The Mayor's response to the East Side of Lubbock's concerns was very troubling and a little complex. Guest columnist Tracy Michelle Benefield explains how things went south quickly.

The following is a guest column by Tracy Michelle Benefield.

Amid the outrage over George Floyd’s death that sparked protests in Lubbock and across the country, the City of Lubbock hosted 'Coffee with the Mayor' on the east side of town at the Parkway United Supermarkets. It seemed to come as a surprise when I asked Mayor Pope if he had read the Disparity Report, which outlines in great detail the inequities in our community.

Unsurprisingly, he didn’t seem too interested in the topic. The large number of people who showed up, however, were not going to drop the issue. One by one, people raised valid and poignant questions to the mayor, for which he had few meaningful answers.

For example, he disputed that Lubbock was still a segregated city, but anyone who looks at a population map can tell you that is wholly inaccurate. In response to one person who raised the issue of the Jim Crow-era legislation that led us to the inequities these communities face, Mayor Pope dismissed the issue, saying “Do you know when that was passed….1923?”

His answers were dismissive of the reality the residents of the north and east side live every day. Just because the problem began In 1923, doesn’t mean that’s where it ended. In 1923, the City of Lubbock passed an ordinance forbidding black residents from living west of Avenue C.

Lubbock worked persistently at maintaining this racial divide, and in 1943, almost 20 years later, the first land-use plan was published. In regards to the properties closest to where industrial zones were planning to be developed, it stated:

            “… Immediately beyond this industrial area, the attendant development is principally for Negro and Mexican families. This [cannot] be considered as desirable potential property for white residential development”

In both the 1959 and 1986 plans, industrial zones were expanded on the north and east sides, putting those residents in danger of adverse health effects and lowering the value of residential properties in those areas and preventing families from the opportunity to accumulate generational wealth.

Lubbock had a chance to reconcile with its past last year with the newest land use plan since that time but chose to leave the zoning in place as it is. When asked about the zoning issue, he [Pope] stated:

“ I’m not going to ask a business to move. This is not the first time you’ve heard me say this.”

When presented with the choice between protecting the health and safety of the people he serves, while also beginning the process of reversing the damage of racially motivated zoning, or protecting a business from being mildly inconvenienced by relocating, the mayor made a decision I cannot comprehend.

The effects of racially-motivated zoning and redlining are compounded when you take into account the consolidation of schools, which has led to valuable centers of the community being shut down. The lack of infrastructure, business, and investment in these portions of town, as well as the extraction of wealth from these neighborhoods to supplement development on the more affluent south side of town, have all contributed to the decline of these communities.

Mayor Pope may not have been around to enact the barriers which keep these communities from thriving to their full potential, but he is the one in charge today of removing them.

If he chooses to leave those barriers in place, then he approves of them being there and is not only sanctioning the racism that put them there in the first place but also is the one responsible for allowing the past to invade our present so that we can never truly put it behind us. The only way forward is to work with these communities to come up with aggressive plans to reinvest in the potential that has been stolen from them.

I hope that Mayor Pope and the city council will reflect on this meeting, take it seriously, and address the needs of all Lubbock citizens. It’s not enough to smile, offer a pat on the back, and an 'I'm sorry.' These communities deserve actual solutions.

Until such a time, we all need to do our part to make sure all our voices are heard. We need to arm ourselves with knowledge and show up to every meeting possible. I encourage everyone to read the Disparity Report and hold Mayor Pope and the Lubbock City Council accountable.

Tracy Michelle Benefield is a Lubbock resident and local activist. 
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