Racism has been declared a “public health crisis” by the Ventura County Board of Supervisors in a new resolution.

“Over this past year, the tragic deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and others have caused many people to unite in efforts to raise awareness and push for meaningful action that will lead to equitable treatment among all communities,” the board said in a statement. “The COVID-19 pandemic has also brought into sharp focus systemic institutional and structural racism that inequitably impacts Black, Indigenous, and People of Color.”

The board’s recently approved resolution includes a pledge to promote equity, inclusion, and diversity in housing, employment, economic development, health care, and public safety.

“By approving and adopting this resolution Ventura County is taking the first necessary step of acknowledging we have a problem,” said Rabiah Rahman, vice president of Black Lawyers of Ventura County. “We can no longer turn a blind eye to the fact that there are members of our community who are traumatized every time we leave our homes.” 

The resolution comes as a result of several discussions between the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department and community organizations, as well as a forum with panelists from the group Black Lawyers of Ventura County, the NAACP, the county’s public defender, district attorney and executive officer and members of an Inclusion Task Force.

Damon Jenkins, the president of Black Lawyers of Ventura County, was inspired to prioritize discussions surrounding racism and police brutality after the uptick in Black Lives Matter protests over the summer.

“Many of us noticed we had common stories of mistreatment. It reminded us that even as attorneys we are often mistreated based on the color of our skin,” said Jenkins.

His group has also called for the creation of an independent advisory board to oversee matters of law enforcement training, hiring and misconduct.

Public Health Director Rigo Vargas and local physician, Dr. Stanley Patterson, explained to the board how racism and discrimination can lead to a lack of safety for people of color within the healthcare system. People of color are less likely to have insurance and also have a lack of trust within the healthcare delivery system that can lead to late diagnoses and other complications.

Rahman, while acknowledging that the county still has a long way to go, is hopeful that this resolution will lead to lasting change.

“This resolution demonstrates Ventura County’s commitment to the continuation of having difficult and uncomfortable conversations around race, justice and inequities,” Rahman said. “While it is not perfect, it is without a doubt a step in the right direction.”