolution because it’s also “important to remember how far we’ve come in the fight for equality,” he said.

“I asked to try and focus the ‘whereas statements’ [which provide context for the resolution] on the data that proved that racism is a public health crisis, which were plenty throughout the document,” Perry said via text after the vote. “I was hoping to streamline the resolution a little. An example of one of the statements he was hoping to edit was the whereas statement that was added about an incident in 1918. … I don’t disagree with the premise of the resolution. I just couldn’t support the inclusion of some of the whereas statements and also was hoping to see some of them stated differently.”

The resolution mentions the Porvenir massacre of 1918, when a group of white members of the Texas Rangers and United States Army killed 15 unarmed Mexican men.

It is uncomfortable to read as it recounts “horrid” experiences of racism in San Antonio and the U.S., but it should be, Sandoval said, noting that the community was engaged in crafting this resolution from the beginning.

Some of that discomfort may come from feeling responsible for the acts of our ancestors, she said, but “there is no finger-pointing in this resolution.”

Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and workforce development. Contact her at iris@sareport.org