Fort Worth

Fort Worth to adopt race and culture report, but what’s next?

Race and Culture Task Force makes final recommendations to City Council

On Tuesday, members of the Fort Worth Race and Culture Task Force presented its recommendations for racial equity to the city council. Presiding co-chair Rosa Navejar said she was pleased to see the council's receptiveness of the group's suggestions.
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On Tuesday, members of the Fort Worth Race and Culture Task Force presented its recommendations for racial equity to the city council. Presiding co-chair Rosa Navejar said she was pleased to see the council's receptiveness of the group's suggestions.

The Fort Worth City Council late Tuesday accepted recommendations aimed at improving racial equity in the city that critics say don’t go far enough to address disparities.

The recommendations from the Race and Culture Task Force, if followed through by city leaders, could cost as much as $3.3 million, with about $2.9 million coming from the city. That money would be invested in health care access, criminal justice reform, improved access to transportation and economic development, among other issues.

The council’s vote does nothing to actually implement the recommendations. It simply acknowledges the task force’s report. Further city ordinances are needed if the council wants to make the recommendations a reality.

Those changes may come in 2019 as Mayor Betsy Price directed city staff to explore the costs related to some of the commendations and study what 20 other large cities, in Texas and across the country, have done to address racial disparities.

The report offered a beginning, Councilwoman Kelly Allen Gray said, and would require more work.

“I’m 50 years old, we’ve never had this conversation in Fort Worth,” she said, challenging critics to continue to be involved in the community. “We’re in this together. If we’re going to turn this tide we have to turn it together.”

The task force was created following the 2016 arrest of Jacqueline Craig. Craig’s case resulted in public outcry and surfaced racial and cultural inequalities in the city.

Mindia Whittier, a member of United Fort Worth, played video of Craig’s arrest saying it brought “national shame” to Fort Worth.

Members of United Fort Worth, a grassroots organization, have been vocal critics of the task force and its recommendations. When the task force’s findings were unveiled last week, the organization called the recommendations “incomplete and opaque.”

Those criticisms continued Tuesday as nearly 30 people, not all members of United Fort Worth, voiced disagreement with the task force’s findings.

Among them, Michael Matos, a candidate for District 7, said the task force failed to address the immigrant community in Fort Worth and challenges they face.

“Y’all need to listen to the Spanish community in Fort Worth,” Matos said, first speaking in Spanish.

United Fort Worth offered its own solutions including amending recommendations about an independent redistricting commission and police oversight committee. Both should be created independent of the council because of conflicts of interest and the police oversight committee should have subpoena power and a budget, members said.

They also asked that the task force and city officials stop using “minority” as a demographic descriptor and instead use people of color. More Hispanics will live in Texas in 2022 than white people.

Among recommendations, the Race and Culture Task Force pitched a civilian oversight committee of the police department, which in its report the task force said would likely receive resistance from police “due to the fear of civilians policing police and FWPD due to the newness of this program.”

The task force also recommended the creation of a “chief equity officer” tasked with implementing diversity efforts across the city.

Part of the task force’s plan includes recruiting and training a more diverse police force as well as devoting resources to education and job training for low income and undeserved residents. Sonya Brown, Dean of Public Services and Social/Behavioral Sciences Division at Tarrant County College, said the college supported those efforts.

United Way of Tarrant County was also among supporters of the task force’s findings.

“I don’t know if it’s perfect, but I do know it’s a start,” CEO T.D. Smyers said.

Videos of task force meetings can be viewed here.

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Luke Ranker covers the intersection of people and government focused on Fort Worth and Tarrant County. He came to Texas from the plains of Kansas, where he wrote about a lot, including government, crime and courts in Topeka. He survived a single winter in Pennsylvania as a breaking news reporter. He can be reached at 817-390-7747 or lranker@star-telegram.com.
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