The Amherst League of Women Voters is committed to providing information that informs public understanding and dialogue on issues of importance to our governance and wellbeing. The League’s Racial Justice Task Force has undertaken a survey of publicly available data on racial equity and justice in Amherst, in order to determine what public information exists that could inform Town policy and planning with regard to racial equity and justice.
We looked across key areas of systemic and institutional racial equity including employment and income, housing, health, education, policing and justice, and town governance. The review searched for relevant databases provided by local, regional, state, and national organizations. We identified 14 useful sources, listed in this report.
For the most part, sources of key indicators in the areas we searched do not provide data analyzed by racial categories available for Amherst. These sources in many cases provide comprehensive regional information, but not what is needed for an analysis of racial equity and justice for the Town. We find a notable lack of public information on racial equity for employment, housing, health, policing, justice, and Town governance. Furthermore, the large student population in Amherst can overwhelm the statistics, making it difficult to determine demographics and income levels for the non-student residents.
In particular, complete and accurate data on all police interactions is critical, if trust is to be established with all residents of color in Amherst. Although the Amherst Police Dept. posts a summary on its website from call-in and arrest logs, none of the information is provided by racial identity, making it impossible to document potential racial bias in police activity. We recommend that a statistical summary of race/ethnicity for police interactions be made publicly available. For example, the Amherst Police Department should record the specific reason for each traffic stop, as well as the racial identity of the driver. The individual cited must have the right to confirm -- and, if necessary, change – the racial identity recorded on the citation.
It is clear from our survey of publicly available data that more locally-based information is necessary to understand the extent of racial bias in Amherst. In committing to address the challenge of racial equity and justice, we recommend that the Town government develop a strategic plan, supported by publicly available data and information. Both quantitative and qualitative data are important. Quantitative data provide metrics for assessing progress, while qualitative data, such as focus groups and interviews with residents and social service agencies, provide the context and deeper understanding of racial equity and injustice in Amherst.
Provision of quantitative data on racial equity and justice for Amherst in itself would not contribute to change. Rather, a Town policy commitment, strategic plan, programs, action, resources, and accountability provide the framework within which the development and use of data is required. Until the Town can acquire objective information on racial equity and justice that is available and transparent to the public, policy, planning, and program action are impeded.