Racism in Emergency Response Systems

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It seems that police officers are always in the spotlight in the debate about racism in our first response organizations. For many, police brutality is a well known fact. For some, it’s a myth — that first responders always have their constituents best interest at heart.

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Whats important is to determine the facts; is there some statistical data that can shed light on and ultimately end the debate about whether racism exists in our emergency response systems? Are firefighters and paramedics also participating in the same kind of systematic racism that police officers are accused of? Despite varying opinions, there is statistical data that supports the fact that racism is alive and well in our emergency response systems in the United States. Besides statistical analysis that can be done to determine these realities, one can also learn from the outcomes of natural disasters in poverty stricken areas that affect majority people of color populations. This paper will explain the ways that racism in emergency response systems can be quantified, and will include examples of the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, Hurricanes Katrina and Maria, The Dakota Access Pipeline, and the Chicago Police and Fire Departments.

Flint, Michigan Water Crisis

One sobering example of racism in emergency response systems is disaster relief and ineffective city planning. The United States “has an abysmal record when it comes to protecting people of color from environmental hazards stemming from dangerous industrial activity and harmful infrastructure” (Maxwell, Center for American Progress). We see this time and time again — it seems as though the areas that suffer the most from natural and industrial disasters are those inhabited primarily by people of color, and the data suggests that this is not a coincidence. Most people in the United States are aware of the water crisis in Flint, Michigan but easily forget about the sheer amount of people that are affected on a daily basis. Flint was once the thriving home of the nations largest General Motors plant. The city took a massive hit when General Motors began downsizing, since a large part of Flint’s residents were in some way employed by, and reliant on, the General Motors plant. Flint’s economic problems were so severe that “the state of Michigan took over Flint’s finances after an audit projected a $25 million deficit” (CNN). In 2014, officials decided to divert “city water in an effort to save money but neglected to treat the water to prevent corrosion as it traveled through lead service lines” (Maxwell, Center for American Progress) this ultimately left more than 100,000 people in Flint exposed to toxic levels of lead in their water, making it essentially undrinkable. For months, “the state ignored the predominately black residents’ concerns and reassured them” that their drinking water was safe,

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