Student-led march inspires Concord mayor to form committee to address racial inequities

Monitor staff
Published: 6/9/2020 2:57:20 PM

A student-led march against racism that drew nearly 2,000 people to the Capital City on Saturday is being commended by Concord’s policymakers who say they have a responsibility to carry that torch onward by acting to address inequities in their community.

“We can do better. We’re going to make a difference. We can’t let this just stop on one day and one march,” said Concord Mayor Jim Bouley during Monday night’s city council meeting.

Bouley said the young adults who led the march from Memorial Field to the State House moved so many people as they came together to address the difficult topics of racial injustice and police brutality. The peaceful march, like others across the country in recent days, was organized in response to the death of George Floyd, a black Minneapolis resident who died on May 25 after a white police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

“I walked away inspired,” Bouley said of the march, which resulted in no arrests. “But, the next day, Sunday, and today, the real question is: Well, are we just going to feel good about that one moment or are we going to actually do something about it?”

Bouley said one of the most important things he and the councilors can do right now is listen and provide a platform for people to talk about their experiences. With that in mind, he proposed Monday night the creation of a committee that will bring together organizations throughout the city to address not just community policing but inequities in other areas of life, including affordability of and access to housing, opportunities in the workforce and financial independence. He said partnering with the Concord School District will also be key to identify gaps in education.

Exactly who will serve on the committee and how those meetings can safely take shape during the coronavirus pandemic are details that still need to be ironed out. However, Bouley said he doesn’t plan to start from scratch and create a new committee; rather, he will invite organizations “who are already doing wonderful things” together with the council.

“I think it’s going to be a broad-ranging discussion, much more than just policing, if we’re really going to be honest with ourselves and if we’re going to move the needle to make a difference,” he said.

The protests in small and large cities across the country are spurring conversations like the one at Monday’s Concord City Council meeting about how elected officials can do better by the people they represent and take decisive action on the calls for reform. Bouley said a review and evaluation of current city policies, both at the police department and elsewhere, is a healthy and necessary step forward.

For example, the city’s Public Safety Advisory Board will be reviewing at a meeting later this month the police department’s policies relative to the use of force.

“I’m not necessarily suggesting that we’re doing anything wrong now, but I think it’s worthwhile to review and see what we can do better so they will be focusing on that,” Bouley said of the advisory board’s plans.

During Monday’s virtual meeting, several city councilors reflected on the student-led march this past weekend and shared their ideas for next steps.

Ward 4 Councilor Meredith Hatfield, who participated in the march, said she believes all of the councilors could benefit in hearing from programs that focus on diversity, equity and inclusion to help deepen their own understanding of the critical issues.

Councilor Nathan Fennessy echoed Hatfield’s sentiments, noting that as one of the newly elected at-large councilors he recently took part in the city’s orientation program and wonders if there are opportunities to enhance the education offered during that training.

In addition to exploring new training opportunities and options for community engagement, many councilors also acknowledged the importance of self-reflection and self-awareness.

“I think it’s difficult for us sometimes to look into the mirror and not recognize white privilege, and I think we need to do a lot of work in looking at ourselves and understanding what’s happening,” said Ward 6 Councilor Linda Kenison. “We can’t put ourselves in the shoes of the black population, but we can work to understand.”

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