New York Times (Op-Ed)
By TRACEY ROSS and SARAH TREUHAFT
June 02, 2017
Long before the nation’s attention turned to the investigation of the Trump administration’s ties to Russia, the president’s discriminatory and divisive policies and rhetoric were drawing intense criticism — and cities were being lauded as leaders of the resistance against them. Some of this praise of cities is deserved. But if they are to make meaningful change, local leaders also must look inward to confront the Trumpian forces that have long existed within their own boundaries.
In some ways, cities have in fact been the home of the anti-Trump resistance. From the Women’s March that took place the day after the inauguration in 500 cities across the country and worldwide to the protests against President Trump’s executive order on immigration in major airports, advocates, public officials and residents in cities across the country have led the fight against the policies of the Trump administration.
In January, a coalition of mayors from cities nationwide signed a statement opposing an executive order that threatened to make “sanctuary cities” — those that limit the cooperation of local law enforcement and federal immigration officials — ineligible for certain federal grants. And following President Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate accord this week, mayors representing 83 cities have announced that they will meet the United States’ commitment in the agreement within their own jurisdictions. Individual cities are taking stands for equity, too. One example: In a move that offers a stark contrast to Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s push to revive the war on drugs, the City Council of Oakland, Calif., has created an “equity permit program” designed to ensure that new opportunities for cannabis entrepreneurship aren’t missed by those residents — disproportionately, people of color — who were most affected by marijuana arrests before legalization.
In response to actions like those, some organizations and mayors have characterized cities as the first line of defense against the Trump administration’s policies. But this glosses over their continued complicity in producing racial inequities that have lasted generations. Redlining and urban renewal, for example, are responsible for today’s racially segregated neighborhoods. And while movements to protect the rights of African-Americans, workers, people with disabilities, immigrants and L.G.B.T.Q. people have their origins in cities across the country, these cities’ current policies — such as those preventing affordable housing from being built in high-opportunity neighborhoods — perpetuate inequities.
Even the most politically progressive cities are plagued by institutionalized racism. The infamous, ineffective and racially discriminatory stop-and-frisk policing practice for which President Trump has expressed enthusiasm was born in New York City. Even in sanctuary cities, black residents continue to be relegated to the most polluted and underserved neighborhoods.
This has a ripple effect. As Kent Oyler, the head of the Louisville, Ky., chamber of commerce wrote in a January op-ed published by The Courier-Journal, “This sustained inequity holds our entire city back from greater economic and civic success.” Mr. Oyler is right. Inequity and racial segregation undermine democracy and stunt economic progress for all.
That’s why as cities continue to stand up to harmful policies on the national stage, they must also fortify themselves from within, working on two fronts.
First, local leaders must implement policy agendas to advance racial equity. In many cases, this will require a close analysis of data broken down by race, neighborhood and other demographics. For example, in New Orleans, researchers in 2011 found that 52 percent of working-age black men were jobless. The city’s solution: forming a partnership with potential employers to connect job seekers to training opportunities, social service agencies and community advocates. According to the city of New Orleans, the effort, led by Mayor Mitch Landrieu through the Network for Economic Opportunity, has helped over 500 people — 60 percent of whom are black men — qualify for and find jobs. More cities should follow suit.
Second, local leaders must reimagine how government serves people. In 2005, Seattle became the first city in the United States to start a citywide initiative to eliminate racial inequities and structural racism. Now all city departments use a racial-equity analysis tool to consider the potential benefits and burdens their programs, policies and budgets place on various communities, and how they may contribute to racial disparities. This has led to hundreds of changes in city operations. Today, more than 50 city, county and regional governments have joined the Government Alliance on Race and Equity national network and have committed to similar initiatives. City governments that have not done so should emulate this approach.
Cities reflect the diversity that is in our nation’s future and represent our best chance to create a stronger country. When they insist upon equity, it doesn’t just benefit the most vulnerable people in our country; it benefits all Americans. After all, research shows that inequality hinders growth, prosperity and economic mobility, while diversity and inclusion fuel innovation and business success.
The Trump administration continues to push for policies that threaten to cause harm, to poor people and people of color in particular. It’s more important now than ever that city officials take the lead when it comes to rejecting Mr. Trump’s actions and address the factors standing between their own residents and the American dream — factors that existed within their borders, long before the last election.
Tracey Ross is the associate director of the All-In Cities initiative at PolicyLink, a research and advocacy group focused on economic and social equity. Sarah Treuhaft is the senior director of equitable growth initiatives at PolicyLink.
A version of this op-ed appears in print on June 3, 2017, on Page A21 of the New York edition with the headline: The Secret Trumpism of Cities.
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