Racism is embedded in Monroe County, existing across sectors and “persisting because of policies that do not work for the benefit of Black, Indigenous and People of Color,” according to the report of the Commission on Racial and Structural Equity (RASE).
“This declaration may shock some people, but it affirms what many others have been saying: the entire County of Monroe has a racial problem, one that is not contained within its largest municipality, Rochester. And it is a problem that must be fixed,” said authors of “No Time for Excuses; It’s Time for Action.”
Racism isn’t so much legally enforced as it is customarily encoded, according to the report. The title was deliberate.
“We can’t fall into finding excuses for why something cannot be done,” former mayor and RASE commission co-chair William Johnson said March 18 when the report was released. “Now the burden is on all of us to change our ways, to make things better, to end these disparities, to end the inequities that have been baked into our system for generations.”
Addressing the inequities would require systemic solutions in broad areas:
- create and invest in sustainable economic opportunities in Black and Latino communities that promote and maintain self-sufficiency, entrepreneurship and career advancement;
- implement and use incentives for programs and practices that increase diversity and cultural competence of employees, vendors and contractors;
- stop doing things that drain resources from Black and Latino communities;
- embed services in trusted agencies throughout the community; and
- ensure accountability for equity in all services, programs and delivery models.
Each recommendation has several suggestions for achieving the goal.
The RASE Commission was created by Mayor Lovely Warren and Monroe County Executive Adam Bello on June 18, 2020, after the in-custody death in Minneapolis of George Floyd and before Rochester learned of the in-custody death of Daniel Prude.
The commission was led by Johnson, Arline Santiago and Muhammed Shafiq and had three tasks:
- take an inventory and make an assessment of laws and policies that promote or are intended to eliminate institutional and structural biases, racism and inequities;
- recommend ways to make laws and policies more effective or phase them out; and
- recommend new laws or policies to address gaps.
The work involved more than 200 people in the county who served as commissioners and members of nine working groups.
The 284-page “… It’s Time for Action” (rocrase.com/report) is daunting at first glance, and there is a fear that its size and scope could intimidate readers into thinking the problem is too big and too entrenched for any chance of change.
Details on the recommendations form the bulk of 284-page report to be released March 18 after more than six months of work by dozens of people with input from hundreds of residents in the city and towns and villages of Monroe County.
The report is not intended to be read cover to cover in one sitting. Johnson suggested starting at the back, reading the reports of the working groups that formed the bases for the recommendations, and then finding the sections of particular interest and studying the suggestions and coming up with ideas and strategies. He also pointed to pages 67-68, where implementation strategies are laid out.
He likened community participation to erecting a building. A few people start the process by designing what it will look like, but many more are needed to turn those plans into reality.
“All the people who genuinely care about the racial inequities, the structural inequities that exist in this community are now presented an opportunity to come in and help design a different system,” Johnson said.
Johnson said Warren and Bello have been briefed twice on the report, and the expectation is that they will instruct leadership in their departments to identify areas that can be addressed right away.
Not everything will cost money. Shafiq said areas such as cultural competency will not require significant resources but rather a change in mindset.
The report goes beyond policing and mental health and addiction services. “This is like diagnosing the whole body,” Shafiq said. “Where the disease is. Where the problem is.”
Working groups also were set up for business development, education, criminal justice, health care, housing, human and social services and job creation.
The report stated it does not address every problem stemming from racist practices. But if “long-overdue recommendations” are adopted, it will “transform the racial pendulum” in the city and county from injustice and inequity to “to a system which guarantees that there are no barriers to entry into any of these systems, and each of them will incorporate standards and practices that insure equity, inclusion and diversity.”
Priorities in each topic were developed, but many themes cut across topics. The relationships are important because “if the issues are addressed separately, resources may be spread too thin, and meaningful progress may be dissipated and ineffective,” the report stated. “Eliminating racism and structural inequities will require powerfully effective systemic strategies. The discussion of cross-cutting themes is a means of identifying the strength of these issues and the most effective way of addressing them.”
Santiago said the ongoing work involves identifying how new policies and practices will be developed and implemented and who will make sure they get done.
While the report did include information about economic disparity, it was not a proxy for poverty. The authors wanted to make sure “… It’s Time for Action” did not end up like other documents that pointed out problems, proposed solutions and ended up dusty on a shelf.
Johnson said that when he accepted Warren’s request to be a chairperson for the commission, he told her he’d be an agitator and not let the finished product just go.
“Everything we have proposed could be filed away and soon forgotten, or even worse, endlessly debated until the resolve to take action is undermined and dissipated,” the report stated. “That must not happen….”
The chairpersons said accountability must be included and that reports to the community be issued by the city and county every three or six months.