The fact that the Human Relations Board was not formed until 2002 to address racial discrimination and then disbanded only seven years later is an indication of how "Deep South" the city really is. With such an expeditious and miraculous cure for those pesky racism issues, the city ought to bottle that remedy and peddle it to the rest of the country. But I digress. The revamping of the Board follows a pattern of institutionalized racism commonly practiced where these kinds of boards, intended to address discrimination, are concerned. I've seen it firsthand. Back in 2002, an attorney with whom I worked to establish an independent Citizen's Review Board of the police department in Key West, aptly described the predictable stages of opposition. It was so dead-on, I wrote about it in one of my weekly columns in April that year. He broke it down like this (feel free to substitute city/county/federal government for police and just plain "board" for civilian oversight/review - it works):
''And the city of Homestead went one step further and decided to dissolve their part of the Human Relations Board,''he said.
Last month, the city council disbanded the Homestead/Florida City Human Relations Board, which was created in September 2002 after black city workers in Homestead complained of discrimination. It aimed to resolve issues involving race, immigration, police profiling, employment and housing.
The advisory board took up the issue of the flag display for six months, but did not come to a resolution with the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the chamber. The veterans group proposed flying less controversial Confederate flags at a Homestead public workshop, Bell said. But the board rejected that, ''insisting instead that the Sons of Confederate Veterans be banned entirely from all future parades,'' Bell said.
She said the changes to the human relations board, which she suggested, were implemented to make the board more reflective of the city. Hispanics make up about 60 percent of Homestead's population.
- The "over our dead bodies" stage, during which the police proclaim they will never accept any type of civilian oversight under any circumstances;
- The "magical conversion" stage, when it becomes politically inevitable that civilian review will be adopted. At this point, former police supporters suddenly become civilian review experts and propose the weakest models;
- The "post-partum" resistance" stage, when the newly established review board must fight police opposition to its budget, authority, access to information, etc.
The NAACP notwithstanding, it seems Mayor Bell, with her "more reflective of the community" comment, stands poised to use the same totally legal, voice-silencing tactics to effect changes to Homestead's Human Relations Board a similar maneuver often used by the Changeling to muffle the, "No Justice, No Peace," normally heard anytime someone mentions what he's NOT done for the Black community.)
Consideration of the three alternatives for Key West voting districts, submitted by the Redistricting and Charter Revision Commission, was tabled last month and will be revisited in July. In the brief interval between now and then, Key West's minority voters would do well to look to the mainland, paying close attention to the legal battles surrounding Florida's new Republican-drawn congressional district maps.
Democrats, as we speak, are in U.S. District Court in Miami trying to convince three federal judges that the new district maps violate the Constitution and the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which was enacted to ensure that the minority vote is fairly represented. Additionally, suit has been filed in state court by Carrie Meek of Miami, Alcee Hastings of Fort Lauderdale and Corrine Brown of Jacksonville.
Florida's three black congressional representatives, the first elected since Reconstruction, contend the congressional redistricting plan as proposed will result in a substantial dilution of the black vote in their current districts. And in a June 5 Miami Herald article, Allan Lichtman, a professor at American University testifying on behalf of the redistricting challengers, agreed saying, "Several versions of races that produced black winners under old boundaries would result in toss-ups or outright defeats for black candidates now."
Democrats charge in a June 9 Herald article that the GOP has diluted Hastings' mostly black district by adding thousands of white voters, many of them residents of the Century Village condominium in Pembroke Pines.
"I'm more than happy to represent Century Village, but it will drown out the black vote," Hastings said.
Minority voters in the affected districts can expect no intervention from the U.S. Justice Department. On June 7, it concluded that the newly drawn boundaries are in compliance with the federal voting rights law.
Given all the facts above, one might wonder how the Justice Department reached that conclusion. Simple. Republicans said it was necessary in order to provide a third congressional seat in South Florida for Hispanics who are also a "protected" group, thereby satisfying Justice Department requirements. Never mind three black districts would all but disappear.
Pitting each of these minority's interests against one another, keeps the old divide and conquer routine alive and well and keeps the powers-that-be, the powers-that-be.
So, why do minority Key West voters need to pay attention? Because it appears that the exact same thing could be in the offing for Key West but the results appear more racial than partisan, particularly with the "three-district, three-at-large" and the "six-residential districts with at-large voting" proposals.
As I understand it, the first proposal would not likely ensure the election of a minority commissioner in any district since blacks and Hispanics in the three proposed districts only represent roughly one quarter of the voting population based on the 2000 Census figures. This plan could pose a problem for the city in terms of Justice Department approval.
The second proposal could also pose similar Justice Department problems given the breakdown of the numbers of blacks and Hispanics versus whites. It is questionable, though not impossible, that a minority candidate, successful in their residential district, could or would win an election citywide.
Keeping in mind that blacks and Hispanics share "protected" status, a district drawn to increase the chances of a minority representative does not necessarily have to focus exclusively on blacks. If that district incorporates Hispanic voters in the minority as well, it may be possible to achieve a high enough minority percentage to satisfy the Justice Department, as has occurred with the congressional redistricting.
Since the Supervisor of Elections has pointed out that current district lines are flawed because they were initially drawn across census block boundaries, the status quo proposal changes somewhat. But, it appears that it is still the best thing going as far as minority representation is concerned.
All registered voters have an obligation to fully understand what is on the table, so when the meeting rolls around in July, Old City Hall should be packed to the rafters.
As has been the case in these modern days of "movements," the NAACP appears more reactive than proactive on both the Board and the flag issue. It'll be real interesting to see just how effective all the proposed back-room dealing, boycotting and registering of new voters will be. I wouldn't hold my breath.
''This board will be structured more like the Miami-Dade County Community Relations Board,'' she wrote in her e-mail. ''At the end of the day, I would think that everyone, including the NAACP, would be delighted and pleased that this Mayor and Council is working to be responsive to the entire community.'' Former Homestead Mayor Roscoe Warren and Miami-Dade County Commissioner Katy Sorenson pledged to use a softer approach -- diplomacy behind the scenes -- to work with Bell and the council to resolve the dispute. ''I'm confident we will work it out,'' said Warren, Homestead's first black mayor, who started the board in 2002. ``You don't want to elevate this [dispute] to the state and national level.''
Meanwhile, Curry hinted at a possible boycott of chamber businesses at a time when most industries have been hit by the recession. He also set his sights on the November elections. Curry pledged that the NAACP would register new voters and raise the issue of the flag if council members did not ban it from future parades. Five of the seven council members will be up for reelection in November, including the mayor.
''Someone is going to be a casualty,'' Curry said.