Nevada Senate declares racism a public health crisis

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — Nevada lawmakers passed a resolution on Wednesday that declares racism a public health crisis amid the coronavirus pandemic and months of protests around the nation over police brutality.

The resolution urges lawmakers to revisit issues related to racism and public health when they reconvene next year. It was introduced on the fifth day of the Legislature’s special session, which Gov. Steve Sisolak convened to address coronavirus-related issues and calls for criminal justice reform.

It was passed unanimously by the state Senate and now heads to the Assembly.

The resolution declares systemic racism as a cause of educational, economic and health disparities and acknowledges that communities of color have borne a disproportionate burden throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

It calls on local, state, regional and federal officials to pass laws that “address and dismantle systemic racism and its impact on the delivery of human and social services, economic development and public safety.”

State Sen. Pat Spearman, the resolution’s sponsor, highlighted the societal structures that uphold racism, deny Black people opportunity and perpetuate disparities, particularly in regard to health care.

Spearman said the coronavirus pandemic had “pulled back the curtain” to reveal health disparities long experienced in the Black community, including in her own family.

“Maybe some will think this is out-of-line because it’s not COVID-related, but I beg to differ. What we’re talking about in terms of health disparities have always existed,” she said.

The resolution does not change any state laws or direct additional resources toward Black Nevada residents, but Spearman said it would send a clear message that people of all races and ethnicities were welcome in Nevada. It follows the earlier passage of bills that banned chokeholds and partially repealed a 2019 law that protects police officers accused of misconduct.

“When I think about structural racism, it’s not the dictionary definition, it’s my life,” Spearman said.