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'These are things we can do right away': Race relations reform now heads to city council after unanimous vote by committee

DeKALB – More than 41 pages of recommended policy reform involving community race relations is now on its way to the DeKalb city council, after an almost four-hour meeting by the city’s Human Relations Commission Tuesday.

The commission voted unanimously on several documents, including a list of demands brought forward by the Black Lives Matter group. In the commission’s meeting last month, community members presented suggestions for policy reform in the city in relation to police brutality, use of force and other policies within the DeKalb Police Department, suggestions for renters and building code safety within the city, social service reform including calls for trained social service workers instead of police to respond to 911 calls involving mental illness and domestic violence crises, and calls for more services in DeKalb’s north side such as grocery stores and community centers.

Tuesday’s HRC meeting began with concerns over its location, as several in attendance (with masks and social distancing mandatory) expressed dismay that the meeting was not televised nor held in a spot different from the DeKalb Police Department.

“These meetings should not be held at a police department,” said DeKalb resident Vivian Meade, BLM organizer. “The fact that you have to come upstairs, come into a police department and the fact that I was looked at so hard by somebody standing in the lobby it made me uncomfortable, that’s not okay. We cannot make change in this community if we are not going to the community. So in the future, I think it should be at a community center that’s bipartisan for everybody and not what makes white people feel comfortable.”

Several commission members said they agreed the location was in poor taste. HRC member Lisa King said she hopes the city can in the future (like the prior HRC meeting) televise it live for participants virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Calls throughout the weeks have also come with urgency, with many residents saying action should be taken sooner rather than later.

HRC member Joe Gastiger said he agrees.

“There are things that we can do right away, I want to make that clear,” Gastiger said. “To try to ban the use of no-knock warrants, that’s a no brainer, that’s like, why don’t we do that now? To replace officers with social workers, that shouldn’t take us six months to research. To prohibit military grade equipment, grenade launchers, rubber bullets. I want to reassure people, some things are common sense.”

King said she also wants residents to understand that the final decision doesn’t lie within the commission’s power.

“Let’s be honest, let’s be upfront,” King said. “The truth of the matter is we don’t determine it. I don’t want to give an impression that because we said it [a recommendation], there’s it’s happening.”

In the weeks since DeKalb organizers held their first march May 30 spurred by the death of George Floyd, community town halls, forums and virtual Zoom meetings were held to gather input for elected officials and leaders.

The commission will make their recommendations – which includes the full list of Black Lives Matter demands, every recommendation voiced at city town halls and the last HRC meeting, and several lists presented by individual residents Tuesday –formally to the city council during a Committee of the Whole meeting July 13 at 5 p.m. The council could then take up votes on the recommendations in the council meeting at 6 p.m. that evening.

New recommendations brought forward by the commission include sending regular updates on city policy reform to area media and on city channels, urging city officials to bring regular updates to HRC meetings, using community resources to review recommendations as they continue to come in, establishing smaller committees as needed with at least two community members present and prohibiting city officials from dismissing any recommendations before further review.

Source: The Daily Chronicle

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