Jun. 8--After more than a week of protests against police brutality and racial injustice, Gov. Andy Beshear announced several actions Monday aimed at reducing racial inequality in Kentucky.
The biggest promise by far was a pledge to make sure every black Kentuckian has health insurance. He also announced plans to provide anti-bias and other training for police officers and teachers
"My commitment today is we're going to begin an effort to cover 100 percent of our individuals in our black and African American communities," Beshear said. "Everybody. We're going to be putting dollars behind it, we're going to have a multifaceted campaign to do it."
Beshear provided few details to back up his pledge, but said his administration will work to connect black Kentuckians with private health insurers and Medicaid.
"The inequalities have been laid bare, have been exposed by this COVID-19 pandemic," Beshear said. "It simply can't be allowed to continue any longer and it shouldn't have taken this type of pandemic and it shouldn't have taken these types of demonstrations for us to commit to ending it."
Black Kentuckians have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus pandemic. About 8 percent of Kentucky's population is black, but black Kentuckians make up 15.44 percent of all COVID-19 cases and 16.44 percent of all coronavirus-related deaths in the state.
There are about 20,000 uninsured black Kentuckians, according to the 2018 American Community Survey, which means about 5.8 percent of black Kentuckians are uninsured. The state's overall uninsured rate, according to the same survey, was 5.6 percent.
While there has been a push among protesters to "defund the police" (shorthand for shifting resources in government to focus on preventative measures rather than law enforcement), the Beshear administration committed to adding training classes for Kentucky police officers.
J. Michael Brown, Beshear's executive cabinet secretary, said officers will receive training on implicit bias, use of force, civil rights laws, ethics, emotional intelligence and community relationships. The state trains all police officers except those in the Lexington Police Department and Louisville Metro Police Department.
"While we don't expect that we will be able to get 40 hours of in-person training for all of our officers this calendar year, we are committed to getting at least 8 hours of training for all of our officers this calendar year," Brown said.
Beshear said there was only one course in police training that dealt with community relations and that it was only offered to dispatchers.
"This will be a significant step that will apply to the majority of law enforcement throughout this commonwealth," Beshear said.
Kate Miller, advocacy director for the Kentucky ACLU, said investments should focus on systems that provide opportunities for people rather than law enforcement.
"There needs to be more than more training," Miller said. "We like the idea of providing training to all, including law enforcement officers, but this definitely, definitely does not go far enough."
Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman, who is secretary of the Cabinet for Education and Workforce Development, also said she has recommended three changes to public education. "Public education was made to meet this moment," she said.
She recommended the state add a current student as a non-voting member of the state school board, that all faculty and staff go through implicit bias training and that the state start to develop new strategies and programs for recruiting people of color to become teachers.
"Kentucky's kids of color deserve to see themselves reflected in their community leaders," Coleman said.
Beshear said he did not know the percentage of teachers that are black, but said that it is "far too low" and that it is lower than the 8 percent of the population that is black.
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