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San Diego County Supervisors Revive Human Relations Commission Amid Rise In Hate Incidents

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County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher, who pushed for the revival of the commission, said that racial tensions in the county had been further exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Speaker 1: 00:00 As well as an increase in reported harassment of Asian Americans since the pandemic began to unsettling incidents in Santi recently are an indication of underlying racism resurfacing this week, San Diego County voted to reestablish a human relations commission to tackle this resurgence of hate behavior. County supervisor, Nathan Fletcher initiated the idea after talking with former supervisor, Leon Williams, who decades ago established the first human relations commission at the County, but it ceased operations back in 2018. Supervisor Fletcher joins us now. Welcome. Thank you for having me. And we also have Ellen Nash, who is chair of the black American political association of California. Thanks for joining us, Ellen. No problem. Thanks for having me. So supervisor Fletcher, why did you feel the need to bring back this human relations commission now?

Speaker 2: 00:52 Well, the, the path to a more perfect union, uh, would, would logically seem that we would continually to get better at race relations. We would have more equality, more access, more understanding, uh, more, uh, tolerance and acceptance of one another. But unfortunately in America today, we see greater divisions increase in hate crimes, increase in racism. Uh, and it's clear that, that we need to do everything possible to get people back to a place of empathy and understanding of one another and just treating people with some basic dignity.

Speaker 1: 01:24 So now several communities are mentioned as being represented on the commission, including African-Americans, Latino, LGBTQ, Jewish, and native Americans. What about Asian Americans? We just spoke with a member of that community who talked about how they are experiencing increasing harassment.

Speaker 2: 01:41 So in our, in our board letter yesterday, we, we included a designated spot for the Asian Pacific Islander communities. Uh, but we also have, in addition to that spot, we have a number of spots that the commission will appoint the members. And the aim is once the initial group is together, they will be able to assess who is missing, uh, and they will be able to fill in those gaps with some at-large appointments to make sure that as best as possible, it represents the diversity of San Diego County.

Speaker 1: 02:09 So how actually will you appoint the people on the commission?

Speaker 2: 02:13 So a number of each supervisor gets three appointments, each, uh, that encode encapsulates about 15. A number of additional ones are designated for particular groups, uh, representing, uh, unique, uh, ethnic or racial groups or groups that have historically faced, uh, or presently faced discrimination. Uh, and then in addition to those, there's a series of at-large ones that will be filled in, uh, by the supervisor Oriel appointments plus the ones that are designated in the board letter.

Speaker 1: 02:41 Now, Ellen, uh, are you expected to be on this commission? What, what is, what is your connection and why do you see such an important need for this commission to restart at this time?

Speaker 3: 02:52 Well, um, actually, um, as I said at the County meeting yesterday, um, it really wasn't a for it to, to be disbanded in the first place. Um, and the 1990s, we had a lot of civil unrest and the civil unrest actually has continued. And here we are in 2020 actually is a board supervisor. Fletcher just spoke to similar incidents and issues that were occurring even in the 1990s. And we're excited that it has been re-instituted. Yes, the San Diego chapter of APAC definitely would like to have a role in this commission, but we also want to make sure that it has some real teeth to it as well. Um, not just a resolution, but also comes and to, uh, being as in terms of policies being created and possibly reporting, say to the district attorney's office who I understand is in a very, is very supportive of this commission as well.

Speaker 1: 03:48 So Nathan, what, what authority will it have? I mean, for people who say, what can another commission do, what can it actually do?

Speaker 2: 03:55 Well, a commission isn't going to single handedly, uh, change the trajectory of, uh, of, of, of our country. Uh, but it can certainly help. And by gathering individuals from different walks of life together, uh, forcing a lot of these difficult conversations, uh, providing education, making policy recommendations, you know, to, to, to paraphrase Nelson Mandela, no one is, is born hating someone else because of the color of their skin or their religion. Uh, they have to learn to hate and, and, and if they can learn to hate, then they can learn to love. And, and a part of that is, is getting diverse groups of folks together, uh, to, to provide a public platform to provide a place. And we need to have some of these difficult conversations and very honest and candid ways. And the hope is that those conversations can lead to education, enlightenment, but also lead to policy recommendations and action, uh, to try and get us in the right direction on that half to a more perfect union.

Speaker 1: 04:55 What sort of data do we actually have on the increase of hate crimes in the County? I mean, we've had a couple of incidents in the news and then there's a lot of anecdotal stories, but do we have any actual data?

Speaker 2: 05:06 Well, we've, we've relied a lot on national data. The FBI is, has come out and showed a significant increase in hate crimes. Uh, Southern center on law and poverty talks about the number of extremist groups, uh, throughout our country. And I, and I think we all see it in a kind of daily basis in the way it manifests itself on the online, uh, nature of social media and a lot of the terrible things that we all see and experience daily. And then we see a play out just in the, in the recent weeks, um, where, you know, someone felt it appropriate to go into a grocery store wearing a clan, a hood, uh, someone else use their face covering to embolden it with the Nazi swastika. Uh, and so the, these actions we've seen actions targeted against the Chinese community in particular in San Diego County. Uh, and so we know that this is a real and present problem and it's okay to, on policy. It's okay to disagree on politics. It's okay to disagree beyond values or ideology to try and channel those into, uh, disagreements on fact and substance and not have these racial underpinnings, uh, and, and sheer acts of violence and discrimination, uh, would be our aim.

Speaker 1: 06:16 Ellen, what do you think it is about this pandemic that seems to be affecting how we're behaving to each other in the community?

Speaker 3: 06:24 I think this pan gimmick really, um, has brought out the racial disparities that have always tended to be an issue in San Diego from our health disparities, uh, to our wealth gap to incidents of hate. And believe me, when you read about it on Facebook, when you read about it or watch it on TV, it also creates a level of trauma to those of us who have been, have experienced hate crimes and racial incidents toward us. It brings out a level of trauma that, um, we have all responded to on the, on the negative side. Yes, it has created a trauma for a lot of us in this community, but on the positive side, as a result of a human relations commission like this coming out of it, uh, timing could be more. Perfect.

Speaker 1: 07:20 Good. Now, when might this commission actually start meeting and how do you foresee it functioning here, Nathan?

Speaker 2: 07:27 Well, it's moving forward so it has been established. Uh, the County staff will begin working on the application process, uh, planning out the first meeting. Uh, we're certainly gonna appoint our positions. Uh, and so I think it should be in the coming months.

Speaker 1: 07:40 I understand the city of San Diego also has a human rights commission. Um, is this something that will be, uh,

Speaker 2: 07:48 I think, I think it would be complimentary to that. I know they've had some challenges with, with convenient and meetings between the forum. I think given the just extreme prevalence prevalence of the very deep divisions in our country, I don't think we can have enough folks of different walks of life, uh, and different backgrounds getting together to, to confront a lot of these issues. I think it is only good and can only help us as we climb out of this very dark period.

Speaker 1: 08:16 So, I mean, do you see this commission more as a place where people will be able to air some of these, um, sort of undercover trends or a place where some policy and action will actually be taken?

Speaker 2: 08:31 Well, I think, I think you have to do both. Uh, I think that the, the starting point of having some, some really honest and very transparent conversations, uh, with a group of folks from different walks of life, uh, where, where you have maybe the representative of the Sheriff's department, uh, sitting, sitting together with someone from the black lives matter movement, uh, where you have a representative of the district attorney's office sitting with refugee and immigrant representatives. I think that those conversations need to happen, but the aim of this is not just to have conversations. The aim is to drive a substantive recommendations on policies that the County can adopt and should adopt in order to try and address the challenges that we face. And so in some ways, it really has to be both. Excellent. Thank you. We've been speaking with supervisor Nathan Fletcher. Thank you supervisor and Ellen Nash, who is chair of the black American political association of California. Thank you for joining us, Ellen. Thanks for having me.

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.