Months into a global pandemic, the country was jolted in May by the escalation of a longtime conversation about systemic racism and police brutality.

A lot has since transpired in demonstrations, speeches and posturing, running the gamut of political perspectives.

There have since been calls, in some communities followed by action and in other locales not, to defund police departments, to tear down Confederate monuments and to push the rest of society to reassess their personal views on the place Black and brown people hold in American society today, in past centuries and into the future.

As part of the debate, plenty of statistics have been rolled out that make a case for change, and for remaining status quo.

Dane County has joined in the national conversation with significant-sized protests in Madison and smaller demonstrations in suburban and rural communities.

This is, most certainly, a multi-layered conversation.

A new resolution introduced before the Dane County Board of Supervisors addresses one aspect – public health.

Brought forward June 19, it was referred to several different County Board committees for further discussion, where it remains for now.

It seeks to recognize racism as a Wisconsin public health crisis, supporting an existing campaign begun by the Wisconsin Public Health Association; the board of Madison Dane County Public Health voted in 2018 to support it, too.

The resolution, among other things, notes that in Wisconsin “the highest excess death rates exist for African Americans and Native Americans, at every stage in the life course, and the infant mortality rate for infants of non-Hispanic black women is the highest in the nation.”

“The Dane County Board recognizes racism causes persistent racial discrimination in housing, education, employment and criminal justice; and an emerging body of research demonstrates that racism is a social determinant of health,” the new County Board resolution says, adding that it “ recognizes that race is a social construct and that longstanding institutional and structural bias have resulted in racial inequities that affect individual and population health, social, economic and educational outcomes.”

We agree that having a thoughtful public health-focused discussion about how systemic racism appears to affect the health of Black and brown people, including reducing their life expectancy, is worth County Board time.

We look forward to the coming committee-level discussion on this resolution, to hearing additional facts and insights from those supporting it, to hearing the counterarguments against it, and to the county’s board ultimate deliberation on whether to adopt it.

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