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Pittsburgh City Council Introduces 'Ten Commitments' Of Racial Equity

Ariel Worthy
90.5 WESA
During a public hearing in Decemeber 2019, councilors heard from experts about racial disparties in the city of Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh City Councilors Daniel Lavelle and Ricky Burgess introduced legislation on Tuesday that asks the city to adopt 10 commitments to racial equity. 

The proposed resolution is part of the "All-In City" initiative, a racial-equity effort that Burgess and Lavelle embraced last year.  The 10 commitments include: eliminating race-based disparities across all of city government departments and units; using training and coaching opportunities to eliminate systematic racism and white privilege; and transforming African-American communities from areas of concentrated poverty to mixed-income. 

The resolution also calls for a commission to monitor the city's progress toward racial equity. The 13-member body would also serve as a forum for discussing issues like reparations intended to compensate for slavery and other longstanding racial inequities. Local activists have sought action on that issue since last fall.

Lavelle said reparations don't necessarily mean financial payment. 

"We're not simply talking about government handing over a check," he said. "Government, in and of itself, did not create the situation that we're in. If we use redlining as an example, there were banking partners that were part of the problem where banks would not lend into African-American neighborhoods. So if you look at the poverty that exists within the communities, it's directly correlated with the redlining maps that were produced back in the '50s and '60s." 

The commission will include at least 13 people, including: a representative from Mayor Bill Peduto's office, two city councilors, an attorney knowledgeable about racial equity issues, members of civil rights organizations, and someone who has professional experience in economics and financial policy. 

Burgess said that evidence of racism can also be found in the response from some quarters to a city parks tax that could prioritize investing in parks in low-income, black neighborhoods.

"There are these voices that don't want to do equity," Burgess said. "Now that we're trying to achieve racial equity and help those parks in disadvantaged communities, there's this outrage from some councilmembers and citizens that want to keep that from happening. And this really talks about how, in Pittsburgh, this idea of institutional racism is alive and well." 

Council is set to discuss the 10 commitments resolution next week. 

In other action Tuesday, council passed a bill that would ban trapping wild birds in Pittsburgh. The bill was coupled with other legislation that would ban owning certain reptile animals as pets, with the exception of accredited institutions, vets and for educational purposes. However, the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium asked to be exempt from the legislation because they are not accredited with a professional organization the city ordinace requires. That bill is set to be discussed further on Wednesday.