BEYOND THE BALLOT
Recommendations and ideas beyond the Charter
Recommendations from the Commission
There are two significant endeavors in particular that the Commission knew it would not be able to meaningfully take on within the Commission’s short time frame, and recommends be addressed in specific ways:
Racial reconciliation and healing—or “truth and reconciliation”—involves the public naming and acknowledgement of past harms and traumas, recognition of responsibility in causing or creating the conditions that caused those harms, and action to repair relationships and social bonds. Reconciliation can also involve public apologies, and reparative actions that bring justice to those harmed.
The Racial Justice Commission recommends that City government continue to formally engage in reconciliation through deep engagement with communities, clear acknowledgement of harms both past and present, and through employing a reparative frame in decision-making processes whenever possible.
Some City-led efforts to repair past injustices are already underway. As part of the City’s Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative Plan, the City is creating a dedicated process to acknowledge, address, and repair past and present injustices and trauma caused by the practice of racialized policing, as well as conducting a comprehensive, independent review to identify and assess persistent structures of racism within the Department. This work is being led by the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice and will involve significant community engagement.
Closely tied to reconciliation, reparations bring justice to those impacted by severe injustice often through monetary or material compensation. While some municipalities in other states have begun modest and targeted reparative programs, reparations on the scale of the injustices suffered, particularly by Black and Indigenous Americans, must be national in scope and provide an appropriate amount of compensation. No doubt, this is a large and costly endeavor – but one the Commission largely believes is worthy of meaningful exploration by lawmakers and policymakers.
Advocate to the federal government to formally study and make recommendations for a national reparations program. Use a reparative frame in making decisions around resources at the City level.
The following ideas are those recommended by the Commission for further exploration, further research and analysis, or further action, advocacy, and/or to continue the Racial Justice Commission’s work:
Strengthen Existing Government Oversight Bodies
One of the recommendations the Commission heard about most from New Yorkers is the need for greater government accountability. Current oversight bodies, such as the Equal Employment Practices Commission (“EEPC”), the City Commission on Human Rights (“CCHR”), the Civilian Complaint Review Board (“CCRB”), and the Board of Correction (“BOC”), play critical roles in holding City government accountable. However, their missions and effectiveness can be undermined by insufficient resources, staffing, or enforcement authority.
The Commission recommends the City government or a future charter revision commission further study ways to strengthen existing oversight bodies, which could include policy changes, local law changes, advocacy for changes of state law, or a combination of all of these.
- Allow all oversight bodies – including EEPC, CCHR, CCRB, and BOC – easier access to data or records from the agencies they oversee. Similarly, create a general rule allowing all oversight entities overseeing implementation of a single law (e.g. CCHR, Conflict of Interests Board) to have the ability to require any City body to publish data regarding compliance with that law.
- Allow for the CCRB to investigate “pattern and practice” complaints.
- Allow for the CCRB to have final authority over police officer discipline.
- Empower the BOC with the ability to bring administrative actions against the Department of Correction in an adjudicatory venue for violations of BOC minimum standards.
- Provide a minimum secure budget and headcount for CCHR and EEPC.
- Pass express legislation confirming that the EEPC has oversight jurisdiction over the equal employment practices of all the elected City officials (including City Council, Public Advocate, Comptroller, and Borough Presidents), the offices of Community Boards, community colleges, the District Attorney’s Offices, the Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor, and the public administrator offices for each county.
- Require appointment of an expert in racial equity to the Independent Budget Office (“IBO”) oversight board. Require IBO to check for alignment between the City’s budget and the Citywide Equity Plan.
Enhance Accountability for Racial Equity
Many New Yorkers specifically recommended to the Commission an independent “Racial Equity Watchdog” that would play an enforcement role over the City’s racial equity responsibilities. The Commission recommends exploring the creation of a Racial Equity Watchdog that would have multiple oversight tools and enforcement powers, such as auditing or the ability to impose a monitorship over agencies. While the Commission’s proposals do contain accountability measures (discussed above), the proposals are currently designed to allow for City agencies to normalize, operationalize, and ramp up racial equity work without the threat of enforcement chilling potential innovations. However, the next step is to create appropriate consequences for failures of City government, including process failures and agency actions that directly exacerbate racial disparities. The Commission recommends that the City create additional ways to enhance accountability, especially after there has been ample time to establish and implement the Commission’s proposals. Further study is needed to explore when consequences should be triggered and what types of enforcement powers will be most effective. The Commission believes the future success of its proposals are intertwined with the government’s ability to follow through and ensure robust accountability for its promises.
Develop and Implement Tools to Measure Racial Equity
Racial Equity Impact Statements and Assessments
The Commission recommends that the City expand the use of racial equity assessments and impact statements. The City has already begun development of equity assessments for specific agencies or processes, for example Local Law 174 of 2017 required the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Administration for Children’s Services, and the Department of Social Services to complete a one-time equity assessment and draft biennial equity plans, and the recently passed Local Law 78 of 2021 requires a racial equity report for certain land use applications. In addition, other municipalities, such as Washington D.C., require racial impact statements on proposed city council legislation. The Commission heard recommendations in our issue area panels and public input sessions recommendations to require impact assessments for City Council bills, to measure racial equity impacts of changes in housing, to include analysis of impacts on persons with disabilities, as well as recommendations to require racial equity impact assessments for all major policies. The Commission recommends the City continue expanding the use of racial equity assessments and impact statements, as best practices and methodologies are honed. There may also be value in creating exceptions to impact statements or assessments, or other requirements, including for projects expressly designed to address racial equity or which are identified as community racial equity priorities.
The Commission specifically recommends the development and implementation of a “scoring” system for racial equity to apply to the City’s budget. Similar to how government agencies might score a particular policy’s budget impact, the City should also develop a methodology to score fiscal proposals in the City’s budget according to racial equity impact. Other jurisdictions have begun linking racial equity to their budgeting processes. For example, cities such as Chicago and San Antonio, have developed budget equity tools used to integrate considerations of racial and economic equity into the budget development process. In addition, Baltimore has developed a process called “outcome budgeting”, where instead of basing a budget on the previous year’s spending and adjusting allocations up or down, the budget is organized around the City’s priority outcomes and resources are allocated for those services that will achieve the desired outcomes. The Commission recommends that the City develop a methodology to score budgets for racial equity, in order to increase transparency and accountability, and guide more equitable and just decision-making.
Collecting Disaggregated Data on Wealth, Assets, Debt, and Unemployment
The Commission heard from New Yorkers from every borough about affordability, the racial wealth gap, and the structural barriers to work advancement that BIPOC workers face. In order to better understand the scope and nature of these economic injustices, better data is needed. Therefore, the Commission recommends that the City explore ways to capture, report, and make available to the public annualized data on wealth, assets, debt, and unemployment disaggregated by race, gender, and other characteristics.
The Commission heard for the need for greater enforcement of existing laws to protect workers and against discrimination. The Commission recommends the City explore ways to expand the use of “testers” and “secret shoppers” to proactively investigate and identify discrimination. This technique would send “testers” to businesses, landlords, or City agencies to identify disparate treatment based on race or other identities. The City currently uses a “secret shopper” program to assess language access at City agencies and the City Commission on Human Rights also uses testers to identify discrimination. The Commission recommends that the City continue to expand the use of testers, as well as set aside a designated budget for this program, to better identify and address discrimination across the city.
Advance Community Safety and Reform the Criminal Legal System
While the Commission’s proposals intend to put in motion a turn towards anti-marginalization, much more needs to change in our criminal legal system. Some changes to the criminal legal system require changes in state law and were therefore outside of the scope of this charter revision commission. Some changes require close evaluation and meticulous development that the Commission could not accomplish within its given timeframe.
The Commission recommends that City government pursue developing policies or changes in local law to address systemic racism within the criminal legal system. Specifically, the Commission recommends the City consider the following:
- Redefine NYPD’s mission. The NYPD’s mission in the Charter should be updated to remove problematic, overbroad and archaic language, and incorporate the goals stated in the New York City Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative Draft Plan as well as the values laid out in the Commission’s proposed preamble.
- Restructure public safety agencies under a Department of Public Safety and reframe their missions using a public health lens. The Commission received numerous calls for the creation of a Department of Public Safety, which would consolidate public safety agencies under one roof. The Department of Public Safety would provide oversight over NYPD and shift away from deploying police as a default response to emergencies.
- Protect the rights of those justice-involved. Those incarcerated in our City jails should have their rights protected, and agencies should face consequences when those rights are violated. This includes accountability for violations of the Board of Corrections minimum standards of treatment for those incarcerated as well as violations of the City’s detainer law.
- Prohibit unnecessary criminal checks and bars for jobs, housing, City licenses and permits, City contracts, and services. The Commission heard powerful testimony from NYCHA tenants and formerly incarcerated community members on the discriminatory criminal bars that prevent them from maintaining stable housing. NYCHA has already begun changing its policies to give justice-involved tenants and applicants a fairer chance. The Commission recommends the City continue to take appropriate steps to change policies across government to eliminate criminal bars. Additionally, the Commission recommends the City explore legislation that will build on the Fair Chance Act to strengthen current provisions and ensure that City licensing and contracts do not discriminate on the basis of criminal history, as well as legislation to prevent discrimination on criminal history in housing. The Commission also recommends that the City advocate for changes at the state and federal levels to change NYCHA policies that exclude justice-involved individuals from public housing.
The Commission also recommends that the City advocate at the state level for additional changes in law to increase accountability and transparency for police, District Attorneys’ Offices, and prisons; prohibit unnecessary criminal bars; end mass incarceration; end the criminalization of poverty; and move away from punitive enforcement.
Basic Human Rights and Food Justice
The next step in fully actualizing a society in which race is no longer a determinant of economic, political, social, or psychological outcomes is to ensure basic standards of dignity and humanity for all New Yorkers. True public safety is not about enforcement after harm is done, it is about creating the conditions to prevent those harms from happening in the first place. Therefore, reversing patterns of marginalization alone is insufficient to achieve our vision. In addition to much needed reforms to the criminal legal system, the Commission believes that positive structures must also be in place to promote public health and community safety. The Commission believes that every human being is entitled to a dignified life, which includes a right to basic human needs such as food, clothing, and shelter. In particular, the issue of food injustice is one that disproportionately impacts BIPOC communities in New York City. The Commission heard from urban farmers, public health advocates, and community activists who spoke about food insecurity worsened by the pandemic, food deserts in BIPOC neighborhoods, and the need to invest in care work including health care, mental health care, home health care and childcare. Food justice has always been a racial justice issue, from the Black Panthers’ free breakfast program for children in the 1960s to the BIPOC women-led mutual aid efforts to feed our most vulnerable neighbors during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Commission’s proposed preamble seeks to codify a vision of an equitable and just city which includes a basic quality of life for all New Yorkers. And the Commission’s proposal to calculate a True Cost of Living begins an honest conversation about dignity, poverty, and livability in this city. However, these are just initial foundational steps, and more work is needed.
Accordingly, the Commission recommends the City continue to explore ways to uplift and improve the lives of everyday New Yorkers, including guaranteeing rights to basic dignity and human rights of food, clothing, and shelter. Specifically, the Commission recommends the City make appropriate investments and policy changes to close gaps in access to healthy foods in BIPOC neighborhoods, support urban famers and gardeners and connecting them to food deserts and schools, and ensure that care workers who provide health and mental health care and who work in our food industries are paid fairly and justly.
Expand Voting and Community Power
The Commission heard from New Yorkers all over the city of the need to include and empower immigrants, no matter their status, and young people in our institutions and civic life. In particular, the Commission is thrilled to see the expansion of voting rights to documented noncitizen New Yorkers, nearly one million people who call this city home. However, citizenship and immigration status restrictions still preclude many non-citizen New Yorkers from full participation in civic life. In particular, the Commission heard from New Yorkers on how noncitizens are barred from serving as firefighters, uniformed officers, or even serving on a commission such as our own. The Commission recommends the City advocate for changes in state law or local law, as applicable, to remove citizenship and immigration status restrictions that wrongly prevent noncitizen New Yorkers from public service, including City boards and commissions, and from qualifying for Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprises (“MWBE”) status. Further, engagement with young New Yorkers has been a critical part of the Commission’s work. Accordingly, the Commission also recommends the City explore additional ways to incorporate youth voices in decision-making, such as through continued expansion of participatory budgeting and expanding the inclusion of young people on City boards and commissions.
Use Land Justice as Frame for Land Use and Planning
The Commissioners heard passionate and moving testimony from advocates and community members directly impacted by unjust land use policies. We heard that the City’s capital-centered approach to land use decisions has created inequitable development, which leads to segregation and displacement of BIPOC New Yorkers. The Commission’s proposals are a first step towards shifting away from that approach and toward centering racial equity. The proposals pair the racial equity planning process alongside the City’s budgeting and capital planning processes to foster parallel and synced decision-making around money, infrastructure, and development. The Commission’s proposals will also include neighborhood level indicators in the citywide Racial Equity Plan. However, more changes are needed. The Commission recommends that the City further study and pursue critical reforms to our land use processes to reduce disparities among people and places.
Specifically, the Commission recommends the City pursue long overdue reforms to the Fair Share requirements in the Charter. Reforms to the Fair Share could include updating the criteria, providing more transparency and opportunities for community feedback, and protecting communities from overconcentration of facilities while ensuring people can still access the services they need within their communities. Further, the Commission recommends the City develop a methodology, analogous to Fair Share, that would provide guidelines to analyze and inform the equitable distribution of agency resources and services. Finally, the Commission also recommends the City examine possible policies or local law changes to use public land in ways that maximize public benefit, such as through prioritizing community ownership models including community land trusts. The Commission recommends that the City expand support for Community Land Trusts and other collective ownership and development models.