Arlington leaders to take up over 50 racial equity suggestions from Unity Council

Kailey Broussard
·5 min read

Over the past several months of public forums and research, Arlington Unity Council members and residents had a question in mind: Will leaders make good on their promise to consider and enact their ideas to create equity?

The question made its way into the final report presented Tuesday afternoon to city council members.

“There is a sense that this task force is a superficial attempt to appease the public. Are we wasting our time? How many of our recommendations will be implemented?” Jason Shelton, task force chairperson, wrote in the 132-page study.

After Shelton’s presentation to City Council Tuesday, leaders indicated they would explore each idea. Mayor Jeff Williams, incensed by the idea Council would enact halfhearted solutions to appease the public, called the comments “fighting words.”

“We have a responsibility here to address these” concerns and ideas, Williams said during the council’s afternoon session.

The 28-member task force put forward 59 short- and long-term recommendations. Suggestions that came up multiple times include establishing anti-poverty programs, creating a free or reduced Via rideshare program plan and hiring a chief diversity officer.

Shelton said the group needs a new mission in order to fulfill another general recommendation — to create a permanent body examining diversity and equity solutions.

“Our Unity Council charge was more looking back,” he said. “We’ve got to look forward as well.”

A permanent board, Shelton wrote in the report, should consider taking up questions that came up that were beyond the group’s scope and expertise, including creating a police oversight board with subpoena power and creating street sign toppers for a major city street to honor Martin Luther King, Jr.

Policing and criminal justice

Arlington Police can better serve the city with revised approaches to officers’ mental health and community outreach, as well as better analyses of officer behavior that are made accessible to the public, according to policing section recommendations.

Officers in 2019 used force against far more Black people than white people. Black people also received the most citations, warnings and vehicle stops.

The Rev. Ronnie Goines, who chaired the policing study, said in the report that “departmental racism is not at the core of APD’s differences but instead a training or ignorance issue regarding policing minorities.”

Recommendations call for regular evaluations of officers every three to five years and and after a traumatic event, as well as hiring a department chaplain. The city manager’s office should consider creating a review process following national incidents and invite the community to review training practices.

To better connect officers with the community, APD should create an immersion program to connect officers to residents in their area, as well as children with shared interests.

Economic disparities

The poverty rate for people of color sits about 10% higher than white residents, and minority- and women-owned businesses are more likely to be overlooked for municipal projects.

In the long term, the city should create a business diversity office and reduce barriers for minority businessowners, including connecting owners with banks and encouraging groups to lend more to those firms. Short term, the city should consider developing contract requirements for city departments.

Education

Arlington ranks in the bottom fourth of the top 100 U.S. cities in post-high school degree attainment, with under 33% of residents holding an associate’s degree or higher.

People of color in east Arlington are least likely to have earned a bachelor’s degree, according to the study. Where less than a fifth of people of color in the area hold a bachelor’s degree or higher, more than 30% of residents in the city’s west, south and north edges have earned at least a four-year degree. East Arlington also holds the fewest opportunities for children based on school performance and high school graduation data.

The Unity Council report calls for creation of a biannual job fair and community tool to raise awareness of resources, job opportunities and training. The city should look to improve wireless internet access availability throughout the city, and schools should require diversity training for students and teachers and create college adviser and counselor positions in schools. School leaders should also, over time, diversify lesson plans that account for relevant identities.

Housing

Non-white homeowners in Arlington are more likely to face a burden to pay for housing. Data suggest around 28% of people of color in Arlington spend over 30% of their income on housing costs, compared to 18.5% of white homeowners. Renters of color face the same challenges.

Housing recommendations call for solutions to zoning ordinances that pose barriers to redevelopment of unused property and developing affordable neighborhoods and providing educational training to students and home buyers on financial responsibility. They also include reducing barriers to renting and analyses of city housing needs.

Health and Wellness

Arlington’s Black residents have the lowest life expectancy of any racial or ethnic group and account for the highest rate of cardiovascular disease-related deaths. Residents in east Arlington have the lowest life expectancy, highest obesity rates and the highest percentage of residents without health insurance, according to report findings.

In the short term, the city should hire a chief equity officer to study the gaps in health care services for communities of color. The city should also look to launch mobile health care programs, offer free or reduced Via rideshare rates and consider policies that could promote healthier choices in food deserts.