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San Diego County revives human relations commission in wake of racist incidents in Santee

05/19/20

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

On the heels of two racist incidents in Santee this month, San Diego County supervisors unanimously agreed Tuesday to revive a countywide human relations commission focused on fostering a more inclusive and equitable San Diego.

The commission, dubbed the Leon Williams San Diego County Human Relations Commission, will look critically at government policies and practices and likely host public forums and workshops throughout the year.

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 1990s and formally dissolved in 2018.

Supervisor Nathan Fletcher, who authored Tuesday’s proposal, said having a human relations commission is important during 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.

Fletcher, several other supervisors and public speakers 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 earlier this month, 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.

“While we can’t expect a commission to eliminate hate or discrimination or to solve all of the problems, challenges and divisions in our county, the goal of the Leon L Williams Human Relations Commission is to bring the community together,” Fletcher said, “to begin to tackle these issues, to have frank and honest conversations, to confront difficult subjects and increase cultural competency and empathy across society.”

By opting to revive the human relations commission, San Diego County joins 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.

As currently designed, San Diego County’s human relations commission will have 31 members with representatives from law enforcement and the District Attorney’s Office, and from the Jewish, LGBTQ, Asian-American Pacific Islander, African-American, and Native American communities. Representatives from other underrepresented groups will likely be included as well.

Each supervisor will appoint three representatives including one young person each who is between the ages of 16 and 24.