Brooklynites testify before city’s Racial Justice Commission

The city’s Racial Justice Commission met Wednesday for the second time, and for the primary time in Brooklyn, permitting borough residents the prospect to testify concerning the methods metropolis authorities can change its legal guidelines to foster better racial fairness.

The meeting was the second of 5 public enter conferences the fee is holding, one in every borough. The first meeting took place on Staten Island last week. The commissioners will head to Queens Thursday night time for the third meeting.

The fee, created by Mayor Bill de Blasio in March, is tasked with figuring out areas the place structural racism is baked into the city’s legal guidelines and establishments, and revising these foundations to uproot racism from metropolis governance. The fee is empowered to make suggestions to revise the City Charter, which might go before voters within the November 2022 election.

“The Racial Justice Commission is charged with laying the groundwork for a racially equitable city where race is not a determinant of economic, political, social, or psychological outcomes,” mentioned Jennifer Jones Austin, CEO of the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies and the Commission’s chair, in her opening remarks.

Commission members distinguished the Racial Justice Commission from previous constitution revision commissions, nonetheless, by noting that this one is focusing way more closely on public enter, with commissioners explicitly tasked with listening to group members air their grievances.

“We’re just leaning in, we’re trying to listen,” Jones Austin mentioned in an interview previous to the listening to. “We’re a commission that doesn’t have any foregone conclusions, we are here to simply listen.”

Wednesday’s listening to came about on the Bethany Baptist Church in Bedford-Stuyvesant, a location which Jones Austin famous had particular significance within the historical past of the motion for racial justice because the gathering space within the Sixties for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s “Operation Breadbasket,” which organized to enhance the financial situations of Black folks throughout the nation, and particularly in unequal northern cities like New York whereas a lot of the general public’s focus was on de jure segregation within the south. Operation Breadbasket’s leaders met each week within the church’s basement, which is the place the Racial Justice Commission met Wednesday night.

At the listening to, 10 Brooklynites testified, together with two elected officers, Assemblymember Stefani Zinerman and City Councilmember and Democratic Comptroller nominee Brad Lander, and one (most certainly) incoming elected official, Mercedes Narcisse, who received the Democratic major for City Council District 46. Others included representatives of subject campaigns, together with on a regular basis Brooklynites.

Testimony centered on points akin to training, public security, policing, administrative staffing, housing, gentrification, and others, however essentially the most prominently mentioned subject, one introduced up by a number of folks, was that of psychological well being inequity. New Yorkers of colour, and notably Black New Yorkers, are far less likely to receive psychological well being companies and remedy, owing to forces akin to stigma, lack of culturally competent care, and an absence of resources in communities of colour. The drawback has grow to be extra pronounced throughout the pandemic, testifiers mentioned, as New Yorkers of colour have been extremely disproportionately impacted by the virus, which together with preventative measures led to a rise in anxiousness, isolation, and burnout.

Pastor Cheryl Anthony, the reverend at Judah International Christian Center in Crown Heights and a Bedford-Stuyvasent resident for 70 years, mentioned that within the absence {of professional} psychological well being care, a lot of the burden is positioned on religion leaders akin to herself.

“We know in our community, that is the bedrock,” Anthony mentioned. “And in providing services to members in congregations…we have not been adequately trained.”

“My colleagues are despondent right now,” she continued. “They do not have the resources nor the information in order to provide support for their constituents or the community. Having to have a place that they feel safe and secure in order to be able to express the feelings they are experiencing, whether it’s anxiety, burnout, a number of things.”

Narcisse additionally targeted her testimony on psychological well being, particularly noting that present psychological well being infrastructure, private and non-private, just isn’t culturally competent and is usually in a distinct language from the one spoken at residence.

“What we need in our community is to understand the culture. And having whatever literature that we have, to have it in a language that the family can understand. And take it to where people are functioning.”

Jones Austin mentioned in an interview after the occasion that she was stunned psychological well being inequity was so closely mentioned, however not shocked given the well-known disparities that exist.

“Hearing so many people talk about mental health was surprising, but appropriate. While surprising, very much on point. Some of the underlying challenges that persist, and the lack of recognition of the mental health and the trauma challenges that keep people of color, and people who are lower-income from getting ahead, and the importance of paying attention to that.”

Another subject introduced up on the listening to was that of changing the prevailing Civilian Complaint Review Board, the town entity which conducts oversight of the NYPD and recommends self-discipline for police misconduct, with an elected board with the power to mete out self-discipline reasonably than make suggestions. Attorney John Teufel argued that the CCRB must be changed with an Elected Civilian Review Board (ECRB), which might permit the Board to be extra unbiased and to raised maintain police misconduct to account, versus the present structure the place the NYPD commissioner has remaining say, and sometimes overturns CCRB choices.

Teufel pointed particularly to City Council laws, the Community Power Act, which might implement the reforms, however that some parts of the invoice would require adjustments to the Charter, most notably Section 18a, which lays out the stipulations and powers of the CCRB.

“Daniel Pantaleo remained a cop for five years after murdering Eric Garner,” Teufel mentioned. “This is largely because of chapter 18a.”

CCRB reform was on the ballot after the 2019 Charter Revision Commission, however many advocates argued it didn’t go practically far sufficient.

Other facets of metropolis governance included augmenting the city’s land use course of, as argued by Lander, who mentioned the system as at the moment constituted was systemically racist.

“We know for a fact that the policies we’ve had for generations have been systemically racist,” Lander mentioned. They’ve segregated the town for generations.”

He famous that “racial impact studies” must be within the constitution as a part of the land use course of; the City Council not too long ago handed a invoice to incorporate these research within the course of, however Lander mentioned placing it within the constitution would make them safer as a part of it. He additionally mentioned that the Comptroller’s office, which he’s nearly definitely about to take management of, must be required to carry out “racial equity audits” of metropolis businesses and packages.

After borough hearings are full, the commissioners will start researching the famous points extra intently in preparation of proposing constitution amendments, Jones Austin mentioned.

“We are hearing the issues that are being raised, and then doing the research into them,” Jones Austin mentioned after the listening to. “Find out what are the root causes of these issues.”

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