Mayor de Blasio unveils commission to weed out racism in city government, report findings by year’s end

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Michael Gartland, New York Daily News
·3 min read
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A newly-formed commission tasked with examining structural racism in New York City plans to identify aspects of government that have hurt minorities and should be changed.

Mayor de Blasio announced the formation of the 11-member Racial Justice Commission on Tuesday and said it would issue a report on its findings by the end of the year.

“We’ve never had a model for actually addressing structural racism, institutional racism — identifying it, acknowledging it, formally apologizing for it, weeding it out, eradicating it, making the policy changes, changing the laws,” de Blasio said.

“Some of the changes might be achievable by policy or by actions we take in budgets, but some of them can only be achieved by changes in our laws — in fact, by changes in our city’s constitution, our charter.”

De Blasio did not rule out reparations as a potential outcome of the panel, which is modeled on racial reconciliation commissions in countries like South Africa that also have had tortured histories when it comes to race. New York City’s panel is also technically a charter revision commission, meaning it has the authority to make recommendations to change the city’s charter. Those recommendations could then be put on the ballot as part of a citywide referendum.

The mayor said last week that he thought it would be helpful for him to formally apologize for racist policies the city has upheld in the past, but suggested he would do it at a later date “in a more solemn way.”

On Tuesday, the mayor and the commission’s chairwoman, Jennifer Jones Austin, would not offer much detail on what specific areas of the city’s vast bureaucracy the panel might focus its attention on. And a spokesman for de Blasio did not immediately respond to questions about potential liabilities the city might expose itself to for past, or ongoing, wrongs that may be uncovered by the commission.

When asked where specifically the panel might focus its efforts, Austin, CEO of the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies, said it would be examining “our laws, our policies, our practices, [and] the systems that hold these laws, policies, and practices up.”

“We are going to remain as open as we possibly can so that we don’t miss critical issues,” she said.

De Blasio referred to past reforms — such as opening the FDNY to more minority and women job candidates and engendering more diversity in city schools — as areas where the city’s work “needs to deepen,” but he said there is “no litmus test” to focus on any specific area of government.

Eight years ago, de Blasio ran a campaign for mayor based in large part on remedying inequalities in the city — both economic and racial. On Tuesday, de Blasio suggested that his policies, like universal pre-K and expanding affordable housing, moved the city toward achieving that lofty goal. But the question of why it took him nearly a decade to introduce a racial justice commission was still up for debate.

“This is a deepening of the original mission,” he said. “I think it will be a model for other places in the country, and I also think it’ll be really tough work because it’s never been done before, but I have faith that this group of people will find a way forward for us.”

Other members of his commission include DC 37 Executive Director Henry Garrido, Deputy Mayor Phil Thompson, Probation Department Commissioner Ana Bermudez and Darrick Hamilton, director of the New School’s Institute on Race and Political Economy.