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NAACP: Walsh failing to meet campaign promises

Little improvement for communities of color under Walsh

Jule Pattison-Gordon
NAACP: Walsh failing to meet campaign promises
(left) Segun Idowu, third vice president of the Boston branch of the NAACP, and (right) Tanisha Sullivan, president of the branch.

Mayor Martin Walsh has fallen short of campaign promises to improve educational outcomes, increase access to employment and housing and increase public safety in communities of color, according to a report released by the NAACP Boston Branch on Sunday.

Drawing on city data, the NAACP, working in conjunction with a coalition of civil rights and community-based organizations, rated Walsh no higher than a C in any of the main areas. Conclusions were based on city data and news reporting.

“While some of the outcomes are disappointing, we hold firm to the belief that we all want what is best for people in this city,” Tanisha Sullivan, president of the Boston branch of the NAACP, said in a statement to the Banner. “The report should serve to highlight many of the issues of importance within communities of color, as well as be a guidepost for our collective work in identifying and implementing results driven solutions.”

Walsh’s office disputed the NAACP’s low assessments of his track record, telling the Banner in a statement, “We need to take the time to closely review this report, however we respectfully disagree with the grades given. While there is always room for improvement, we are very proud of what we have been able to accomplish over the past four years.” Walsh’s office said he had created opportunities for minority-owned businesses, created affordable housing and added more than 700 pre-kindergarten seats.

Economic development: D grade

Employment, minority businesses and corporate responsibility

While the NAACP report authors noted Walsh’s efforts regarding job skills development, they also said it was unclear if this had produced more employment for people of color, and cited the significantly higher unemployment rate among people of color compared to whites.

Only a thin slice of city spending is conducted with minority-owned business enterprises, with the amount of purchasing dollars directed to such firms lower in fiscal years 2015 and 2016 than in the prior two years. It is unclear if recent efforts will help, report authors said. The Banner reported recently that by the Walsh administration’s figures, for each of the past three years, the share of city contracting dollars spent on minority-owned businesses has been less than half of a percent, although the city has promised to study the disparity. Authors also graded Walsh an F in efforts to encourage companies to engage in hiring and supply procurement from diverse companies.

Affordable Housing

Housing has been a focus issue in the mayoral campaign, with the Walsh administration touting its plans to ramp up housing stock production by 2030. But NAACP gave Walsh a D for results, stating that since 2011 only about 2.3 percent of units constructed or permitted by the city between Jan. 2011 and Dec. 2016 can realistically be deemed “affordable.” The affordable housing supply is not meeting needs, authors said, and clearer strategies are needed for fully addressing the problem. However, they added that increases in the inclusionary development policy requirements were useful and the amount of city-controlled resources directed for affordable housing exceeded the city’s goal.

Education: C grade

Walsh “consistently underfunded the Boston Public Schools,” and the frequently cited excuse that there are structural inefficiencies is “not a sufficient reason to miss the mark on fully funding our children’s education,” report authors said.

While the Walsh administration lauds its efforts to expand pre-K seats, the NAACP authors say the expansion is too minor to lessen racial disparity in early education access. Furthermore, they noted that there has been a significant decline in the retention and recruitment of black teachers over the past decade, grading Walsh a C for effort on retaining and recruiting diverse teachers and an F for results.

Opportunity and achievement gaps

Report authors called for bolder action to address the opportunity and achievement gap, stating that BPS “must move from only theory and experimentation to implementation of practices that nurture the whole child and accelerate learning for students of color.” The report also notes an increase in the number of Level 3 and 4 schools and the disproportionate number of them located in Roxbury, Dorchester and Mattapan.

Public safety: D grade Community Policing

While Walsh has praised the Boston Police Department’s community policing work, the NAACP found it only C-worthy. Walsh failed to significantly strengthen the Community Ombudsman Oversight Panel, an entity whose members have requested that he replace it with a better-resourced and more powerful civilian-run Office of Police Accountability. NAACP authors also dinged Walsh for doing little to produce funding for more summer and year-round youth jobs. Additionally, the high number of unsolved homicides and shootings suggest depleted trust between community members and the police. On the positive side, the NAACP said that Walsh had made improvements in community collaboration, including creation of a Social Justice Task Force and reinstatement of the police cadet program.

The cadet program has the potential to introduce more people of color into the policing pipeline as one-third of a new recruit class can comprise cadets, thus creating a path to hiring that does not carry the state-mandated veteran preference, which has served as a major obstacle to diversity in police ranks. In the current class, 27 of the 39 cadets are of color.

Body Cameras and violence prevention

NAACP authors called out Walsh for dragging his feet on implementing a pilot program and, now that the pilot has concluded, not committing to full implementation. While the mayor scored points for creating an Office of Public Safety and launching Boston’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative, authors said the Office of Public Safety lacked a cohesive strategy and needed more powers and that the My Brother’s Keeper program is not sufficiently codified to guarantee it will outlast this administration.


The NAACP report recommends that Walsh settle current lawsuits over discriminatory practices within the BPD. While these suits were initiated against the Menino administration, Walsh continues to fight and appeal, using taxpayer dollars to do so.

In one, black officers alleged that the hair-based drug tests used by the Boston Police Department disproportionately produced false positives when testing African American hair. In 2005, a federal court of appeals ruled that the tests did have disparate impact, and in a separate lawsuit, courts in 2013 and 2014 ruled that the tests were unreliable. The city appealed in both cases.

Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal is executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice, which represents plaintiffs in these cases. In a Banner phone interview he questioned the mayor’s choice to invest in appeals rather than accept court findings and take up less discriminatory practices.

“If the mayor’s commitment to diversity is genuine, we should see a resolution to longstanding discrimination cases challenging the exclusion of people of color from Boston’s public institutions,” Espinoza-Madrigal said. “[There also] is the tremendous pouring of scarce taxpayer resources — over $1.6 million — to defend against discrimination cases brought by the Lawyers’ Committee on behalf of employees of color. If you can’t be fair, you can at least be frugal.”

Another suit centers on the test used to determine BPD promotions to lieutenant during a six-year period. In 2015 the court ruled that test had little job relevance and disparately filtered out candidates of color. Walsh’s administration appealed the decision, but its appeal was rejected in 2017.

“We are not trying to dismantle Mayor Walsh’s key or landmark programs or policies, so it’s difficult for me to understand why he vigorously defends the discrimination cases, when they are not targeting policies he created,” Espinoza-Madrigal said.

City staffing diversity: C grade

Employee diversity is lacking in Boston Public Schools, fire and police departments and City Hall, and impending retirements are expected to exacerbate disparities in each of these. In BPS, 86 percent of students are of color, but only 46 percent of school leaders are and only 37 percent of teachers and guidance counselors are.

The fire department is overwhelmingly white, with whites making up 90 percent of fire chiefs, 92 percent of fire captains and the vast majority of lieutenants. Whites also comprise the majority of firefighters. Low representation of people of color in the latter role cannot be attributed to simply reductions in staffing, as a 6 percent decline in firefighters was disproportionately matched with a 28 percent decline in black firefighters, authors state.

As for City Hall, NAACP authors praised the diversity of Walsh’s cabinet and took note of his instatement of an Office of Diversity and Chief Diversity Officer, but questioned whether either of these two had measurable progress, clear goals or timelines for their efforts. In the BPD, Walsh made positive efforts in diversifying command staff, increasing community awareness of and participation in the civil service exam to become police officers, and did well by re-establishing a cadet program, authors said. However, impact is unclear, and 31 percent of the officers who will hit retirement age by 2026 are minorities.

Conversations, studies

By the Banner’s assessment, Walsh’s strategy on racial equity has emphasized dialogue and studies. In September he launched Take the Lead, an initiative encouraging bystanders to speak out against racism they witness. In Nov. 2016, he co-hosted a public discussion on the state of racism in Boston and actions the city can take. Walsh hired Atyia Martin as the city’s first chief resilience officer and in July 2017 the city released its Resilient Boston Plan documenting racial gaps in wealth and health and outlining goals, ideas and actions. This month, the city announced plans to hire a consultant to study disparity in city contract spending.