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Seattle City Councilmember Bruce Harrell

Archive for the 'Race and Social Justice' Category

Jan 24 2012

Seattle’s Race and Social Justice Initiative wins prestigious award

Press Release issued – January 24, 2012

Seattle’s Race and Social Justice Initiative wins prestigious award

Councilmember Bruce Harrell
Councilmember Mike O’Brien

SEATTLE – The City of Seattle’s Race and Social Justice Initiative will be receiving the American Society for Public Administration’s (ASPA) 2012 Equal Opportunity Affirmative Action Exemplary Practice Award on March 6, 2012. The announcement came last week (1/16/12) in recognition of the outstanding work being done by City of Seattle employees and the Seattle Office of Civil Rights to bring about a more fair, equitable and inclusive Seattle.

“I’m proud of the Office of Civil Rights and our employees for the years of hard work that was put into the Race and Social Justice Initiative to get where we are today and earn this recognition,” said Councilmember Mike O’Brien. “But our work does not stop here. We will continue to advance this initiative as we look to address racially disproportionate outcomes in areas like education, health and opportunity.”

“Our City’s Race and Social Justice Initiative has produced a strong foundation for us to be proactive in our effort for greater social equity,” said Councilmember Bruce Harrell, chair of the Public Safety, Civil Rights and Technology committee. “Winning this award shows that our efforts are being recognized on a national level. We should all be very proud of this work.”

The ASPA is dedicated to advancing the principles of accountability and performance, professionalism, ethics and social equity. The award is presented to individuals and organizations that have made outstanding contributions to a more equal society.

The Seattle Race and Social Justice Initiative is a citywide effort to end institutionalized racism and race-based disparities in City government. The Initiative builds on the work of the civil rights movement and the ongoing efforts of individuals and groups in Seattle to confront racism. The Initiative’s long term goal is to change the underlying system that creates race-based disparities in our community and to achieve racial equity.

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Oct 13 2011

Healthcare inclusion for City of Seattle transgender employees

On October 7, it was announced that healthcare exclusions for City of Seattle transgender employees are being lifted. I drafted and submitted a memorandum to the City’s Health Care Committee (HC2) encouraging their consideration of removing healthcare exclusions for City of Seattle transgender employees. Also signing on to the letter were Councilmembers Sally J. Clark, Mike O’Brien and Tom Rasmussen. Beginning January 1, 2012, transgender medical procedures will be included in all City of Seattle healthcare plans.

I am so pleased to see our policies reflect our values; our value that we will not discriminate based on one’s sexual identity. I was pleased to work with our City’s five Civil Rights Commissions, in particular, the LGBT Commission, to help ensure that our transgender employees can now get the coverage they need. Our City’s healthcare plans will now include treatments, medications and services for gender affirming surgeries and procedures.

Current data shows 39 percent of Fortune 500 companies include transgender healthcare procedures in their healthcare plans, compared to only 1 percent in 2004. Seattle is proud to join San Francisco and Portland, Oregon with this inclusion for transgender employees.

Without this inclusion, those identified as transgender are often denied other basic medical and psychological care. By including transgender medical procedures in our City’s healthcare plans, we show our commitment to social justice, fairness and the needs of all City employees.

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Feb 27 2011

Students at Washington’s Evans School of Public Affairs ask tough questions

On Tuesday, February 22, I had the pleasure of sitting down with students from the University of Washington’s, Evans School of Public Affairs to lead a discussion of the City’s Race and Social Justice Initiative (RSJI) and Seattle Police accountability.

Recent events across the world have demonstrated the power of youth and students; they can change the world and world order. That is why I embraced the opportunity to talk with these intelligent students who only want to see accountability, fairness and progress in our City.

We fully examined the Police shooting of John T. Williams. They shared with me that they believed I was the only elected official who seemed to take responsibility for the action; who gave straight, clear answers; and who worked hard to find solutions to help address future issues through my proposal that Police wear body-mounted cameras. While I appreciated the comments, I shared with them the results of the Firearms Review Board which, in my opinion, demonstrated a process that worked; clearly this process, run primarily by the Police Department, conducted a forensic examination of the shooting and boldly and accurately concluded the shooting was not justified and violated established policies for the use of reasonable force.

The students discussed the difference between individual acts of discrimination and institutional discrimination which could be inadvertent or not traced to individual intent. We talked about the need for every human being to examine how and why they react to people who are different than they are and then, with that understanding, recognize the need to always improve their human effectiveness. I was privileged to be in their company.

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Dec 04 2009

Race and Social Justice Initiative (RSJI): Let’s Keep the Momentum

On November 30, 2009, I introduced an RSJI Resolution to the Full Council which reinforces and energizes efforts to: 1) end racial and social disparities internal to the City; 2) strengthen the way the City engages and provides services to all communities; and 3) lead in efforts to eliminate socio-economic disparities in our city. I have asked that the policy work of Seattle’s Office of Civil Rights fall under my ETC Committee for 2010 and 2011. The Council’s chambers were filled with RSJI supporters from city departments, the Mayor’s office and community leaders. I wrote an op-ed in the Saturday, November 28th edition of the Seattle Times (link). You can find the long version of that piece here:

In 2005, Mayor Nickels launched the RSJI to raise awareness and end institutional racism and social disparity. All city departments were expected to implement an RSJI work plan. I will work with the new executive in making sure this important work reaches new heights. Our goal of inclusiveness will result in economic development, improved public safety and improved schools. I am committed to ensuring that this work moves beyond City government and into our communities and that services are equally obtainable to everyone regardless of skin color, socioeconomic status or language spoken. With inclusion, everyone wins.

You can view the Resolution here:

Link to Seattle Channel Full Council Video:

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Nov 30 2009

Moving Seattle Beyond Race to Inclusiveness

Council Passes Resolution Directing
Race and Social Justice Work to Continue

City Employees and Department Heads Commit to Heighten Efforts

Below the press release (11/30/09) is an editorial I wrote about the Race and Social Justice Resolution.

Seattle – Today the City Council passed a Race and Social Justice Resolution intended to heighten the City of Seattle’s awareness of institutional racism and social disparities. The Resolution, sponsored by Councilmember Bruce Harrell, seeks to carry forward and strengthen the initiative begun by Mayor Nickels. Councilmember Harrell believes that “Mayor Nickels had the vision and courage to drive this important work which demonstrated his recognition that race and social disparities continue to exist throughout our city. The initiative can result in a healthier and more efficient work environment and better city services to all communities.

Department heads, change teams, city employees and community leaders were all on hand to support the legislation. Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis, on behalf of the Mayor and the City’s executive team, expressed their gratefulness that this important work will continue.

The Resolution states the strategies and tools to address racial and social disparities and describes the goals of improving workforce equity, contracting equity and best practices to achieve equal access to city services.

“This work must continue because all people in Seattle benefit when we demonstrate inclusiveness in how we make decisions, how we provide basic city services and how we manage change. This is the first piece of legislation on this issue and Seattle’s commitment in this area has already been nationally recognized.” says Mayor Nickels.

A key component of the work going forward was the 2009 establishment of a Race and Social Justice Community Roundtable. This group consists of individuals from community organizations, business, philanthropy, education and others with the mission of extending this work beyond city government and into the community. Councilmember Harrell “looks forward to working with the Roundtable and moving this effort beyond City government.”

Seattle Times Editorial (Saturday, 11/28/09)
Looking beyond race, not by being colorblind, but inclusive

In the Pacific Northwest, history was made in 1997 when Gary Locke was elected Governor, Norm Rice was Mayor, Ron Sims was King County Executive, John Stanford was the Superintendent of Public Schools and Richard McIver, Martha Choe, Cheryl Chow and Charlie Chong served on the Seattle City Council – all people of color.

In 2009, Seattle elected a new King County Executive, Mayor and Seattle City Council. While three people of color ran for Mayor and one for City Council, none advanced beyond the primary.

When our country elected President Obama, the Republican National Committee elected as its head, Michael Steele, the first African American to hold this position. Since every door seems to be open to racial minorities, do race-based policies still make sense or are they passé? Can I claim that my African American children are disadvantaged and should be treated differently because of their race? We have tried to give them every opportunity possible –education, exposure to the other cultures, music, sports, you name it. In contrast, I have met white children who were dealt nearly every card against them: poverty, absentee parents or a parent on drugs, abuse and violence in their home. I therefore pose the question about the role race now plays in our country and, in particular, Seattle.

The diverse political landscape of 1997 was a result of our voters looking beyond race to elect its leaders. Indeed, that was the profound realization of President Obama’s victory. But I contend that looking beyond race is not the same as being colorblind. In fact, pretending race does not exist is not the same as creating equality. Looking beyond race means recognizing that our government and social institutions continue to perpetuate advantages that disproportionately channel wealth, power and resources to certain privileged groups and that race continues to play a role in such disproportion. In order to address these inequities, we must acknowledge that race is still a factor. The solution is not being colorblind; it is being inclusive of those who have not enjoyed a history of privilege.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 9.4% of Whites in Seattle live in poverty. The rates for people of color are alarmingly and disproportionately higher: 30.9% for Native Americans or Alaska Natives; 30.2% for Black or African Americans; 18.8% for people with Hispanic ethnicity; and 15.3% for Asians. African Americans are incarcerated at nearly six (5.6) times the rate of whites. Hispanics are incarcerated at nearly double (1.8) the rate of whites. In fact, in 2005, Hispanics comprised 20% of the state and federal prison population; a rise of 42% since 1990. I contend that these statistics are not simply a result of poor choices by racial groups, but direct results of history and institutionalized behavior.

The English word “race” is traced to a 1508 poem by William Dunbar referring to a line of kings. Race has no genetic basis. There is no one quality, characteristic, or gene that distinguishes all the members of one “race”. Two random Chinese may be as genetically different as a Chinese and an African. Yet, race is such a powerful social idea that it continues to shape our thinking and our institutional development. Communities of color continue to talk about race because of their history of exclusion and lack of privilege. Even today, an isolated experience may cause them to ponder whether their skin color had anything to do with it. As noted African American author James Baldwin wrote, “Being white means never having to think about it.”

On November 30, 2009, I introduced legislation to the Seattle City Council that will heighten and strengthen our city’s awareness of institutional racism and social disparity – a system where people benefit or are disadvantaged without necessarily doing anything themselves. This is an initiative that Mayor Greg Nickels began, I believe, out of his heart because there was no huge political advantage in doing so. This City Council remains committed to that cause. Yes, we should continue to look beyond race as we elect our leaders but this is not the same as ignoring race. At the core of how we address societal change, should be a commitment to also observe who is excluded from the road to success because of their skin color, socioeconomic status or other differences such as gender, age, sexual preference or physical ability. Once we see through this lens, what we call the “Race and Social Justice lens”, we will see how similar the dreams of all boys and girls are, regardless of race and how important it is to value the inclusiveness of those who are underprivileged. Yes, race does matter if it reminds us every day why we must remain fully committed to inclusiveness.

Bruce A. Harrell serves on the
Seattle City Council and will Chair the Energy,
Technology and Civil Rights Committee for 2010

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