Pittsburgh’s District 6 Councilman R. Daniel Lavelle discusses the legislation he and Councilman Burgess introduced to create a Greater Pittsburgh COVID-19 Racial Equity Task Force.
Photo of City Council Chamber by Ashlee Green
In December of 2019, Councilman Burgess and I successfully introduced a resolution in Council declaring racism to be a public health crisis in the City of Pittsburgh. This action was in part motivated by the release of the Gender Equity Commission study that revealed glaring racial disparities in the city’s African American population. Now faced with new challenges posed by COVID-19, which have been shown to disproportionately affect the city’s African American population, we have taken an additional step and introduced legislation creating a Greater Pittsburgh COVID-19 Racial Equity Task Force. The Task Force would be a subcommittee of the Commission on Racial Equity. Legislation was introduced this year to create the Commission.
With the pending adoption of the Commission on Racial Equity, Pittsburgh will have committed itself to eliminate racial inequities and barriers, and to invest in people of color as the only just course of action for all of the city’s residents. It will serve as a body that advises the mayor and City Council in the implementation of all programs and activities designed to reduce institutional racism and increase racial equity and social justice in the City of Pittsburgh. This will be accomplished via review on the progress and impact of programs and activities designed to increase racial equity in the City, and through recommendations made to the Mayor and Council on programs, practices and policies that will lead Pittsburgh towards the goal of a more equitable city.
The COVID-19 Task Force will be composed by members from the Pittsburgh Black Elected Officials, the City of Pittsburgh, Allegheny County, Public Health Officials, university representatives, the Covid-19 Equity Working Group, and community representatives, all with specific expertise on African Americans and/or African American communities. They will be charged with drafting strategies and practices to limit the exposure of COVID-19 in African American communities and assist them in their economic recovery. We are only as strong as our most vulnerable populations, and the pandemic has served to further highlight the vulnerabilities these communities face as a result of institutional shortcomings in access to quality care and social services.
The advent of the COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted and exasperated institutional disparities faced by our minority populations. In the state of Pennsylvania, African Americans comprise 11% of the population yet account for 21% of all COVID-19 related deaths. Therefore, equity must be at the center of any response to the COVID-19 health crisis. We must work to assure that solutions and service delivery during the pandemic are able to reach those most in need. In order for the city and the county to thrive, it cannot be at the expense of the African American population, which has reported disproportionate rates of coronavirus mortality. I am confident that the COVID-19 Task Force will help the City meet these challenges at hand. Together with the greater Pittsburgh Commission on Racial Equity, the result will be a fairer, more just City of Pittsburgh that is inclusive of all of our diverse communities.
R. Daniel Lavelle – Councilman, District 6