City of Oakland Considering New Department to Address Racial Inequality

By Ashley Chambers

In the wake of protests and national actions against the discriminatory treatment of people of color by law enforcement, the City of Oakland is looking at a proposal to establish a Department of Race and Equity that would ensure “fair and just” treatment by and city and in the community.

Desley Brooks

Desley Brooks

Councilmember Desley Brooks developed the proposal and is leading the efforts t to create the department, which would report directly to the City Administrator.

If approved by the City Council this month, Oakland would be one of few U.S. cities with their own racial equity departments.

Cities that have already set up such departments include Seattle, WA; Portland, OR; Minneapolis and Saint Paul, MN; and Madison, WI.

The city report notes that Oakland remains a city where minorities are a majority. “Today, approximately one in two students in Oakland’s public schools are students of color,” according to the report.

As minority communities continue to grow, the Department of Race and Equity would ensure that city policies reflect fairness for all residents and that people of color gain equitable access to opportunities such as contracts in economic development projects, education, the justice system, housing, employment and job training.

In order to achieve racial equity in city government, it is important to “move beyond ‘services’ and focus on changing policies, institutions, and structures” to close the racial gap, according to Julie Nelson, director of the Government Alliance on Race and Equity, an expert who was consulted in the development of the proposal.

Nelson was formerly director of Seattle’s Office of Civil Rights, which has been around for decades. She recently presented a report, “Tools and Strategies for Government to Advance Racial Equity,” at Oakland’s Life and Enrichment Committee.

“Whether it’s public works, housing…there are opportunities to advance racial equity. It needs to be integrated into the routine operations of the city. That won’t happen without intentional planning,” Nelson said in an interview with the Post.

During her presentation, she said cities must be proactive in addressing inequities with clear goals and objectives, and develop successful tools to implement racial equity strategies.

Ten years ago, the Seattle Race and Social Justice Initiative was created to address specifically institutionalized racism in city government. Looking at policies that perpetuated access for communities of color, Nelson says the numbers now are higher than they were before the initiative was passed.

Oakland could become a city that is on the forefront in addressing racial inequality by ensuring that city policies and programs reflect fairness for all residents. If approved, the department would be implemented as soon as December of this year.

The potential costs and staffing requirements of the department so far have not been specified.

The Life Enrichment Committee will hear another report on the Department of Race and Equity on March 24.The City Council is expected to vote on the proposal on March 31.

 Courtesy of the Oakland Post, March 6, 2015 (