Mayor Walsh today declared racism a public-health crisis in Boston and announced he will ask the City Council to shift $12 million from the Boston Police overtime fund to public-health efforts aimed at ending racial disparities in Boston health care in the fiscal year that starts next month.
Walsh also announced a task force, chaired by former US Attorney Wayne Budd, to review how the Boston Police Department's use of force. And he said he will revive a BPD Community Ombudsman Oversight Panel and end the use of a controversial hair-based cocaine test as part of its promotion policy.
In a press conference at City Hall this morning, Walsh said Covid-19 immediately exposed significant differences in health care for minorities and whites. The protests following George Floyd's murder - and the conversations he has had with black elected officials, staffers and community members - have made it clear more needs to be done to ensure minority residents get access to the same levels of health care and have the same housing and job opportunities, which can affect health outcomes, as whites. "The impacts go far beyond the current Covid-19 crisis," he said.
The money that could go to the Boston Public Health Commission would fund a variety of programs, including:
- $3 million to address health inequities;
- $1 million for trauma teams and counseling services at BPHC;
- $2 million in new funding for community based program, from violence intervention grants to youth programming, language and food access, immigrant advancement and support for the elderly;
- $2 million for additional mental-health clinicians who can respond to crime scenes with police;
- $2 million for economic development initiatives aimed at minority- and women-owned businesses;
- $2 million for housing programs in general and for youth-homelessness programs in particular.
The $3 million for specific public-health programs would cover creation of a Boston Health Equity Now plan to do something about worse health outcomes for minority residents, driven by racial and ethnic data the commission will begin to compile from local hospitals, create prevention and treatment programs aimed at specific ethnic and language groups and to advocate at the state and federal level for policies and funding for such programs.
"We are not going to let this movement, or this moment, to pass us by," Walsh said.
Walsh said the budget shifting was no slap at police. He praised BPD officers for their investment in community policing, including such programs as Flashlight walks, Coffee with a Cop and various programs for at-risk youth and families, which he said has led to double-digit drops in complaints about police use of force - and in crime numbers - since he took office.
BPD Commissioner William Gross supported the mayor. Although he thinks his officers have done a good job, there's always room for improvement, he said. "The death of Mr. Floyd, it is the duty and responsibility of each and every one of our citizens to make sure that that cowardly murder will not happen in the city of Boston." So it's good to have people such as Budd take a look, he said, adding, "you watch somebody die for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, you want to make sure that doesn't happen in your city."
Gross said he is not concerned about cutting his overtime budget because the public-health emphasis could mean reduced demands on police - who now have to respond to calls that aren't really related to crime, such as parents calling police when their kid doesn't want to go to school. "How many hats do you want us to wear?" he asked. "We shouldn't have to respond to each and every call when it doesn't require a uniform."
Boston's movement to end racism.