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County of San Diego reestablishes Human Relations Commission

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On Tuesday, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors unanimously adopted a resolution to re-establish the county's Leon Williams Human Relations Commission. The board was established to promote positive human relations, respect, and the integrity of every individual regardless of gender, religion, culture, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, or citizenship status. Through its work, the group of appointed citizens will look critically at government policies and practices and likely host public forums and workshops throughout the year.

Supervisor Nathan Flether authored the resolution.

The board was named after Leon Williams, a long time civic leader in San Diego County who served on both the San Diego City Council and the County Board of Supervisors. Williams was the first African-American to serve on the County Board, first elected in 1982. Now in his late 90s, Williams continues to be known as a major civil rights champion for the region.

An earlier version of the human relations commission was created decades ago, but was defunded in the 1990s and formally decommisioned in 2018. Nicole Murray-Ramirez, a longtime LGBTQ advocate and supporter of the current effort to re-establish the commission said that while Williams was serving on the board of supervisors, it was his chief of staff, the late Neil Good, a well-known figure in the LGBTQ community, who worked closely with his boss to establish the original commission. 

"When Supervisor Williams left the board of supervisors, the Human Relations Commission was immediately gutted and disbanded by some very conversative lawmakers," Murray-Ramirez said. "It should be noted, though, that in the following decades, I worked with former Supervisor Ron Roberts who did his very best to reinstate the Commission but could not get the 3rd vote needed for it to pass. Former San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis also pushed for the re-creation of the Comission and was also unsucessful."

The creation of the Human Relations Commission comes on the heels of a number of high profile hate incidents that have occured across the county. In early May, a shopper at a Vons store in Santee was spotted wearing a Ku Klux Klan hood, and a week later, a couple were seen wearing masks with Nazi swastika flags at a Food 4 Less store, also in Santee. 

“We have seen issues around COVID-19, the virus called the Chinese virus or the Wuhan virus, providing racists a thinly veiled excuse to threaten and target the [Asian/Pacific-Islander] community,” Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said during the board of supervisors meeting yesterday before the vote. “Anti-Asian, hurtful derogatory and hateful graffiti recently targeted a Little League Field in the Allied Gardens section of San Diego.”

Leaders are aware, however, that the creation of such a commission won't completely eradicate hate and discimination across the region.

“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, to begin to tackle these issues, to have frank and honest conversations, to confront difficult subjects and increase cultural competency and empathy across society,” Fletcher said.

The commission will represent a number of diverse communities across the region and consist of 31 members. Fifteen of the commissioners will be nominated by members of the board of supervisors (3 nominations each), with each supervisor nominating one youth member. Other commission members will include: the District Attorney or their designee; the Sheriff or a designee; Jewish Family Service designee; the San Diego LGBT Community Center designee; International Rescue Commitee designee; San Diego Rapid Response Network designee; Southern California Tribal Chairmen's Association designee; the San Diego Chapter of the Black Political Association of California designee; and a represenative from the Asian/Pacific Islander Community. 

"This Human Relations Commission will bring our community together to tackle issues of racism, discrimination and address social inequities that divide San Diego County," said Supervisor Fletcher. "Reestablishing the Commission is a strong step in the right direction, but now the real work begins. This Commission's actions will make San Diego a better place, and carry-on Supervisor Leon Williams legacy of fighting for what is fair and just.”