Dane County to declare racism a public health crisis, ‘It is on us to live up to this declaration’

MADISON, Wis. — The Dane County Board of Supervisors plans to declare racism a public health crisis.

The first step in that process is slated to begin at the board meeting Thursday, when county supervisors will introduce a resolution with the declaration.

The declaration is mostly symbolic, as it doesn’t come with funding or actions attached, but County Board Chair Analiese Eicher said the board is committed to do the work to back it up.

“This is just another piece of the broader puzzle of something we can do right now,” she said. “We can make this declaration, and it is on us to live up to this declaration.”

It’s a move advocates for racial justice have praised in the past – as the public health department and the city of Madison did the same.

Multiple studies have shown the impacts stress and discrimination play on a person’s health, ultimately leading to worse outcomes for people of color.

On a county level, Eicher says board members are coming up with plans to address the roots of the problem, both in the short and long terms.

“We are building out not only a six-month plan, three-month plan, but a year, three years, five years,” she said, “what needs to happen, and what can happen immediately, what can happen in six months, what can happen in a year from now.”

In the next few months, the county board said its judiciary committee will look into the jail’s bail policy and restorative court alternatives. The committee will also work to add weekend court appearances and documentation of charging decisions from the District Attorney’s office.

But there are more recommendations to go, outside of criminal justice. Eicher said it’s going to take work from everyone in the county to get where we need to be.

“This is really going to take every single one of us coming to the table, making some sacrifices, making some offers,” she said. “But if we’re truly committed to the words that we’ve been putting out into the public, we have to do this work.”

The declaration will need to be adopted at the board’s next meeting before it is official.