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City of Seattle

January 16, 2:01 PM click here to comment > 0

Continuing Dr. Martin Luther King’s Legacy

Dr. Martin Luther King devoted his life to the work of eliminating inequality in our society. He spoke of the “beloved community” where poverty, hunger and homelessness will not be tolerated. Where racism and all forms of discrimination, bigotry and prejudice will be defeated by brotherhood and sisterhood.

One of MLK’s extraordinary traits was that his words inspired all, regardless of race or ethnicity. The nation responded to him because we understood, in his words “we are tied together in a single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality.” And we continue to share his dream of a world where our children will be judged by the “content of their character, not the color of their skin.”

In Seattle, one would be hard pressed to find anyone to dispute the wisdom of his vision. And indeed, the last fifty years have seen great gains. But despite those gains, despite our best intentions, we also must confront the simple fact that race still matters.

Race matters in education. In 2010, only 57.5% percent of African American students and 65.4% percent of Latino students met the state’s 3rd grade reading standard, compared with 90.7 percent of white students. Failure to read at grade level by third grade is a high predictor of dropping out of school.

Our expanded Families and Education Levy, approved by voters in November, is part of our work to eliminate racial disparities in education in Seattle. We started by listening to the public – almost 3000 spoke to us in town halls and small groups – and have incorporated that feedback into the Levy and other city work. The new Families and Education Levy will provide culturally appropriate family support services, focus on underserved students and schools, provide health care, after school and mentoring services, and support students for whom English is a second language by investing in programs that provide assistance to ELL students, their families, and teachers.

Race still matters in employment. Nationwide, the unemployment rate for African Americans is 15.8%, and 11% for Latinos. Those disparities persist in Seattle too. That’s why our Community Power Works program requires hiring disadvantaged young men and women from Seattle. We’ve been criticized for not simply spending the money fastest on the lowest bidder. We won’t do that. We believe that a portion of this essential work should go the people that most need work. In the same vein, we’ve revised all city contracting to increase women and minority contractors. When we solicited bids for the $16 million Rainier Beach Community Center project, all the bids came in with 0% inclusion. We rejected those bids. We rebid the project with our new Inclusion Plan program, that gave support and direction to bidders. The low bid this time came in with over 30% women and minority inclusion. And the overall price tag was the same.

Race still matters in housing. Our Office for Civil Rights (OCR) recently did an undercover survey of local housing. They sent a white person and black person with identical financial history and background to try and rent homes. 69% of housing providers tested exhibited patterns of racial discrimination. OCR filed Director’s charges against six of the properties that exhibited unambiguous evidence of discrimination. OCR worked with those properties to educate them about fair housing and resolve the charges.

And as we know from high-profile incidents involving our police department, race still matters in public safety. We have heard from the public and now the federal government that more must be done to build a police force that fights crime while treating the public with fairness and respect. On December 21, 2011, I ordered Chief John Diaz to begin implementation of reforms outlined in the Department of Justice’s report. This is in addition to changes Chief Diaz has been implementing since he became chief in 2010. In the year and a half since he was appointed permanent chief, Chief Diaz has:

• Made it clear that use of racial epithets in the course of duty is grounds for termination

• Held former officer Ian Birk accountable for his actions in the John T. Williams shooting

• Created a new Professional Standards Section

• Implemented improvements to the way we investigate use of force incidents, including a new Force Review Board and a Force Investigative team

• Undertaken a top-to-bottom review and rewrite of the department’s Policies and Procedures

We intend to address public safety and policing issues with the same firmness and resolve that we address issues in education, employment, housing and our community as a whole.

The simple fact is that race matters broadly. It is not confined to any portion of government or society. And the problems that endure do not do so because most of us are harboring bad faith in our hearts and our intentions. It is the opposite – the vast majority of our residents and our city employees strive for the highest standards. The problems that endure do so in the face of our best intentions. Seattle launched its Race and Social Justice Initiative because of this simple fact. In government, we wanted to match our actions with our intentions, and change practices that contribute to racial inequity. City employees have embraced this, with 63% saying they are actively promoting race and social justice changes in the workplace.

That work continues. This year we are launching a new Race and Social Justice Three Year Plan that will focus on eliminating racial inequity at the community level. Our goal is to eliminate racial inequities in the community across all indicators for success, including in health, education, jobs, criminal justice / public safety, housing, community / economic development, and the environment. We will use community-level racial inequity data to drive our strategies and will track our progress at eliminating racial inequity over time to measure our success. We must measure our progress with as much dedication as we measure our problems.

The strategies we will use are:

* Applying racial equity tools to City programs.
* Building racial equity into policies and City initiatives.
* Partnering with other institutions and the community.

This last strategy is particularly important; we know it is absolutely essential in order for us to achieve results in the community.

Our work on outreach and public engagement, contracting equity, workforce equity and skill building of City staff will continue, building on our current progress.

As we mark Martin Luther King Day, let us find in our hearts and our actions a new resolve to address issues of race and social injustice. And let us work together to build Dr. King’s beloved community.

Posted by: Mayor Mike McGinn