Mayor declares racism a public health crisis in Louisville; outlines detailed plan for advancing racial equity for Black residents

City needs to ‘move faster and invest more resources’

LOUISVILLE (December 1, 2020) – Mayor Greg Fischer signed an Executive Order today declaring racism as a public health crisis in the city.

In his remarks today about the unique combination of challenges facing the city – the COVID-19 pandemic, the economic downturn, an increase in gun violence and the protests calling for racial justice and equity – the Mayor noted that “2020 has been a year like no other,” but presents an opportunity to turn tragedy into transformation.

And that begins, he said, with creating a city of racial justice and equity. “Advancing racial equity has been a major focus of our work at Metro Government for the past 10 years,” he said. “But it’s clear that we need to move faster and invest more resources. We need to do everything we can to repair distrust through action.”

Breonna Taylor’s tragic death “made our city a focal point for America’s reckoning on racial justice,” which has been painful, the Mayor said, adding that moving forward requires our community to address the pain and the root causes of racism and openly acknowledge the impact it still has every day.

“For too many Louisvillians, racism is a fact of daily life, a fact that was created and documented in our country’s laws and institutional policies like segregation, redlining, and urban renewal,” he said. “Laws and policies that restrict the freedom of all Americans to exercise their constitutional rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Laws and policies that can restrict where people live, what schools they attend and what jobs they can get. And laws and policies that effectively limit the wealth they can earn and pass on to their children.”

The Mayor cited the toll of such injustices in our city today, including:

  • The Black poverty rate in Louisville is nearly 3 times the white poverty rate.
  • Black residents make up 22.4 percent of our population but own only 2.4 percent of our businesses.
  • The percentage of Black residents who own their own homes is half the percentage of White residents.
  • And even among college graduates, the average Black graduate in Louisville earns almost $10,000 less per year than their white colleague.
  • And life expectancy can vary by as much as 12 years between some majority-Black and majority-White neighborhoods.

“All of these and a million other statistics and real-life experiences tell us that our systems are more than broken – they must be dismantled and replaced,” the Mayor said – requiring that we rethink “how government, business, education, health care and other institutions operate so that we make sure everyone really has a fair and equal shot at the American dream, at expanding their opportunities, at realizing their full human potential.”

The Mayor’s Executive Order lays out the societal, economic, physical and mental health impacts of racism on not just Black Louisville, but all of the city’s residents.

Advancing racial equity is part of any sound economic growth strategy, he said, as underscored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, whose website promotes a 2018 report from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation that concluded, “The United States economy could be $8 trillion larger by 2050 if the country eliminated racial disparities in health, education, incarceration and employment… The gains would be equivalent to a continuous boost in GDP growth of 0.5 percent per year, increasing the competitiveness of the country for decades to come.”

Advancing racial equity “strengthens our workforce, improves our tax base and increases the spending power of our residents. It helps each and every one of us by making our city healthier, creating more opportunities and dignity in work, safer neighborhoods, and by helping us advance our goals as a city dedicated to compassion, opportunity, to equity and to justice,” the Mayor said, adding, “At a fundamental level, the protests we’ve seen are about people feeling the absence of those things in their lives, and for generations past.”

This executive order outlines seven key areas for Louisville Metro Government to address the city’s racial equity challenges:  public safety; children and families; Black employment; Black wealth; housing and neighborhood investment; health; and voting. (View the city’s Advancing Racial Equity plan here.)

“These reforms will require a strong commitment and a lot of work,” the Mayor said. “But I believe it can be done – in part because when I look around Louisville and talk to people from every neighborhood and background, I sense a greater and broader understanding and desire to address racial equity than ever before.”

Some of the reforms echo recommendations outlined by community partners in their letter to local and state leaders entitled A Path Forward, the Mayor said, adding that moving forward will require a partnership among those community partners, as well as businesses, faith leaders, education representatives and others. 

The Mayor thanked partners on the Metro Council for their leadership on this issue, “particularly Councilwoman Keisha Dorsey for her assistance not only on this Executive Order, but also for helping lead the charge against systemic racism in all facets of both Metro Government and the city as a whole.”

“And thanks to all the people of our city who recognize that within the challenges of this moment, there is historic opportunity,” he said. “Let’s seize this moment and transform our city together.”