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Cincinnati Council Members Want To Identify, Eliminate Institutional Racism

Bill Rinehart
Bishop Bobby Hilton, flanked by city and civic leaders, promotes the effort to end institutional racism in Cincinnati.

Cincinnati council members are calling for a study to identify city practices that may contribute to institutional racism. Seven members signed a motion directing the city manager to put money in the next budget to fund the disparity study.

Councilman PG Sittenfeld likens it to the Croson study, which looked at city contracts with minority and woman-owned businesses.

"Directly as a result of the Croson study, the city was able to reform and dramatically improve its contracting processes and the numbers for WBEs (women's business enterprise) and MBEs (minority business enterprise)."

Sittenfeld says the scope of the disparity study will be defined with community input.

"The policy makers in collaboration with the city manager's office in collaboration with all the stakeholders will define those things."

He listed three examples of where the study could help: property citations given out disproportionally in African American neighborhoods, the city's pension fund being invested in the private prison industry, and the number of African-American firefighters at a generational low.

Councilman Wendell Young says the study will fight institutional racism.

"There are none of us in this city who believe for a moment that the playing field is level. Whether we're talking about sex, whether we're talking about race, whether we're talking about sexual orientation or whatever the case may be, we know that if we're to address these issues and make the playing field fair, we need to begin here in City Hall."

Sittenfeld and Young were joined by David Mann, newly sworn-in members Tamaya Dennard and Greg Landsman, and former Mayor Dwight Tillery.

Tillery, who is currently a member of the activism group The Black Agenda, says "our opinions about what exists isn't enough. We need the actual data to understand what is causing the tale of two cities."

Cincinnati Sentinels President Louis Arnold compared the end of institutional racism to the "explosion" of the music industry in the 1960s and 1970s. He says that's when African-American artists were welcomed and embraced by the industry.

"I wonder if America opened the doors to everyone in this nation, what America would be."

Sittenfeld says Cincinnati wouldn't be the first to conduct such a study. He says Seattle, Portland, Minneapolis and Madison, Wisconsin, have all done so, and Cincinnati will be able to draw on their best practices.

He expects the disparity study to cost in the "six-figure" range. The Crossen study cost about $1 million.