Does Shasta County Need a Human Rights Commission?

Shasta County Citizens Against Racism (SCCAR) is a non-profit organization dedicated to the elimination of racism, prejudice and social injustice through education, cultural exchanges, and public advocacy. Its early years often found SCCAR seeking application of hate crime law (CA Penal Code 422.6) to local cases, and advocating for prosecution under these laws. SCCAR co-hosted one of six statewide workshops on the under-reporting of hate crimes, a joint effort of the CA Attorney General’s Office and the CA Association of Human Rights Organizations (CAHRO). SCCAR uses local media to educate the public, and continues to work with law enforcement to enhance acceptance of the 1994 Bane (hate crime reporting) Act.

The community was shocked with the double murder of Gary Matson and Winfield Mowder in 1999 by two white supremacist brothers, who also burned 3 synagogues in Sacramento. Matson and Mowder were killed because they were gay, according to statements by the perpetrators. SCCAR was in the middle of a coordinated community response in the heat of national media attention which is well-documented in the film Not In Our Town, Northern California – When Hate Happens Here.

SCCAR exists in a community with no Human Rights Commission/Council, and SCCAR currently serves as a de facto agency in that regard, even for non-racial issues. In a 2006 meeting with all top law enforcement agencies (including the FBI), the subject of establishing a HRC was broached. The consensus response was expressed by then-Redding Police Chief (now County Supervisor) Leonard Moty, who stated, “We like working with SCCAR,” and expressed reservations about appointments to an HRC becoming political (as they had recently in Davis, CA, where the HRC had been disbanded). While this was a welcome confirmation of the viability of SCCAR’s relationship with law enforcement (on which we have worked so hard), there is a lingering sense for some that not all issues are being aired due to the lack of an HRC. There is also the question of whether having a public HRC forum, meeting, say, quarterly, would be a comfortable place for victims of discrimination (whatever the source) to come forth with their stories, and receive assistance. The whole issue has probably been rendered moot by the current state budget crisis, and by continually-tight fiscal restraints locally.

So in the meantime, SCCAR will continue as an all-volunteer organization, providing assistance and advocacy services, and seeking to fulfill our mission in pursuit of civil rights and social justice.

-Note: Tom O’Mara, media relations for SCCAR, wrote this article for the organization’s newsletter.

Tom O'Mara

Tom O’Mara is a volunteer Civil Rights Advocate for the Redding Police Department.

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