Clark County urged to declare racism a public health crisis

(Photo: Alex Edelman/Getty Images)

In an echo of efforts in 70 other cities and counties across the nation, the Clark County Commission was urged Tuesday to consider a resolution declaring systemic racism a public health crisis.

The drafted proposal, presented by Blackbox Consulting Group founder Yindra Dixon, also calls for the creation of a Race Equity Advisory Council that would consist of majority Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) representation and be tasked to “review, recommend, develop and implement anti-racist education, policy and practices for Clark County.”

“We’ve done a poor job of recognizing the impact — financial, social and medical — on our communities,” Dixon said. “It’s important that the county is accountable for establishing this race and equity council that helps to ensure future actions promise and deliver justice equally to all residents of Clark County.”

The commission didn’t indicate whether it would advance the proposal for a future commission meeting. 

Over the summer, Gov. Steve Sisolak signed a statewide order declaring racism a public health crisis, making Nevada one of two states to do so. 

But many in the community want more to be done at the local level.

Speaking in front of the commission for less than 9 minutes, designed to reflect the time an officer knelt on George Floyd’s neck that resulted in his death and sparked months-long, multi-city protests for racial justice, Dixon discussed how systemic racism has shaped public policy. 

“Racism is at the root of every health, economic, educational, environmental disparity that exists,” she said. “The systemic policies including red-lining and gerrymandering that keep people of color from enjoying the American dream and eliminating their political power and their ability to own homes or for that home to gain value necessary to provide generational wealth.” 

Kenadie Cobbin-Richardson, the executive director of Nevada Partners which also supports the proposal, echoed Dixon, adding that the disparities in education impact mostly Black and brown students. 

“With good education being one of the most predictive aspects to achieving economic mobility, we are cut off at the knees with substandard education,” she said. “As long as education is tied to the wealth of the surrounding community, our children’s future is more predictable by a ZIP code than by their abilities. So 89106 and 89030 are likely to remain poor and impoverished than they are to become the American dream.”

During a town hall in September, the Clark County Black Caucus noted Clark County School District data indicated Black students face higher proficiency gaps. 

Other examples of an unchecked racist system, Dixon continued, are evident by how Black and brown people are more likely to die or be hospitalized because of Covid-19 and the disproportionate numbers of BIPOC businesses closing during the health pandemic. 

As previously reported, Black and Asian Americans in Nevada are twice as likely to die from Covid as white people. Latinos make up 30 percent of the state’s population but 40 percent of all Covid cases and 22 percent of deaths. 

Dixon also pointed to the Paycheck Protection Program, part of the federal coronavirus stimulus package, as another area in which Black and brown businesses in Nevada were left behind. 

“In a state that is represented by 48 percent of people who identify as persons of color,” Dixon said, only 2 percent of PPP loans in Nevada were awarded to companies owned by people of color. “That means 98 of the money was distributed exclusively to white-owned businesses.”

Acknowledging disparities, state Treasurer Zach Conine last week announced a pandemic emergency technical support grant program, which allows small businesses and nonprofits to apply for up to $10,000, will prioritize historically disadvantaged groups including businesses owned by people of color. 

Those speaking Tuesday said the resolution would be a first, but needed, step to address structural racism on a localized level.

“This resolution and these actions are not about identifying racist individuals or smoking out people, but rather to really tackle the systems that create individuals that really hold back Black, indigenous people of color,” Cobbin-Richardson said.

Michael Lyle
Michael Lyle (MJ to some) has been a journalist in Las Vegas for eight years.  He started his career at View Neighborhood News, the community edition of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. During his seven years with the R-J, he won several first place awards from the Nevada Press Association and was named its 2011 Journalist of Merit. He left the paper in 2017 and spent a year as a freelance journalist accumulating bylines anywhere from The Washington Post to Desert Companion. While he covers a range of topics from homelessness to the criminal justice system, he gravitates toward stories about race relations and LGBTQ issues. Born and mostly raised in Las Vegas, Lyle graduated from UNLV with a degree in Journalism and Media Studies. He is currently working on his master's in Communications through an online program at Syracuse University. In his spare time, Lyle cooks through Ina Garten recipes in hopes of one day becoming the successor to the Barefoot Contessa throne. When he isn’t cooking (or eating), he also enjoys reading, running and re-watching episodes of “Parks and Recreation.” He is also in the process of learning kickboxing.