Mayor Marty Walsh on Friday declared that racism is a public health crisis in Boston, and that he will move to transfer $3 million from the Boston Police Department's overtime pay fund to the Boston Public Health Commission.
Walsh said he is issuing an executive order declaring the public health crisis and calling for the $3 million in funds.
He said the Boston Public Health Commission will work with city departments, including the police, on strategies to decrease racism and inequities in the lives of Boston residents.
Calling racism a slow-moving disaster harming communities and individuals, Walsh said key strategies will address housing insecurity, financial vulnerabilities, access to food and technology and other health impacts due to racial inequalities.
“Our goal has always been to recover from this pandemic in a more equitable state than we entered it,” Walsh said.
Walsh also said the Boston Police will no longer use a controversial hair drug test, which has been found to disproportionately affect black people.
From next year's police budget, Chief of Health and Human Services Marty Martinez recommended that an additonal $9 million be diverted from the Boston Police overtime pay fund after the initial $3 million. Martinez outlined how that $9 million will be allocated.
Martinez said he recommended $1 million to support trauma response and counseling at the Boston Public Health Commission, $2 million to other city departments including violence prevention, food security, immigrant advancement, elder support, $2 million for programming supporting minority- and women-owned businesses, $2 million for housing security and ending youth homelessness and $2 million for emergency clinicians and mental support for the Boston Police Department when responding to crises.
The Public Health Commission will work with the Department of Health and Human Services to enact policy and practical solutions, aiming to get to the root cause of inequities and pledging to engage underserved communities in discussions. That starts with releasing complete and regularly available data that documents health inequities, developing direct service programs to address inequities, and joining state and national advocacy groups pushing to identify new policies and funding opportunities to combat systemic racism.
Among the direct service programs is Boston Health Equity Now, developed to address root causes of inequities. The BPHC will release a plan for Boston Health Equity Now in 120 days. There will also be an annual report on the plan’s progress, starting in 2021.
Walsh announced a new task force that will be led by members of civil rights organizations and legal and faith communities. Former U.S. Attorney for the district of Massachusetts Wayne Budd will serve as chair.
This task force will immediately review all police force policies and other equity issues, and Martinez said the task force will provide a recommendation within 60 days. Then, the community will have two weeks to review and give feedback before changes are implemented, promising to do so within 90 days of forming the task force.
"I, along with the members of the task force, recognize the importance of the responsibility the mayor has asked us to undertake. This comes at a very difficult time in our country, which makes the work that we are about to undertake even more important," Budd said. "You can be assured that we will give the task at hand the first attention and our best efforts, all to the end of assuring the very best the Boston Police Department has to offer and its responsibility of protecting and serving all people of Boston."
Ashley Belanger is an intern with WGBH News' New England Center for Investigative Reporting (NECIR).