By Beth Germano

SOMERVILLE (CBS) – As protesters take to the streets around the country demanding racial justice, the city of Somerville is taking a new step toward battling racism by calling it a public health emergency.

“There’s incredible duress on black people in this country and vulnerable populations, thinking their sons and daughters could be killed because of the color of their skin,” said Mayor Joe Curtatone.

He is outlining steps toward reform and they are centered on his police department, a department he says is already progressive-minded, but he wants to take on what he calls political sacred cows. “This is a systemic problem we all own it,” said Curtatone.

Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone (WBZ-TV)

Among his proposals are a civilian oversight committee that would eliminate internal police investigations, withdrawing from a federal military weapons program, and continuing a push for body cameras.

Stephenson Aman, a Somerville community activist, says it is a public health emergency “because fear is real life. The police are not to be feared but appreciated, men and women who serve the community are supposed to be looked up to,” said Aman.

In Davis Square, a call to rally drew a smaller, but vocal crowd. But on a day when the public health emergency was declared participants said it was a call to action. “I think Somerville did a great job addressing racism through policy, it’s the only way to enforce any change,” said protest organizer Alique Fisher.

In a statement Somerville Police Chief David Fallon said, “I support these initiatives while understanding change is difficult. I could not be prouder of the men and women of the Somerville Police Department and I hold them in the highest regard. This will be an ongoing effort, but together we’re going to take our chosen profession and raise it to the highest possible level.”

Beth Germano

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