Baltimore councilman proposes $15 million fund to help eliminate 'structural and institutional' racism

Baltimore City Councilman Brandon Scott plans to introduce legislation Monday that would force each city agency to study whether it is engaging in discriminatory policies — and create a roughly $15 million annual fund that would go toward eliminating “structural and institutional racism.”

Scott, who chairs the council’s public safety committee, spoke of the city’s history of racist zoning laws and restrictive housing covenants.

“As much as we have a storied history,” he said, “we also have a history we don’t like to talk about: We have a history of racial inequity.”

He said much work needs to be done to make sure city government is treating people fairly regardless of their race, gender or socio-economic status.

Scott, a candidate for lieutenant governor on Democrat Jim Shea’s ticket, introduced the proposals in two bills.

The first bill would establish an equity assessment program that would require city agencies to “develop polices, practices and strategic investments to reverse disparity trends based on race, gender or income,” and to “develop and implement an equity action plan,” among other requirements.

“Unfortunately, I think many of the assessments will show we are lagging behind in progressing toward equity,” Scott said. “We have to change that.”

He said city officials are doing a better job of hiring talented people from diverse backgrounds, but “have to make sure they aren’t operating off policies that are written 20 or 30 years ago.”

“We have to be able to empower the great people we have,” he said.

The second bill is a proposed charter amendment that would create an “equity assistance fund” for the purposes of “assisting efforts that reduce inequity based on race, gender or economic status.” If the council approves, it would be put before the voters in November.

The fund would get the equivalent of 3 percent of the police department’s budget each year. This year’s police budget is larger than $500 million, meaning the fund would receive more than $15 million.

The money could be spent on providing equity in housing, education, addressing past inequities in capital budget spending or eliminating structural racism and other forms of discrimination.

More than a century ago, Baltimore was one of the first cities in the country to pass an ordinance that forced black residents into segregated neighborhoods. Other government policies deepened the economic divide between races. In the 1930s, for instance, the federal government encouraged home loans to whites — particularly those of British, German and Scandinavian descent — but not to black residents.

“If we’re truly going to deal with inequity,” Scott said, “we can’t do it outside of city government until we deal with it inside city government.”

City Councilwoman Shannon Sneed, who represents East Baltimore, is co-sponsoring the equity assessment bill.

“We want fairness across the board,” she said. “I just hope it won’t be a challenge. I hope we’ll get support. Folks say they want equity but then they don’t want to put resources toward it.”

City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young said he supports studying policies within City Hall, but doesn’t back a new fund.

Young said his $12 million fund for children and youth programming will help address racial inequality, and he’s proposing money for the affordable housing trust fund. He doesn’t think the city can afford another new fund without proposing cuts to agencies.

“It sounds good to take 3 percent from the police department, but you know the police department will still get a supplemental budget” for millions in overtime expenses, Young said. “So my question is: Where will that 3 percent come from? Is it coming from rec and parks? Is it coming from housing? Where are we going to get money to do all these things?”

Young said he wants to see what the studies will show. He believes the council needs to use more tax deals to lure development to poorer parts of Baltimore instead of the waterfront.

“We have given a lot of resources over there,” he said. “I would say that it has been not fair. That is why from now on we’re going to be pushing [tax-increment financing] for our neighborhoods and our communities.

“If developers want a TIF, they’ve got to do something for the community.”

Mayor Catherine E. Pugh did not respond to a request for comment.

A city planning department analysis of $670 million of budgeted capital projects in Baltimore last year found that predominantly white neighborhoods were slated for almost twice as much spending over the past five years as mostly black parts of the city.

City planners said the findings underscored the way Baltimore continues to be shaped by a long legacy of racial segregation.

Stephanie M. Smith, the planning department’s assistant director for equity, engagement and communications, said she hadn’t yet reviewed Scott’s bills, but supported the concept.

“Anything that’s going to get people thinking about how past structural inequity is impacting their present-day work is very valuable,” Smith said. “We’ve all inherited a structure that we’ve been born into. No one alive created it.”

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