The one thing he hated more than anything else was prejudice. Having previously survived a heart attack, there wasn’t much that he allowed to get him riled up anymore. But prejudice and racism were non-starters. So on September 15, 1994 when skinheads hurled racial slurs at him, Vernon Windell Flournoy, a 44 year old Black man, stood his ground outside a Huntington Beach McDonalds on Beach Blvd and Knoxville.

He was shot and killed.

Just 19 months later, on February 3, 1996, George Mondragon, a 20 year old Native American man was stabbed 27 times by two White supremacists near a Huntington Beach lifeguard tower after being asked if he believed in “white power.” He survived. But this near fatal stabbing tipped the scales.

Shortly thereafter, then mayor Shirley Dettloff and the late Dr. Ralph Bauer, along with former Huntington Beach Police Department Chief Ron Lowenburg, started the Human Relations Task Force (HRTF).

Co-founders and former Mayors Shirley Dettloff and the late Dr. Ralph Bauer speaking at the CommUNITY Picnic in Central Park

This was a call to arms, a promise by residents and elected leaders who were determined to right the reputation of Huntington Beach. They were collectively saying, “Not our city. Never again!”

Now, over 25 years later and known as the Huntington Beach Human Relations Committee (HBHRC), the mandate continues. But for how much longer?

The HBHRC is in danger of being eliminated by the Huntington Beach City Council on Tuesday, August 1st.

The mission of the Huntington Beach Human Relations Committee is to inspire and promote mutual understanding, respect, safety and the well-being of all in the community through education and engagement. For over 25 years the HBHRC has maintained a partnership with the Huntington Beach Police Department tracking and monitoring hate crimes and hate incidents in the community.

Mayor Barbara Delgleize presenting a commendation to HBHRC Chairperson V.C. Rhone on behalf of the committee

But the committee does much more than that.

Seeing a need to engage more with the community, within the last four years the HBHRC has created numerous programs to address the diverse and varied needs of Huntington Beach residents. From the string of home robberies in the Harbor to the variety of issues confronting Oakview residents, the HBHRC has made itself available to everyone.

Reasons provided by the City Council to dissolve the program include redundancy and need to decrease staff resources. This is especially disappointing because the HBHRC council liaisons, Mayor Pro Tem Van Der Mark and Councilmember Pat Burns, seem to support this action.

I can personally attest that HBHRC executive officers met with the council liaisons on more than one occasion to discuss plans and ways to support their community goals because I am the Chairperson of the Huntington Beach Human Relations Committee.

In the past the HBHRC has successfully partnered with the Vans Corporation to host community dialogues during the 2022 US Open of Surfing. Additionally, when Visit HB staff began receiving calls from prospective businesses who were concerned about doing business in Huntington Beach, they contacted the HBHRC. Prospective businesses and corporate sponsors referenced “Huntington Beach’s low MEI score” (the Human Rights Campaign measure of how welcoming and inclusive a city is), as the reason they were hesitant to do business here.

Published in 2021, Huntington Beach’s 2020 MEI score was 59 out of 100. The HBHRC, along with the previous City Council understood the negative impact a low MEI score can have on tourism. With the many recent changes in city policies over the last six months, I expect this number will drop significantly.

I believe in getting to know people for myself.

Over the course of many conversations with Van Der Mark and Burns, I came to understand the depth of their own convictions and beliefs. During initial meetings with them, they revealed that their top issue for the community was safety. I felt encouraged by this because this is the HBHRC’s number one goal, as well.

Although we have some fundamental differences, with this common ground now being well established, I was optimistic.

How then, do we find ourselves here? How then, after less than 90 days of conversation, do Van Der Mark and Burns, along with the Boards Commissions and Committee Review ad hoc arrive at the decision that Huntington Beach would be better off without a committee whose primary focus is on the safety and wellbeing of the community?

The reasons provided do not mirror the actual work that the HBHRC does. Even Burns himself stated in a meeting on July 6th with HBHRC executive officers that the committee does “much more than just hate crimes and reports.”

Eliminating the HB Human Relations Committee would be a misstep and a missed opportunity to work to further unite the community. As many policies have been reversed and changed by the new City Council, divisions and schisms within the community have deepened.

This has become evident with the recent uptick in hate crimes and hate incidents within the last few months. Currently, as of June 30, 2023, the number of hate crimes and incidents are double the amount they were in all of 2022 and we still have five more months left in the year.

This is especially alarming. HBPD has asked the HBHRC to help create programs for youth to address this major concern in hopes of educating families on hate crime prevention.

This should be a priority for us all as in the case of the murder of Vernon Flournoy and stabbing of George Mondragon, teens were involved in those horrific crimes. If we can help educate and inform families and teens citywide, we have a chance to see a shift in these numbers and stop it before it becomes a nightmarish trend.

HBHRC Member Dr. Elaine Bauer Keeley, the late Dr. Ralph Bauer Co-founder, with HBHRC Chairperson V.C. Rhone at the 25th Anniversary Celebration of the Huntington Beach Human Relations Committee

I hope the HBHRC will be allowed to continue its mission and continue to offer their many programs to the community such as the HB Listens Dialogue Circles, the Student Day of Dialogue, the Community Summit, the Ralph Bauer Youth Voices Essay and Art Contest and The Cultural Cinema Showcase (recently renamed the HB Cultural Film Festival) which features short films from underrepresented filmmakers. To date, the festival has received nearly 3,000 films during its run and also provides content to HBTV throughout the year.

We must all learn to leave one another with our human dignity intact. No matter how you feel about a different race or the LGBTQ+ community, or even someone who belongs to a different political party than your own, I think we can all agree that everyone deserves to live in Huntington Beach free from fear and discrimination.

It is imperative that local government prioritizes human dignity, safety, and the wellbeing of its residents. Allowing the HBHRC to continue operating as an official committee of the City is a step in the right direction.

V.C. Rhone is a Huntington Beach Resident and Chairperson of the Huntington Beach Human Relations Committee (HBHRC). Her thoughts shared here are her own and do not represent the HBHRC as a whole.

Opinions expressed in community opinion pieces belong to the authors and not Voice of OC.

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