Our view: Reforms for social justice are long delayed and needed.

Jacksonville's tale of two cities is not hidden. It's clear for anyone willing to see the disparities.


Now, with renewed interest in social justice, it's important that Jacksonville set aside the powerful inertia of broken promises.


Instead, we need a new precedent with reliable funding to redevelop Jacksonville's neglected neighborhoods. Much needs to be done, but that should not be an excuse for doing nothing. We need to start now and be committed for the long term.


The power of compounding can work in our favor. Even if just 2 percent of the city's failing septic tanks were replaced every year, the most critical ones could be prioritized and eventually the progress would be meaningful.


We don't need new studies. Jacksonville is a "city of studies" that rarely get implemented.


One detailed list of projects was released in May from the local NAACP branch, representing a group of Black leaders, speaking as the Jacksonville African-American Civic and Social Organizations.


The memorandum began with a call for the seven Black members of City Council to join in a Black Caucus to promote the needs of Jacksonville's Black community, which represents about 30 percent of the population.


Such a caucus would be far different than those found in Congress, however, because members would have to comply with Florida's Government in the Sunshine Laws. That means communication would have to be in public and meetings would have to be noticed, held in a convenient place for the public and be open to anyone.


At any rate, City Council currently has a special committee to investigate social issues. But presuming that these committees come and go, a Black Caucus over the long term could be especially useful to keep the need to resolving disparities on the front burner.


Among the issues raised in the memo from the African-American Civic and Social Organizations that deserve to be addressed:


Health disparities


Some neighborhoods are missing healthy food choices and medical facilities. This shows in infant mortality rates for Blacks that are twice the rate of whites and HIV rates for Blacks that are up to five times higher than whites.


Solution: Incentivize healthy food options as well as establish more health clinics in low-income neighborhoods. The city needs to resume investing more in health services, the kind that used to be offered for most of the history of consolidation. That includes an emphasis on children and on dealing with disparities. Investments are being made in facilities at the city-owned hospital at UF Health Jacksonville but more funding for services in neglected neighborhoods is needed.


Crime


Murders have reached a stubbornly high level. Black neighborhoods need protection from criminals, especially from drug-induced feuds.


Solutions: Enough police officers are needed to respond to calls as well as spend time meeting residents in true community policing. If some routine police calls could be diverted to other less expensive functions, that would make sense.


More transparency on police-involved shootings is needed. Former Sheriff Natr Glover has called for a totally independent agency to investigate them, such as the Florida Attorney General's Office.


Meanwhile, more prompt release of police body cam video is needed as well as some sort of public airing of police-involving shooting incidents. An inquest type of hearing is one possibility.


A consistent funding source for a revived Jacksonville Journey is needed. What began with hope during the John Peyton administration actually resulted in a drop in murders for one year. But funding was gradually lost after the Great Recession.


While much attention has been given to a consistent funding source for children, the city has generally found the funds for the Children’s Commission and its successor, the Kids Hope Alliance.


Both Miami and San Antonio have saved money and lives by diverting prisoners with mental health and substance abuse issues to less expensive operations.


Find the money or transfer current funding to open a Jacksonville center like Miami’s.


Jacksonville leaders know about these reforms but no progress has been made.


The use of civil citations increased dramatically in recent years. Start using them for less serious crimes for adults.


Too many poor people are held in jail because they can’t afford bail. These are people still presumed to be innocent.


Begin to implement bail reform. Releasing people on their own recognizance ought to be used more often for low-level crimes and first offenders.


Infrastructure


The deficiencies in Jacksonville’s old core city are clear. City Councilman Matt Carlucci recently took a ride through Northwest Jacksonville with former Councilman and current School Board member Warren Jones. Carlucci saw sidewalks that are lower than the road, which flood. He also saw multiple drainage issues.


Solution: The gas tax could be increased by the City Council with funds focused on roads, sidewalks and related infrastructure in neglected neighborhoods.


Funds for replacing failing septic tanks need to be found on a long-term basis. One complication is that renters who currently don’t have water-sewer bills will have them once services are connected.


Housing


A shortage of affordable housing is a national problem but Jacksonville has two strong agencies that specialize in it: the Ability Housing nonprofit and the private Vestcor.


Both specialize in tapping into various government incentive programs. But those funds need to be expanded.


Solution: Jacksonville needs a local funding source to expand affordable housing and encourage ownership in low-income neighborhoods. Owning a home is a traditional way to build wealth in America but Blacks have been denied this opportunity through discriminatory redlining and loan programs.


Jobs


Black unemployment rates have long been twice the rate of whites. Jobs are needed in low-income neighborhoods. The African-American Civic and Social Organizations group says that pay disparities and job discrimination remain a problem for Blacks.


Solutions: Every possible local, state and federal program should be used to the maximum level to capitalize on jobs in low-income neighborhoods.


Expectations shattered


Consolidating the city and county governments over 50 years ago was supposed to "raise all boats." Clearly, that did not happen for some of Jacksonville's high-poverty communities, which includes not just Northwest Jacksonville but pockets in Southside, Westside, Arlington, the Beaches and more.


The African-American Civic and Social Organizations group calls for what amounts to a local "Marshall Plan" to address the inequities of the last 50 years.


As the Jacksonville Civic Council has documented, Jacksonville has the ability to provide many of the funds for such a plan and remain a low-taxed city.


A second Better Jacksonville Plan that focuses on human needs and addresses inequities is fully justified.