Austin City Council directs action to overcome institutional racism ID'd by task force

Responding to a report that highlights examples of institutional racism in the city, Austin City Council directed the city manager on Thursday to take the first steps into looking how the report’s recommendations can be realized.

The Mayor's Task Force on Institutional Racism and Systemic Inequality's first presented its 70-page report during Tuesday’s Austin City Council work session, nearly five months after the group was officially assembled. The report offers more than 200 recommendations on how the city can work to eliminate institutional and systemic racial inequalities found in various areas of the city's system.

The full report can be found here.

Chaired by Colette Pierce Burnette, president and CEO of Huston-Tillotson University, and Austin ISD Superintendent Paul Cruz, the task force's report points to examples of racism and inequality in education; real estate and housing; health; finance, banking and industry; and civil and criminal justice. Each focus area was designated a working group, with rosters ranging from 25 to 60 volunteers.

Mayor Steve Adler commissioned the Task Force on Institutional Racism and Systemic Inequality at the end of 2016 in the wake of excessive force allegations against the Austin Police Department. After studying similar task forces across the U.S., Adler said he wanted to make sure the task force did not get stuck in the trap of only focusing on criminal justice.

The report, which claims the recommendations are “not the end, but rather a continuum,” calls on elected officials and city executives to commit to “personal soul searching,” lifelong training, building the courage to talk about race, and eliminating institutional racism and racial disparities.

The report received criticism during Thursday’s council discussion from members of the public who said there was a disconnect between the people who make up the low-income minority population and those who made up the task force.

“Y’all people can’t relate to my people, y’all can’t relate to the people y’all call low income,” Austin resident Victor Reed said during an emotional testimony to council. “You should be ashamed. This would not be the first city in America that eliminated a race. Get real people on your task force.”

Zenobia Joseph said the city has not taken a strong enough role in racial inequality issues both locally and statewide.

“Simply accepting this report is not good enough,” Joseph said.

District 1 Council Member Ora Houston complimented the work done by the task force but acknowledged there is still a long road ahead.

“This is the first step for us to be able to air these words publicly, although most of us have known that that is part of the problem, that we’ve never aired it publicly before,” Houston said. “By accepting this report it gives us an opportunity to look at discrete action items to work on as we roll out all the different plans we have on the drawing board.”
By Christopher Neely
Christopher Neely is Community Impact's Austin City Hall reporter. A New Jersey native, Christopher moved to Austin in 2016 following years of community reporting along the Jersey Shore. His bylines have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun, USA Today and several other local outlets along the east coast.


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