Among other areas of collaboration, the two groups want to make it easier for local residents to get help with human rights issues.
The idea is that someone who’s in a crisis should not have to make an effort to figure out which of the two commissions should handle their complaint.
A common online complaint form is one of the technical tools the two groups want to use to simplify procedures from the perspective of a resident.
According to assistant city attorney Barbara McKinney, it was the first time a joint meeting of the two commissions had ever taken place.
Monday’s meeting served as a way to start working through some details of the collaboration between the two groups that has been in the works for at least a few months.
The meeting built on an interlocal agreement ratified by Monroe County commissioners early this year.
The agreement states: “The purpose of this Agreement is to allow the County HRC and the City HRC to combine efforts and collaborate regarding community outreach, education, advocacy and promotion of human rights laws and issues, and all related activities, while maintaining their separate and distinct identities.”
The interlocal agreement continues, “This would specifically include the authority to develop a common intake form.”
Even if there might be increased overlap between the activities of the two groups, there’s no immediate interest in combining the two human rights groups into a single entity.
As Monroe County attorney Margie Rice put it at Monday’s meeting, “I think that there is some pride that the county has, in finally having its own human rights commission. Maybe 10 years from now, that’ll be a different feeling.”
Rice said the difference between the groups is primarily which one has the geographic responsibility for handling a given complaint. “We updated our county code to match the same descriptions that the city has. So we do have housing status, we have veteran status included as coverage areas. I think our biggest difference is our jurisdictional differences.”
Rice’s remark about housing status came in response to a question about possible differences between the protected classes of people in Bloomington’s ordinance compared with Monroe County’s.
On Monday, the groups reached an easy consensus that some kind of interactive map would be useful for their websites, so that people could more easily sort out the jurisdictional issues.
Another general point of consensus at Monday’s meeting was that in addition to establishing a common online form to report a human rights complaint, the form needs to be highlighted better on the websites for the respective groups.
Bloomington HRC member Pamela Jackson suggested that some way be created for people to report “microaggressions” in addition to hate incidents.
Jackson said, “We would get probably get a better sense of these smaller kind of acts that some people might think are discrimination.” She added, “Or what I suspect is that we will hear more of some of the things that are happening in our community that people don’t realize.” [Incorrect attribution of quote was corrected April 27, 2021 at 4:18 p.m.]
Commissioners batted around the idea of giving residents a way to report a broader range of behavior than just hate incidents. Some expressed concern that it would over-generate reports. Responding to that concern, Monroe County HRC member Vauhxx Booker said, “I would much rather have an abundance of reports and then filter them out, rather than potentially miss someone.”
Based on Monday’s discussion, Bloomington’s human rights commission handles far more complaints than Monroe County’s.
Working from the Bloomington HRC’s posted annual reports of complaints, which start in 2011, The Square Beacon counted more than 100 complaints during that period.
Based on a compiled Google Sheet of Bloomington HRC complaints since 2011, the commission has averaged about 9 complaints a year. Of the 101 complaints, 35 involved the use of the N-word, and 10 involved the use of a specific slur against LGBTQ people.
The standard warning used by Bloomington’s HRC for its hate incident reports reads: “Warning: this report includes offensive language in order to provide an accurate portrayal of these incidents.” [Square Beacon shared Google Sheet]
Based on discussion at Monday’s meeting, the groups are receptive to the idea of a regular joint session, possibly on a semi-annual basis.