Commentary: Whither Human Relations Commission

Somebody asked me last week if I was planning to go to Thursday night’s Human Relations Commission meeting. I went to the first two–and it was a good thing that I did because at the second meeting, Guy Fischer showed up and told the story of his son’s harassment. I have not been to one since and this was no exception. I looked at the agenda and there were two items about events, one item about the Thong Hy Huynh Awards, and one event on a Forum that they were deciding what topic to have it on. Those were their actions items which told me what I needed to know–they were taking no action.

I do not blame this on the membership per se, because they are doing exactly what the City Council had in mind when they disbanded the former Human Relations Commission back in June (where my wife had served as chair). Unfortunately, I have only a limited amount of time these days and I have to choose my meetings very carefully.

The anti-discrimination ordinance grants the human relations commission with the power to be an investigative body rather than an educational body.

Section 7A-15(C) of the Davis Anti-Discrimination Ordinance:

“Any person who believes he or she has been discriminated against in violation of the provisions of this ordinance may file a request to have the Human Relations Commission investigate and mediate his or her complaint. The Commission may adopt rules of procedure to accommodate the needs of such investigation mediation. A complaint to the Commission shall not be a prerequisite to filing a civil action under this section, and the findings and conclusions of the commission issued in response to such proceedings shall not be admissible in a civil action.”

At one point the HRC was going to review this code to see if it needs revisions. I do not know what came of that.

On the other hand, there is a strong role to play even if the HRC is to be merely an educational rather than an investigative body.

This point came up in another discussion based on comments on the Sacramento Bee website in comment section following an article on the Fischer case. (See my commentary from earlier this week on those comments).

If one reads the comments there, there is a string of anti-gay comments. The school board has implemented a series of strong rules that impose a zero-tolerance policy against harassment. But it seems obvious that what is happening at the school level reflects a deeper seated societal bias against gay people–even in portions of progressive communities such as Davis.

A number of the protesters last week against Freddie Oakley were from Davis. People are entitled to believe that homosexuality is immoral or that the lifestyle is wrong. However there is a line between an expression of political and religious preferences and an expression that is simply hate speech–some of the protesters crossed that line and some of the commenters on the Sacramento Bee drove it into a gully of hate.

The school board can change the rules at the district level but what are they going to do about society? In past years, this is where the Human Relations Commission would have a strong role–helping to educate the community and bringing awareness to this problem. In fact, this is where this human relations commission could still have a role because they are after all now an educational body. But the Human Relations Commission found out about the Fischer harassment case in November (at the same time as myself) and other than the chair of the commission going to the School Board meeting, to my knowledge they have not done a thing.

The City Council wants no eggs broken by the HRC after what happened last year. But the history of social change and the movement for social justice call for eggs to be broken and milk to be spilled in order to change the trajectory of society and the mores of citizens.

Fredrick Douglass writing in 1857 recognized this as well anyone:

“If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightening. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.”

The heroes of the Civil Rights struggle did so by creating turmoil against established authority.

For a body to be effective in producing social change, they must upset the current order.

The bottom here is that there remains a strong place in our city and in our governance for a body that can both educate the public and raise a ruckus to further the cause of social justice. The city council last year severed our government from such a body. While they were concerned about divisiveness in the community–how do you teach people that it is wrong to discriminate and hate gay people without causing divisiveness? How does one stop discrimination without drawing the ire of those perceived to be discriminating? How does one teach tolerance without going after those who are intolerant? How does one teach love without going after those who hate? Even the strongest teacher’s of passive disobedience and non-violent resistance recognize that in order for you to turn someone from hate with love, it inevitably requires confrontation and confrontation means that one must spill some milk.

It will take this city a long time to recognize what they lost when the City Council disbanded the Human Relations Commission. At some point they may realize that maybe we gave up too much…

—Doug Paul Davis reporting

Author

  • David Greenwald

    Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

Categories:

Civil Rights

132 comments

  1. Points well taken, Doug.. Fear of
    upsetting the”stability” of the Davis electorate with some inevitable controversy is not only historically unwarranted but is demeaning to Davis’ political maturity and sense of community cohesion that makes us all proud to be Davisites.

  2. Points well taken, Doug.. Fear of
    upsetting the”stability” of the Davis electorate with some inevitable controversy is not only historically unwarranted but is demeaning to Davis’ political maturity and sense of community cohesion that makes us all proud to be Davisites.

  3. Points well taken, Doug.. Fear of
    upsetting the”stability” of the Davis electorate with some inevitable controversy is not only historically unwarranted but is demeaning to Davis’ political maturity and sense of community cohesion that makes us all proud to be Davisites.

  4. Points well taken, Doug.. Fear of
    upsetting the”stability” of the Davis electorate with some inevitable controversy is not only historically unwarranted but is demeaning to Davis’ political maturity and sense of community cohesion that makes us all proud to be Davisites.

  5. “The bottom here is that there remains a strong place in our city and in our governance for a body that can both educate the public and raise a ruckus to further the cause of social justice.”

    Inside of our government, I strongly disagree. Outside of the government, as a private body which sets its own agenda, picks its own members, pays for its own investigations, etc, then fine.

    “The city council last year severed our government from such a body.”

    But it did not outlaw any private group from forming on its own and carrying on the agenda of the quondom HRC.

    “While they were concerned about divisiveness in the community–how do you teach people that it is wrong to discriminate and hate gay people without causing divisiveness?”

    It’s not the role of government to tell private citizens whom to hate or love.

    “How does one stop discrimination without drawing the ire of those perceived to be discriminating?”

    Perfect job for a private group.

    “How does one teach tolerance without going after those who are intolerant?”

    By leaving the government out of the equation as much as possible.

    All that said, there is (and always will be) a need for government oversight from within the government. (That was never the charge of the HRC.) We need an impartial ombudsman to hear complaints about the police or other government agencies. We occassionally need independent auditors to make sure that our government is not corrupt (or not going down a dangerous path). What we don’t need — and where the HRC was so far off course — is a partial body that comes with a political bias to oversee the DPD or other city agencies.

  6. “The bottom here is that there remains a strong place in our city and in our governance for a body that can both educate the public and raise a ruckus to further the cause of social justice.”

    Inside of our government, I strongly disagree. Outside of the government, as a private body which sets its own agenda, picks its own members, pays for its own investigations, etc, then fine.

    “The city council last year severed our government from such a body.”

    But it did not outlaw any private group from forming on its own and carrying on the agenda of the quondom HRC.

    “While they were concerned about divisiveness in the community–how do you teach people that it is wrong to discriminate and hate gay people without causing divisiveness?”

    It’s not the role of government to tell private citizens whom to hate or love.

    “How does one stop discrimination without drawing the ire of those perceived to be discriminating?”

    Perfect job for a private group.

    “How does one teach tolerance without going after those who are intolerant?”

    By leaving the government out of the equation as much as possible.

    All that said, there is (and always will be) a need for government oversight from within the government. (That was never the charge of the HRC.) We need an impartial ombudsman to hear complaints about the police or other government agencies. We occassionally need independent auditors to make sure that our government is not corrupt (or not going down a dangerous path). What we don’t need — and where the HRC was so far off course — is a partial body that comes with a political bias to oversee the DPD or other city agencies.

  7. “The bottom here is that there remains a strong place in our city and in our governance for a body that can both educate the public and raise a ruckus to further the cause of social justice.”

    Inside of our government, I strongly disagree. Outside of the government, as a private body which sets its own agenda, picks its own members, pays for its own investigations, etc, then fine.

    “The city council last year severed our government from such a body.”

    But it did not outlaw any private group from forming on its own and carrying on the agenda of the quondom HRC.

    “While they were concerned about divisiveness in the community–how do you teach people that it is wrong to discriminate and hate gay people without causing divisiveness?”

    It’s not the role of government to tell private citizens whom to hate or love.

    “How does one stop discrimination without drawing the ire of those perceived to be discriminating?”

    Perfect job for a private group.

    “How does one teach tolerance without going after those who are intolerant?”

    By leaving the government out of the equation as much as possible.

    All that said, there is (and always will be) a need for government oversight from within the government. (That was never the charge of the HRC.) We need an impartial ombudsman to hear complaints about the police or other government agencies. We occassionally need independent auditors to make sure that our government is not corrupt (or not going down a dangerous path). What we don’t need — and where the HRC was so far off course — is a partial body that comes with a political bias to oversee the DPD or other city agencies.

  8. “The bottom here is that there remains a strong place in our city and in our governance for a body that can both educate the public and raise a ruckus to further the cause of social justice.”

    Inside of our government, I strongly disagree. Outside of the government, as a private body which sets its own agenda, picks its own members, pays for its own investigations, etc, then fine.

    “The city council last year severed our government from such a body.”

    But it did not outlaw any private group from forming on its own and carrying on the agenda of the quondom HRC.

    “While they were concerned about divisiveness in the community–how do you teach people that it is wrong to discriminate and hate gay people without causing divisiveness?”

    It’s not the role of government to tell private citizens whom to hate or love.

    “How does one stop discrimination without drawing the ire of those perceived to be discriminating?”

    Perfect job for a private group.

    “How does one teach tolerance without going after those who are intolerant?”

    By leaving the government out of the equation as much as possible.

    All that said, there is (and always will be) a need for government oversight from within the government. (That was never the charge of the HRC.) We need an impartial ombudsman to hear complaints about the police or other government agencies. We occassionally need independent auditors to make sure that our government is not corrupt (or not going down a dangerous path). What we don’t need — and where the HRC was so far off course — is a partial body that comes with a political bias to oversee the DPD or other city agencies.

  9. “What we don’t need — and where the HRC was so far off course — is a partial body that comes with a political bias to oversee the DPD or other city agencies.”

    The HRC proposal would have allowed the City Council to select the members of the oversight commission. Moreover, the HRC itself was not proposing they take over the duties of oversight. Rather they investigated the problem and made a recommendation based on that investigation.

  10. “What we don’t need — and where the HRC was so far off course — is a partial body that comes with a political bias to oversee the DPD or other city agencies.”

    The HRC proposal would have allowed the City Council to select the members of the oversight commission. Moreover, the HRC itself was not proposing they take over the duties of oversight. Rather they investigated the problem and made a recommendation based on that investigation.

  11. “What we don’t need — and where the HRC was so far off course — is a partial body that comes with a political bias to oversee the DPD or other city agencies.”

    The HRC proposal would have allowed the City Council to select the members of the oversight commission. Moreover, the HRC itself was not proposing they take over the duties of oversight. Rather they investigated the problem and made a recommendation based on that investigation.

  12. “What we don’t need — and where the HRC was so far off course — is a partial body that comes with a political bias to oversee the DPD or other city agencies.”

    The HRC proposal would have allowed the City Council to select the members of the oversight commission. Moreover, the HRC itself was not proposing they take over the duties of oversight. Rather they investigated the problem and made a recommendation based on that investigation.

  13. “The HRC proposal would have allowed the City Council to select the members of the oversight commission.”

    The clear intent and bias of the HRC was to have an oversight panel that was partial. If impartiality were its desire, it would not have specifically recommended membership quotas from groups it believed were being discriminated against by the DPD because of their racial, ethnic or religious status.

    These are the quotas that the HRC suggested for its partial oversight board:

    “Made up of 11 members and one alternate, all volunteers, the citizens review board would include senior citizens, disabled and homeless people, African Americans, Native Americans, European Americans, Mexican Americans, gays or lesbians, college students and Asian Americans, as well as a senior law student at UC Davis and “a young person between the ages of 15 and 18.” The report was later amended to include representatives from the “mental illness and/or developmental disability community” and a Muslim American.”

    The HRC did not say, “we want unbiased people who have a background in the law.” They said, “we want quotas for specific groups.” The very strong implication of this initiative — never mind that it completely violates California’s civil rights laws — was to put people in place on the commission who would go in with an axe to grind.

  14. “The HRC proposal would have allowed the City Council to select the members of the oversight commission.”

    The clear intent and bias of the HRC was to have an oversight panel that was partial. If impartiality were its desire, it would not have specifically recommended membership quotas from groups it believed were being discriminated against by the DPD because of their racial, ethnic or religious status.

    These are the quotas that the HRC suggested for its partial oversight board:

    “Made up of 11 members and one alternate, all volunteers, the citizens review board would include senior citizens, disabled and homeless people, African Americans, Native Americans, European Americans, Mexican Americans, gays or lesbians, college students and Asian Americans, as well as a senior law student at UC Davis and “a young person between the ages of 15 and 18.” The report was later amended to include representatives from the “mental illness and/or developmental disability community” and a Muslim American.”

    The HRC did not say, “we want unbiased people who have a background in the law.” They said, “we want quotas for specific groups.” The very strong implication of this initiative — never mind that it completely violates California’s civil rights laws — was to put people in place on the commission who would go in with an axe to grind.

  15. “The HRC proposal would have allowed the City Council to select the members of the oversight commission.”

    The clear intent and bias of the HRC was to have an oversight panel that was partial. If impartiality were its desire, it would not have specifically recommended membership quotas from groups it believed were being discriminated against by the DPD because of their racial, ethnic or religious status.

    These are the quotas that the HRC suggested for its partial oversight board:

    “Made up of 11 members and one alternate, all volunteers, the citizens review board would include senior citizens, disabled and homeless people, African Americans, Native Americans, European Americans, Mexican Americans, gays or lesbians, college students and Asian Americans, as well as a senior law student at UC Davis and “a young person between the ages of 15 and 18.” The report was later amended to include representatives from the “mental illness and/or developmental disability community” and a Muslim American.”

    The HRC did not say, “we want unbiased people who have a background in the law.” They said, “we want quotas for specific groups.” The very strong implication of this initiative — never mind that it completely violates California’s civil rights laws — was to put people in place on the commission who would go in with an axe to grind.

  16. “The HRC proposal would have allowed the City Council to select the members of the oversight commission.”

    The clear intent and bias of the HRC was to have an oversight panel that was partial. If impartiality were its desire, it would not have specifically recommended membership quotas from groups it believed were being discriminated against by the DPD because of their racial, ethnic or religious status.

    These are the quotas that the HRC suggested for its partial oversight board:

    “Made up of 11 members and one alternate, all volunteers, the citizens review board would include senior citizens, disabled and homeless people, African Americans, Native Americans, European Americans, Mexican Americans, gays or lesbians, college students and Asian Americans, as well as a senior law student at UC Davis and “a young person between the ages of 15 and 18.” The report was later amended to include representatives from the “mental illness and/or developmental disability community” and a Muslim American.”

    The HRC did not say, “we want unbiased people who have a background in the law.” They said, “we want quotas for specific groups.” The very strong implication of this initiative — never mind that it completely violates California’s civil rights laws — was to put people in place on the commission who would go in with an axe to grind.

  17. “Any person who believes he or she has been discriminated against in violation of the provisions of this ordinance may file a request to have the Human Relations Commission investigate and mediate his or her complaint.”
    “…other than the chair of the commission going to the School Board meeting, to my knowledge they have not done a thing.”
    Did the Fischers file a complaint with the HRC? What more would you want the commission to do in this case? There is a lawsuit pending, and the school district has taken action on their policy.
    I don’t know that the HRC has any purpose in investigating comments made at the County Clerk’s office, or made anonymously on the Sac Bee web site.
    You seem to be advocating that the HRC be a body which is actively confrontational about the general issue of bias in our society. To what end? Do you think there are people who don’t know that there is anti-gay bias?
    I’m not being rhetorical. I just don’t really understand what role you think the HRC plays.

  18. “Any person who believes he or she has been discriminated against in violation of the provisions of this ordinance may file a request to have the Human Relations Commission investigate and mediate his or her complaint.”
    “…other than the chair of the commission going to the School Board meeting, to my knowledge they have not done a thing.”
    Did the Fischers file a complaint with the HRC? What more would you want the commission to do in this case? There is a lawsuit pending, and the school district has taken action on their policy.
    I don’t know that the HRC has any purpose in investigating comments made at the County Clerk’s office, or made anonymously on the Sac Bee web site.
    You seem to be advocating that the HRC be a body which is actively confrontational about the general issue of bias in our society. To what end? Do you think there are people who don’t know that there is anti-gay bias?
    I’m not being rhetorical. I just don’t really understand what role you think the HRC plays.

  19. “Any person who believes he or she has been discriminated against in violation of the provisions of this ordinance may file a request to have the Human Relations Commission investigate and mediate his or her complaint.”
    “…other than the chair of the commission going to the School Board meeting, to my knowledge they have not done a thing.”
    Did the Fischers file a complaint with the HRC? What more would you want the commission to do in this case? There is a lawsuit pending, and the school district has taken action on their policy.
    I don’t know that the HRC has any purpose in investigating comments made at the County Clerk’s office, or made anonymously on the Sac Bee web site.
    You seem to be advocating that the HRC be a body which is actively confrontational about the general issue of bias in our society. To what end? Do you think there are people who don’t know that there is anti-gay bias?
    I’m not being rhetorical. I just don’t really understand what role you think the HRC plays.

  20. “Any person who believes he or she has been discriminated against in violation of the provisions of this ordinance may file a request to have the Human Relations Commission investigate and mediate his or her complaint.”
    “…other than the chair of the commission going to the School Board meeting, to my knowledge they have not done a thing.”
    Did the Fischers file a complaint with the HRC? What more would you want the commission to do in this case? There is a lawsuit pending, and the school district has taken action on their policy.
    I don’t know that the HRC has any purpose in investigating comments made at the County Clerk’s office, or made anonymously on the Sac Bee web site.
    You seem to be advocating that the HRC be a body which is actively confrontational about the general issue of bias in our society. To what end? Do you think there are people who don’t know that there is anti-gay bias?
    I’m not being rhetorical. I just don’t really understand what role you think the HRC plays.