Race and Culture Task Force tackles ‘systemic, structural, and institutional racism’ in Fort Worth

An interim report by the City of Fort Worth Race and Culture Task Force showed that frequent conversations with community residents revealed the problem “is systemic, structural, and institutional racism, not simply personal or individual behavior.”

According to the report, residents are concerned that “city leaders have failed to acknowledge this problem, causing victims of racism to feel unheard and causing perpetrators of racism to feel empowered.”

Assistant city manager Fernando Costa presented the report Monday night. Costa compiled all of the information and data the six subcommittees had collected since August.

The criminal justice subcommittee analyzed FWPD personnel reports and found that there are no African-American officers in the following specialized units: SWAT (total of 26 officers), K-9 (11), Criminal Intelligence (11), Homicide (11), Major Case (11), and Robbery (16).

The housing subcommittee found that residential segregation had decreased from 53 percent to 45 between 1990 and 2010 but rose to 49 percent since 2010. The transportation subcommittee determined that while non-whites make up 58 percent of Fort Worth’s population, they make up 71 percent of local transit ridership.

Even the first sentence of the presentation “Fort Worth takes pride in its racial and cultural diversity,” was questioned by a task force member.

“I just don’t think that’s an accurate statement,” housing subcommittee chair Katie Sherrod said. She went on to say that if that were true, the task force wouldn’t exist. The sentence was eventually amended to say “Fort Worth desires to take pride in its racial and cultural diversity.”

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The task force then voted unanimously to approve the report.

The interim report will be presented to the City Council at City Hall on May 1. The final report was originally set to be due in August 2018 but Costa said they would request an extension until the end of the year.

The task force also heard from Sheriff Bill E. Waybourn and Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald prior to the approval of the report.

Waybourn told the task force his office is “extremely diverse” with women in leadership roles. He highlighted that his office recently promoted three female African-American officers who are “making strides to become leaders of the department.”

Waybourn said there were 4,000 people in prison in Tarrant County as of Monday morning. However, because of outdated technology, he’s unable to determine the racial breakdown of the inmates. The system only allows for someone to be identified as white or black. Waybourn said his office is trying to obtain a new system to keep more accurate and precise records.

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On the topic of Senate Bill 4, the so-called anti-sanctuary cities law, the sheriff said that police officers cannot ask about immigration status at routine traffic stops. However, he said the issue comes up when an individual is stopped and cannot produce a driver’s license, so the officer starts asking more questions.

On the program 287(g), which allows local law enforcement agencies to partner with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the sheriff felt it was necessary for his department to participate because ICE officers working in the county jails could only work from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

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Members of the local grassroots organization United Fort Worth were present as well. When Waybourn began to speak about SB4 and 287(g), a group of women silently stood in the back of the room holding a banner that read “Sheriff Waybourn separates families.”

“We can’t deport 12 million people,” Waybourn said, when asked by a task force member what his idea of immigration reform would be for the 12 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States. “We need to secure our border from narco trade and for border security. If we figured out a way to compromise on visas and get them out of the shadows to let them work on their citizenship … they ought to get in line, wherever that line is, on the path to citizenship.”

Following the Sheriff’s presentation, Fort Worth Chief of Police Joel Fitzgerald answered questions about the indictment of officer John P. Romer Jr., who was charged with aggravated perjury, official oppression and making a false statement to law enforcement personnel after he used excessive force on a young black man in November 2016.

A special prosecutor was appointed to the case in January 2018.


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