By Ajel Cho
DAVIS, CA – Last Thursday night, the Davis Human Relations Commission (HRC) met to discuss their role with regard to hate crimes and the media.
HRC Chair NJ Mvondo opened the meeting by discussing hate crimes in the Davis community. She stated that people who have faced hate crimes “aren’t necessarily going to the police first.” Mvondo suggested the value of something like a “women’s center” for those who have encountered these hate crimes.
Mvondo asked the commission what the role of the HRC should be in light of these kinds of events.
Commissioner Connor Gorman responded that “doing political education” around implicit and structural bias and explicit hate crimes would be useful. Gorman suggested that the HRC could run “events and things that let the public know what is implicit bias and what are structural forms of oppression, and how those differ from explicit hate incidents.”
Gorman also stated the importance of “planning these events in advance, especially when [the HRC meets] only once a month and [events] come in quick succession.” He added that the HRC should “really try to bring in organizations that can talk about these larger issues as a political education opportunity.”
Commissioner Jordan Varney emphasized the importance of “ evaluating the procedures that [the HRC] already [has], to make sure that they are as cutting edge as they can be in terms of dismantling this type of oppression.” They added that the HRC should be “making sure that we are continuing to look internally and City Council is continuing to look internally as we deal with anti-bias.”
Mvondo stated that she is “really curious” to see how the HRC can make the evaluations Varney described. Mvondo explained that there is “the necessity to be aware of existing measures in place and the actions that the city can take in denouncing bias and hate.”
HRC Vice Chair Judith Plank asked “what the public is needing from” the commission.
Mvondo reiterated a request by Alan Hirsch, “asking [the commission] to take action . . . not just in regards to major hate, but to news articles like [those from] Fox News that seem to be antagonists to a group, and therefore to be fueling hatred towards that group.”
Mvondo continued, “[Hirsch] was linking that to hate crimes and was asking the commission and the city to do something about that.” However, Mvondo made it clear that neither the commission nor the city are able to take “legal action” and that there will be no “lawsuits [against] Fox News or [other] news networks.”
Mvondo stated that there have been attacks on “mosques or the Jewish communities or the groups in Davis [like] the LGBTQ” community and voiced Hirsch’s request of the HRC, “not to be silent when these things occur.”
Mvondo also acknowledged that the role of the commission has been questioned previously, such as “last year when there [was] another wave of hate crimes.” She explained that there are “frustrations within the community because [the HRC meets] only once a month, and then we must wait another month to send these issues to the Council.”
Mvondo invited commissioners to share their thoughts on “how the commission, and by extension the City Council, could be more involved in the community.”
One role Mvondo offered was the HRC as “a vessel of communication” possibly via the city’s website or social media.
Mvondo referenced the commission creating a draft that “condemned hate crimes” which was an option discussed in a previous meeting. She stated that, “some commissioners expressed that [the draft] might not be enough,” and questioned whether there is “something that can be done in addition to that.”
Varney stated, “We always talk about how we have a meeting every month and there is a large gap in between,” and suggested the formation of a rapid-response subcommittee that could formulate a response to help the city without an official meeting. They explained that, “hours after the hurtful act, it’s really helpful to have people reaching out… [because] words aren’t enough.”
Varney also questioned whether the commission should “be offering resources in the area…when the new department [of social services] is up and running.”
They asked, “What kind of things does the HRC want to be? A go-between to help with people grieving an event” or a coordinator of people who can provide resources.
Acknowledging the lack of independent power that the HRC possesses, Varney also offered the solution of a “subcommittee serving as advisory to the City Council.”
They explained that “City Council meets more frequently than us… and also having a statement coming from City Council is powerful, and even more powerful if it is in conjunction with the HRC.” They added that when necessary, this subcommittee could conduct “emergency meetings on Thursday nights if something does happen, to review the statement [from the HRC] and send it to the [City] Council.”
Mayor Gloria Partida expressed agreement with Varney’s suggestion, stating, “I, and a few other people, agree with the idea of a subcommittee.”
Partida stated that it may be possible for “a subcommittee” to “actually draft a statement,” explaining that while “oftentimes City Council has things that they would like to add to [the statements],” in the case of a subcommittee and proclamations by City Council, “the statement would get to City Council faster, or at least the request would get there fast” because they would not need to wait for City Council to add onto or approve what is being written before sending it to them.
Mvondo added that “if the City Council makes a proclamation,” commissioners have the “possibility of amplifying” these proclamations through their social media outlets.
Upon further deliberation, Mvondo concluded that the HRC should “assign the HRC’s anti-hate subcommittee to create drafts of statements . . . in support of the community in denouncing the hate crimes that happen,” to be reviewed by City Council. She added that when necessary, the HRC should “have emergency meetings to review the draft, approve it, and submit it to City Council.”
The HRC voted unanimously to proceed with this course of action.