Vermont Senate Declares Racism a Public Health Emergency | Off Message

Vermont Senate Declares Racism a Public Health Emergency


Vermont Senate in a virtual session - SCREENSHOT ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Screenshot ©️ Seven Days
  • Vermont Senate in a virtual session
The Vermont Senate on Thursday declared racism a public health emergency, vowing to redouble its efforts to eradicate systemic inequities for people of color that the pandemic has laid bare.

The joint resolution passed easily, advancing on a 29-1 vote to a final reading of the bill. The House had previously approved it by a 135-8 vote.

Sen. Ruth Hardy (D-Addison) introduced the resolution by saying that systemic racism was “inextricably intertwined" with COVID-19, citing a “disproportionate negative impact of the pandemic on people of color."

Hardy cited infection rates of nearly 13 percent among people of color compared to 6 percent for white residents. She also highlighted two outbreaks — one in Winooski affecting a New American community and one in Shoreham among Jamaican agricultural workers — that she said illustrate the connection between the pandemic and economic status.

"The fact that housing and working conditions increased the risk of COVID exposure for these individuals points to the intersectional impact of race and social determinants of health,” Hardy said.

She noted a number of other organizations and communities had made similar declarations, including the City of Burlington. She stressed the Senate’s commitment to rooting out systemic racism in Vermont.

Despite the overwhelming support, Sen. Russ Ingalls (R-Essex/Orleans) objected to the premise of the declaration. Ingalls, a real estate agent from Newport, said he believes racism exists. “I also believe that Vermont is not a racist state,” Ingalls said, adding that he believes “Vermonters as a whole are not racist.”

While Hardy cited facts to illustrate the connection between the pandemic and systemic racism, Ingalls focused on his personal beliefs and experiences to make the case that Vermonters are largely free of bias.

“In my personal and business life, I have found that Vermonters, when meeting people for the first time, really don’t care of the color of one’s skin, what god they pray to, whether you have lots of money or none, whether you are big or small, short or tall,” Ingalls said.

In his first run for statewide office last year, Ingalls defeated John Rodgers, the conservative Democrat who held the seat previously, after the gun rights advocate missed a filing deadline and had to run for reelection as an independent.

The Senate is expected to take up two other racial equity matters on Friday, which will likely be the final day of the legislative session. One resolution would condemn anti-Asian and Pacific Islander hate in the United States. Another is  to honor the memory of George Floyd. He was killed by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who has since been convicted of his murder. It would designate May 25, 2021, as a Day of Remembrance and Action.

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