LEXINGTON, Ky. (WTVQ) – Systemic racism, gentrification, and a lack of affordable housing in Lexington were some of the topics discussed Tuesday night during a Virtual Town Hall meeting with some members of Mayor Linda Gorton’s Commission for Racial Justice and Equality.
The Commission is led by Co-Chairs Roszalyn Akins and Dr. Gerald Smith. Over the past few weeks, subcommittees have been meeting, with discussion focused on Racial Equity, Education & Economic Opportunity, Health Disparities, Housing & Gentrification, and Law Enforcement, Justice and Accountability.
The Commission wants recommendations from its committees in by the end of this month with a full-report ready by mid-September, according to Dr. Smith.
During Tuesday night’s Virtual Town Hall meeting, all participating Commission members acknowledged the challenges facing the city are huge. Overcoming racism, discrimination, racial injustice and other problems won’t happen overnight. Many issues are steeped in history and culture.
Some of the issues Commission subcommittees have discussed about law enforcement in the city include having more citizen involvement in police misconduct cases, the constant use of body cameras and eliminating some police tactics like chokeholds and no-knock search warrants.
It was suggested the style of policing go from warrior to guardian, from a militaristic approach to community policing. There was discussion of social workers working hand-in-hand with police in the field since social workers may be better equipped to handle certain situations. This approach is already being used in communities across the country, including in Alexandria in Kentucky.
There was also discussion about appropriating more money for police recruitment and training. The general consensus was the Lexington Police Department’s racial makeup needs to better reflect the city’s population.
The other main topic of discussion was the lack of affordable housing and gentrification in Lexington. Kentucky Representative George Brown, of Lexington, who served 13 years on the Urban County Council before moving into state government, where he has served the last six years, talked about the city’s PDR program to preserve horse farms and land in rural Fayette County. He says most of the money has been spent on preservation and not on infill and redevelopment.
It was also pointed out the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund is subject to budget cuts and that Lexington needs a program that would be consistently funded to help people find affordable housing.
On the subject of gentrification, Merriam-Webster defines it as: The process of repairing and rebuilding homes and businesses in a deteriorating area (such as an urban neighborhood) accompanied by an influx of middle-class or affluent people and that often results in the displacement of earlier, usually poorer residents.
If you ask ten people what gentrification is, you may get ten different answers. Some say it’s unmitigated greed and the victims are often the most vulnerable people in our society. To others, it’s a simple mechanism by which we make our cities better, tied up in our most basic economic processes. That is a small glimpse into the challenges members of the Commission face as they come up with recommendations for Mayor Gorton to tackle some of the most difficult challenges facing Lexington.