From COVID-19 to Protest: Local Leaders Commit to Dismantling Racist Policies

June 26, 2020 - (5 min read)

With over 2.3 million cases and 120,000 deaths, the coronavirus pandemic continues to impact every state and community across this country. These are unprecedented times.

A group of local leaders through the National League of Cities Race, Equity and Leadership (REAL) Council raised their voices among their peers that it is important to Prioritize Equity in COVID-19 Response.

There have been calls, across all levels of government, that the Centers for Disease Control and the federal government collect data disaggregated by race, ethnicity, and gender to see the true impact of COVID-19 on communities across this country. When this is done, the data consistently shows this pandemic disproportionately impacts Black, Indigenous, and Communities of Color, in particular the Black and Indigenous communities.

NLC through REAL has prioritized the importance of disaggregating data. It is important to specifically identify the need to target resources to the populations that need it the most and to prepare a recovery plan that ensures equity is prioritized.

Even before the coronavirus, we knew that race was the strongest predictor of one’s success in this country – from infant mortality to life expectancy. Now, in the midst of this global health pandemic, the legacy of institutional and structural racism has been unveiled and is playing out in front of our eyes.

Yet, this is not the only pandemic cities are facing.

Local leaders are also now responding to uprisings in their communities. Protests are happening in over 1,000 large and small cities across the country.

The tragic events of the last several weeks serve as a horrific reminder of how important it is for cities to acknowledge and take meaningful action on racial injustice. These uprisings are not just about George Floyd, Riah Milton, or Rashard Brooks. Or Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Sandra Bland, Sam DuBose, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Freddie Gray, Laquan McDonald, Walter Scott, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin and so many other tragic moments that have gained national attention and those that have not.

This moment shines a floodlight on the institutional and structural racism that has plagued this country since its founding.

In the last five years since REAL was created, our team has reflected on tragedies in Ferguson, Baltimore, Charleston, Falcon Heights, Baton Rouge, Dallas, and Charlottesville. We have brought together community activists, academics, and local leaders to examine lessons learned from these incidents.

Now, I wonder: Is this moment an inflection point in our country’s history? Racism is still killing us. Racism is killing our cities! If this moment will be an inflection point, local leaders must lead!

The National League of Cities is committed to helping local leaders respond with empathy and effectively during times of crisis and beyond. Our Real Equity Resolution provides opportunities for a municipal leader to make a public declaration committing to structural changes that dismantle racism in local government.

The challenge of this moment invites municipal leaders across the country to engage with their communities on racial equity and to move forward making smart policy decisions that can eliminate racial inequities in all government policies, practices, and procedures.

Advancing racial equity is a national effort, though the work will look different in individual cities, towns, and villages. This is not a one-time fix but a sustained investment in the work of achieving equity. This work takes time. It continues to evolve and requires a long-term commitment.

There is no universal solution. This Real Equity Resolution is just the start.

Every city needs to commit to their individual communities’ needs, and the approach to racial equity will look different in each city.  The solution includes a comprehensive approach that looks across practices, policies, and procedures. Centering equity is a commitment across agencies and systems. These include criminal justice, public safety, employment, and access to housing, education, and health care.

This Real Equity Resolution provides an opportunity for local leaders to call out racist policies and impacts, request racially disaggregated data, and make data-informed decisions about the city-wide equity initiatives to prioritize.

City leaders have an opportunity, with COVID-19 and the protest, to change business as usual and embed racial equity into how they assess needs and allocate resources. In doing they can rebuild communities that center the vulnerable and those who are disproportionately impacted.

Leon Andrews is the director of NLC’s Race, Equity and Leadership department. He leads a team that provides racial equity training, rapid response support, and resources to help local leaders strengthen knowledge on how to eliminate racial disparities, heal racial divisions, and build more equitable communities. 


A Sampling of Work By NLC REAL

NLC created REAL five years ago in the wake of protests in Ferguson, Missouri. During that time, REAL has reflected on tragedies in Ferguson, Baltimore, Charleston, Falcon Heights, Baton Rouge, Dallas, and Charlottesville:

About the Author

Leon T. Andrews, Jr., is the director of the Race, Equity And Leadership (REAL) initiative at the National League of Cities.