After a year in which the pandemic and protests against police brutality have underscored the great racial inequalities in New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio has unveiled a sweeping initiative to review and reshape the city’s charter to address imbalances to correct.
The mayor on Tuesday announced the formation of a Racial Justice Commission that will be empowered to make policy recommendations aimed at “reducing structural racism for all New Yorkers.”
The 11-person commission could propose bold policies such as a job guarantee for all residents or reparations payments to black residents. The Commission is expected to make its recommendations this year, the last of Mr de Blasio’s eight years in office. Some of the proposals could go before New Yorkers as electoral measures next year.
The idea is based on reconciliation commissions in countries like South Africa, Canada and Argentina that have dealt with legacies of racism and violence.
The group will seek changes through the city charter, a document that serves as the city’s constitution. Mr de Blasio, a Democrat, said it was the first commission of its kind in the United States.
“We have never had a model to actually address structural racism and institutional racism,” said de Blasio at a press conference. “Identify it, acknowledge it, apologize for it, weed it, eradicate it, change the policy, change the law.”
Here’s what you need to know about the plan:
The commission aims to dismantle structural racism for New Yorkers.
The group’s mission statement is that it will “use the transformative potential of this moment in history” to “recommend structural changes and significant political reforms that advance racial justice and justice”.
What does that really mean?
By and large, the commission intends to take “steps towards reparation for damage” which, according to the mayor’s office, could include a public apology from the city.
The mayor didn’t give any specific options, but members of the commission supported ideas like baby bonds, a government-funded savings account for every child.
There may be proposals related to police reforms and voting changes. The Commission could also deal extensively with areas of the city affected by racism due to the uneven distribution of city parks and bus lanes.
Mr de Blasio said the commission will identify racism between city authorities, giving two examples: diversifying the fire service and making sure the landmark commission preserves the history of all New Yorkers.
Commission chair Jennifer Jones Austin, the executive director of a large group to fight poverty, said in an interview that the commission would certainly consider redress when investigating systemic racism.
“We should have discussions about reparations and what that might look like,” she said.
Mr de Blasio agreed that “everything should be on the table”.
Its members include union representatives, educators and nonprofit executives.
The vice chairman is Henry Garrido, executive director of District Council 37, a union that represents thousands of city workers.
A prominent member is Darrick Hamilton, professor of economics and urban policy at the New School, who advocated the establishment of baby bonds, the repayment of student debt, and a job guarantee that provides a job for all residents who want one.
Each baby would receive a grant that they could use in the future for college or a down payment to buy a home.
“Without capital, inequality is bogged down,” said Hamilton in a TED talk that was viewed more than 1.5 million times.
Other members of the commission include Phil Thompson, a deputy mayor; Fred Davie, executive vice president of Union Theological Seminary; K. Bain, executive director of a nonprofit called Community Capacity Development; Ana Bermudez, Parole Commissioner; Lurie Daniel Favors, Interim Executive Director of the Center for Law and Social Justice at Medgar Evers College; Chris Kui, former executive director of Asian Americans for Equality; Yesenia Mata, General Manager of La Colmena, a job center on Staten Island; and Jo-Ann Yoo, executive director of the Asian American Federation.
Previous assignments have changed New York.
The body is officially known as the Charter Review Commission, which means it will have the power to review the City Charter and its recommendations could lead to voting.
These commissions have done important work in recent years: in this year’s local elections, for example, votes will be held based on the election of the charter, which are the result of a commission to review the charter. For example, instead of making one election for the mayor, voters can make up to five decisions.
Other changes resulting from commissions include the enlargement of the Civil Complaint Audit Committee. Setting new limits for campaign contributions; and setting tenure limits for community board members.
Understand the George Floyd case
- On May 25, 2020, Minneapolis police officers arrested George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, after a supermarket employee alleged he had used a fake $ 20 bill to buy cigarettes.
- Mr. Floyd died after Derek Chauvin, one of the police officers, handcuffed him and nailed him to the floor with one knee, an episode that was captured on video.
- Mr. Floyd’s death sparked a series of national protests against police brutality.
- Mr. Chauvin was released by Minneapolis police along with three other officers. He was charged with both second and third degree murder and second degree manslaughter. He’s on trial now. Opening statements are scheduled for March 29th.
- Here’s what we know in the case up to this point, and how the process is likely to play out.
Protests against police brutality inspired the idea.
Mr de Blasio first proposed setting up a commission to investigate racism last year when protests raged over the city against the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others. Some activists were disappointed that the commission took so long to get together, but city officials said they wanted to get it right and put together the best group possible.
In December, Mr de Blasio rarely apologized for his response to protests against police brutality and agreed to a report from a city inspectorate finding that the police had severely ill-treated the protests.
Commission chairwoman Jones Austin said “the havoc Covid has wreaked on low-income color communities” and the murders of Mr Floyd, Ms. Taylor and others have highlighted racial differences that can no longer be ignored.
“How can we start making systemic changes?” She said. “You can do one-off things. But you need to look at the document that sets out how the government works and how it needs to be revised to make sure it is inclusive. “
Still, the next mayor is likely to have a say in the debate. Several leading candidates running in the Democratic primary in June have proposed their own ideas to help poor New Yorkers, and it remains to be seen whether the next mayor will adopt the commission’s recommendations.
Mr de Blasio said that the commission was an extension of the story of two cities that marked his first campaign for the mayor and the first years of office. He created a universal preschool program and added affordable housing as part of his mission to reduce inequality.
When asked why he waited until his final year in office to start the commission, the Mayor suggested that last year’s news events had made it clear to New Yorkers that “the whole structure must now be questioned” .
Other cities are also trying to tackle long-standing injustices.
While New York becomes the first major American city to form a reconciliation commission like this, other cities are taking steps to crack down on racism.
The city of Evanston, Illinois, north of Chicago, is the first American city to offer redress to black residents. The plan calls for spending $ 10 million from a tax on legalized marijuana to pay for housing and economic programs.
The momentum of a national redress campaign has increased. A subcommittee of the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee held a unique hearing on reparations in 2019, attended by writer Ta-Nehisi Coates.
Other cities are grappling with police reforms, and some have welcomed the defeat of the police movement. But even in Minneapolis, where Mr. Floyd was killed by police last May, efforts to dismantle the police force have collapsed. A far less ambitious move – cutting the police budget by 4.5 percent – was approved in December, disappointing those who had pushed for a defund.