Holyoke mayor issues order declaring racism, police violence a public health emergency

  • Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse joins protesters in a march, protest and vigil against racial injustice and police brutality, Tuesday, June 2, 2020 as they walk from City Hall to Holyoke Heritage State Park. Here, they chant “hands up, don’t shoot.” GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 6/18/2020 3:48:17 PM
Modified: 6/18/2020 3:48:07 PM

HOLYOKE — Mayor Alex Morse has issued an executive order declaring racism and police violence a public health emergency.

The executive order, issued Wednesday, urges the City Council and city agencies to direct resources to actions that Morse said would begin dismantling systemic racism in Holyoke. The order recognizes Juneteenth as a paid holiday for city employees, establishes a “Citizen Police Advisory Committee” to advise the mayor on racial justice and policing, and calls for the creation of a racial equity public health professional position within the city Board of Health.

“Racism is a threat to public health and safety, and is a paramount social determinant of health, shaping access to the resources that create opportunities for health, including public safety, housing, education and employment, and is a persistent barrier to health equity for the people of Holyoke,” the order reads.

Morse could not be reached Thursday for comment on the executive order.

As part of the order, Morse recommended that the City Council codify June 19th, or Juneteenth, as an annual holiday marking slavery’s end. 

The order also provides additional details about the Citizen Police Advisory Committee, which Morse announced earlier this month. The body will have 11 members with the power to request information from the Holyoke Police Department and other city departments in order to inform their recommendations to Morse. Those recommendations will then lead to future directives for combating systemic racism, the order states.

The order also requests city agencies support studies that “explore the effectiveness of interventions that may decrease reliance on law enforcement, including decriminalization, increased investment in social determinants of health, and community-based alternatives that promote public safety, such as violence intervention and restorative justice.”

Morse called for advocacy at the state and federal levels for “policies and funding opportunities that directly combat systemic racism; such as the elimination of legislative provisions that shield law enforcement officers from investigation and accountability, otherwise known as qualified immunity.” 

“I hereby order every City cabinet, department, agency, and office to take all necessary steps to implement this Executive Order, including through the allocation of funding and other resources in a manner consistent with applicable law,” the order reads.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.


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