Following a campaign pledge to combat Chicago’s legacy of racial inequality, Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot announced the creation of an Office of Equity and Racial Justice.
Lightfoot has tapped Candace Moore, senior staff attorney for the Education Equity Project at Chicago Lawyers’ Committee For Civil Rights, to lead the office as the city’s chief equity officer.
The office “will be tasked with creating and advancing new policies and practices through the lens of equity,” according to a release shared by Lightfoot’s press secretary on Wednesday.
Moore said the office will take a deep look within city government, take stock of how it works, examine data measuring the outcomes of city policies and open dialogue with people across the city. The office will also be tasked with teaching city workers about what equity means.
“There will definitely have to be a dynamic community engagement process,” Moore said. “Bringing in community members [and] talking about the history of what’s happened, harm that has been created and what solutions would look like.”
Moore herself has pushed city officials to be more thoughtful about equity. She was a key figure in the fight to stop the closing of National Teachers Academy, a mostly black elementary school in the South Loop that Chicago Public Schools had planned to convert to a neighborhood high school.
Moore sees the community as a valuable partner to prioritize where the new office will focus its efforts.“It’s really partnering with our communities to address the ways in which government services and products can be more fair to all residents across the city,” she said.
There’s no shortage of areas in need of attention.
Racial inequity is unmistakable in Chicago. The city’s wide racial gaps in jobs, housing, education, violence, poverty and economic development are well-documented; and so are the racially-disparate impacts of various city policies or practices.
WBEZ and ProPublica Illinois have detailed how the weight of the city’s ticketing, towing and impounding of vehicles has fallen primarily on black communities on the city’s South and West sides.
In a joint project with APM Reports and Great Lakes Today, WBEZ also noted how the bulk of nearly 150,000 water shutoffs over the last decade have been disproportionately concentrated in mostly black and Latino neighborhoods.
Other groups, like the Center for Gender and Racial Equity, have been critical of city leaders for the police department’s disparate impact of its use of a gang database and its resistance to reform efforts.
Chicago joins a growing list of cities employing offices of equity — or using a so-called racial equity lens — to examine the potential for racial disparities resulting from city policies. Austin, Baltimore and Seattle, among other cities, have launched similar efforts.
Alden Loury is the senior editor of WBEZ's race, class and communities desk. Follow him @AldenLoury.