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Black women mayors are having a moment. They’re also facing a daunting political challenge.
Mayors Keisha Lance Bottoms, Muriel Bowser, Lori Lightfoot and London Breed steer four of America’s most prominent cities at a time when activists are looking to their local leaders to transform American policing. The four women have emerged as leading national voices, regularly appearing on cable news and headlining virtual forums on policing and protests.
But this elevated platform comes with a weighty set of expectations among constituencies with very different views of public safety and has led to rising frustration among members of the Black communities that helped elect them in the first place.
“There’s always added pressure on Black mayors dealing with public safety issues,” said Michael Nutter, the former mayor of Philadelphia. “Because you’re caught in the middle — Black communities want to be safe but they don’t want to be abused. As a Black mayor, you have to be able to deliver both of those messages, which at times might be at odds with each other.”
BLACK WOMEN MAYORS
POLITICAL BALANCING ACT
While the mayors represent a range of constituencies, they have in common a pro-reform approach to policing that has done little to satiate the demands for change. All have repeatedly expressed support for protesters’ efforts, but none have made sweeping changes in their city police departments — even as the calls for them to do so grow louder.
“The challenge of being both Black and being a woman … I think all of that plays into perhaps the cautious nature with which you see these mayors engaging their activist communities,” said Ravi Perry, dean of the political science department at Howard University. “Inherently, these elected officials are … representing a system that many of the left in the community believe should be dismantled.”That conflict is now playing out under a magnifying glass: Atlanta’s Lance Bottoms, who announced Tuesday that she tested positive for Covid-19, is one of a handful of women atop Joe Biden’s vice presidential shortlist.