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After racist incidents in Santee, county supervisors will vote on reviving human relations commission

05/15/20

Read the full story by Charles T. Clark in the San Diego Union-Tribune here.

The Board of Supervisors will vote Tuesday on a resolution to establish the Leon Williams San Diego County Human Relations Commission, which would aim to foster a more inclusive and equitable San Diego and look critically at government policies and practices.

Williams — a longtime public servant who was the first African-American to serve on the the Board of Supervisors and the San Diego City Council — originally established a county human relations commission decades ago. However, the commission was defunded in the 1990’s and formally dissolved in 2018.

Supervisor Nathan Fletcher, who authored Tuesday’s proposal, said a human relation commissions is not an absolute cure to bigotry in the region, but it could help. He said it’s a step in the right direction at a time when the number of hate groups operating in the U.S. and the number of FBI-reported hate crimes are near record highs.

He added that recent local incidents, like the deadly shooting at a Poway synagogue last year and the two incidents of Santee shoppers wearing hateful symbols, also reflect the need for the commission.

Earlier this month a male shopper at a Vons store in Santee wore a Ku Klux Klan hood. The following week, at a Santee Food 4 Less, a man and a woman wore masks with Nazi swastika flags.

“The problems and divisions we face are incredibly deep,” he said, “but we have to begin to find a way to come out of this. We have to find a way to bring people together. We have to find a way to have conversations where individuals can start to understand one another.”

Fletcher added Friday, “I’m under no illusion that a county commission will just magically solve every problem or division that we face; but it certainly won’t make it worse, and providing a framework and a platform could help make things better.”

If supervisors decide to revive the human relations commission Tuesday, San Diego County would join several major California counties and cities with similar commissions, including Los Angeles County, Orange County, Santa Clara County and the cities of San Diego, San Francisco and Sacramento.

Fletcher, who discussed reviving the commission with Williams prior to the Santee incidents, said he could see the commission offering a venue for intense, honest, in-depth conversation about issues of equity, equality and fairness. He also expects the commission would host public forums and workshops, as well provide policy recommendations to the board.

As currently written, the resolution would create a 25-person commission with representatives from law enforcement and the District Attorney’s Office, and from the Jewish, LGBTQ, Latino, African-American, and Native American communities. Representatives from other underrepresented groups may be included as well.

“There is a humanity that binds us all,” Fletcher said. “It is okay to disagree on a policy, to disagree on an ideological approach to an issue, but those disagreements can be expressed in a way that recognizes the basic human rights and dignity of everyone.”