Editorial: On race dialogues, actions speak louder than words

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In our inaugural editorial, Aug. 9, we wrote that the discussion of gun violence had overtaken the seven community dialogues on race that ended in July.

We wrote, “… the city needs to come together and fight the instinct to let those discussions become lost to time.”

The Telegram & Gazette reported recently that police statistics show only three shootings in the three months that ended Nov. 30, compared with 11 during the same period a year earlier.

This is a testament to the work of the Worcester Police Department, which reported declines in other crimes as well.

On Sept. 15, City Manager Edward M. Augustus Jr. updated the City Council on progress made since he laid out his strategy “to create a city government that better serves and reflects our diverse community.”

The 11-page document highlights progress in five areas: the city workforce, public safety, economic opportunity, civic engagement and economic development.

The community should take pride in the steps taken, and in knowing that the Human Rights Commission and City Manager’s Community Coalition Against Bias and Hate Crimes, among others, continue to craft recommendations for making the city more diverse.

Without denigrating the progress made or the promise of more to come, we believe there is an integral piece missing from the city’s strategy.

The community dialogues on race provided a mechanism for giving and receiving feedback. Widely publicized and reported on, the dialogues put the issue of race in the public consciousness as never before. Unfortunately, that kind of community conversation hasn’t happened since.

If there is one takeaway from the events of the past two years, it is that the issue of race in Worcester can be affected as much by Ferguson or Baltimore as by events in our own city.

If and when such events occur in the future, Worcester’s objective progress will matter little. Indeed, we learned this lesson last summer when an increase in gun violence belied the fact that crime was trending down.

In August, David Ropeik, an expert on risk, told the Sun that the “perception of risk is subjective, an emotional matter of how the facts feel, not just a coldly objective assessment of the probabilistic facts themselves.” We believe racism can be viewed through a similar lens, emotional perception trumping objective assessment.

The only way to combat this perception is to preemptively shine a sustained light through the use of continued community dialogues.

We recommend that the city undertake a program of quarterly dialogues with the full power and effort of the original dialogues on race. We believe such a strategy will complement the city’s ongoing efforts.

An Aug. 3 article in the Telegram & Gazette noted: “Going ‘back to the drawing board’ to have to convince people that racism is still prevalent in the city is frustrating,” [Human Rights] Commissioner Cara Berg Powers said. “Just because people in the city aren’t burning crosses or using racial slurs doesn’t mean racial tensions don’t exist.”

Ongoing community dialogues will ensure this doesn’t happen. They will allow the city a mechanism to gather and assimilate feedback on an ongoing basis, and mitigate the effects of external events.

In an op-ed piece that appeared in the T&G, July 24, Attorney General Maura Healey and Worcester Mayor Joseph M. Petty wrote:

“The Worcester Dialogues on Race have ended, but our work must continue. We will continue to engage in efforts to break down walls and rebuild bridges, to foster honest conversation and head off race-based violence in our neighborhoods. But we need everyone who came together in Worcester to continue to help lead this Commonwealth and this country forward.

“This was the beginning of an important discussion that needs to be had in Worcester, in our state and in our country.”

This discussion needs to continue and be as inclusive as possible. And, last summer showed us, the discussion needs to be in person, not just on paper.

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