An ordinance aimed at removing the word “race” from city forms and replacing it with the word “ethnicity” will be headed to committee, after a somewhat robust discussion at a Mobile City Council pre-conference meeting Tuesday morning.
The proposed ordinance will be discussed at a future meeting of the Administrative Services Committee, which is chaired by Councilwoman Gina Gregory.
Councilman Fred Richardson introduced the ordinance as cities and states nationwide are confronting racism following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody and amid continuing protests against police brutality. Floyd died after officer Derek Chauvin was videotaped kneeling on his throat. Chauvin has been charged with second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the case.
Richardson, who has long argued that humans are of one race but multiple ethnicities, believes if Americans weren’t divided by skin color the events would’ve turned out differently.
“In my heart I believe if the officer who had his knee on the man’s throat in Minnesota was led to believe he was a member of his own race, I don’t believe he would’ve done it,” Richardson said.
Removing the word “race” from city documents and replacing it with “ethnicity,” Richardson said, would allow the person being asked more flexibility in an answer. He believes the city should stop asking about race altogether.
“They ask, ‘What’s your race?’” he said. “Look at me, do I look like a bear?”
Mayor Sandy Stimpson called the ordinance ”problematic” because not having information on race readily available could alter the city’s ability to apply and receive federal and state grants.
At the pre-conference meeting, Councilman Joel Daves suggested the proposed ordinance go to a committee meeting because he had questions about how it would impact the city’s role in complying with state and federal forms.
“I think there’s some information we need before we can vote,” Daves said. “Why does the city ask for it? Is there any good reason? There may not be. I don’t know.”
Council President Levon Manzie initially said the proposal would go to committee if the move had enough support. However, he was challenged by Councilman John Williams.
“If a member of council has requested something go to committee, it has usually gone to committee,” Williams said. “I think it should go to committee on the suggestion of Councilman Daves.”
Williams used the debate to ask about the relevance of certain questions on all forms as well. He said the city needs to take a “reasonable approach” when dealing with all of these questions.
Councilwoman Bess Rich said she had questions about how the move would impact state and federal forms as well.
“We need to know what the ripple effect might be,” she said.
Rich also wanted to know how the ordinance might impact the city code section regarding the use of disadvantaged business enterprises. Rich cautioned that she didn’t want her curiosity to be confused with trying to hold up the ordinance.
“I don’t think asking questions should be considered disrespectful,” she said. “My office always asks questions.”
Race is a pretty standard question on all of the city’s police forms, Public Safety Director James Barber said.
“To us, ethnicity is more about culture than skin color,” he said. “Race is pretty important in policing.”
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