How Baltimore is Advancing Racial Equity: Policy, Practice & Procedure

January 21, 2019 - (6 min read)

During 2018, our nation saw issues of race and justice take center stage in ways and with a frequency not seen in some time. We saw race baiting used in policy, practice, and procedural debates across the country, from immigration and border security to policing. As we celebrate the legacy of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the hard-fought victories of the Civil Rights movement, local municipalities continue to wrestle with implementing policies and sustained practices that support fair and equitable access and outcomes for their all constituents.

In the face of heightened threats from preemption and weaponized rhetoric at the national level, local leaders are taking actions to assure residents in cities, towns, and villages that we all do better when we all do better.  One component of the work of racial equity, beyond communicating its shared benefits, is the difficult but necessary acknowledgement of the past and the stark injustices that are at the root of many of the disparities that exist along lines of race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation and religion.

Advancing racial equity in governing requires that municipalities confront the very history that a community is built on — the policies, practices and procedures that direct services and laws that sustain a city, and the outcomes they create. While there are few examples of local legislation that explicitly tackles the issue of structural and institutional racism in governing, models do exist.

This past year, the City of Baltimore joined the short list of municipalities codifying racial equity into law by passing two groundbreaking pieces of legislation. The first was a bill “requiring city agencies to assess existing and proposed policies and practices for disparate outcomes based on race, gender, or income and to proactively develop policies, practices, and investments to prevent and redress those disparate outcomes.”

The second, which was passed by the City Council and then approved by Baltimore voters in a city-wide referendum, was an amendment to the City Charter:

“Authorizing the establishment of a continuing, non-lapsing Equity Assistance Fund, to be used exclusively to assist efforts that reduce inequity based on race, gender, or economic status in Baltimore; authorizing the Mayor and City Council to dedicate revenue to the Equity Assistance Fund by ordinance…”

The charter amendment was passed overwhelmingly by Baltimore residents, with just under 80 percent voting to approve the ballot measure.

Watch why Baltimore Councilmember Brandon Scott made racial equity legislation his priority:

Why is this so important? There are several important takeaways from each piece of legislation, but overall this charter amendment is one of the first of its kind nationally which explicitly calls out institutional and structural racism within governing, and actively puts in place structures and resources to make and support changes needed to address existing racial inequities. Both pieces of legislation authorize critical tactics to advance racial equity locally:

City Council Bill 18-0223, Equity Assessment Program:
The bill’s opening language sets a strong tone for advancing racial equity across governing:

“For the purpose of providing for the implementation of an Equity Assessment Program for Baltimore City; requiring City agencies to assess existing and proposed policies and practices foe disparate outcomes based on race, gender, sexual orientation, or income and to proactively develop policies, practices and investments to prevent and redress those disparate outcomes; defining certain terms; requiring certain report; and generally relating to the goal of eliminating structural and institutional racism and other forms of discrimination based on immutable characteristics.”

This bill highlights four key areas that are critical components to doing what Baltimore calls “the goal of eliminating structural and institutional racism and other forms of discrimination…”

  1. Establishes training for City agencies to conduct equity assessments beginning in the first year of implementation.
    • Training is critical for establishing a shared foundation around racial equity. It will support the city’s preparation of leaders and staff to critically assess existing policies, practices, and procedures. These skillsets are necessary for the municipality to successfully execute this work and achieve the goals set forth in the legislation.
  2. Focuses on development of a plan and codifies action and implementation.
    • The legislation specifies putting a plan in place and taking active steps to implement the plan and recommendations. One example: disaggregation of city data by race and ethnicity. This is a crucial step toward shedding light on disparities.
  3. Creates and codifies an infrastructure and specific roles in local government, assigning responsibility for implementing activities.
    • Attempting to implement this work without infrastructure is a setup for failure. The legislation specifies agency leadership, an office, and staff that will support the work needed to achieve the legislative goal.
  4. Authorizes an assessment and review structure to track outcomes and effectiveness of policies, practices, and investments.
    • While the city implements racial equity efforts, progress must be consistently tracked. Evaluation of progress, including successes, challenges, and lessons learned, must be incorporated into the ongoing work.

City Council Bill 18-0222, Charter Amendment – Equity Assistance Fund
As a first of its kind, this charter amendment was passed by ballot referendum with an overwhelming amount of support from the voters of Baltimore. Nearly 80 percent of voters voted “Yes” to the ballot measure. While other city ordinances that called for conducting Equity Assessments have been passed by local governments, Baltimore has taken a step that others have not accomplished. This Charter Amendment includes these key components.

  1. Creates a dedicated, non-lapsing funding stream to advance racial equity work across the city.
  2. Explicitly defines four areas the fund will support:
    • Housing
    • Access to education
    • Redressing past inequities in the capital budget
    • Eliminating structural and institutional racism as well as other forms of discrimination.

Explicit language is key to dismantling structural and institutional racism. Leadership must be explicit about its intent and must identify the explicit and implicit racism in past and current policy, practice, and procedure that influences today’s outcomes. This language signals a prioritization of achieving equity for all.

The fund established is continuous; it will not be sunsetted without further legislative and voter action. The City of Baltimore has made bold strokes towards creating safe places where people from all racial, ethnic and cultural backgrounds can have a path to educational, social and economic success. This new legislation puts in place critical components to ensure that the city is successful in its efforts to close gaps based on race. The City of Baltimore has created a road map that other municipalities can replicate, prioritizing racial equity to create an inclusive, equitable, and healthy community.

Ariel_ready_0.jpgAbout the Author: Ariel Guerrero is NLC’s REAL Manager, Tactical Support & Outreach Team.