Jun 17, 2022 - News

Austin's effort to quantify systemic racism faces delays

Illustration of Austin City Hall with lines radiating from it.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

Austin City Council members last year approved a resolution to perform a study that would quantify the cost of systemic racism — a historic move that many advocates saw as a step toward reparations for Black residents.

But more than 15 months later, the study has been marred by delays, aggravating advocates and city leaders alike.

  • "I'm extremely frustrated," Mayor Steve Adler told Axios. "It shouldn't be taking this long."

Details: The resolution, approved in March 2021, acknowledged Austin's decades of inequality and displacement of Black residents.

  • It directed the city manager to study the economic value of the city's "intentional and unintentional harm" toward Black Austinites through a partnership between the University of Texas' LBJ School of Public Affairs and Huston-Tillotson University.
  • The resolution also requested a funding recommendation to build a "Black Embassy" in East Austin, which would offer resources and support for Black-led businesses and organizations.

Council members set an August 2021 deadline to complete the study, but city manager Spencer Cronk and chief equity officer Brion Oaks have twice asked for extensions after UT backed out of the partnership.

  • In March, Cronk and Oak said a preliminary draft report could be available by late spring 2022, but it's still not done.

What they're saying: Nook Turner, co-founder of the Black Austin Coalition, called the city's delays all "words and no action."

  • "It's like they gave us an apology for slavery … but when it came time to make that apology mean something by putting action to it, you see very minimal action toward it," Turner told Axios.
  • Turner argued the city should have pursued a thorough and accurate analysis on the cost of damages, which he thinks should take up to two years and cost $250,000. "That would be more of an injustice than what we've already been through — to do a half-assed analysis."

Council member Natasha Harper-Madison, who led the resolution, said that, unfortunately, she wasn't surprised by the delays.

  • "I am amazed at how frequently we do meet deadlines," she added.

Of note: The resolution did not mention reparations or "restitution payments," which the Black Austin Coalition has pushed for years.

  • Reparations are seen as a way to compensate Black Americans for the harm caused by slavery and the decades of lawful discrimination that followed.
  • As the national reparations effort has stalled, some local and state governments across the country are grappling with whether and how to provide payments or other forms of economic assistance.
  • Austin leaders have so far stayed away from supporting direct payments to residents. Both Adler and Harper-Madison told Axios that reparations should come in the form of programs and education based around housing, financial literacy and more.

The bottom line: The delays are keeping Black residents from receiving any form of restitution, Turner said.

  • A Black embassy would give residents ownership and education, he added.
  • "It's not about giving everybody direct cash," Turner explained. "It's about setting up a situation where everyone can receive the resources, the money, the education … in order to be restituted."

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