Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser grabbed the world’s attention when she orchestrated a giant yellow “Black Lives Matter” mural leading up to The White House last month.
While conceiving and executing a painting of 16 enormous letters on a city street overnight was an enormous undertaking during a time of protest, civil unrest and a pandemic, D.C.’s top elected official knows the hard work is what comes now.
“We had the opportunity to fight back, not just for us in Washington, but [for] this encroachment on our values,” Bowser told Yahoo Finance Presents in an interview.
Amid calls to defund the police from activists and moves by mayors across the country from San Francisco to Philadelphia to cut budgets for police, Bowser has actually introduced a budget that calls for an increase in spending for the District’s police force.
“As a mayor, my job among many is to ensure public safety in our community and the equation is more than police,” Bowser explained.
“It's police and social service interventions. It’s police and violence interruption services. It’s police and job training. So we need all of those pieces to work in a city to keep it safe,” she added.
Part of the puzzle for Bowser is also changing how DC residents rely on the force.
“We have to be realistic with people, you don't change institutions that are hundreds of years old overnight...I haven't heard anybody tell the citizens to stop calling 911,” the mayor told Yahoo Finance.
“So we have to change not just as the government, we have to change as a community. What, how, who do you expect to respond when you have a need for government service, and I think that's a challenge that we all can take,” she added.
“We want to do what’s right for kids”
While Bowser is working through the budget process and continuing to lead on racial justice issues, she’s also dealing with the coronavirus pandemic and its ravaging of the local economy and schools.
The mayor credited a more cautious approach to reopening that has spared her city some of the spikes seen around the country.
“We have been very conservative with our plan. We were slower on than many jurisdictions to go to phase one to get out of this stay at home order,” she told Yahoo Finance.
This week, Bowser decided to push out a decision on how DC schools will open until the end of the month. The Trump administration has been publicly pushing for a fall reopening, a debate that was amplified this week by a scientific panel that urged physical attendance for younger children and those with special needs.
“Our plan does not reflect anything that [Education Secretary] Betsy DeVos has been kind of spewing,” Bowser said. “We are wanting to do what's right for kids and what's right for health and safety in the district.”
A recent Axios/Ipsos poll showed 89% of Black parents saw returning to school as a large or moderate risk to their health and well being, compared with 80% of Hispanic parents and 64% of white parents. Bowser says she hasn’t seen numbers that stark, but is trying to understand why and address the causes that could be behind the differences.
“We do see more anxiety among our African American parents about reopening. And we think it could be a lot of things to parents or families having been personally impacted to concerns about kids having to use public transportation, any number of things we think, have led to these concerns. So we're trying to understand what people are afraid of to see if there are other ways that we can address it,” Bowser said.
The mayor is investing resources in a Summer Bridge program and is determined not to let those who can least afford it, fall behind.
“What would be a just a terrible outcome from this COVID virus is that children who are already in need of more services, not getting it and that that's a big concern because the the learning loss could be so substantial, that would be almost impossible for those kids to catch up,” she added.
Jen Rogers is an anchor for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @JenSaidIt.
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