by Mary Elizabeth Campbell ’21, Staff Writer

The Town of Davidson recently proposed initial steps towards racial equity and inclusion in a 2020 revised budget following increased public attention towards the Black Lives Matter movement and racial inequities. During the June 9th virtual Board of Commissioners meeting, members voted to expedite the hiring of an Affordable Housing, Equity, and Inclusion officer and to implement an “intensive racial equity education program.” Earlier in the year, the town had pushed the 2020 budget priority item to January 2021 due to concerns regarding the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Board members emphasized the impact local activist efforts had on the decision to take both immediate and long-term steps forward. “Protest is a sign for leadership to take action to fix that problem,” Commissioner David Stitton emphasized in the virtual meeting. “It’s critically important that [we] don’t only state the issues, but lay out a clear path of what we intend to do to fix and address these issues.” 

Jaelyn Taylor ‘22 noted the connections between the town’s housing history and its history of structural racism in an e-mailed response, particularly “when considering things like redlining and the ways in which the railroad tracks so obviously split the town along racial barriers.” However, the overall announcement felt like a “placating measure” to her. 

In addition to hiring an Affordable Housing, Equity, and Inclusion Officer, the town plans to start implicit bias training for staff members, which will establish the foundation for a robust racial equity program addressing structural racism and teaching members how to conduct racial equity work.

“The intent of the position and the program really are to look at institutional and structural racism from the Town of Davidson,” Assistant Town Manager Karen Whichard explained. “Broadly, issues of race and affordable housing are entirely intertwined.”

The town will also call upon local organizations to incorporate an anti-racist educational framework. “The goal for our board is getting other institutions in town to join us in the work so we can get to the systemic issues,” added Whichard. “Individually, the Town of Davidson can’t tackle systemic racism, but collaborat[ion] across institutions is the long-term goal.”

Adelle Patten ‘21, a Bonner Scholar who works with the Ada Jenkins Center, echoed the importance of using a racial equity lens for substantive change. “I’m happy to see that the town is working to address affordable housing in conjunction with racial inequities under one program because within the town, these two issues do intersect. […] However, I also think the town needs to encourage its predominantly white community members to realize their own implicit biases and work on improving them together. The town has an obligation to make [everyone] feel welcome and safe.”

Taylor also questioned who the town will appoint to lead this anti-racist education and how they plan to implement it. As a Black student, she shared, “Black and Brown people are well educated on these issues, and[,] quite frankly, I’m tired of having to wait for white people to catch up when truly what these communities deserve is action.”

The Board of Commissioners moved to conduct a data-based review of the Davidson Police Department’s practices and policies, while preserving Police and Fire Department expenditures — which make up 18.4% and 23.4% of the total operating budget in the Fiscal Year 2020-21 Recommended Budget, respectively.

The Board proposes to model the 8 Can’t Wait strategy and the Obama administration’s 21st Century Task Force on Policing, which aims to restrict police officers’ use of force. Campaign Zero’s 8 Can’t Wait Strategy involves eight police reform policies that claim to reduce police killings by 72%: banning chokeholds and strangleholds, mandating de-escalation, requiring warning before shooting, requiring officers to exhaust all alternatives before shooting, imposing a duty to intervene, banning shooting at moving vehicles, incorporating a use of force continuum, and requiring comprehensive reporting. 

Critics claim that the model fails to incorporate a racial equity lens and offers no solution to the disproportionate levels of police violence against Black individuals. They also warn that the model’s message is misleading and overlooks police departments that have already implemented some of the proposed policies, leaving little room for improvement.

Taylor expanded on the structural racism at the core of policing after learning about 8 Can’t Wait from Davidson alum Bry Reed ‘20 and the Wear Your Voice Magazine team. “The root of the problem is not in reducing the harm the police do to marginalized communities. It’s that the police were created to harm marginalized communities, specifically Black ones. The history of the police in [the United States] comes directly from the establishment of slave patrols. 8 Can’t Wait attempts to fix a broken system. People don’t realize that the system is working perfectly, as intended,” Taylor said.  

Police Chief Penny Dunn added her perspective on reforms in the June 9th Board of Commissioners virtual meeting: “We do have room for improvement and so I look forward to [these] initiatives. […] We started a policy review in late December with just a few policies when we decided we needed to do the whole thing, [and] we are just getting started on it.” The review process is scheduled to conclude July 15th.

Whichard emphasized the importance of continuous review and reform, stating, “I feel like our police department is in a really good place with that, but we can always do better and always check. Racial equity work is an iterative process.” She also noted that the town is still exploring options from other communities for the racial equity education framework. One of these includes the Racial Equity Institute in Greensboro, which offers a three- phase long-term training program aimed at helping leaders and organizations understand and proactively address racism in their communities. 

Larger communities in North Carolina, such as Asheville, Charlotte, and Durham, participate in the Government Alliance on Race and Equity (GARE), a national network of local governments doing racial equity work. Mayor Pro Tempore Jane Campbell ‘87 contextualized equity and inclusion resources in the Town of Davidson in comparison to its immediate smaller neighbors: “We have the benefit that people have taken steps along the way that make us better and better poised than our surrounding communities.[…] Ada Jenkins and [the] Affordable Housing Coalition were measures along the way [where] citizens in Davidson stepped up.”

Ultimately, Taylor would like to see the town’s finances align with its stated values: “I want a decrease in the police budget. Point, blank, period.” 

Mayor Pro Tempore Campbell hopes that Davidson town members continue the process of educating themselves on and addressing racial inequities and implicit biases in the community. “I hope we’re not afraid to rip off the worst of the scabs. There’s some genuinely ugly stuff, [and] I hope we can come at it from where there is real discussion,” she said.

In the coming months, the Town of Davidson can also expect community members to hold them accountable. Taylor emphasized, “The [t]own should be aware that there are students, myself included, closely watching how they implement these proposed practices. We will be demanding answers, and I hope they are able to provide sufficient one[s].”  

Reporting contributed by Julia Knoerr ’21, Editor-in-Chief