SAN JOSE (KPIX 5) — The Santa Clara Board of Supervisors on Tuesday afternoon unanimously approved a resolution declaring racism as a public health crisis, according to Supervisor Dave Cortese.

Cortese issued a press release Tuesday afternoon confirming the vote. He introduced the proposal to focus Santa Clara County’s attention “on the prevailing systemic and institutional racism that exists 157 years after slavery officially ended,” according to the press release.

The Board also unanimously approved a resolution initiated by Board President Cindy Chavez Monday to support Black Lives Matter and its mission to pursue justice and equality.

The approval of Cortese’s resolution proposal, which was co-sponsored by Chavez, came after comments from a half-dozen speakers in support of the resolution.

“A resolution is only as good as the actions that follow it,” said Cortese in the press release. “The first step is stating the problem and then moving forward. We will need the commitment of all our departments and the community to carry out what has been stated in the resolution.”

The board also unanimously voted to approve a suite of reforms to local law enforcement practices, uses of force and emergency response.

The reform package requires county law enforcement officials and agencies like the sheriff’s office to comply with various new policies such as requiring officers to stop those who use excessive force, banning the use of chokeholds and carotid restraints and requiring officers to exhaust all other de-escalation tactics before using deadly force.

Supervisor Joe Simitian proposed the reform package in the wake of George Floyd’s death in police custody in Minneapolis. Simitian said he developed the reforms in accordance with those outlined by the group Campaign Zero’s “8 Can’t Wait” proposed policy changes to prevent killings by law enforcement.

“Our board is probably not going to be able to solve the challenges of institutional racism in a week or a month or a year or longer,” Simitian said.

“But what we can do, what we should do, what we have the opportunity to do and what I would argue we have the obligation to do is to step up and do something that is real and tangible and that will save lives,” he said.

The board also voted to require the county counsel, Office of Correction and Law Enforcement Monitoring, the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office, the district attorney’s office and the public defender’s office to report on several additional policy reforms.

The group of county offices must report on the possibility of ending the hiring of law enforcement officials with a history of misconduct complaints, making a public list of all lethal and non-lethal weapons owned by the county, limiting the acquisition of military weapons and equipment, limiting the use of tear gas and rubber bullets for crowd control and restructuring the county’s emergency response policies to ensure the county employees who are best trained for a situation are able to handle it.

The group of county offices will give their report to the board Aug. 11.

Sheriff Laurie Smith said her office was in favor of the reforms, some of which county law enforcement has already enacted.

“(These reforms) will allow us to build trust with the community that I think law enforcement in general, really, has lost,” Smith said. 

Chavez said she will closely monitor the potential effect of changing which county employees respond to various cases such as homelessness calls and mental health issues that would normally be handled by law enforcement.

“That’s significant and, I think, very powerful and probably the area I’m going to keep my eye most on,” Chavez said.

KPIX 5 spoke with one of the key figures in the push for Tuesday’s vote. Reverend Jethro Moore, the head of the Silicon Valley chapter of the NAACP, led the opening prayer at a community meeting and made sure to let the supervisors know that the community is watching.

“Father, we pray on the Board’s decision today on the resolution that Black Lives Matter,” said Moore. “God, that you would remove each supervisor from themselves and let the humanity of God touch all of their hearts, oh Lord.”

The resolutions would be groundbreaking, committing Santa Clara County to begin working with the black community to eliminate systemic and institutional racism.

Moore said the passage would be momentous.

“Oh, it’s a big deal. Once it passes, we just don’t want it to pass; we want action,” Moore explained.

With near constant, daily peaceful protests and demonstrations over the past three weeks, there seems to be sustained momentum for change.

But Reverend Moore said he’s heard a lot of empty promises during election years.

“I want to say I’m hopeful, that it’s not a political stunt,” said Moore. “We’re going to hold everybody accountable for their votes, all five supervisors. Don’t just put up a Black Lives Matter signs and do nothing else. Action is required.”

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