| Palm Beach Post
WEST PALM BEACH — The Mayor’s Task Force on Racial and Ethnic Equity has its work cut out for it.
At the group’s first public summit Saturday, dozens of residents weighed in on what the priorities should be for the next several months, as it researches changes and programs to recommend West Palm Beach adopt to become a fairer place with improved opportunities for all.
The key topics were criminal justice; education; finance, banking and industry; health; and real estate and housing. Five break-out groups discussed those areas during the four-hour summit and came up with the following top priorities for the task force to research and recommend how best to implement:
- Criminal justice: Create opportunities for the community to engage with policing (e.g. by establishing a community transparency board. Equally ranked by the participants: Offer racial equity training for police officers so that they learn how to de-escalate situations and develop a sensitivity to race and culture.
- Education: Offer career development and adult education opportunities beginning in high school, including internships and training.
- Finance, banking and industry: Create programs and policies targeting equal access to housing. Ranked nearly as highly: Construct and promote educational programs to increase financial literacy in youth and adults.
- Health: Produce policies aimed at ensuring everyone has equal access to healthcare services.
- Real estate and housing: Expand options for decent, affordable housing for homebuyers and renters.
The task force is scheduled to present its final recommendations to Mayor Keith James in June on how to bring those goals to reality.
James formed the task force over the summer as protests erupted across the country after some police killings of Black Americans. The 25-member group has trained and held initial meetings but Saturday’s virtual summit via Zoom was its first meeting to solicit opinions from residents as to what the city can do to improve social and economic equity on the local level.
The task force includes representatives of the Chamber of Commerce, the Black Chamber of Commerce, Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the Mayor’s Office, law enforcement, the State Attorney’s Office and the Public Defender’s Office.
While national media in recent years have broadcast reports of police shootings of Blacks nationwide, racial and ethnic disparities are pronounced in West Palm Beach as well, Tiffany David, the city’s neighborhood outreach official, told summit participants.
Between 2000 and 2014, she noted, police killed Blacks five times more often than they killed whites or Hispanics. Police fired at Blacks 45 times during that period, with gunfire returned in only four of those incidents, she said. Two of three homicide victims were black but only 30 percent of those cases were solved.
In education, over 40 percent of Hispanics and 20 percent of Blacks lack high school degrees, compared with 6 percent of whites. More than 40 percent of Black residents and 25 percent of Hispanic residents live below the poverty line. White and Asian household incomes are about one-third higher than Black or Hispanic households, David said.
Mayor James said his administration had taken a number of actionsthe past two years to address equity and public safety in West Palm Beach.
The African-American police chief he installed, Frank Adderley, has worked to establish a presence within the minority neighborhoods just north of downtown, James said. Police have banned choke and strangle holds and required de-escalation training.
James noted that he established an Office of Equal Opportunity, run by former Procurement Director Frank Hayden, to ensure fair business practices and work toward business development, and that the city was quick to provide money to help small businesses weather the pandemic. The city also has worked to improve parks and crack down on illegal dumping, he said.
The city launched a Spanish language newsletter for Hispanic residents and assigned a longtime City Hall official, Jose Tagle to serve as liaison to the Hispanic Community, James said.
The task force work will take “more than one or two conversations” but is a promising start, the mayor said. He urged those who attended Saturday to continue to participate in seeking solutions.
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