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Race and Culture: Fort Worth Task Force working to identify issues and solutions

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Fort Worth Task Force

The entire interim report can be seen on the website onefortworth.org. The public may also leave comments.

In December 2016, Fort Worth Police Officer William Martin answered a call in the Rock Garden neighborhood in southwest Fort Worth that ended in the arrest of Jacqueline Craig and her daughter, Brea Hymond.

The video of that arrest went viral, prompting a public outcry that resulted in a 10-day suspension of the officer, the dropping of charges against Craig and Hymond and the decision by the Fort Worth City Council to establish a Task Force on Race and Culture.

The council appointed four co-chairs to the task force: business owner and former head of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Rosa Navejar; the retired president of Texas Health Systems Harris Methodist Hospital Fort Worth, Lillie Biggins; Rabbi Andrew Bloom of Congregation Ahavath Sholom; and longtime Fort Worth newsman and Star-Telegram columnist Bob Ray Sanders.

Sanders, speaking at a July 11 luncheon of the Women’s Policy Forum of Tarrant County, said he originally did not want to be included.

“I’ll tell you why – and the same reason some of the other people didn’t want to be on it — because they thought it was going to be for show,” Sanders said. “It was going to be a delaying tactic. It was going to be just something that we would come up with a report and they would receive it and file it as they’d done reports for the last four or five decades.”

But, he said, Mayor Betsy Price convinced him that the council really was going to listen and wanted actionable recommendations.

“We’ll see. So far, I’ve been encouraged. Had I not been, I would not be sitting here today,” Sanders said at the luncheon.

“We’re going to hold their feet to the fire,” Biggins said,

From October 2017 through March 2018, the 23 members of the task force have held 60 events ranging from town hall-style meeting to conversations with city officials that have attracted more than 1,300 people. More are planned.

The Top Ten issues discussed in the community conversations, ranked by number of comments, are:

¬– Discrimination in education;

– Failure to acknowledge the pervasiveness of racism;

– Discrimination in economic development;

– Discrimination in criminal justice;

– Racial segregation in the community;

– Racial prejudice;

– Lack of political representation for minorities;

– Discrimination in public accommodations;

– Discrimination in employment; and

– Discrimination in housing.

The initial target August date for completing the commission’s work could not be met, Navejar said, so it has been extended.

“Because one of the things we wanted to make sure is … that our recommendations get implemented, because we don’t want to have something put together to be shelved,” she said.

The list of 10 issues led to the appointment of committees on criminal justice, economic development, education, health, housing and transportation, she said.

“What we need to do moving forward is to continue to expand and deepen the community conversations as we enhance everyone’s awareness about race and culture. Then we can make Fort Worth a better place, but we have to have those tough conversations,” Navejar said.

Biggins stressed that the effort is data-driven.

The presentation included several “frequently expressed comments” drawn from the meetings already held:

¬– There is a perception that Fort Worth is doing little or nothing to improve race relations, racial equity and cultural awareness

– The problem is systemic, structural and institutional racism, not simply personal or individual behavior;

– City leaders have failed to acknowledge this problem, causing victims of racism to feel unheard and causing perpetrators of racism to feel empowered.

– There is a need to continue, expand and deepen community conversations about race and culture and to clarify their measurable outcomes.

Some selected information from the presentation:

Criminal justice:

– Despite constituting 19 percent of Fort Worth’s population, African-Americans accounted for 41 percent of all arrests in 2016 and 41 percent in 2017. Corresponding figures were 31 percent and 30 percent for whites, and 27 percent and 28 percent for Hispanics, respectively.

– Of 241 police officers at the first promotional rank, corporal/detective, 16 (7 percent) are African-American, 41 (17 percent) are Hispanic and 10 (4 percent) are classified as other.

– Causes of the lack of diversity include the fact that targeted recruiting efforts have failed to generate much interest among minorities, there are no cadet programs offered in Fort Worth Independent School District high schools to students who may be interested in law enforcement, and senior officers give minorities little or no encouragement to take promotional tests or to apply for positions in specialized units.

Economic issues:

– In Fort Worth, the 2016 unemployment rate for whites was 4.2 percent, while African-American and Hispanic rates of unemployment stood at 6.1 percent and 5.7 percent, respectively. These disparities are generally consistent with national trends.

– The median household income for Fort Worth in 2016, in inflation-adjusted dollars, was $63,704 for whites, $41,317 for African-Americans and $44,748 for Hispanics. These disparities are generally consistent with national trends, although the earnings of minority households are higher in Fort Worth than in the nation as a whole.

Education:

– In the Fort Worth ISD, only 33 percent of all third-graders were reading at grade level in 2016-17, compared with the statewide average of 44 percent. The percentage of third-graders reading at grade level is 62 percent for whites, 32 percent for Hispanics and 20 percent for African-Americans.

¬– The percentage of high school graduates classified as college- and career-ready in 2016 was 84 percent for whites, 74 percent for Hispanics and 67 percent for African-Americans.

Health:

¬– 40 percent of African-American adults in Tarrant County have been diagnosed with high blood pressure, compared with 30 percent of all adults in the county. Corresponding figures are 25 percent for Hispanics and 31 percent for whites.

– 16 percent of African-American adults in Tarrant County have been diagnosed with diabetes, compared with 11 percent of all adults in the county. Corresponding figures are 12 percent for Hispanics and 9 percent for whites.

– 9.6 African-American infant deaths per 1,000 live births were recorded in Tarrant County during 2015, compared with 6.2 infant deaths per 1,000 overall. Corresponding figures are 6.6 deaths for Hispanics and 4.3 deaths for whites.

Housing:

– The degree of residential segregation for all minority populations in Fort Worth, as measured by the federal dissimilarity index, decreased between 1990 and 2010, from 53 to 45, but has increased to 49 since 2010.

– While 33 percent of all Fort Worth households pay more than 30 percent of their gross income for housing, 45 percent of African-American households pay more than 30 percent of their gross income on housing.

– An estimated 13,000 Fort Worth households live in overcrowded or substandard conditions, that is, without a complete kitchen or plumbing in their dwelling unit. Of these households, 7,600 or 59 percent are Hispanic.

Transportation:

– Majority Minority Areas (MMAs) of Fort Worth have 58 percent of the city’s street lane miles but 77 percent of poor-condition streets; 50 percent of built sidewalks but 81 percent of poor-condition sidewalks; and 53 percent of installed street lights but 66 percent of poor-condition street lights.

– 69 percent of all pedestrian crashes and 79 percent of fatal pedestrian crashes occurred in MMAs from 2013 to 2017. During the same period, MMAs had 60 percent of all bike crashes and 86 percent of fatal bike crashes.

The Task Force lists its next steps as:

– Sept. 17: Task Force approves draft recommendations for public review and comment.

– Sept. 24-29 and Oct. 1-6: Task Force conducts four or more open house meetings to receive public comments.

– Nov. 19: Task Force approves final report.

– Dec. 4: Task Force presents final report to City Council.

Paul Harral
Paul is a lifelong journalist with experience in wire service, newspaper, magazine, local and network television and digital media. He was vice president and editor of the editorial page of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and editor of Fort Worth, Texas magazine before joining the Business Press. What he likes best is writing about people in detail and introducing them to others in the community. Specific areas of passion are homelessness, human trafficking, health care and aerospace.

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