The City of Dayton Anti Racism Lens Should also be Used on the Budget
By Darryl Fairchild, Dayton City Commissioner
From an early age, I learned the teachings of Jesus, especially his command to love my neighbor as myself. By junior high, I became aware that not all Christians love their neighbor, and it was often due to the color of the neighbor’s skin. Fortunately, I had other Christians around me who did live out that commandment. Their example gave me the support to fully face the realities in our city. As I experienced mandatory busing which was implemented to remedy racial inequity in education and housing, I saw clearly the evil of racism. Racism closes eyes to injustice. Racism prevents building a community of fair housing, employment and education.
Despite our attempts at creating a city defined by justice, racial inequity persists. To confront this inequity, I have found Ibram Kendi's language instructive. In, How to Be an Anti-Racist, he is direct. He requires us to confront the racial realities in our lives and leaves no room for denial or escape. He bluntly states that a policy or idea is either racist or anti-racist. The measuring stick is whether the policy or idea serves to reduce racial inequity or not.
In June, we applied this framework and language to the policy and ideas of our city when we declared racism to be a public health crisis: “That this Commission commits that the City of Dayton will adapt an anti-racist lens in creating new city policy.”
The language and meaning are clear. Each new policy is to be viewed through an anti-racist lens. This lens requires us to ask, does this policy reduce racial inequity?
For the city of Dayton, the most important policy decision we make each year is the budget. The budget reveals our policy priorities. It also empowers and limits what we can do. So, it is incumbent on us to look at the 2021 budget through an anti-racist lens.
Note, we made this declaration when the pandemic was significantly impacting our budget and operations; and it was clear it would negatively impact our 2021 budget too. We set an expectation with the community that each new policy, including the budget which was beginning to be formed, would be created to reduce racial inequity.
The declaration states we will work with other regional entities to create plans of action to address nine issues: a) institutional racism, b) equitable healthcare, c) education, d) economic opportunities, e) law enforcement, f) local criminal, juvenile, family courts; g) environmental racism, gentrification, redlining; h) food insecurity and access; and i) hate crimes.
We have not put in place the structure to fully implement our declaration. Our city has been focused on COVID-19 and police reform. In terms of our response to the pandemic, we have intentionally worked to provide access to testing and vaccine to all of our citizens. Our police reform has put forward recommendations, that when fully implemented, have the potential to reduce racial inequity.
Beyond this work, we have not advanced the work of our declaration and it is clear the budget was created without the lens of anti-racism being applied. Going forward, we need to create the metrics that will make the anti-racist lens transparent and functional.
Absent this type of lens, I want to highlight four programs that are priorities I was elected to represent, critical to reducing racial inequities, and which are unfunded or underfunded. These priorities are a) investing in children and youth, b) housing, c) police reform, and d) the Human Relations Council. Here are examples to illustrate.
Investing in Children and Youth: In 2018, when asked how we should spend our budget dollars, leaders in our citizen engagement process clearly told us they would invest funds into youth programming. This year’s budget is the third where we have failed to include funding for youth programming. This lack of resources is worsened by the loss of Madden Golf Course where youth were introduced to and participated in golfing. There was an imbalance in the golf course closings: two that were not profitable were in the city and the profitable one is located in Kettering. It was agreed that a portion of profits from golfing would be used to make up for the loss of opportunities for our youth by funding programs for them . The 2021 budget does not include funding for youth programs from the General Fund or from golf revenue.
Housing: We need to re-examine our housing policy to address the legacy of redlining. Our current strategy is to build around our strongest assets. Unfortunately, our assets are part of a footprint shaped by that racist legacy. Only focusing on our assets perpetuates racial inequity. We need to adequately fund our Department of Planning and Community Development so we can do the required creative work and to prepare to take advantage of opportunities that may emerge from the recovery package or an infrastructure program.
Police Reform: Promising recommendations and actions are emerging from the five working groups. The key to fulfilling their promise hinges on the nature of the relationship between police and community. Mutual respect and trust are essential to this relationship. While we may implement administrative and practical changes - the transformational work that is needed may not be achieved. The future of the Community Police Council is illustrative.
In the CPC, critical conversations on many of the issues being considered now were stalemated. In this setting, there is a power imbalance - the police have more power than the community members. Often, concerns raised by the community members were not addressed directly, but were often met with explanation or diversion.
Now, there is a proposal to disband the CPC and replace it with a new structure of citizen engagement. Starting a new relationship will only delay the hard work necessary to foster an authentic, trusting and effective relationship. Additionally it will breed suspicion and decrease legitimacy. I recommend we retain the CPC and use our Mediation Center to move the relationship between police and community forward.
Human Relations Council: The Human Relations Council was birthed out of the struggle for civil rights. It was created to address racial inequities in housing, government contracts, employment, and relationships among our citizens. It has been an anti-racism lens for 60 years.
It was the HRC that led our community when white supremacists announced they would hold a hate rally in the heart of our downtown. In this critical time, when we face racial tension heightened by the death of George Floyd, we need the HRC more than ever. Inexplicably, we have sidelined the HRC in our police reform work. We have reduced the staff to five full-time staff. This underutilization and funding is crippling the HRC.
Racism is an evil that diminishes all of us. We have a new opportunity to re-examine every aspect of our city with an anti-racist lens. In doing so, we will need to call upon our better angels to create a space for all of our citizens to see themselves as part of the solution. It will be difficult work. I believe we are up to the challenge. We can fundamentally change our city for the good. We can free our next generation from the evil of racism that has plagued us for far too long.