City Council members, staff and other community leaders describe the December arrest of an African-American mother by a white police officer as the “tipping point” to heightened racial tensions, something that has been simmering in the city for some time, according to an assessment by the National League of Cities.
The finding was among several included in an 11-page paper that summarizes what the NLC’s REAL initiative team, or Race Equity and Leadership, found during a visit to Fort Worth in February. They were invited by City Manager David Cooke and the City Council.
For many weeks following the arrest of Jacqueline Craig and her two teenage daughters by officer William Martin, the city felt growing pressure from the African-American community to address racial tensions. Fort Worth is an NLC member. The group met with dozens of people, including city and school officials, as well as faith leaders from the African-American and Latino communities.
You can watch what happened in the Dec. 21 police incident and .... people view it different ways. It doesn’t make somebody right or somebody wrong. We’ve got to understand both sides.
David Cooke, Fort Worth city manager
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“You can watch what happened in the Dec. 21 police incident and ... people view it different ways,” Cooke said. “It doesn’t make somebody right or somebody wrong. We’ve got to understand both sides.”
The findings, sent to Cooke in late March, contain initial observations highlighting challenges facing the city. The report makes five broad recommendations on how to build racial equity in the city. Among them, the group suggests a more comprehensive look and in-depth research into the perspectives, history and biases in Fort Worth.
The NLC team said it found significant differences in the understanding of what council members, staff and community leaders say are racial tensions and inequity in the city, to the point that an often-used phrase, “the Fort Worth way” to some means “systematically leaving people out.”
White leaders interpret the phrase, used for years by elected and city officials and civic leaders, to mean that when conflict arises, people in Fort Worth in good faith can sit down and work things out without public acrimony, the NLC paper said. But black leaders “inside and outside government” see it in a negative light, “as divisive and not inclusive, systematically leaving people out,” the paper said.
We heard a wide range of perspectives and experiences on the nature of race relations, the extent and impact of racial disparities, the root causes, current dynamics and possible solutions, some of them quite contradictory.
National League of Cities paper on Fort Worth visit
“We heard a wide range of perspectives and experiences on the nature of race relations, the extent and impact of racial disparities, the root causes, current dynamics and possible solutions, some of them quite contradictory,” the paper said.
The paper quotes one person as saying, “Part of the problem is that we get to these places and we can’t have the conversation that allows us to hear each other and understand that we experience the world and this city differently.”
Cooke said he should have some recommendations ready for the council to consider on Tuesday regarding how to move forward on the NLC’s assessments. That may involve the NLC returning for more work, or having city commissions and city staff do the work suggested.
District 6 Councilman Jungus Jordan said he has read the findings and appreciates the insight it provides, but feels that the Fort Worth community must work on the issues.
“We cannot tolerate any perception of discrimination,” Jordan said. “Fort Worth has always been able to come together and work out issues. The citizens of Fort Worth have to resolve these issues.”
Leon Andrews, director of the REAL initiative, said the summary of findings is by no means a final report. He said the assessment shows opportunity exists for elected officials to engage the community in discussions about racial tensions and issues.
We feel very encouraged the city is interested in doing this in a meaningful and authentic way. The fact the city invited us in and is committed to the work is a good sign.
Leon Andrews, National League of Cities
“We feel very encouraged the city is interested in doing this in a meaningful and authentic way,” Andrews said. “The fact the city invited us in and is committed to the work is a good sign. The opportunity in Fort Worth is an exciting one.”
The goals of city leaders and community leaders of color are different, the paper says. City officials think racial inequity exists because of differences in how residents are treated by city government. Minority community leaders see it in an entirely different light and say racial disparity exists because of inequities in political power, education, jobs and economic development.
Some said “the real problem is the impact of institutional and systemic racism over many years resulting in unfair distribution of city resources, particularly as it relates to education and employment,” the report says.
The report noted the “strong” relationship between elected and faith leaders, which “will be essential” to seeing any racial healing or other initiatives.
At least one council member is anonymously quoted in the paper giving credit to African-American pastors for keeping calm in the city following the Craig incident and “the reason Fort Worth didn’t blow up.”
Martin served a 10-day suspension after the incident, which involved the alleged choking of Craig’s young son by a neighbor. Charges have been dropped against Craig and her daughters.