CDC Employees: Declare Racism a Public Health Crisis

ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images
ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images

Around nine percent of the 11,000 employees who work at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) signed a letter to agency Director Robert Redfield charging that black employees face “ongoing and recurring acts of racism and discrimination” on the job.

The letter, dated June 30, was obtained by taxpayer-funded National Public Radio (NPR) and linked the deaths at the hands of police of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and Rayshard Brooks and the coronavirus’s impact on blacks.

“In light of the recent calls for justice across this country and around the world, we, as dedicated public health professionals, can no longer stay silent to the widespread acts of racism and discrimination within CDC that are, in fact, undermining the agency’s core mission,” the letter said. “We are hurt. We are angry. We are exhausted. And ultimately, we fear that, despite the global protests, little will be done to address the systemic racism we face each and every day.

“Systemic racism is not just a concept perpetrated outside these walls,” the letter said. “It is a crushing reality for people of color in their daily lived experiences here at CDC.”

“The agency has an unprecedented opportunity to leverage the power of science to confront this insidious threat that undermines the health and strength of our entire nation,” the letter said.

The letter noted that only ten percent of senior leadership at CDC are black.

NPR reported on a former CDC employee and the CDC response to the letter:

Dr. Camara Phyllis Jones, who was a medical officer at the CDC for 14 years and remains in contact with current employees, says that after the letter was sent to Redfield, it was circulated among the 11,000-person workforce for signatures.

She adds that at least one division head signed, and about 300 employees chose to endorse the letter anonymously. Only current CDC employees could sign the letter, and each person could sign it only once, according to Jones. Any CDC employee could sign, not just people of color. The racial breakdown of the signatories was not known.

In a statement to NPR, a CDC spokesman acknowledged that Redfield received the letter and responded to it, adding, “CDC is committed to fostering a fair, equitable, and inclusive environment in which staff can openly share their concerns with agency leadership.”

The letter issued a series of demands, including declaring racism to be a public health crisis in the United States, addressing CDC’s “toxic culture of exclusion and racial discrimination,” and making “implicit bias training and cultural sensitivity education mandatory for all staff.”

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