Op-Ed

‘Picnic with the Police’ is chance to meet officers, learn about Human Rights Commission

Children ran to mounted police officers at Picnic with the Police last year at Douglass Park.
Children ran to mounted police officers at Picnic with the Police last year at Douglass Park. kward1@herald-leader.com

June 20, 1963, the city of Lexington created the Human Rights Commission. The HRC is charged with safeguarding the legal rights of individuals regarding discrimination and the promotion of mutual understanding and respect among the citizens of Lexington-Fayette County.

In late May of 2017, Mayor Jim Gray appointed me to the Commission. The Commission is a quasi-governmental agency that many simply don’t know about. Fourteen volunteer Commissioners provide oversight and management of the Commission staff and a contract attorney.

The Commission serves as a neutral fact-finder in alleged cases of discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodation in Lexington. Jurisdictionally, we do not offer services outside of Fayette County. For individuals who file a complaint with the Commission, there is no fee for services. Education and outreach are significant to our work.

In 2017, the Commission held its first Picnic with the Police, a community-wide event to build community awareness of police activities and to allow positive interaction among the police and local citizens with a strong emphasis on children. It was very successful with over 1,000 people attending. This year, the Commission will again sponsor Picnic with the Police on Saturday, May 18, from 1p.m. - 4 p.m., at Douglass Park.

Relationships with the police seem to be presented in negative lights in the news media. Rarely do we get the see the positive side of police actions. I encourage you to look beyond what is seen on the TV screen and come to Douglass Park, May 18. Meet officers from the city police force, as well as the deputies from our sheriff’s department. Get a close look at a Bomb Unit, helicopter, mounted patrol officers and our wonderful horses, sit in a police cruiser, visit with McGruff and get to know the men and women in uniform.

The picnic is for the entire city of Lexington and will include foor, music and kids’ activities.

You can also come and meet the Human Rights Commissioners, staff and learn about the Commission and how we work with our citizens to ensure freedom from discrimination due to race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, disability, familial status and sexual orientation/gender identity in connection with employment, housing and public accommodation.

Three statutory functions govern our work; (1) Promote understanding and respect among all ethnic groups - serve as conciliator in controversies of inter-group/racial relations; (2) cooperate with federal, state and local agencies in efforts to develop harmonious relationships and support the elimination of discriminatory practices; (3) conduct investigations, hold hearings and assist the Commission in carrying out the purpose of the Kentucky Civil Rights Act.

The Commission is most noted for holding investigations. Typically, 100 individual investigations surrounding complaints of unlawful discrimination are held in a year involving employment, housing and public accommodations. Approximately 80% of the investigations involve employment.

As with many government programs, the Commission’s funding has been proposed to be cut this year, even though the number of cases and cases requiring legal representation have increased significantly this year over last. It is our intention to continue to provide the same quality of service to those needing our support even though we will be operating at a significant deficit throughout this next year. If you would like more information on the Commission, visit our web page: www.lfuchrg.org.

Barbara A. Ellerbrook of Lexington is a community columnist and Commissioner on the Human Rights Commission. Reach here at baellerbrook@twc.com

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