Webinar: How to Address Racial Inequities in Your City

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In response to the tragic events that occurred recently in Baton Rouge, Falcon Heights, and Dallas, NLC hosted a webinar to help cities deal with the challenges of race and equity in their communities – and commit to solutions. The webinar shares ideas for city responses, highlights what’s working in several cities, and offers tools and resources from both NLC and the federal government that are available to all cities.

The webinar, hosted by NLC’s Race, Equity And Leadership (REAL) initiative, highlighted the following steps city leaders can take to address racial inequities in their communities:


Bring people together. Work with police departments to build relationships within communities of color. Build trust and increase accountability. Make connections across city government to address root causes of racial and social divisions. Mayors can make a conscious choice to be vocal proponents in their communities for racial equity policies, programs, and practices.

Host a convening.

NLC and U.S. Conference of Mayors are working with the White House to encourage local officials to convene 100 community conversations on race relations, justice, policing and equality. Bringing communities together in constructive, civil discourse is a key step in achieving shared goals such as keeping our neighborhoods safe and expanding opportunities for our residents. Many local officials are already leading. NLC seeks to learn from cities who are out front these issues and encourage more cities to join these important efforts.

City leaders can create safe spaces for people to talk about race and develop strategies for achieving equity. People most affected by these issues (e.g. residents in communities of color, police officers, local leaders) have good ideas for solutions. Invite city officials, faith leaders, protest leaders, African-Americans, Latinos, Asian Pacific Islanders, Natives, educators, coaches, youth, local media outlets, professional athletes, community leaders. Here is a guide for community conversations on race from our partners at the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and a great example Project PEACE from Tacoma, WA. Tell us how we can support you.

Make change.

Consider policy reforms that could work in your city. Work with police departments to implement the recommendations of President’s Task force on 21st Century Policing. Be a vocal proponent in your community for racial equity policies, programs, and practices. “Mayors can ensure that the leadership in the police force push for just outcomes,” said Pittsburgh Chief of Police Cameron McLay. Resource Guide and toolkit  for government officials and lessons learned from community leaders.

Build sustained relationships.

Work with police departments to build long term relationships with key community stakeholders. Set up standing meetings with key stakeholders. Relationships need to be established before the crisis. “We’ve had peaceful protests and dialogues in Pittsburgh. That doesn’t happen automatically… it starts at the top with leadership from the mayor and with the police chief taking risks and building relationships,” said Chief Urban Affairs Officer for the City of Pittsburgh Valerie McDonald-Roberts. Chief McLay agreed, sharing his assessment that trust is developed over time, not at the first meeting, and perhaps not even the 5th meeting. “Real trust comes about through longer term work together and relationship building over time. Conversations have to happen before the crisis. It has to be a priority, with particular attention where trust gaps are the widest,” said Chief McLay. It is possible to purposefully, intentionally build genuine human relationships of mutual respect over time.

Examples: Community ambassador program in St. Paul, Minnesota. Police – Youth basketball program in Roanoke, Virginia. Books and Bears program in Rochester, New York.

Build trust, and promote police legitimacy and accountability.

Reflections from Chief McLay: Police executives have to earn legitimacy by holding ourselves accountable to highest standards for ethical performance. We are changing the question from whether the use of force or pursuit was consistent with the law to whether performance is consistent with best practices. Though no one size fits all solution exists, the 21st Century Report provides a great template for changing standards, policies and practices accordingly.

“It’s critically important to have the moral courage to say sorry. I’m sorry for the shared history. I’m sorry for the role my profession has played in the harm that has been caused to our communities of color. And I’m sorry for the days where we didn’t have our best day but I’m going to hold myself accountable for making sure that from now on that we’re going to try to work together with you to find more just ways to deliver our police services. Trust is something we have to earn.” – Chief McLay

An example of shared accountability in Pittsburgh: Pittsburgh Office of Municipal Investigations and Citizen Police Review Board work together to investigate citizen complaints about improper police conduct and hold police accountable to high standards of conduct and performance.

Get the facts about racial disparities in your city.

Do you know how many arrests, fines, tickets, violent encounters, and citizen complaints are issued to or by each racial group in your community? Getting real data on police-community interactions disaggregated by race is an important first step to developing solutions that will work for your community. The White House Police Data Initiative can provide technical assistance to your community.

Keep in touch, and set an example for other cities.

We want to hear about what you’re doing and highlight your best practices with other city leaders. If you have started to have community conversations, email us and tell us all about it.

About the Author: Leon T. Andrews, Jr., is the Director of the Race, Equity And Leadership (REAL) initiative at the National League of Cities.