DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN)– After nearly two years of work, Durham’s Racial Equity Task Force presented its final report to city council Thursday.
The task force created policy recommendations for how the city can address racial equity in six areas: wealth and economy, criminal legal system, health and environmental justice, housing, education, and public history.
“This is our love letter to Durham, and it is an urgent call to action,” said Task Force chair Elaine O’Neal.
The report suggested the city partner with the Durham Housing Authority to ensure safe and well-maintained public housing.
The task force suggested providing mortgage and public rent relief, as well as developing non-punitive measures for those facing eviction.
“Many evictions, including most public housing evictions for non-payment of rent, resolve themselves when the client is able to pay,” said RETF member Camryn Smith.
REFT member Emily Coward presented recommendations on wealth and the economy. The report suggests reparations to address the city’s racial wealth gap.
“It’s a product of systemic, historic and ongoing racism,” said Coward.
The task force called on city leaders, institutions and Duke University to invest and reallocate resources to communities of color.
To address racial equity in Durham’s criminal justice system, the RETF recommended policies to decriminalize substance use, and called greater investment in mental health and substance abuse treatment providers.
The task force also recommended city leaders declare racism a public health crisis. However, RETF member Jamal Moss said that alone is not enough to address racial equity in health care.
“We know that it is racism, and not race that causes health care disparities,” said Moss.
The report recommends improved access to healthy food, allocating funds to improve parks, damaged street lights and potholes in undeserved communities.
The RETF also examined racial equity in the city’s schools.
Among its recommendations, the task force suggested interrupting “the school to prison pipeline” by funding counselors, social workers, nurses before providing funding for SROs.
“We are not here to fix the child. We are here to fix the system,” said RETF member Katie Mgongowla.
In regards to public history, the RETF recommended establishing a story gathering commissions, museum of Durham’s history.
Mayor Steve Schewel praised the RETF’s work, calling the report a “loving and urgent message.”
“My mind and my heart are both full from hearing what you had to say,” he said.
RETF members acknowledged that some people are not going to agree with the report, either in its entirety or parts.
“We care to make a difference in the lives of those who need our help,” said O’Neal.
Schewel said the next steps are to examine the more than 60 page report to determine which recommendations the city can move forward with, and how.