Orange County needs to keep listening.
That’s the conclusion of Orange County’s Human Relations Commission, which met yesterday amidst five straight days of protests in Orange County following a global uproar over the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd, a black man, at the hands of local police.
Floyd is being remembered at a public memorial service today in Minneapolis from 11 to 1 pm. Pacific Time.
“What we saw in that video was horrendous,” said the Orange County Human Relations Commission Chair Michael Reynolds on Wednesday about Floyd’s death and condemned his killing.
The Commission held a special teleconference meeting to address how Orange County needs to respond to what they described as violence and riots amid protests over Floyd’s death in the county as well as how to bring communities together.
Orange County’s Human Relations commission was established by the County government in the 1970s to address reports of prejudice in the county and coordinate educational programs to eliminate their causes. Given it’s mandate, the commission has always remained controversial among county supervisors, who haven’t always been comfortable with the commission’s work – even reducing funding from past years.
.In 2017, County Supervisors Andrew Do and Michelle Steel voted to give supervisors control over the commission’s staff. Do and Steel have fought for greater supervisor control of the commission in the past.
During Wednesday’s meeting, the commissioners in attendance decided to look into holding a series of listening sessions for the public who are facing issues of racism and prejudice to share their experiences.
“This is something that people don’t understand – the extent of the racism that is prevalent in our society right now,” said Commissioner Jo-Anne Matsuba.
Matsuba said bringing people together and “being able to be empathetic for the frustration and the anger that we’re seeing brought out in these past few days and being able to provide that space for people to come together and share their feelings and their thoughts about
the racism in this country” is so important.
The commission also decided that they would release a statement in support of the black community and addressing looting and violence occurring across the country.
“There’s evidence that there are domestic terror groups that are being bused in to riot, to damage, to destroy. There is evidence to suggest that these extremists are being supplied with bricks, masks, project outs from professional agitators. This has to stop,” Reynolds said.
“Thank goodness the vast majority of demonstrations and protests have been peaceful.”
Reynolds did not elaborate on what exactly that evidence was.
Felicity Figueroa, the chair of the Orange County Equality Coalition, said during the meeting that there needs to be an emphasis on an alternative to police enforcement and that “coffee table” discussions have been tried in the past but the systems of structural racism have remained the same.
“Property is replaceable, lives and the tragedy that their loss causes to family members, friends, and the greater community are not. Even Jesus turned over the tables in the temple to get people’s attention and this is certainly getting our attention,” Figueroa said.
Jennifer Wang, who joined the commission last year, said on Wednesday that racism is not something new to Orange County citing hearing about racism from the community towards Asian Americans who were blamed for the Coronavirus pandemic.
“This is a very deep seated complicated issue not only for the nation but even with Orange County. I know Orange County we can do better.”
The commission will hold their next public meeting on June 11. The agenda for the meeting will be posted online with details on how to join.
Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him @firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.