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College Park city officials are preparing to grapple with the city’s history of systemic racism. At its Feb. 10, 2021, meeting City Council unanimously approved a measure to create a steering committee that will play a key role in a planned research and reconciliation effort
The move comes less than a year after City Council issued a resolution that apologized for its role in an urban renewal project that dramatically reshaped Lakeland, a historically-Black neighborhood that sits on flood-prone land near where Paint Branch and Indian Creek combine to form the Northeast Branch of the Anacostia.
Overall, College Park City Council has been very supportive of the proposed Restorative Justice Commission, but has indicated they training and professional facilitation to assist the process. This will be the first time the City has explored “restorative justice” processes, and the first time it has made a dedicated effort to document the how systemic racism has impacted the city.
The steering committee is to be made up of two members from the city’s Lakeland neighborhood, two residents who reside outside Lakeland, a representative from City Council, a former Lakeland resident, and a person experienced with restorative justice processes.
The committee’s members would be nominated and approved by City Council, with a six-month term to develop the framework through which College Park city officials will begin a formal accounting of the city’s history of racism.
The steering committee’s charge is to outline the scope of work for an eventual Restorative Justice Commission, including recommendations about the size and, composition and terms for the commission, as well as identifying possible training programs and literature to incorporate into the framework to follow.
The move was praised by Maxine Gross, president of the Lakeland Heritage project, who pushed for the city to consider allowing academic experts to help assist the process.
“Consider the concept of College Park representatives as being a little broader than simply residents of the city of College Park,” said Gross, who is Black. “You may want to use this as an opportunity to bring in someone from the University of Maryland on this process.”
During public comment, Richard Biffl, a landlord who owns property in College Park, cautioned that the city may be moving too fast. He asserted the Lakeland Urban Renewal Plan had broad buy-in from city residents, and support of elected officials from Lakeland.
“I think the commission should look into all those factors, and how they happened and to take those into account first to make better policies in the future, so we don’t put on the appearance of a racial rift in the 1960s and 70s that may not have been as great as it might appear on the surface.” said Biffl, who is white.