Last night, dozens of supporters and opponents of the Race & Culture Task Force’s final recommendations left Fort Worth City Hall agreeing that the effort to make Fort Worth more inclusive is far from over.
“I’m not naive enough to think we’ll tackle these inequities overnight,” Mayor Betsy Price told a packed room in City Hall. Change “won’t just be based on one report,” she continued. “This must be a community-led effort.”
Her comments came moments before Fort Worth City Council voted unanimously to pass the task force’s 22 recommendations after two hours of public comment. The 22-member task force, formed last year to address lingering issues of systemic racism within Fort Worth, had delivered its final report to city council last month.
There were several headline-grabbing recommendations set forth by the task force — after extensive data gathering and dozens of public forums — including the formation of a civilian review board to have an “active role in police accountability and oversight,” the report says; increased funding for job training; improved quality of childcare centers in Hispanic and African-American neighborhoods; increased affordable housing incentives; and a five-year plan to achieve transportation equality across Fort Worth. The price tag for the new programs? A little more than $3 million, according to city documents, including $2.9 million from the city.
The formation of the task force was spurred by weeks of protests and national condemnation last year following the release of video depicting the heavy-handed arrest of black mother Jacqueline Craig and her two daughters at the hands of a white Fort Worth police officer in 2016. Charges against the Craigs of resisting arrest were later dropped while the officer in question was suspended for 10 days. Craig’s ordeal was brought to the fore as Mindia Whittier, representing the grassroots group United Fort Worth, used the first minute of her allotted public comment time to show body camera footage of Craig’s arrest on two large projectors.
“I thought it was important to have a reminder of why we’re here, because I’ve heard several members of the task force thank Mayor Price for having the vision to do something she didn’t have to do,” Whittier said. “Respectfully, I have to call BS. You had to create the task force because the inhumane treatment of Jacqueline Craig brought national shame on our city. United Fort Worth made multiple requests to meet with the task force and were denied.”
As her time ended, dozens of United Fort Worth supporters stood and raised one fist in a sign of solidarity. United Fort Worth, through its public statement released one week earlier, alleges that the city showed favoritism toward vested interests while leaving immigration issues unaddressed. Indeed, lingering concerns over SB 4, the so-called “show me your papers bill,” and the Tarrant County sheriff office’s collaboration with ICE through the 287(g) program (which allows county peace officers to be deputized by ICE agents) are not mentioned in the final recommendations.
Notable speakers TD Smyers, United Way of Fort Worth CEO, and Eva Bonilla, Fort Worth Human Relations Commission chairperson, spoke in favor of the recommendations early on, but, of the 32 speakers that night, the vast majority were critical of the task force’s efforts. Many speakers voiced concern over the proposed Fort Worth police department civilian review board, especially given the recommendations’ extensive list of board limitations (including the inability to overturn “chain-of-command” decisions or discipline police officers).
“They have recommended a civilian review board, but it’s kinda watered down,” said Christopher Nettles, who ran against Price for mayor last year. “If we are going to do the right thing, in Fort Worth, we must set strong rules and guidelines to be followed.”
Several councilmembers spoke after the public comments.
“When I came to [city] council, we hadn’t talked about race,” said councilmember Kelly Allen Gray. “It wasn’t easy to get here. This is a first step. Hold us accountable. Stay in the fight.”
Price, having been the verbal target of several speakers that night, sought to appeal to her critics in her closing remarks.
“We are here to listen and work,” she said. “I do believe this report is not perfect. It is a step in the right direction. It’s not a conversation Fort Worth has had in the past. Change will come, but only if we work on it.”
Fort Worth staff has 90 days to develop steps to implement the task force recommendations.