New London declares racism a public health crisis



After 25 members of the New London community said their peace, during a zoom call meeting; the city council voted in favor of declaring racism a public health crisis last week. The resolution was passed 7-0, making it the thirteenth municipality in Connecticut to do so.

During the meeting, members of the city council read testimony and response to the proposed resolution. Among those read was an account of a New London resident experiencing racism first-hand. Councilman James Burke, who read the account, called it “heartwrenching.”

New London as well as other municipalities, recognize racism and have formally acknowledged it after the 2019 Community Health Needs Assessment was released by the Health Improvement Collaborative of Southeastern Connecticut. 

Throughout the meeting, residents of New London, not only expressed their support of the resolution but a continued conversation in dismantling systemic racism. The report found that discrimination in the region is most associated with race, linked to poor health of a community.

“We have to continue the conversation. It is something that is on the forefront right now, and we need to acknowledge it. With the killing of George Floyd and other deaths happening at a national level, this feels personal to New London because of our diversity,” said Alma D. Nartatez, city council President Pro Tempore. She has resided in New London since 2015 after being drawn in by the diversity of the city. She voted in favor of the resolution. 

New London City Council chamber
(Audio of 7/20/20 meeting)

According to the United States Census Bureau, over 26,800 people are residing in New London. While the largest ethnic demographic is 44% White, the ethnic population make up the majority with 34.7% Latinos and 15.4% Black.  

This is the first-time racism is labelled as a health crisis by the Health Improvement Collaborative of Southeastern Connecticut. The collaborative is a group of over thirty organizations including hospitals, health care providers, social services providers and housing. Their collaborative effort found microaggressions, toxic stress and low income associated with racism are linked to poor health. 

According to the report, the poverty rate among the Black and Latinx population of southeastern Connecticut is disproportionate to the overall population. As of 2019, 20.2% of the Black/African American population and 27.6% of the Hispanic/Latino population are below the poverty level in the Greater New London area. 

“We understand that minority populations and underrepresented populations face a lot more disparities than their counterparts, and we don’t condone that,” said councilman Curtis K. Goodwin of declaring racism as a health crisis. The first-term congressman is a lifelong resident of New London.  

“We would do better as a city to make sure that we do not participate in systemic racism in our policy and our funding and in our core values that create our mission for New London.”

People of color reported experiencing anxiety and depression at a higher rate than the White population in the region, and there are few services available to accommodate the need. Compared to the overall population, the Latino population experiences depression 13 percentage points higher at 43%, and anxiety at 21%, nine percentage points higher. 

Racial and ethnic disparities were present in other areas of the report as well like asthma, obesity. They (people of color) also have a large percentage of going to the emergency room than the White population. 

Understanding and accepting racism as a health crisis based on the report’s findings is intended to be a guide to impact future policies to achieve racial equity. 

“This work is going to continue long past any of our lifetimes because that means so many more people suffering and dying. But we have 400 years of oppression, to dismantle,” said Jennifer Muggeo, Deputy Director of Ledge Light Health District. She was on the zoom call at the City Council meeting speaking on behalf of the Health Improvement Collective.  

Quantitative and qualitative data for this report was collected and viewed through 2018 and early 2019. Among the data used was a survey that included nearly 1000 residents from the Greater New London area. Additionally, data was also used from the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics and state public health departments.  

The New London City Council agreed that the conversation of active change to rectify systemic racism had only just begun. 

“We are the model city as far as how to do things right, how to have uncomfortable conversations to get to actionable items and steps to moving forward so that we have justice and equal opportunity,” Councilman Goodwin said. “We have a city that’s 30% Latino, we want to make sure they are represented in policy, politics, leadership and education.” 

The passing of the resolution comes on the same week as Connecticut workers held protests demanding racial and economic justice on Tuesday in Hartford and Darien; and the House of Representatives passed the police accountability bill last Thursday evening.