Austin mayor creates anti-racism panel after police force incidents

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Spurred by two controversial police use-of-force encounters, Austin Mayor Steve Adler will announce Wednesday a new task force aimed at combating what he calls “institutional racism” citywide that will include dozens of representatives from business, education and criminal justice.

Adler has asked the panel to present recommendations about how to curtail inequalities in how people of color are treated in the city by March.

Adler cited the February shooting of David Joseph, a naked unarmed teen who was shot and killed by Officer Geoffrey Freeman, and the violent arrest of teacher Breaion King, which the American-Statesman first exposed in July, as reasons for the task force.

The incidents led to protests outside City Hall and demands from many in the community for city officials to continue putting police reforms in place.

The mayor is timing his announcement with an afternoon meeting of President Barack Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, but Adler said he wants to address racial issues in a broader way.

The task force will include five working groups including health, with an eye to increasing access to wellness programs for all residents; and real estate and housing, aiming to remove systemic barriers to quality, affordable housing.

The group will be co-chaired by Austin Independent School District Superintendent Paul Cruz and Colette Pierce Burnette, president of Huston-Tillotson University.

“To achieve the comprehensive solutions we need, we need to look at all facets of institutional racism,” Cruz said. “I will do my part and work with our task force to foster honest conversations and to deliver actionable solutions to the Mayor. It’s not often you’re asked to make real progress on one of our country’s greatest challenges, and I welcome this opportunity.”

“Ending institutional racism in Austin is an audacious goal that won’t be accomplished by one task force working for a few months. Doing this important and necessary work requires a long-standing and sincere commitment from the community. We are committed to doing this work for as long as it takes, but it begins here,” Burnette said.

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