Arlington Unity Council’s equity recommendations under review by city council

The plaza outside city hall in downtown sits empty April 13 in Arlington.

Almost a year after George Floyd’s death, Arlington’s Unity Council presented recommendations in late February to tackle racial disparities and discrimination in the city. 

The list presented to the City Council contained several recommendations, including the provision of affordable housing to disadvantaged residents, improving health care availability, diversifying school curriculums and the police force and establishing a permanent community-based group to monitor racial and ethnic disparity. The City Council created the Unity Council in the aftermath of the police killing of Floyd and subsequent national social justice movement. 

The Unity Council, divided into five subcommittees, conducted research into citywide disparity in education, policing, housing, economics and health by using city census statistics and focus groups with Arlington residents. 

The research was intended to identify racial and ethnic disparities within the Arlington community and create recommendations to mitigate these disparities. 

Among the proposals presented to the City Council were some general recommendations,  including a call to make the Unity Council permanent or revise the Community Relations Commission’s responsibilities. Another proposal suggested the creation of anti-poverty programs, which would be focused on job training, public and private investments and community cleanup in targeted neighborhoods. 

To battle economic disparities, the Council recommended using the city’s influence to encourage Arlington banks to increase lending to minority businesses and create a minority and women’s business public oversight committee. 

To improve education in Arlington, the Unity Council recommended providing additional guidance counselor resources which could cover issues such as drug abuse, teen pregnancy, family well-being and racial injustice. It also recommended establishing training for students and teachers on identity, stereotyping, privilege and systems of oppression. 

Blaize LaFleur, student body president and Unity Council member, said the council recommended several education policies and one of those was the diversification of curriculums. 

LaFleur said these curriculums need to include something that will allow students to relate to class content. 

“It’s important to inject these things into the curriculum and into the school environment because so many issues arise from these things not being there,” she said. 

The Council cannot force schools to accept the recommendations, she said. Intentions to build relationships with schools are not only limited to Arlington Independent School District but are also aimed at UTA. 

To mitigate health disparities in minority communities, the Unity Council recommended leveraging relationships between the city and trusted health care providers. The Council also suggested exploring and implementing different methods of disseminating information because of ineffective distribution of health information to poorer areas. 

Regarding housing, the Council proposed examining existing ordinances to consider possible limitations on developing affordable housing. The Council also recommended the city address inadequate affordable housing by reducing barriers to renting through tenant education, credit repairs and access to legal representation.  

The Council made several recommendations to improve policing. One proposal recommended providing officers with psychological evaluations, which should be administered by racially diverse psychologists. It also recommended pairing officers with partners of different racial backgrounds and immersing themselves in the communities they serve. 

When considering the primary issues with policing in Arlington, Akram Abbadi, student body chief justice and Unity Council member, said the city has an issue with data and analytics. 

“The city of Arlington has an immense amount of data available because they’re very good at doing these kinds of studies and gathering these kinds of data,” he said. “The issue is the translation of that data into policy.” 

In one of its recommendations, the Unity Council suggested a short-term goal of increasing resources and staffing for crime analytics. 

“They have a lot of crime data,” Abbadi said. “They have a lot of data on these contacts between police officers and civilians, but they don’t have an adequate amount of people that are translating that data into usable things, into tangible results.” 

This data, implemented properly, becomes an accountability measure, he said. 

In the final meeting to discuss these recommendations on Feb. 2, Jason Shelton, Unity Council chairperson and sociology and anthropology associate professor, acknowledged the Council’s suggestions may not be implemented, according to previous reporting by The Shorthorn.  

Shelton said looking back at the amount of in-depth work the Unity Council accomplished, he doesn’t want anything to fall through. 

“But we also know, for example, that there are some hot button issues in [the recommendations] that will cause some tension,” he said. 

City Manager Trey Yelverton said there may be some recommendations that already have the resources needed to begin implementation. However, some may require authority from the city council to provide funding. 

“There might be some tweaking here and there of things that we need to try to do that align better with what we can do,” he said. 

Some recommendations, especially those in health and education, require community partners and true community solutions, Yelverton said. These, he added, are going to be more challenging because they will require a community consensus with the Unity Council’s recommendations. 

There weren’t any particular recommendations Yelverton pointed to as challenging. They’re all challenging to a degree, he said. 

“It’s a whole heavylift to facilitate change in the organization,” he said. 

However, he did say that from a technical perspective some recommendations are simpler, and some are more complex. 

Analysis of the community and the allocation of resources for particular recommendations will take some time, he said. 

Currently, the city council is formulating an implementation plan that’s consistent with the Unity Council’s recommendations and considering the future of the Unity Council as an organization that can provide oversight into those implementations, Yelverton said. 

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news-editor.shorthorn@uta.edu

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