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Protesters affirm San Luis Obispo City Council declaration of racism as public health crisis

Protesters in San Luis Obispo
KEYT/Anikka Abbott
Protesters march in downtown San Luis Obispo.

SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. - Protesters took to the streets in San Luis Obispo, one night after the city council made a resolution declaring systemic racism as a public health crisis.

Protesters gathered at mission plaza in San Luis Obispo, before marching through downtown.

Organizers opened the protest by reading the resolution made by the city council Tuesday night.

The council's statement reads in part:

The City Council adopted a resolution affirming that racism is a public health crisis and recommending public health officials declare racism a public health emergency.  The resolution accomplishes two primary purposes: 1) A formal city affirmation of the well documented premise that systemic racism has manifested itself as a public health crisis and 2) A request that public health officials who possess the authority to declare public health emergencies declare systemic racism and its ongoing effects to be an emergency, which could provide for opportunities to direct needed funding and resources to the crisis.

San Luis Obispo City Council

Protesters said racism is a longtime pandemic, and they are glad for the council's resolution.

"We have a lot of systemic racism and things that us as minorities deal with on a regular basis," said Nakiaha Roberts, a protester. "We really just want change and we want to be heard."

"When people die of the same thing over and over again, it is a health emergency," said Esther Hurst, a protester. She said she is glad people are finally recognizing the severity of it.

The county public health department is looking into the matter.

Dr. Penny Borenstein, San Luis Obispo County public health officer, said she recognizes racism is an issue in the community.

"As to declaring it a public health emergency, I'm not prepared to do that at this time," she said. "But I am open to dialoguing with members of the community."

Protesters hope to create lasting change after centuries of racism.

"A lot of times we're told we're being sensitive or it's just a joke," said Roberts. "We just want to make the message clear that we're not being overly sensitive and these are real hurts and pains that we go through."

The mayor also gave a proclamation Tuesday, declaring June 19, the day slaves were liberated, as Juneteenth.

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Anikka Abbott

Anikka Abbott is a reporter for KEYT | KCOY | KKFX.