ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — The Commission on Racial and Structural Equity — or RASE — revealed its inaugural report on Thursday.
RASE officials said the report, which is nearly 300 pages, “No Time for Excuses; It’s Time for Action” is a culmination of six months of data collection, analysis, and community input that resulted in five systemic solutions and nearly 40 recommendations to “dismantle institutional racism and structural inequities across the City of Rochester and County of Monroe for all residents.”
“We do have a racial problem in this community as we have had in this country,” Co-Chair and former Rochester Mayor William Johnson Jr. said. “Rochester is not in this boat by itself. The entire country is and it is a time of reckoning and a time for action.”
Since the officer-involved shooting that killed a 29-year-old man outside of Open Door Mission, the pepper-spraying of a 9-year-old girl and the killing of Daniel Prude, the conversation of policing and mental health have been prominent in the Rochester community.
“We have police doing a lot of things that other workers can do — writing tickets, providing security for special events,” Co-Chair Johnson Jr. said.
“Then we talk about how to go in and examine there training we were essentially blocked from lookin at the curriculum of the criminal justice training institute. That needs to be reexamined particularly when you hear the defense so often, ‘we responded according to our training,’ well what is your training?
“What we are saying is to include more community people in the way these services are designed and the way they are delivered which includes having a civilian component in both the mental health and the policing aspect.”
The report begins with a letter from the co-chairs of the commission — Johnson Jr., Arline Bayo Santiago and Dr. Muhammad Shafiq — addressed to Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren and Monroe County Executive Adam Bello.
“While we found hardly any laws in the City and County which created and sustained racist policies, we have found practices and conditions where diversity of race, ethnicity and gender are nearly non-existent; where people of color are unable to fully participate and are implicitly or explicitly excluded from opportunities that could enhance their economic, social and mental health; and where people of color are denied the opportunity to participate in the rule-making and decision making that shapes our lives, from birth to death.”
“The community also needs to own this. It’s not Mayor Warren’s report it’s not County Executive Bello’s report,” Johnson Jr. said.
“It belongs to the community and they need to take ownership of it in a way where the action is focused. It’s not scatted, it’s not dispersed but focused.”
Full press conference:
The report states that several hundred people were engaged in collecting data the past six months, including over 160 residents who volunteer their time to work with one of the nine working group.
“There may be areas that people felt should have been covered but were not covered,” Johnson Jr. said. “We were restrained by our design. We had nine groups and six months and we entered this work clearly understanding that what we were doing was beginning a process not brining a process to the conclusion.”
The nine working groups include:
- Access to capital: Businesses owned by BIPOC often have inadequate access to capital needed to launch and sustain operations. Traditional loan requirements, including business and credit history, are barriers to capital, and these businesses receive insufficient support from local government programs.
- Operations/mentorship: Information regarding available government assistance is not reaching the intended audiences, and there is a lack of culturally competent mentorship.
- MWBE15 contracting: Process to becoming certified as a Minority or Women-Owned Business Enterprise is difficult, and bidding process has barriers for MWBEs, especially those that are small.
- Note that MWBE is an official term used on contracting laws and policies that uses the dated term “Minority” to describe people of color.
- Pre-arrest diversion: Disproportionate arrests of Black residents point to a need for culturally competent intervention services and an end to police stops and arrests for minor infractions.
- District Attorney/Public Defender: Inequitable practices impacting BIPOC include lack of 24-hour arraignments for people arrested in the City (as opposed to those in the suburbs); lack of adequate funding for the Public Defender’s office, contributing to an overwhelmed Family Court section, as one example; and lack of transparency and progressive policies in the District Attorney’s office.
- Court/probations/jail: A focus on punishment, rather than restorative justice and rehabilitation, includes charging fees for probation services and calls to/from inmates of the jail.
- Juvenile justice: Youth with severe mental health diagnoses (i.e., schizophrenia, manic depression) who have been charged with crimes are being placed in a juvenile detention facility that is not equipped to meet serious mental health needs, in violation of state regulations.
- Limited access and resources: The Rochester City School District, which serves the majority of BIPOC students in Monroe County, has inadequate mental health and social emotional supports, as well as enrichment and advanced learning opportunities.
- Testing and curriculum: State testing regimen identifies urban schools as failing, resulting in negative impacts on student engagement and self-esteem, and schools lack an anti-racist curriculum.
- Language access and resources: English Language Learners experience a variety of inequities, including lack of choice in instructional programs, inadequate access to mental health supports, and assessments and parent activities that are not offered in native languages.
- Funding: Inequitable state funding contributes to disparities for Rochester City School District students. The City has contributed the same level of school funding even as RCSD costs have increased. Voter exclusion from school funding decisions limits input regarding the City’s contributions. Additionally, administering funding to private and charter schools uses vital RCSD human and capital resources.
- Government systems and infrastructure: City/County health structures do not have needed focus on racism and impact on health for BIPOC.
- Access & affordability of healthcare: Expanded access to care in BIPOC communities, including variety of services and living wages for workers, is needed to increase racial health equity.
- Social determinants of health: Social and economic inequities for BIPOC, including lower incomes and less access to healthy food and recreation spaces, negatively impact health. Notably, these are the same factors that have put BIPOC at greater risk of illness, hospitalization and death during the coronavirus pandemic.
- Discriminatory practices: Historic practices such as redlining and racial covenants have given way to current discrimination in the form of inequitable lending practices and income discrimination by landlords that continue to limit housing options for BIPOC.
- Land use regulations and economic development incentives: Exclusionary zoning codes in the suburbs concentrate public and lower income housing options in the City, limiting location choices for BIPOC residents with fewer means.
- Housing affordability: Black and Latinx residents in Monroe County face unique affordability challenges, paying significantly more of their income toward rent than those of other racial and ethnic backgrounds. This is happening while the costs for housing continue to increase, thus limiting housing options for BIPOC.
- Disproportionality in child welfare: African-American children in Monroe County disproportionately enter out-of-home (foster) care placements by a significant margin.
- Eligibility for financial assistance: Monroe County has disproportionately high rates of sanctions for non-compliance and fair hearings. That disproportionality leads to significant reductions of financial support to those in need.
- Older adults: Older BIPOC adults face a range of issues, from disproportionate and increasing rates of poverty, to challenges affording health care, nutritious food, safe/quality housing and transportation, to difficulties adapting to new, expensive technologies.
- Lack of cultural competency: Racially inequitable client outcomes result from a lack of policy, administration, practice and service delivery centered on cultural competency.
- Civil service: The civil service system is antiquated and has been manipulated to provide BIPOC with inadequate access to good-paying, secure government jobs.
- MWBE enterprises: Process to becoming certified as a Minority or Women-Owned Business Enterprise is difficult, limiting these firms’ ability to provide meaningful job opportunities to BIPOC.
- Job accessibility and equity: Barriers to employment include transportation, child care, pay discrimination and inflated minimum requirements in credentials, education and experience that may not be needed for success at the job. Inequitable promotion practices and disproportionate employment in low-wage industries depress wages and income of BIPOC workers.
Mental Health and Addiction Services:
- Limited availability of needed services: Availability of sufficient, high-quality mental health and addiction services in trusted community settings is extremely limited for BIPOC and low-income people.
- Lack of cultural competency: A lack of diversity and cultural competency among local, licensed mental health or addiction providers (in both public and private systems) leads to inadequate or inappropriate services for people of color.
- Misalignment: Mental health and addiction services are often unaligned and disconnected, as are City and County initiatives on these issues. Misalignment exacerbates and prolongs racial and ethnic inequities in access to mental health and addiction services.
- Hiring: Lack of diversity on police forces hinders equitable treatment.
- Training: Gaps in police training include cultural competency and implicit and explicit bias, de-escalation, sanctity of life and trauma; this contributes to negative outcomes for BIPOC interacting with police.
- Operational practices: Practices, including lack of data collection on police-citizen interactions and accountability for officers who violate policies, are insufficient to ensure proper behavior by police officers.
“This is like diagnosing the whole body of the human being, where the disease is, where the problem is. So these nine groups and recommendations are interconnected,” Co-Chair Dr. Shafiq said. “There are some which doesn’t need money to spend. It’s easy to bring those changes.”
The commission developed five systemic solutions:
- Create and invest in sustainable economic opportunities in Black and Latinx communities to promote and maintain self-sufficiency, entrepreneurship and career advancement
- Implement and incentivize practices and programs that increase racial/ethic diversity and cultural competence of employees, vendors and contractors.
- End practices that disproportionality drain resource from Black and Latinx communities.
- Decentralize services and embed them in trusted agencies throughout the community.
- Embed accountability measures in all policies to ensure equity and fairness across all services, programs and delivery models.
The full report goes into detail providing specific recommendations for each of these five solutions.
The RASE Commission was announced in June of 2020 as a joint county-city venture to examine and develop polices and legislation to overcome systemic and institutional inequities, as well as racism, in Rochester and Monroe County.
This is a developing story. News 8 WROC will provide updates as they become available.