HRC gone, minorities say inequality remains
BY BERNARD HARRIS, Staff Writer
In its last year of operation, the Lancaster County Human Relations Commission had 155 cases of alleged discrimination that were jointly filed with the state.
A year later, the state Human Relations Commission had only 83 cases from Lancaster County.
"After hearing the discussion tonight, I don't think there is a drop in cases because there is less discrimination," said Martin Kearney, of the state commission.
Some 40 people attended a forum Monday organized by the Lancaster Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Concerns varied from individuals who believed they had been unfairly fired from jobs because of their race or religious views to those who believe a high drop-out rate of special needs children from schools could be traced to discrimination of the disabled.
But the most common complaints were those directed at the city police and county courts.
"How do we keep our 50 percent of males in Lancaster -- black and Latino -- from having a record before they are 21?" Eloisa Hidalgo asked.
She was one of several people who contended minority teens are more likely to face more serious charges if arrested, more likely to be prosecuted as an adult and less likely to be well represented in court.
"Sentencing for the same crime is not equal," she contended.
Mildred Dixon said discrimination is inevitable when police officers don't look like the community they serve.
"A black man should be able to see his image in a uniform without going into the Army," Dixon said.
"This is personal to me and a lot of other black women. This is our lives," said Dixon, whose son, Carl Dixon Jr., was acquitted by a jury earlier this month on a charge of shooting at a white police officer.
Lancaster city police Chief Keith Sadler, however, said the Bureau of Police has made several small efforts in recent years to change its makeup and operations.
The city's first black police chief cited a recruitment effort last year in which billboards around the city showed two Hispanic officers, one male and one female.
"You saw some brown faces on those billboards," Sadler said.
He also cited an intervention program copied from High Point, N.C., which Lancaster officials undertook nearly six years ago. In that effort, people with limited, nonviolent criminal histories caught selling drugs to undercover officers are given a chance to avoid prison and redeem themselves.
Sadler, a police officer for 32 years, said such efforts have a limited effect, but that when he began, police work was limited to just locking people up.
He said police across the country a re trying the same techniques. They have to because staffing levels are so reduced, they have to work smarter, he said.
"Everything that was said here tonight is something that has been on the radar screen, that has been addressed," Sadler said.