Raleigh residents asked city leaders to create an African American Affairs Board to foster a more equitable and healthy environment for the city’s Black residents and to “rid the African American community of exploitation,” according to a presentation from city staff.  

But members of the city’s Safe, Vibrant, and Healthy Community Committee, including Raleigh Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin, want more information about the purpose of the board and how much it will cost to create one under the auspices of the city’s Office of Equity and Inclusion.

At a meeting Tuesday, Audrea Cesar, the director of the city’s Office of Equity and Inclusion, made a presentation to the four council members on the committee outlining the steps that would need to happen to create such a board, the reasons why one should exist in the first place, and what the board potentially would do whether in an advisory role or other capacity. 

“We’d look at the impacts for African Americans, in this case social, economic, and educational pursuits,” Cesar said of the proposed board’s mission. “Another option would be policy review. Could this board contribute to policy? The last aspect is the cultural piece with a focus on connecting communities in the city.”

Cesar and assistant city manager Evan Raleigh noted that such a board would need resources from the city for staffing and other potential needs. 

Residents Quanta Edwards and Kimberly Muktarian called into the meeting to offer their perspectives on why the city needs such a standalone board.

“One of my biggest concerns about not having an African American Affairs Board has been … that the needs of African Americans in the city of Raleigh are not fully addressed,” Edwards said. “I am interested in that board looking at policy and being involved in as many intra-governmental departments as possible, because I do not believe there is a Black perspective, or Black lens, that has looked at policy thoroughly before decisions are made.”

Baldwin asked the speakers to provide examples of decisions the city has made “without the voice of the African American population being heard.”

Edwards and Muktarian provided several, including: 

Establishment of the Police Advisory Board: Citizens, including members of the Raleigh Police Accountability Community Taskforce (PACT), had asked the city council for several years to establish a Police Advisory Board. After repeatedly being told no, the council finally allowed the board to come together last year, following the racial justice protests that took place in downtown Raleigh. Still, Edwards said, the way the board operates is problematic for Black residents. 

“When the [police board] and the city are working together, the issue is, what comes out of the community is not believed,” Edwards says. “There are people in the community who legitimately have problems with the police department … The city is not operating as though they believe those things are happening in their city, and they do not operate as though they want those things to stop.”

Muktarian also mentioned an overall lack of transparency, citing a Raleigh officer who was caught on camera during the protests last year talking about how he enjoys running over protesters with his car. 

“He is supposed to protect citizens, not run them over,” she said. “We don’t know if [the officer] was fired, reprimanded, or is still on the streets, because our city officials [won’t] provide that information.”

Adopting a Body Camera Policy: Similar to the police board, activists have asked Raleigh’s city council to adopt an officer-worn body camera policy for years, especially following high-profile shootings of Black residents by RPD officers, such as Akiel Denkins’ in 2016. It took the council until 2018 to adopt the body camera policy, and even then, the council spent $4.7 million on camera technology that didn’t automatically operate when an officer reached for their gun. 

It took the fatal shooting of another person of color, Soheil Mojarrad, during which the officer failed to turn on his body camera, for the city to switch to body camera technology that automatically turns on when an officer draws their weapon.  

Adopting #8Can’tWait Recommendations: Following the racial justice protests last summer, Raleigh’s city council adopted a set of eight recommendations meant to improve policing against the recommendation of Raleigh PACT, Raleigh Demands Justice, and other racial justice advocacy groups. The groups said those recommendations don’t go far enough to protect Black people.

“Raleigh Demands Justice did not want you to use #8Can’tWait because they felt as though it was going to be ineffective, and they gave their specific reasons in Raleigh why it wouldn’t work,” Edwards said. “Eight entities got together against #8Can’tWait, but they were not believed and you still moved forward with #8Can’tWait because that’s what you wanted to do.”

Ignoring Complaints About the Police Chief: Edwards says Black residents have raised concerns with city leaders and others about Raleigh’s police chief, but they haven’t been taken seriously.

Edwards and Muktarian also mentioned the need for a board to weigh in on policy decisions, such as those made to benefit developers who, they say, are contributing to gentrification and displacement of Black residents throughout the city at the expense of creating more affordable housing.

“When you look at your 10-year comprehensive plan, it is very clear that you need housing for a particular set of people who make a particular amount of money who can afford housing at a particular price,” Edwards said. She added that the city seems to be more interested in building luxury housing to cater to their campaign donors than in building housing for those who most need it in the city. 

“Our intention is protection,” Muktarian said of the board’s overall goals. “We need fair and honest protection that keeps us from becoming exploited, devalued, displaced, and replaced … Protection is our only agenda so we can move on from being in fear of our lives and actually enjoying life.”

At the end of the meeting, Baldwin instructed city staff to come back to the committee with a report on what resources would be needed to create a board for African American affairs and what the cost would be. The proposal will remain in the committee pending that further information.

Follow Editor-in-Chief Jane Porter on Twitter or send an email to jporter@indyweek.com

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