Sunday, February 17, 2019

Human, Civil, Literate

This week County Executive Calvin Ball signed an Executive Order to create an Office of Human Rights Review Committee. 

One of the recommendations made from my Transition Team is to thoroughly review the operation of the Office of Human Rights and review the existing investigation process. OHR is responsible for administering and enforcing provisions of the Howard County Human Rights Law, investigate complaints and attempts to eliminate violations by conference, conciliation, and persuasion. 

Therefore, I signed an Executive Order this morning creating an Office of Human Rights Review Committee. This is an opportunity to identify ways we can strengthen the office, so it becomes the gold standard for all local Civil Rights Agencies. 

The usual naysayers that congregate on the County Executive’s  Facebook page had a field day with that.. The responses seems equally divided between:

1. Anything Calvin Ball does must be bad, so let me condemn this.

2. omg he used the term Civil Rights.

This sentence in particular seemed to be the stumbling block:

This is an opportunity to identify ways we can strengthen the office, so it becomes the gold standard for all local Civil Rights Agencies. 

It is clear to me from reading the comments that many folks read this entire statement and came out thinking that  the County Executive is changing the Office of Human Rights to the Office Of Civil Rights.

I am disheartened that reading comprehension is so poor in Howard County. No such change has been made. A review committee has been appointed to examine the Office Of Human Rights and see if and how we can make it better. That’s it.

I am also disheartened by the immediate jump that some people have taken that, once you see the term “Civil Rights”, it means someone is talking about African Americans and racism. Typical responses go something like this:

1. Racism is a problem that doesn’t exist in Howard County. Therefore any focus on it is a waste of resources. (From a white person.)
2.  Human Rights are for everyone and Civil Rights are just for Black people so this move is exclusionary.

Aside from the fact that the Executive Order has nothing to do with this, perhaps a bit of Googling is in order here. 

Civil rights, guarantees of equal social opportunities and equal protection under the law, regardless of race, religion, or other personal characteristics.

Unlike other rights concepts, such as human rights or natural 
rights, in which people acquire rights inherently, perhaps from God or nature, civil rights must be given and guaranteed by the power of the state.

Human rights, rights that belong to an individual or group of individuals simply for being human, or as a consequence of inherent human vulnerability, or because they are requisite to the possibility of a just society. 


Here is where it gets interesting. In Maryland the state and county agencies are called Human Rights agencies, but they are partner agencies of the EEOC to enforce civil rights. At the Federal level they are called Civil Rights offices.  So, no matter what our friends the commenters think, in Maryland the two terms mean the same thing. 

I’m not quite sure how to respond to people who are angry about something the County Executive said that he didn’t actually say, something he did that he didn’t actually do, compounded by not understanding the definitions of human rights and civil rights. I mean, where do you start? 

Do me a favor. If you hear any of this sort of talk around the proverbial water cooler, set folks straight, won’t you? 

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