Racial equity panel uses first hearing to build to-do list


June 14, 2021
The Patriot Ledger
By Chris Lisinski

A diverse stream of lawmakers, activists and community leaders produced a lengthy list of racial equity proposals Monday, June 14, kicking off one of the Legislature’s most daunting undertakings to date: confronting centuries of structural racism ingrained in nearly every facet of public life.

Created by the Legislature in January, the Committee on Racial Equity, Civil Rights, and Inclusion convened its first hearing as it charts a course for this session. Speakers outlined priorities they hope to see lawmakers address – from enforcing a 2018 criminal justice reform law to making driver’s licenses available to undocumented immigrants, from disaggregating data collection to offering reparations for slavery – in steps toward achieving the equality long promised but often not delivered for communities of color.

Legislative leaders created the panel  after last year’s nationwide racial justice protests and police reform legislation, but the committee’s mission will be far broader.

Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, one of the group’s co-chairs, said the panel is well aware that “structural racism and exclusion are marbled throughout the different institutions and existing policies of our commonwealth.”

“Last year, the Legislature was laser-focused on reforming public safety, but our work to end structural racism is not confined to the public safety system and it is not done in our commonwealth,” she said. “While we may not be able to do it all and end structural racism this legislative session, we need to begin working on pressing priorities so that we can do that piece-by-piece work.”

The COVID-19 pandemic’s influence was also apparent in the testimony. Black and Latino communities have been hit disproportionately hard during the health crisis, often facing higher rates of infection, challenges accessing vaccines, and greater economic harm than white communities.

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