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Denver Mayor Michael Hancock delivers the annual State of the City address on the balcony of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science on July 27, 2020. 

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock announced a new initiative to tackle institutional racism and bias during the annual State of the City address on Monday.

“Racism is a public health crisis,” said Hancock, Denver's second Black mayor. “Like any disease or virus infecting our society, we need to urgently deploy the best minds and research to properly identify the virus, its causes and consequences, and develop the right vaccine.”

Hancock said that's why he has begun the process of establishing the Denver Institute of Equity and Reconciliation through public-private partnerships. The think tank will not be run by city government, Hancock’s spokesman Mike Strott confirmed, and instead is expected to operate like a nonprofit, becoming a “national leader in research of racism, bias, inclusion, practices of reconciliation, and development of programs and trainings for law enforcement, and the public, private and education sectors.”

More than 50 people have stepped up to help Hancock lead this effort, he said, including “some of the brightest minds in academia,” as well as leaders and experts in civil rights, faith, public safety, diversity, equity and inclusion.

“It’s my hope it will be the physical location where direct and honest conversations about racism will be held,” Hancock said, adding that more details around the initiative will be made available “soon.”

The mayor’s announcement comes in the wake of a national outcry for racial justice, sparked by the death of George Floyd who died in custody of Minneapolis police officers May 25.

Local protests have grown and evolved since first erupting in Denver on May 28, more recently honing in on nearby Aurora, where Elijah McClain  whom Hancock mourned in his speech  died last year after an encounter with Aurora police and paramedics.

“It won’t be long before the markings of protests are washed over, when COVID-19 has been contained through a vaccine, when our economy is reignited, when children can return to the classroom,” he said. “What will remain is how we will co-exist together, survive together, dream together. This is the opportunity to once and for all triumph over disease and hate, and rise as a society bonded together by our mutual fellowship and hope. I look forward to locking arms with you in triumph.”

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