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Friday, November 10, 2006

New HRC: Welcome to the Real World of Davis

Last month the new Human Relations Commission met for the first time and began to try to think about its new charter. Many of the members I do not think really understand what goes on in Davis. But last night they got their first taste of the real Davis.

First, the Principal from one of the Junior High Schools came and told about an incident where a student was harassed by over a dozen of his classmates who attacked him with anti-gay statements. From listening to the Principal it sounded as though the school was taking many necessary steps to rectify the problem. But then the father spoke up and told us that only a few of the culprits were suspended for their action. More alarmingly is the fact that the student returned to class a few days later and was harassed again. So he was pulled out, and came back again, and harassed yet again. Now the student has missed three weeks of school. They were attacking this kid with anti-gay slurs because he has two fathers. Both fathers came and told about the situation and both expressed concern about what they saw as the lack of response by the staff to this situation.

Despite the claims of the HRC Chair, John Dixon, this is not merely an issue of the school district. The harrassment of the student has also occurred off campus to the point where the harassers have followed the student home and even vadalized his home.

The response to the parents concerns by the HRC was mixed. At a personal level members expressed shock and dismay. Shelley Bailes was outraged. But Chair Dixon expressed the fact that this was now largely an educational body. Other members seemed uncomfortable with those prospects.

This dovetailed into an agenda item raised last week by Heystek that the resolution re-authorizing the HRC was at odds with the anti-Discrimination Ordinance. One of the tasks set forth by the council for the HRC was to determine whether the two are incompatible and what should be done including the possibility of re-writing the anti-Discrimination ordinance, one of the most sweeping in the country. The other possibility was to recommend to the council to re-write the resolution to be in compliance with the ordinance.

Two of the members including Bailes and Vice Chair Najme Minhaj seemed very uncomfortable with doing this. Arthur Clinton and alternate Thomas Hagler (who was acting as a full member with only five regulars there) seemed comfortable with the idea that the council could change the ordinance.

This is a real threat to the anti-discrimination ordinance--a landmark ordinance written in 1986 that authorizes the HRC to be far more than just an educational body and authorizes it to mediate and investigate acts of discrimination. The previous HRC, despite what certain members of the community said and what certain councilmembers stated, was actually acting within their full authority.

There were members of the new HRC that were clearly caught within a quandary of the obvious intent of the majority of council to roll back the duties of the HRC and the obvious need to address acts like the one they listened to last night.

At the end of the day, the new HRC is going to realize exactly why the old HRC did as it did. They are going to hear complaint after complaint come forward and become increasingly frustrated if they indeed change the ordinance to remove the power from the HRC to investigate.

The most refreshing thing was to listen to the comments of Rahim Reed. I had not seen him or met him in person, and so it was unclear where he stood on a number of issues. Reed is the Vice Chancellor of the Officer of Campus Community Relations. He's an African American man, and he stood up there and said what a number of us have been saying for the past year. Davis thinks it's a progressive community and an educated community, but many citizens simply bury their heads in the sand and don't see the problems that exists with racism, with racial profiling and with incidents such as last year's with the Muslim teenager. It was music to my ears to hear this man say this. I wish he would have gone before council in February and said this. I wish he would have gone before council in April and said this. I wish he would have gone before council in June and said this. But he said it last night in November and it was exactly what the new members of the HRC needed to hear.

The new HRC is going to learn very quickly what the real Davis looks like in the very underbelly that no one wants to admit exists. The HRC is the body that deals with it. As people attacked the HRC and the Chair last year, I kept wondering how they would react if they witnessed what the HRC witnessed. If they had to listen to parents and community members coming before them time after time with the same stories of harassment and intimidation. And in many ways I was very grateful that this new body got a taste of this before they decided whether to recommend to the council to remove the last of their formal powers to actually investigate complaints of discrimination. We shall see where that goes, but I have both hope and dismay after watching the meeting last night.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting