Salem to establish Race Equity Task Force

Mayor Kim Driscoll recently announced that the city of Salem is establishing a new Race Equity Task Force to make recommendations for immediate and long-term actions to improve racial equity in all aspects of city life.

The task force will be chaired by Salem resident Shawn Newton.

The broad-based task force will include a diverse array of city residents and leaders, including members of the city council and school committee, the heads of key Salem institutions, and organizers of recent marches and actions in the community protesting police brutality and racial injustice. The full membership of the task force will be announced later this week.

The task force will carry out a thorough review of city policies, services and ordinances, as well as inequities in community systems and will report out clear recommendations, including ways in which success will be measured, in an Equity Action Plan.

“We have an opportunity and an obligation to learn, reflect, and understand to address the legacy of systemic racism in our society and to be a more inclusive and welcoming city,” said Driscoll. “Forming this task force, which includes a dynamic group of leaders and community members of color, is the first step in that effort. I’m grateful to the members who are volunteering their time and energy in this important endeavor and am ready to engage with them, and all of our community, to undertake the work ahead.”

An immediate and central focus of the task force’s work will be an examination of the Salem Police Department’s policies, opportunities to strengthen connections between the department and communities of color in the city, and the potential structure for a civilian review board.

“In 1829, Sir Robert Peel of the London Metropolitan Police published his nine principles of policing,” said Salem Police Chief Mary Butler. “His second principle, ‘The ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon public approval of police actions,’ still rings true today, 191 years later. This principle is a true reminder of our role in the community and the crucial importance of how that role should be guided by all members of the public, especially those who are feeling distrustful and devalued by the police. I feel honored to have the opportunity to work on the Race Equity Task Force, as the way forward requires a focus on working together and building a stronger community of openness and inclusion.”

Because long-term racial biases and inequities exist in all institutions, the task force’s efforts will not be limited to just the Police Department. The group will undertake a far broader analysis of all city services, departments and offices. The Equity Action Plan recommendations will specifically concentrate on identifying disparities in city services, education, health, housing, health, jobs, law enforcement and youth programming.

Newton is a resident of Salem and is the associate dean of students at Suffolk University in Boston, where he oversees, among many other offices, the university’s center for student diversity and inclusion. Newton is the co-founder and executive director of Urban Echo, a nonprofit that organizes fundraisers, youth-building events and in-depth training sessions focused on social justice. Additionally, he also serves on the board of 1Race, a Salem based nonprofit that coordinates high school workshops to educate youth on issues of race and on the board of trustees for Plummer Youth Promise. He has previously served as assistant dean of students at Salem State University and adjunct professor where he taught courses including Undoing Racism and Human Diversity and Social Work Practice. Newton earned a Bachelor of Science in criminal justice from Salem State University, a Master of Science in community economic development from Southern New Hampshire University and is currently enrolled at the University of Southern California where he is working on his doctorate in organizational change and leadership in the Rossier School of Education.

“I’m looking forward to working with other community members to address this important issue,” said Newton. “I think this is a step in the right direction in order for us to hold each other accountable for the type of community we would like to live, work, and go to school in.”

The city is in communication with the Government Alliance on Race and Equity, a national network working to achieve racial equity and advance opportunities for local governments across the country, about providing guidance, technical assistance and professional expertise in carrying out the task force’s work. Driscoll will propose to the city council that the work of the task force be funded through a transfer of funding from the Salem Police Department’s FY2021 budget.