New commission will take a deep look at how every part of the county operates.
WOODBRIDGE-How do you address systemic racism? If you truly want to fix the problems in a community, what’s the best option? Prince William County’s Board of Supervisors wants residents to help them answer the question.
On Tuesday, the board created a Racial and Social Justice Commission to address the issue. The group will work with local residents and officials to look at discrimination issues in the county and develop solutions. That includes finding ways to reduce racial disparities in the region, make sure all residents are treated equally and guarantee all residents can access the county’s programs, services, and benefits.
Supervisor Margaret Franklin came up with the idea after seeing what happened in Manassas on May 30. Just like in Richmond and other places around the country, residents came out to protest George Floyd’s death. Floyd was killed by Derek Chauvin, a Minneapolis police officer who stuck his knee in Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds. From 5pm to 8:11pm, people protested in Manassas. However, at 8:11 pm, police declared the protest an “unlawful assembly”. Officers then ordered the 250 people involved to disperse. They used tear gas and pepper spray against the group, which continued protesting until going home around 1 am. In their statement the next day, officers justified the gas by claiming people threw rocks and other objects at them.
“The idea sprung from the demonstrations we saw taking place both nationally and here in Prince William County, and I saw the residents wanted some type of way to express their voice and opinions about what they see as systemic racial issues,” said Franklin. “The Racial and Social Justice Commission is a good way to start those discussions.”
What will the commission involve?
Raul Torres, executive director of the county’s Human Rights Commission, will be in charge of staffing the new group. According to Torres, there will be 12 members in total. Each member of the Board of Supervisors appoints one resident from their own district. Also included on the Commission will be the County Executive, Chief of Police, Chairman of the Human Rights Commission, and a member appointed by the Prince William County School Board.
So, why does Prince William need both a human rights and racial/social justice commission? As Torres pointed out, a majority of Prince Williams residents are people of color. Ever since the Human Rights Commission was established in 1992, they’ve provided oversight under the umbrella of human rights. This is more specific.
“The board decided that they wanted a separate entity to focus on these particular tasks of looking at government service, policing, and location policies,” said Torres.
According to Franklin, the Racial and Social Justice Commission will look at three segments. That includes county services, the police department, and the school system.
Once the group is formed, its first assignment will be to examine the policies and practices of the Prince William Police Department.
Will there be overlap?
While the Human Rights Commission and Race and Social Justice Commission may overlap in some areas, the newly formed group can alleviate certain duties and allow the Human Rights Commission to centralize their focus. According to Torres, that means focusing on investigations. Local residents can bring workplace complaints or allegations of discrimination to the Human Rights Commission.
However, race is only part of the equation. The newly formed Commission will also help low-income individuals and families, while also bringing attention to disparaged parts of the community, including neighborhoods.
The goal is to have all members of the Race and Social Justice Commission appointed in November of 2020, with the first meeting to be held at a to be determined time and date in December. In December 2021, the Commission will submit a report of recommendations to the Board of Supervisors.
Brandon Carwile is a freelance reporter for Dogwood. He can be reached at [email protected]