NORWALK, Conn. — From housing to health care, from policing practices to education — these are a few areas the new Equity and Justice for All Commission would like to address.
“I envision this as being a permanent standing committee in the city to constantly evaluate situations and equity and injustices,” Mayor Harry Rilling said during a virtual town hall that laid out the plans for establishing the commission.
Rilling said that he wanted to “make sure we do everything we can to eradicate the inequities and injustices in our community.” He also said that this would be about more than just police reforms, and address inequities and injustices in areas such as housing, employment, education and health care.
Chief of Community Services Lamond Daniels will be spearheading the effort to get the commission off the ground and begin its work, which will include hiring a professional consultant to help guide the effort.
“This work is both professional and personal for me,” Daniels said. “I think it’s clear that I am a Black man.”
Daniels said that he was “excited” that the Mayor wanted to commit to address equity and justice in Norwalk.
Daniels laid out three overarching purposes for the commission:
- “Develop a network of local leaders and community members who are dedicated to education, dialogue and actions surrounding race and ethnicity that will effect change and create safe and inclusive neighborhoods.”
- “Assist staff with reviewing, evaluating and updating the 1993 Blue Ribbon Report on Race Relations and also play a key leadership role in facilitating and community conversations to gather insights and experiences from our community about human relations issues.”
- “Build awareness, solutions and direction for racial justice and equity by generating transformative ideas, information and practices.”
To begin the work, Daniels said that the commission would be taking an “immediate next five steps.”
- Review the “Commit to Action” pledge by the Obama Foundation/My Brother’s Keeper Alliance Rilling signed, which requires those who sign to: review police use of force policies, engage communities on their experiences with law enforcement, report the findings from the community and reform police’s use of force policies based on findings.
- Launch an RFP process to search for a consultant/team to lead the commission’s work.
- Engage Norwalk ACTS and others to find local data on important metrics, such as housing and health care
- Propose a “Commit to Action” resolution from the Mayor and Common Council
- Explore and engage nonprofits to assist and partner
“This is not it, there is much more work ahead of us,” Daniels said.
He emphasized that they need “experts at the table,” which is why they plan to issue a request for proposals for organizations and individuals who have a proven track record of doing this type of work. He also said that bringing in a consultant will help deliver on the Mayor’s commitment to this and help bring in research and data.
“I want someone to come in with a fresh set of eyes who can listen,” Rilling said. “I want neutrality. We’re going to make sure this is fair, honest and objective.”
Still, he said that the community members, particularly younger residents, need to be a part of the Commission, as well as public meetings, surveys and other work that comes out of this group.
“We want the people of Norwalk to take ownership of this,” he said. “This is us. This is us as a community. This is going to define who we are.”
Daniels said they would use the 1993 Blue Report as a template to see what areas were addressed at that time, what recommendations were made that were never implemented, where are there still gaps and what unmet needs are there still.
Rilling said that even though the report was done in 1993, some of its recommendations were still valid today, but “after a few things were implemented it got put on a shelf.”
“No one size fits all. We are a city of almost 90,000, however each city has its own nuances, its own dynamics,” Daniels said. “This is going to take work. We want to build an institution of practice so beyond leadership, beyond who’s in charge, this will stay.”
Daniels said that he understands the concerns of residents who feel that this will just be “another committee.”
“The community keeps saying, ‘Oh boy, here we go again,’ and I feel that way too, but I’m also asking you to work with us,” he said.
Rilling and Daniels said that they wanted people willing to share their stories about discrimination, racism and other experiences of injustice, as well as those who can ask the hard questions of them.
“We don’t want this group to just be made up of elected officials or professionals,” Daniels said We want real Norwalkers who can speak to the issues.”
Rilling estimated that it would take about one to two months to get the RFP issued and begin some of the research and data collecting. Once the Commission was officially launched with the consultant, Rilling said that recommendations would be issued on a rolling basis as they came up.