URBANA – The City of Urbana has brought forth a resolution committing to end structural racism and achieve racial equity. The resolution was discussed at the Urbana Committee of the Whole City Council meeting on February 1st, 2021, which coincided with the start of African American History Month.
Research by Champaign County Historical Archives staff provided historical background on white supremacy, racial oppression, and the effects of racism mentioned in the resolution.
The effects of racism are still profoundly felt today in Urbana. It affects the health and wealth of individuals and the entire community, having been declared by the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District to be a public health crisis. It will not be overcome without a concerted and sustained effort by all.Resolution 2021-02-005R: A Resolution Committing to End Structural Racism and Achieving Racial Equity
Co-sponsor of the resolution, Council member Shirese Hursey says, “The clear message is that there is a history of structural racism that we, as a progressive city, need to confront and accept so that we can continue to move forward. It is my hope that this resolution will be a starting point for the city to consider in future plans for the growth of Urbana.”
Urbana Mayor Diane Wolfe Marlin voiced her support, committing to “change the structures, remove the barriers, and identify pathways to equity and opportunity for all people.”
Despite the promising language of the resolution, members of the public were skeptical that the resolution would result in meaningful change and action by the City.
The skepticism of the public is well warranted. In the past year, the City of Urbana and City Council has faced backlash and criticism for their lack of meaningful action to address police misconduct, violations of Urbana Human Rights Ordinance, disparity in traffic stops and actions, and issues of transparency and accessibility of public records and open meetings.
Making an anti-racism proclamation and resolution could be viewed as political posturing unless accompanied by specific policy actionDanielle Chynoweth, resident of Urbana and Township supervisor.
Chynoweth suggested the Council revise the resolution to include specific actions to advance racial justice that were proposed by the public over the past year. These actions include:
- adopting the Urbana Police Department Use of Force Policy changes suggest by the NAACP and ACLU
- ending illegal housing discrimination
- addressing racially biased police traffic and pedestrian stops
- adopting suggestions to make the civilian police complaint and appeals process more robust and accessible
“You cannot blame us for why we are hesitant, we are holding you accountable for this resolution,” says activist Rita Conerly.
City leadership has also failed to acknowledge the racism and sexism in an incident where a 21-year-old African American woman, Aleyah Lewis was beaten by officers. City leadership and the Urbana Police Department have maintained no wrongdoing largely due to a flawed Use of Force policy that does not include guidelines for de-escalation.
“It’s profoundly sad to see the city put forth this resolution with a trumpet blast, while maintaining total silence and indifference toward the ongoing and escalating plight of Aleyah Lewis caused by the systemic racism and incompetence of its police officers,” says Sarah Nixon.
Other residents called for actions such as establishing an equity task force, soliciting input from minority communities, investing in small black businesses, and setting up good quality grocery stores in food desserts to combat structural racism in Urbana.
“I also hope that these racial discussions do not end because a resolution is going to be signed regarding turning away white supremacy, or turning away fascism, you can only, pen and paper does nothing unless action is behind it, unless there is actual change,” commented Drake Materre.
Hursey and co-sponsor Maryalice Wu responded to public concerns saying that this resolution was not crafted as an action document with specific policies but instead looks at the entire system and sets the stage to move forward.
Council members voted to move the resolution to City Council for a final vote.
Public Input Session of Urbana City Council Committee of the Whole