To the Editor:
We, the undersigned members of the board of Princeton’s antiracism, interfaith organization Not in Our Town (NIOT), write to comment on the proposed ordinance that would once again establish a separate Civil Rights Commission in Princeton. The proposal is good, and NIOT’s members support it. At the same time, we have one strong suggestion for a change in the current draft.
As you know, the principal reason for a Civil Rights Commission is to increase awareness about continuing discrimination, ongoing stereotyping, and subtle forms of racism. The ordinance calls for the commission, among other tasks, to “develop mutual understanding and respect among all racial, religious, cultural, and ethnic groups in Princeton and work to prevent discrimination practices against such groups.” That’s all good.
The proposed ordinance also calls for the commission to “aid in seeing that no person is deprived of equal services in this municipality,” and it gives the commission a role — in appropriate cases — in informally resolving the complaints of persons claiming to be aggrieved. This provision is also good, but it leads to our strong suggestion.
Currently, and the proposed ordinance makes no change in this practice, any complaint about discrimination is filed with the Human Services Department of the town. Certainly that route to make a complaint is fine, and we ourselves have confidence in the Human Services Department. But we cannot assume, and Council should not assume, that each and every potential complainant will have confidence in any particular office of municipal government, nor should we further burden the Human Services Department by making it the sole repository for citizens’ complaints. Moreover, it’s conceivable that a complaint may even be against the Human Services Department, or there may be a perception that the staff would be hard pressed to make a finding against the very entity responsible for its livelihood.
Because of this potential, we believe that the ordinance should include an alternative route for complaints, a second way to file, so that any person who feels aggrieved may be confident and comfortable in making their complaint. Filing the complaint directly with the new civil rights commission seems to be the obvious alternative route, and there should be a paragraph added to the ordinance that authorizes the commission to accept complaints directly.
We applaud the Council for re-establishing this commission, and we look forward to its success as Princeton continues its effort to overcome any and all instances of discrimination. Providing an alternate route for complaints is yet another way to help assure that the aims of this ordinance will be met.
Ziad A. Ahmed, Barbara F. Fox, Ted Fetter, Fern Spruill, Wilma Solomon, Joyce Turner