Racial Justice Commission Delivers Landmark Proposals to Office of the City Clerk

Racial Justice Commission Delivers Landmark Proposals to Office of the City Clerk

Various activists groups marched demanding climate and racial justice. – New York City, New York/USA September 20, 2020 (Shutterstock)

December 28, 2021 – NEW YORK – The New York City Racial Justice Commission, the first of its kind in the nation, formed by Mayor Bill de Blasio, today marched from Foley Square to the Office of the City Clerk and delivered its final report. In the first nine months of its two-year mandate to identify and root out structural racism, the Commission has delivered three landmark ballot proposals that, if adopted, would be among the most broad, structural racial equity laws in the country. These proposals would embed equity into the City’s planning, programming, and auditing processes. 

“The Racial Justice Commission has laid out a clear path to begin dismantling systemic racism in the City Charter that could strengthen racial equity work happening in New York City, inspire other cities to follow suit, and build a fairer, more equitable city for generations to come,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “I’m grateful to Deputy Mayor Phil Thompson, Chair Jennifer Jones Austin and all the Commissioners for their tireless commitment to strengthening our city as well as all the New Yorkers who participated in shaping these ballot proposals.”

“The ballot measures delivered today by the Racial Justice Commission represent another important step in our City’s march towards a more equitable, fair, and representative democracy” said J. Phillip Thompson, Deputy Mayor for Strategic Policy Initiatives. “I congratulate my fellow Commissioners on finishing a thoughtful process that considered the needs and experiences of New Yorkers.”

“We have reached an important milestone in the history of democracy with a set of charter revision ballot proposals that are aspirational and actionable, and which hold government accountable. We look forward to activating New Yorkers to embrace their civic power, and believe that communities will be as eager as we are to have their say on these proposals to advance racial equity here in New York City next November,” said Jennifer Jones Austin, Chair of the Racial Justice Commission. “Let us all do our part in learning about and sharing with our neighbors these proposals that we believe will make our city a greater place to live for us all.”

Upon filing, the final report and the proposed ballot initiatives are unalterably preserved in the City’s record and will appear before New York City voters. By completing this step in the process, the Commission has fulfilled the Mayor’s pledge made in the 2021 State of the City to convene a Charter Revision Commission focused on advancing racial equity and deliver broad, bold proposals for change by the end of the Administration.

The final report is informed by testimony from New York City residents, of all ages, immigration statuses, and races, and aims to address the root causes of inequity stemming from centuries-old structural racism. The symbolic walk to deliver the final report marks the culmination of the Commission’s rigorous public engagement initiative to shape aspirational, actionable ballot proposals.

Empowered with the legal authority to propose amendments to the City Charter, the Commission’s recommendations could become permanent transformations to the way the city serves people of color, underserved communities, and all New Yorkers. The work of the Racial Justice Commission builds on the Administration’s commitment to furthering racial equity, particularly during the COVID-19 response and recovery, through the Taskforce on Racial Inclusion and Equity.

New York City residents will vote on these proposed amendments to the NYC Charter. Questions New Yorkers can expect to see on the ballot in November 2022 are:

Ballot Question #1: Add a Statement of Values to Guide Government
This proposal would amend the New York City Charter to: Add a preamble, which would be an introductory statement of values and vision aspiring toward “a just and equitable city for all” New Yorkers; and Include in the preamble a statement that the City must strive to remedy “past and continuing harms and to reconstruct, revise, and reimagine our foundations, structures, institutions, and laws to promote justice and equity for all New Yorkers.” The preamble is intended to guide City government in fulfilling its duties.
Shall this proposal be adopted?

Ballot Question #2: Establish a Racial Equity Office, Plan, and Commission
This proposal would amend the City Charter to: Require citywide and agency-specific Racial Equity Plans every two years. The plans would include intended strategies and goals to improve racial equity and to reduce or eliminate racial disparities;
Establish an Office of Racial Equity and appoint a Chief Equity Officer to advance racial equity and coordinate the City’s racial equity planning process. The Office would support City agencies in improving access to City services and programs for those people and communities who have been negatively affected by previous policies or actions, and collect and report data related to equity; and Establish a Commission on Racial Equity, appointed by City elected officials. In making appointments to this Commission, elected officials would be required to consider appointees who are representative of or have experience advocating for a diverse range of communities. The Commission would identify and propose priorities to inform the racial equity planning process and review agency and citywide Racial Equity Plans. Shall this proposal be adopted?

Ballot Question #3: Measure the True Cost of Living
This proposal would amend the City Charter to:
Require the City to create a “true cost of living” measure to track the actual cost in New York City of meeting essential needs, including housing, food, childcare, transportation, and other necessary costs, and without considering public, private, or informal assistance, in order to inform programmatic and policy decisions; and Require the City government to report annually on the “true cost of living” measure.
Shall this proposal be adopted?

Following the filing, the Commission will embark on a comprehensive voter education campaign to ensure all New Yorkers are aware of and understand the impact of the ballot proposals ahead of the November general election.

“I want to congratulate the people of New York City for demanding the meaningful change that led to the establishment of the NYC Racial Justice Commission and these ballot measures. Although the Commission’s proposed ballot measures are a major milestone in the fight for racial equity, there is still much more work to be done. I ask that New Yorkers remain engaged in this process by educating and encouraging others to turn out to the polls in November,” added Henry A. Garrido, Vice Chair of the NYC Racial Justice Commission. 

“We worked across the five boroughs to lift up the voices of New Yorkers and transform their stories of inequity to proposals intended to bring human justice to our communities. I’m proud of this Commission and am confident New Yorkers across this city will spread the word about the vote in November,” said Commissioner K. Bain, Founder and Executive Director, Community Capacity Development.

“I am honored to be a part of this Commission and to have contributed to this historic vote putting forth ballot proposals that could be the start to dismantling structural racism in the NYC Charter. I look forward to continuing our commitment to engaging New Yorkers next year,” said Department of Probation Commissioner Ana M. Bermúdez.

“The work of this commission is profound and though we’ve finished a significant step with today’s votes, the real work is yet to come,” said Commissioner Lurie Daniel Favors, Esq., Executive Director of the Center for Law and Social Justice at Medgar Evers College. “I am so grateful to my fellow commissioners and to the amazing staff for a job well done. I am also looking forward to further engaging in the very necessary work of educating New Yorkers about these ballot proposals, their meaning, their potential and the way we hope they can set a foundation for a more racially just and equitable New York City. This work is only just beginning – we need all New Yorkers to engage in this process and do the work of creating the world in which we want to live.” 

“I thank Mayor de Blasio for this opportunity and my fellow commissioner and the staff for the seriousness with which everyone took the task before us. I strongly believe institutionalizing racial equity assessments, advancement and oversight through the Office and Commission will ensure on going attention to structural racism. It took us 400 years to get to this point. It will require a long time hence to get us beyond where we are now. These proposals we are putting before the voters of the City of New York, are intended to sustain efforts for racial Justice for decades, if not centuries, to come,” said Commissioner Rev. Frederick Davie, Senior Strategic Advisor, Union Theological Seminary and Chair, Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB). 

“Beginning with a new Charter preamble that asserts a commitment and municipal responsibility to promote and facilitate our common humanity, civic engagement, economic inclusion, and social equity, along with the establishment of a new executive office and an independent commission on race equity to foster these values; the Racial Justice Commission proposals present a foundation to substantially move us towards a more economically and racially justice city. I am looking forward to another chapter of our journey towards justice with New Yorkers getting to the polls next November,” said Commissioner Darrick Hamilton, Founding Director, Institute on Race, Power and Political Economy at The New School and Henry Cohen Professor of Economics and Urban Policy.

“The three Charter ballot measures represent the aspirations of New Yorkers and their proposed structural remedies needed for the city to attain racial justice and equity.  The delivery of these three proposals to the City Clerk to be included in the November 2022 general election ballots is a giant step toward equality. These measures are the result of wide-ranging outreach and public engagement with New Yorkers from all walks of life and racial-ethnic backgrounds. They recognize the legacy and honor the contributions of Indigenous, Black, Latinx, Asian, Middle Eastern, and other People of Color in the development and growth of New York City. At the same time, we designed these measures to shape and guide the city government at all levels to begin the hard work of fulfilling its duties to ensure justice and equity for all New Yorkers. As an Asian New Yorker, I am truly touched that we are finally being recognized as a part of the social fabric of the city. I look forward to working with other Commissioners and staff in the coming year to outreach to and educate the community to participate in the upcoming November election to vote on these ballot measures,” said Commissioner Christopher Kui, President RISE NOW INC, and Former Executive Director, Asian Americans for Equality. 

“Today is a historic day as the final report is being presented. This report echoes the voices, of all New Yorkers from across all five boroughs. I am grateful to have worked with my fellow commissioners and the Racial Justice Commission staff on this. We all come from different backgrounds and different struggles but are committed to the same fight to make New York City the most just place for all regardless of race, religion, sex or immigration status. Equally important, I want to recognize the work that the advocates and organizers have done, like marching, protesting, and civil disobedience, to lead to us to this moment. But as we know the work is not over, this report is just the beginning of a foundation. I want to thank everyone who came out and testified, specifically a big shout to Staten Island, who made their voices heard and made sure that we are no longer the forgotten borough. La lucha sigue,” said Commissioner Yesenia Mata, Executive Director of La Colmena.

“The Racial Justice Commission’s mission was a huge undertaking at a time when a global pandemic laid bare the very inequities that we were tasked to address.  For me, the most moving moments were the testimonies of New Yorkers who struggle against a system that leaves so many behind.  Those stories will stay with me for a very long time and will continue to shape my own work to live the values of equity, justice and respect for all New Yorkers.  Now, we ask our fellow New Yorkers to read the report, learn about the proposals and vote in November 2022,” said Commissioner Jo-Ann Yoo, Executive Director of Asian American Federation.

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