Mayor Hancock announces new government-run think-tank to tackle racism

Hancock unveiled his plan for the new policy institute during State of the City address.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock addresses demonstrators protesting police brutality on the state Capitol steps on Wednesday, June 3, 2020. (Hart Van Denburg/CPR News)

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock addresses demonstrators protesting police brutality on the state Capitol steps on Wednesday, June 3, 2020. (Hart Van Denburg/CPR News)

(Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

staff photo

Framing racism as a public health crisis requiring a vaccine, Mayor Michael Hancock on Monday said during his State of the City speech his office will establish a think-tank to host conversations about racism and its impact on the city and beyond.

With City Park serving as his background, Hancock said during the live-stream that more details would be revealed soon, but he described the institute as a public-private partnership with more than 50 people, including “some of the brightest minds in academia.” He said he wanted to eventually recruit civic and civil rights leaders; faith leaders; diversity, equity and inclusion experts; and public safety experts to find a “vaccine.”

“Our vision is for this institute to become the national leader in research of racism, bias, inclusion, practices of reconciliation, and development of programs and trainings for law enforcement, and the public, private and education sectors,” Hancock said.

The city’s second-ever Black mayor said police “excessive and deadly force” is used disproportionately on people of color, which he characterized as a symptom of racism. He said he hopes the institute will be a physical location where honest conversation about racism will be held.

Protests against racism and police brutality began in Denver in late May after the death of George Floyd. They’ve continued since, with larger protests taking place in nearby Aurora in recent weeks over the death of Elijah McClain, whom Hancock mentioned during his speech. McClain died in law enforcement custody last year.

During the 22-minute speech, Hancock applauded the city and its residents’ resolve during the ongoing pandemic, which has wreaked havoc on lives, jobs, the local economy and the city’s own coffers.

Hancock said more than 300 people have died from COVID-19 in Denver (the latest numbers show 406 people have died from the disease). The city has seen 9,066 total cases since March. Thousands of people have been tested at the free testing site at the Pepsi Center.

Data from Denver Public Health shows Latinos make up 52.9 percent of all COVID-19 cases, while they make up 29.7 percent of the city’s population. Black residents are also disproportionately affected, representing 9.6 percent of cases while only representing 8.5 percent of the city’s population. Latinos make up half of all hospitalizations. A majority of those who have died from COVID-19, 50 percent, have been white residents, who make up 54.3 percent of the city’s population.

Hancock also spoke about homelessness, noting the city will allow temporary sanctioned camps for people experiencing homelessness. The latest Point in Time survey showed more than 20 percent of people experiencing homelessness were African Americans, while they make up less than 10 percent of the region’s population. About 5 percent of people experiencing homelessness were Native Americans, who make up about 2 percent of the overall population.

Hancock mentioned another ongoing crisis in youth violence. Four teenagers were shot and killed in Denver this month. All four were Black. Hancock has asked City Attorney Kristin Bronson to work with young people and organizations serving them to create a plan to support them. He said youth violence needs to be examined through a public health lens, not just through policing.

“I will never allow it to be normalized in our city,” Hancock said.

Despite his optimistic tone, Hancock warned the pandemic is far from over. The city is preparing for the fall by creating a six-month reserve of personal protective equipment.

“We need to maintain our resolve because as we’ve seen over the past few weeks, we do not want to become the next national hot spot,” Hancock said.

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