Orange County’s elected Board of Supervisors formally declared Tuesday that systemic racism and inequality are driving a public health crisis in local communities.

“Racism, with its resultant social and health inequities, is a public health crisis affecting our entire society,” states the declaration, put forward by Republican Supervisor Andrew Do and his Democrat colleague Doug Chaffee.

“Systemic racism causes persistent discriminatory policies in housing, education, employment, transportation, and criminal justice,” it adds.

It was approved unanimously Tuesday by all four of the board members – two Democrats and  two Republicans – who attended the supervisors regular meeting. 

Supervisor Don Wagner was absent from the meeting.

Do, who fled Vietnam as a refugee when he was a child, said he has personally faced racism on multiple occasions, including when he was growing up in Huntington Beach.

“I cannot tell you how many times, as I was running…how many batteries were thrown at me. How many bottles that narrowly missed my head,” Do said.

The resolution “says that we are trying to work to overcome racism,” he added.

Chaffee said there’s an “urgent need to address systemic racism as a root cause of racial and ethnic health inequalities.”

The resolution declares that OC supervisors will work to build awareness within county government and the general community about systemic racism, and “ensure that racial and health equity are core elements of Orange County’s work.”

It describes a series of broad goals without specific steps or timelines to achieve them.

(Click here to read the resolution.)

As the county continues to face year-after-year jumps in hate crimes, the resolution states “the County is deeply alarmed by the recent racially motivated attacks and violence on Black, Indigenous, Latino, Asian American and Pacific Islanders and other communities.”

Hate crimes have been increasing each of the last seven years in Orange County, according to law enforcement data gathered for the county’s annual hate crimes report.

Up through 2014, such crimes were trending downward.

But that changed in 2015, when they started a continual rise.

Separately, there were 97 reported hate crimes and 301 reported hate incidents in Orange County in 2021, according to the report.

While this is a 13% decrease in hate crimes from the 112 reported in 2020, it is a 14% uptick in hate incidents from the 263 reported in Orange County in 2020.

But even with the decrease in hate crimes overall, there was a 83% increase in LGBTQ+ hate crimes and a 43% increase of crimes against the Asian American community in 2021, according to the county’s Human Relations Commission.

The resolution also cites the disproportionate impact the pandemic has had on minorities throughout Orange County, “which further reflects structural and systemic racial inequities and their impacts on the health and well-being of individuals and communities.”

Local communities of color are also disproportionately impacted by health harms like “increased exposure to lead, poor air quality, lack of safe places to walk, bike or run, and unequal access to safe, stable housing,” the resolution states.

“Systemic racism and the resulting inequities threaten the health and well-being of Black, Indigenous, Latino, Asian American and Pacific Islanders, and other communities of color, it adds.

Hate crimes and incidents against the Asian American community have been on the rise in OC, California and across the country since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Orange County has been facing criticism for alleged racial disparities in how it handles criminal prosecutions.

An ACLU analysis this year found Black people are much more likely to face criminal charges in Orange County than the rest of the population – and less likely to be offered diversion programs to avoid jail time.

DA Todd Spitzer criticized the ACLU study, saying their report is part of a campaign that would endanger Orange County residents by weakening prosecutions in the style of LA and San Francisco.

But in June, a judge ruled Spitzer violated a law against prosecutors showing racial bias, known as the Racial Justice Act.

The ruling centered on racially charged remarks Spitzer made to other prosecutors when deciding on pursuing the death penalty against a Black defendant.

Spitzer’s spokeswoman said at the time that the judge “ruled that the defendant was treated fairly by District Attorney Spitzer at every stage of the proceeding.”

But the leader of the state chapter of the NAACP said Spitzer’s remarks in the case were “blatantly racist.”

Hosam Elattar contributed reporting.

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