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SLU study finds racial equity tools can affect public policy

Hundreds of activists gathered in downtown St. Louis to protest the death of George Floyd. May 29, 2020
Chad Davis
St. Louis Public Radio
Protesters for racial equity and against police brutality march in downtown St. Louis in May 2020. A new study finds that certain tools to help governments with racial equity can affect public policy.

In the wake of Michael Brown’s death in 2014, and again after the 2020 murder of George Floyd, cities and counties across the United States pledged to do more to address systemic racism.

Many used tools to help them view policy changes through a racial equity lens of how they might affect minority communities. Now, a new study from St. Louis University finds two of those tools, Government Alliance on Race and Equity and PolicyLink, seem to have led governments to adopt policies that could help undo some of the effects of centuries of racism.

Sidney Watson, a law professor at SLU and director of the law school’s Center for Health Law Studies, said the decision by cities and counties to use the tools shows they are taking racial equity seriously.

“Making the decision to work with a racial equity tool is a commitment at the city level or the county level to do the work around racial equity,” she said. “It’s both a symbolic point, but also getting down and rolling up your sleeves and doing the work.”

The researchers focused on those specific tools because information about which cities and counties were using them was most easily available. They found at least 107 jurisdictions using the tools, some beginning as early as 2000. A review of certain policy decisions — a higher minimum wage and declaring racism a public health emergency — found a connection between the use of the tools and adoption of those policies.

“We found that a number of jurisdictions working with GARE and/or PolicyLink prioritized and enacted laws and policies to address systemic racism,” the report’s authors wrote. “Yet, the connection between working with [these tools] and these changes was still not explicitly clear.”

Ruqaiijah Yearby, the executive director of SLU’s Institute for Healing Justice and Equity and an author of the study, said the two years of research she did affirmed that using the tools is a constant process.

“You have to be intentional about it, continue to evaluate, and really try to work to integrate it in all that you do,” she said. “It’s not just focusing on changing policies for your community. It also means improving what you do in your relationships within the government.”

The most important benefit, Yearby added, is the tools’ ability to prompt governments to have difficult conversations about race and racial equity.

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann 

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.

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