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New York City mayor launches commission to address systemic racism

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has launched a racial justice commission that will be tasked with dismantling structural racism and addressing the disparities laid bare by the Covid-19 pandemic.

De Blasio announced the 11-member panel on Tuesday, keeping a promise he made during his State of the City address this year.

The commission’s key responsibilities will include reviewing the city’s charter and recommending revisions or policy changes that will create a more equitable community. Reparations for Black residents may also be considered by the commission, de Blasio said, though he did not provide details.

“The racial justice commission has the power to put forth permanent, transformative ideas for our government and our city. This moment demands nothing less,” de Blasio said. “This undertaking is unprecedented, but I believe this extraordinary group of leaders, visionaries, and public servants have the ability to put forth a tangible vision to continue dismantling and obliterating centuries of racial oppression.”

The mayor’s announcement comes nearly one month after Democratic lawmakers revived a similar proposal for a racial justice commission in Congress that would examine the country’s history of systemic racism against Black people, address inequities and back efforts to provide reparations for slavery.

It also comes as the nation reels from a racial reckoning that has spilled into 2021, with racist attacks against Asian Americans, the Capitol riots and threats to the voting rights of Black people.

The commission gained praise from the Rev. Al Sharpton, who said it was a “step in the right direction.”

Sharpton said the pandemic revealed inequities in education, health care, employment and the disproportionate number of people of color who are essential workers. He hopes the commission can address those issues by first collecting data that illustrates the racial divide in New York City.

“We need to really deal with the unequal social landscape in the city,” Sharpton said. “And I think this commission can document it, give it the data and then hopefully set targets on how we equalize it.””

Mayor explains why he is doing this now

During a media briefing on Tuesday, de Blasio was pressed by reporters on why he would form the racial justice committee toward the end of his mayoral term and nearly a year after protests following the death of George Floyd.

De Blasio said he has worked to tackle the tale of two cities in New York by reinvesting tens of billions of dollars for working people in communities of color and making fundamental changes to education, affordable housing and police reform.

“That work followed through on the initial vision that I brought to office,” de Blasio said. “But what has happened in the meantime is a deeper understanding of the fact that institutional and structural racism require not just a set of policy changes or not even individual and profound acts of redistribution, but the entire structure now has to be questioned. Right down to each agency of city government.”

Jennifer Jones Austin, CEO and executive director of the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies and a member of the commission, said working on the city charter will be a “rare opportunity.”

“Because systemic racism is embedded in our city’s institutions and structures, we must uproot racism by attacking it at the very core, which is charter revision,” Austin said. “This commission is committed to listening to communities throughout New York City and putting forward revisions to end racism and advance true and lasting justice and inclusion for all.”

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