The exchange sounded like a caricature of the trouble Black people have being heard in North Carolina.

Quanta Edwards and Kimberly Muktarian, who are Black, spoke during a virtual meeting of the Raleigh City Council’s Safe, Vibrant and Healthy Community committee Tuesday to say that black people aren’t being listened to in a city where Black residents make up 29 percent of the population.

Edwards and Muktarian noted the city’s delay in creating an African-American Affairs Board while a similar Hispanic and Immigrant Affairs Board was established last year. And they pointed to a failure to adopt policing reforms, such as adding technology that would start a police officer’s body camera when his or her weapon is drawn.

“The city does not operate as though it believes its Black citizens,” Edwards said.

Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin, who is white, said she was confused by Edwards’ complaint.

“I still am searching for some examples,” she said. “If we are going to have an open conversation, when people come to talk to you, Quanta, what are they saying to you? That’s the part that is missing to me.”

The mayor was genuinely searching for clarity, but the fact that she didn’t know what was bothering some in the Black community seemed to encapsulate how the demands of last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests have lost momentum and, on city councils across North Carolina, are losing an audience.

In the year since George Floyd’s death and the historic protests that followed, there have been strong corporate statements against systemic racism and the removal of Confederate monuments followed by piecemeal reforms and changes in policing. But city councils in Raleigh, Durham, Charlotte and elsewhere now are inclined to turn away from race issues and focus on development as the pandemic fades. How to address the high cost and low accountability of policing and the economic inequities given new exposure by the pandemic are slipping as priorities.

Hakeem Jefferson, professor of political science at Stanford University and a public opinion researcher, said in an interview this week that Americans were more supportive of changes that addressed race and racism after Floyd’s death, but the interest has faded. “I was really interested in whether the change in racial attitudes would be stable,” he said. “It doesn’t seem that that change has persisted.”

Polling shows most Americans are not hopeful about the future or race relations and concern about excessive force by police has declined since the surge after Floyd’s death. Indeed the decision by the Pasquotank County district attorney to clear all officers involved in the fatal shooting of Andrew Brown Jr. in Elizabeth City shows that policing in some areas remains unchanged.

The Black Lives Matter movement played a role in defeating former President Donald Trump and his divisive politics. President Joe Biden has taken steps to support racial justice and his pandemic relief packages will help to temporarily reduce economic inequity. But Congress is nearing gridlock on police reforms and further economic assistance. At the state level, Republican lawmakers have turned their attention once again to more tax cuts.

Real changes in racial and economic justice ultimately will have to be initiated and sustained at the local level. Raleigh and Durham have an opportunity to send a strong message on police reform as they prepare to hire new police chiefs. And the state’s larger cities can take up equality issues – especially in regards to affordable housing and gentrification – as a rising economy brings more businesses and tax revenue.

The calls to address inequities may have faded from the streets, but they should be loud in council chambers. The problems are not going away and interest in addressing them should not either.

What is needed is a commitment from local leaders to reach out and listen to those having trouble being heard and then respond with substantial changes. Protests alone are not enough. The promises made in response should be fulfilled.

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