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Government, Politics & Issues

SLU Study Will See If Laws To Improve Racial Equity Are Working

Zachary Taylor | St. Louis University

Since Michael Brown was fatally shot by a white police officer in Ferguson nearly five years ago, hundreds of local governments have committed to making sure their policies and laws address racial inequalities.

New research by a team at St. Louis University will help them figure out if the new laws are having the intended effect.

“I think what we all realize is there’s a lot of well-intentioned effort around racial equity, and a lot of talk and a lot of conversation and a lot of meetings,” said Sidney Watson, a professor of law at SLU and one of the lead investigators. “We are hopeful that these are tools that will help cities move to accomplish something.”

The study, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, has three parts.

The seven-person team — led by Watson and Ruqaiijah Yearby, another law professor — is working to identify the local governments that have committed to evaluating their policies through a racial-equity lens, which means considering how changes might impact minority communities. Next, they will look at the process officials are using to draft the laws. Finally, they’ll evaluate whether the new policies are actually helping improve outcomes. 

“It’s important to look at the process to see how you got there so you can continue that process as new problems arise,” Yearby said. “Right now, we have a lot of laws in place that are supposed to protect people. But the community was not involved in developing them. And they may seem neutral, but they have a disproportionate harmful impact on minorities, on poor people.”

Minority communities, she said, have to have a voice in developing policies.

In addition to Yearby and Watson, the team includes professors in behavioral science, communication, psychology and anthropology. They began their research in January; the study continues through 2020.

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann

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