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After Weeks Of Protests, West Palm Beach Creates Task Force To Address Racial And Ethnic Equality

West Palm Beach protest
Wilkine Brutus
/
WLRN
Protestors of all ages and backgrounds march in Downtown West Palm Beach to demand justice for George Floyd.

The nationwide protests for racial justice impacted several local cities in Palm Beach County. The tension is still there; it’s a movement, not a moment, says activists, members of various communities, and elected officials. A task force formed to help solve racial inequities might be a potential huge step within the proverbial movement.

The “Stronger Together” march in Riviera Beach called for economic and political empowerment, interracial unity, alleviation of food deserts and affordable housing. The protest staged outside of a Lake Worth Beach’s city commission meeting urged commissioners to consider a symbolic renaming of Dixie Highway.

 

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Young demonstrators in West Palm Beach, who marched in the scorching summer heat with their masks and bright signs, demanded policies aimed at economic equality and police reform — countywide, tax-paying residents rallied for actionable plans and timelines. 

 

Community organizers say they want to be involved and make elected officials accountable for their actions, and inactions, for whichever policy-driven plan is presented to the public.

As a response to the ongoing protests, West Palm Beach Mayor Keith James has created a citywide task force for racial and ethnic equality to identify and address stark racial disparities related to education, wealth, income, housing, poverty, and police reform. He also said he eventually wants the young women and men who took to the streets to have a say in the process.

James said as a Black mayor in West Palm Beach, he felt it was incumbent on him “to grasp the moment and see what we can do in terms of making our city a more just city.”

 

He told WLRN, creating the task force was also a way to address the “unyielding poverty rate,” which, in 2018, stood at 17 percent, according to that year’s West Palm Beach Economic Development Study. James believes "that there's some systemic causes for that.” 

The task force includes the Black Chamber of Commerce, Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, State Attorney's Office, subject matter experts within subcommittees, and other leaders appointed by the mayor’s office.

Here's an excerpt of the mayor's conversation with WLRN, which has been edited for length and clarity.

KEITH JAMES: So we're going to have up to 17 members of the task force itself. And what is consistent from the earlier executive order is that we will have five pillars to really drill down deep into some substantive areas, including education, housing, health care, economics, criminal justice. And I wanted to get a very broad variety of individuals, both from a diversity standpoint, gender standpoint and generational standpoint. I'm intentional about bringing some of those young people who were out on the streets marching and protesting to enter the room. So they are also at the table.

West Palm Beach is still a city in the south. And if you as we dig into its history and we're going to spend a lot of time in those conversations that we do as we dig into the history of West Palm Beach, we will note that our community, as other communities in the South and maybe even around the nation, has not always been at its best when it comes to racial matters.

And so I want the committee to spend time understanding the history, as ugly as it may be, but having those tough, difficult conversations with this very diverse group of accomplished individuals to make sure that we grasp the true history of our city. Because if we sugarcoat that, if we try to just brush that under the rug, I don't think that the committee will be able to do its job to its fullest capability. 

WLRN: Is the current mood in the air forcing cities and counties to shift some of their focus and money to racial equity?

It’s more than a moment, it’s a movement. I wanted to take advantage of the platform that I have as an African-American mayor to see what I could do to engage in a conversation. I conducted a town hall shortly after a lot of the demonstrations and the protest began included Congresswoman Lois Frankel, Patrick Franklin, head of the Urban League, and some other notable individuals in our community. And that was very well received. But I knew that was not enough. I said, "What else can I do to capture this moment in time to make sure that we don't lose this moment and that it doesn't just wither away?"

Once the recommendations come out of this task force, how would the public have access to that information? 

So there will be a published report. But also one of the things that we want to come out of the task force work are specific policy recommendations that could then be brought to the commission and debated and discussed.

This is certainly I think it's more than a movement. It's a moment. And I think ... as a mayor of this city, I felt it incumbent upon me to grasp the moment and see what we can do in terms of making our city a more just city.