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The uncomfortable but necessary work to dismantle racism

While the world continues to express outrage over the killing of George Floyd, we learned of another death under similar circumstances here at home. I was pained to hear the medical examiner determine that the death of Manuel Ellis in Tacoma was a homicide. Communities already in pain have been dealt another blow.

Deaths like these will continue to happen unless we undertake the uncomfortable but necessary work to dismantle the institutions and systems that perpetuate racism, violence, poverty, and injustice. We have talked for a long time, but our communities want action. We must end police killings now, and those same efforts will help us prevent our Black neighbors from being disproportionately victimized by violence, arrested, incarcerated, sickened by physical and mental illness, and even stricken by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Earlier this week, I called for justice, healing, and concrete action and outlined our commitments. While we have been leading the countywide COVID-19 emergency response for months, on Wednesday we activated a second emergency response structure. In death, George Floyd, Manuel Ellis, and too many others show us we have another epidemic, another emergency, raging.

Externally, this emergency response group will support the countywide efforts to ensure that our communities have a voice in a safe and non-violent way. Internally, we will call this group the Racism and Resilience Action Response Team; it will tackle the complex issues of racism and inequitable institutions, structures, and systems where we live, learn, work, worship, and play.

Team members are developing strategies to address racism within our organization and to elevate the issue in all our work on factors that produce health like education, housing, income, and access to healthcare. They are working on immediate communications needs and long-term policy, systems, and environmental change. We are not happy to just be non-racist; we strive to become an anti-racist organization.

We cannot do this work alone. We look to partner across sectors and with all our racial, ethnic, and other communities to honor their voices and harness their strength. We will join together to address racism and all obstacles to good health.

Communities throughout our county and country are outraged, angry, and frustrated as never before. We acknowledge this is an emergency that can no longer be dismissed. Let us embrace this turning point and chart a new course together.