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Black Lives Matter-Lansing event declares racism a public health crisis, confronts mayor

By Staff |
June 13, 2020
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Lansing, MI - Police brutality protests continue in both Lansing and East Lansing after the downtown march on May 31 but they are not the only challenge to police brutality based in the Lansing metropolitan area. Black Lives Matter-Lansing and One Love Global hosted a live “Call to Action” on Facebook and Eventbrite.

After a spoken word performance and moment of silence for victims of racist violence, One Love Global CEO and Black Lives Matter-Lansing cofounder Angela Waters Austin spoke with panelists from the Ingham County Health Department about public health deficits experienced by African Americans and other oppressed nationalities and about the rise of white supremacy.

The panelists from the Ingham County Health Department were Deputy Health Officer Debbie Edokpolo, Health Officer Linda Vail, and Medical Director Dr. Adenike “Nike” Shoyinka. Ingham County Commissioner Derrell Slaughter also spoke on the panel.

Vail, acting in what she called an “advisory” capacity, said, “I call on [the Ingham County Board of Commissioners] to formally adopt my resolution: The declaration of racism as a public health emergency in Ingham County, and to do so as quickly and expeditiously as possible.” Commissioner Slaughter answered her call by stating he would do everything he could to encourage his colleagues to adopt the resolution, and promised: “We are working on that, 100% we are gonna pass that.”

Dr. Shoyinka then discussed the resolution in the context of a growing national movement to classify racism as a public health crisis. Dr. Shoyinka explained, “So poor health is a byproduct of racism. Morbidity and mortality is a byproduct of racism. I see this all the time when I see patients…We see this in almost every public health measure that we use. Black people are just disproportionately affected.”

Among these measures, she lists infant and maternal mortality, obesity, hypertension, diabetes, cancer and COVID-19. She concluded with a call to action, “We need to name racism for what it is - it’s a disease in and of itself. And we need to address it as such. We are in a crisis and this needs to be addressed with urgency, to have a lasting solution.” Deputy Health Officer Edokpolo concluded the panel in agreement, vowing “We will not go back to business as normal.”

In the second segment of the event, included firefighter (and the host of the program Merica 20 to Life) Michael Lynn, and Lansing Mayor Andy Schor to discuss policing and racism in the city. The discussion started with Lynn critiquing the city budget for the low spending on community programs and for 21% spending on policing. He also criticized placement of police officers in schools. Lynn ultimately called for a divestment of funds away from the police department and investment in community structures and also challenged the mayor on statements made about the Lansing School District and a diversity task force.

Mayor Schor initially responded by affirming his opposition to discrimination and police brutality, but quickly became defensive when Lynn interjected to ask a question to guide discussion toward policing of teenagers. Schor indicated a number of training, transparency and community policing initiatives before he finally invited Lynn to attend budget hearings. When pressed again on divestment of funds, Schor began to list off programs and their purpose and began to defend the police force and its diversity. Lynn once again interjected to discuss over-policing and harassment of Black youth in his community.

At that point, the panelists became more openly argumentative and began talking concurrently, and Lynn accused Schor of not listening to the community and making decisions they oppose. Eventually, the panelists got into a back-and-forth on first responder demographics. This prompted One Love Global Director of Transformational Leadership, Sean Holland, to interrupt and give the floor to Angela Austin, who had raised her hand.

Austin started her discussion by laying out a year’s worth of actions the city had taken against Black community organizations. Schor attempted to interrupt, but was stopped by Austin, who eventually asked, “I know you feel ambushed right now, don’t you?” Schor affirmed, “I sure do.”

Austin then replied, in reference to the events of May 31, when police fired tear gas into a protest near the capitol, stating, “Well imagine how those Black kids felt, when you left them out in the street. When you knew what was coming, and you left them. You left them, and you knew you could have protected them. You called the pastors, but you didn’t call the parents. You didn’t alert the community. You didn’t get on your technology to alert the community what was coming. And I am right now calling for your resignation.”

Before the panel closed, Austin once again asked Schor if he would resign, to which he replied that he was “not planning to resign right now.”

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