Fort Worth is electing a new mayor. Here’s what Black Lives Matter activists want to see

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Brian Lopez
·7 min read
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Fort Worth activists who demanded change last summer in the wake George Floyd’s death are taking their issues to the next mayor and City Council.

The new leaders should unite Fort Worth, address racial issues and work with minority communities, they say.

Their influence combined with a large field of candidates make this mayoral election hard to predict, said James Riddlesperger, a TCU political science professor.

“Fort Worth is not the city it was a decade ago when Betsy Price was elected,” Riddlesperger said.

Ten candidates want to replace Price, who is not seeking reelection after 10 years, and 48 are running in eight council districts.

Mayoral candidates say they want to sit with activists and tackle the issues that minority communities have with police. Some candidates are for moving money from police budgets to social services.

Last summer’s activists believe the current council didn’t take their concerns seriously enough.

“I believe that we were heard but I believe that the powers that be don’t care,” said Kwame Osei, a member of the civil rights group Enough is Enough.

The May 1 election gives people the power to choose what the future of the city will look like, said Pamela Young, a community organizer with United Fort Worth, a grassroots organization that works with marginalized communities in the city.

“We need a mayor that is willing to be empathetic to the needs of the people,” Osei said.

Early voting starts Monday and runs through April 27.

What needs to change

Osei and a coalition of social justice-minded groups such as United Fort Worth sent a nine-page letter on June 13, 2020, to Mayor Betsy Price, City Manager David Cooke and then police chief Ed Kraus.

The letter included proposals that leaders believe will strengthen minority communities’ trust in government and provide a pathway to a better future. Most prominently, the groups want to create a community police oversight board, remove all funding from the Crime Control Prevention District and get Fort Worth police officers out of schools.

The CCPD is a special fund that pays for enhanced police patrols, equipment and a portion of school officers’ salaries, among other things. The fund’s half-cent sales tax has been devoted to police since 1995, and has ballooned from $26.6 million to more than $85 million budgeted for 2020. The tax is set to provide Fort Worth police with an additional $1 billion through 2030.

Fort Worth is the largest city in Texas to devote extra sales tax money to police. It was renewed in July 2020 for the next decade with over 60% of the vote. Crime has declined 63% since 1995, while the population has continued to increase, officials say.

This revenue is in addition to the $267 million the police department receives through the city’s general fund.

The largest portion of the fund — more than $32.5 million — buys equipment and vehicles for the police department, while nonprofits geared toward stopping crime, working with at-risk children or providing social services receive just over $5 million.

Osei said the next mayor should slash that fund and allocate more money to youth programs, social services and helping the minority communities of Fort Worth.

What the mayoral candidates say about police funding

Deborah Peoples said the CCPD needs greater accountability and owes transparency to the people who fund it. She would be open to looking at the fund and seeing if some money can be moved to other crime-prevention programs. She believes police are asked to be social workers on top of trying to keep the community safe.

Ann Zadeh said she would strongly advocate for more crime prevention programs and social services. Mike Haynes said he would be for moving funds from the CCPD. Daniel Caldwell said his approach would be to hire more police to reduce their overtime hours.

Cedric Kanyinda said police need more funding and more training, and Chris Rector said he is against defunding the CCPD.

Mattie Parker and Brian Byrd did not respond to a request for comment.

Outgoing Mayor Betsy Price previously told the Star-Telegram Editorial Board the fund is critical for social services.

Young believes that the CCPD brings a conflict of interest because the city council manages the fund and Price and several other council members financially backed a Chamber of Commerce campaign to impose the police’s special sales tax for a decade.

“These are just more reasons why we must have a brand new city council,” Young said.

Having a community police oversight board has been talked about since late 2018, when the city-commissioned Race and Culture Task Force recommended a citizen review board. The task force was created following the arrest of Jacqueline Craig in December 2016. Craig’s case resulted in public outcry and brought to the surface racial and cultural inequalities in the city.

Cory Session, a life-long Fort Worth resident, was on the task force, and said a citizen review board is essential to holding police accountable. He doesn’t understand why the council has not adopted it.

The Star-Telegram asked city officials why the board has not been adopted, but officials did not immediately respond.

Fort Worth is the largest city in Texas without such a board. Civilian oversight builds trust with police and improves accountability and transparency, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

“There should not be any hesitation,” Session said. “Just do it.”

City officials did not immediately respond to a request to comment regarding the task force.

Peoples, Zadeh, Haynes and Kanyinda support a review board and will advocate for one if they win. Caldwell said he has no problem with establishing a board, but believes there is no real teeth to it. Rector said he doesn’t support a board made up of only citizens. It would have a mix of officers and residents, he said.

The activists also want to see the police out of the city’s schools. According to the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, policing at schools creates a school-to-prison pipeline. Students of color and students with special needs are disciplined at disproportionate rates. This sends them to the justice system at a higher rate and deprives students of education and success, according to the coalition.

“We could be focusing on further educating our youth and making sure that our youth has programs to develop different skill sets that will be beneficial to the city of Fort Worth,” Osei said.

Haynes and Peoples said police don’t need to be in schools and Zadeh said the city needs to revisit the issue. Rector said officers are needed in schools, and Caldwell said he doesn’t believe police should be in schools permanently unless asked by the district.

Leaders with Enough is Enough, United Fort Worth and others presented their concerns to the City Council last summer. Osei said none of their proposals has been implemented and they have not had an update from city officials. A city spokesperson said officials have invested in racial disparity issues but did not provide specifics.

There needs to be a point were both activists and city leaders sit and problem solve together instead of just one side presenting issues, said Riddlesperger, the TCU political science professor.

Riddlesperger said he believed there was acceptance from Fort Worth residents to start a review board before the protests of last summer. But heated arguments and the BLM movement last summer caused people to pick sides: those who are all for policing and those who want to roll back on and improve policing.

Moving forward

For mayor, Enough is Enough and United Fort Worth has endorsed Peoples because they think she can move Fort Worth into the future while helping minority communities. None of the candidates sought an endorsement from the groups, no candidate was encouraged to run by the group and finance reports don’t show the group donating candidates.

Enough is Enough endorsed Tara Wilson for Seat 4, Jordan Mims for Seat 9 and Jen Sarduy for Seat 2.

The message going forward should be “One Fort Worth,” Session said. The new mayor and council members must be willing to unite the people of Fort Worth.

“The next mayor — they need to have a background as being a centrist,” he said. “I’d prefer a centrist who can work with both sides of the aisle.”

To build trust, Session recommends City Council members listen to other district issues and not vote on what’s best for their district, but what is best for the city.

“We need a mayor who is going to be a champion for justice,” Young said.