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Useful Community Plus
June 25, 2020

Feature: Shaping Systems for Racial Justice, New Web Pages

June, 2020

Visit us at the Useful Community Development website

The signs and the chants reverberate in the canyons between buildings and on small town streets: Black Lives Matter. Maybe, just maybe, Americans who are not black are getting the point. Despite some assertions in the public realm that there is no systemic racism, we think real and pervasive systemic racism is exactly the issue that active community folks need to deal with.

For pertinent steps you can take at the local level, see our new article on racial equity in community development.

In brief, we talk there about housing repair, inclusionary zoning and housing integration, equal service levels across neighborhoods, avoiding inherited but abandoned properties, gentrification, and food and school inequality in African-American and probably most other minority neighborhoods.

But we are well aware that this list of topics for the permanent web page leaves out many subjects relevant to our current discussion of police over-reach. The rest of this article highlights three of them that can be implemented at the city or neighborhood level, requiring no or minimal interaction with federal and state systems.

Inequitable policing. City councils and police departments can and must decide on racially just and reasonable standards for traffic stops, jaywalking, walking in the middle of the street, passing a counterfeit bill, failure to appear in traffic court, and many other infractions including small value shoplifting and small quantity drug possession.

Bad behavior by vigilantes. On the other side of the coin, we are equally afraid of the more far-reaching defund the police approaches that imply that the community could take care of most infractions themselves. Note well that some of the more egregious instances of the death of young black men have come at the hands of those who thought they were protecting their neighborhoods by handling the possible crimes of looking into condo windows from a distance or wandering through a construction site. As our website proves, we support neighborhood watches, design approaches to preventing crime, and court monitoring, all non-policing solutions. We like persuasion approaches, such as those employed by community anti-drug coalitions. At times we even have encouraged neighborhood associations to organize their own nightly drive-around-the-neighborhood tours looking for suspicious activity. But all neighborhood associations and coalitions of them should be on the lookout for someone who gets a little too enthusiastic. That is tragedy waiting to happen.

Bail, fines, and penalties. As part of the search for answers about racial equity, a community should examine carefully the immediate and longer-term consequences of the bail bond system as an incentive for appearing in court. Ask yourselves as a community whether it works, whether particular kinds of suspects would evade the system anyway, and whether it is discriminatory toward those who cannot pay or who feel compelled to pay an exorbitant rate to a bail bonding company. Then if your system of fines is excessive and designed more to make money than to give an incentive for compliance, rethink it. Is all of this financial hardship necessary? Is it racially discriminatory in its intent or implementation? Similarly, are your systems of fines for traffic offenses, tall grass, or not showing up to court excessive? Do they actually increase compliance? Are they racially or ethnically discriminatory in either intent or impact?

If you aren't exhausted from reading, acting, self-isolating, or protesting, here are our favorite resources for the racial justice in the U.S. topic (at least this week!):

June, 2020 outstanding panel assembled by the TED organization

Very good resource collection called Anguish and Action from the Obama Foundation

The Smithsonian's compilation of 158 resources for understanding the history behind systemic racism in America.

Well, don't say we didn't warn you about the 158 resources! Now, some of our longer pages don't look so bad to us.

It could not hurt to point out one more informative piece about how neighborhood associations can deal with social distancing. This article from the New York Times about how to form a neighborhood association is a colorful read. For much more detail though, you need our page on how to start a neighborhood association or our e-book if you are serious.

Besides the new racial equity and community development page, we also rewrote our trust in police page for greater context and relevance.

We answered these questions from visitors this month:

Special exception for commercial tree company requested next door to residence

Planning commissioners, decisions, and conditional use permits

See you in July! Be healthy, be safe. Feel free to reply to this e-mail if you want to be in touch with us.
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