Standing next to each other, Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren and Monroe County Executive pledged that the city and county would work side by side to overcome decades of policies that promoted systemic and institutional inequity.
The two announced the Commission on Racial and Structural Equity (RASE), which over the next six months will examine and develop policies and legislation that can be implemented and lead to change.
“We are doing all this and more for one simple reason – to change the course of history for groups of people who have been deliberately left behind,” Warren said in prepared remarks.
“When you look at the concentrations of poverty that define so many of our neighborhoods, you are not looking at accidents or oversights. … They are the deliberate results of government-sponsored racism. The governments of our yesterday created these problems. So it is up to us – the governments of today and tomorrow, and our partners in the private sector – to fix them.”
“We have to understand that racism and the institutions that perpetuate it do not know geographic boundaries and therefore our response cannot know geographic boundaries,” Bello said in prepared remarks.
He said the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on Black and Brown communities and the Black Lives Matter protests have laid bare the inequities.
“Monroe County and the city of Rochester are one community,” he said. “If we’re going to tackle the insidious structural and systemic issues that perpetuate racism and inequities here, we must do it together.”
The commission meets Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s mandate that communities review their policing policies in order to remain eligible for state funding. But RASE will go beyond that to look at education, physical and mental healthcare, job creation, business development and other social services.
Beyond the broad strokes, the announcement on June 18 at the Rundel Memorial Library building was short on specifics. Bello and Warren announced that the commission would be chaired by former Mayor Bill Johnson and Muhammad Shafiq, executive director of the Hickey Center for Interfaith Studies and Dialogue at Nazareth College.
The commission will have 21 members, and people interested can send their resume and statement of why they want to serve to RacialEquityCommission@cityorochester.gov. The deadline is July 10.
Bello and Warren said County Legislature and City Council would be represented, but stopped short of saying how many elected officials would serve. At a rally June 13 and at a City Council news conference June 15, protest leaders demanded they be involved in decision-making. Bello and Warren said that Johnson and Shafiq would be announcing in the coming days how the commission would take shape.
The commission seems somewhat reminiscent of the transition team the Bello assembled. However, that group had dozens of participants and came up with more than 100 recommendations. Warren said that the size of RASE would be limited so that it could focus its efforts.
“We want to be able to deliver a plan so the community can understand that we are making sure we see results,” she said. “In the end this is not about making a government bureaucracy. There’s 99 reasons why something can’t happen. We need to figure out the one way that we can solve racism, make sure we promote an equitable city and county.”
Another question is how RASE differs from other attempts at changing systemic and institutional bias. Bello mentioned the Rochester-Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative, Facing Race, Embracing Equity (FREE) and Roc the Future, among others.
“The work of this commission seeks not to overshadow the efforts that exist but to add another lens that will point to actionable recommendations and changes to local law with the goal of addressing the underpinnings of these injustices.”
He later expanded to say RMAPI and other efforts focused on the nonprofit sector, while RASE will look at government’s role. He said that while the state mandates what services are delivered to residents, county government determines how those services are rendered.