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Civil Rights Panel Says D.C. Discriminates Against Latinos

February 5, 1993

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The District of Columbia’s mostly black government discriminates against Latinos, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights said today in a report it said could apply to other U.S. cities.

″This is applicable wherever there is a sizeable Latino population,″ said commission Chairman Arthur A. Fletcher. ″We had better get going without delay if we want to avoid other urban crises in this nation.″

In its first report on racial and ethnic tensions in U.S. cities, the commission found that Hispanics are under represented in the city government, don’t receive a fair share of services and are victims of ″abuse, harassment and misconduct″ by district police.

The report uncovered ″America’s best-kept secret″ - endemic, pervasive discrimination against silently suffering Hispanics, said Raul Yzaguirre, president of the National Council of La Raza, one of the nation’s oldest Latino rights groups.

″We see a pattern of discrimination that is all too widespread ... a belief that the rights of Latinos are somehow secondary to the rest of the population,″ Yzaguirre said. ″We, as Latinos, will use every legal means necessary to bring about change.″

Acting Police Chief Addison L. Davis took ″strong exception″ to the report’s charge of a ″pattern or practice of police misconduct″ in the precincts serving Hispanic neighborhoods. But he added that the department ″recognizes that much remains to be done to improve the delivery of police services to the Latino community.″

Fletcher said the Clinton administration should view the report as a warning of ″explosive conflicts ... with potentially devastating consequences″ if the problems affecting Latinos are not remedied right away.

″Our national leaders have got to move fundamental civil rights concerns from the back of the stove to the front burner where they belong,″ Fletcher said. ″We expect the nation’s capital to become the role model.″

The commission similarly warned President Bush of powder-keg tensions in Los Angeles, shortly before riots erupted there last spring. Then, the commission wrote to Bush and urged a national summit on race relations but got no action, Fletcher said.

″The situation has deteriorated since a year ago. I’m trying to sound the alarm,″ Fletcher said. ″I’m inclined to give (President Clinton) time to get his house in order. But such a summit is needed, quick, fast and in a hurry.″

A similar letter will go to Clinton soon, Fletcher said. It also will go to members of Congress who are black, Hispanic, Asian or female, pressing them to take the lead in easing racial tension.

The commission recommended that Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly and district officials begin active outreach to Latinos in hiring, promotion and distribution of services.

″We’ve been cognizant of those issues,″ said Kelly spokesman Vada Manager, who cited numerous strides, such as hiring bilingual 911 telephone operators and various community outreach programs.

″The issues addressed in areas of police and institutional denial of access in government certainly just didn’t arrive overnight,″ Manager said. ″We certainly believe we made a lot of progress in the two years Mayor Kelly has been in office.″

The report was drafted as a result of a six-month investigation into the May 1991 civil unrest in the city’s Mount Pleasant neighborhood, where most Hispanics live. The commission decided to use its findings to launch a series of reports on brewing tensions among the races in U.S. cities.

Among the commission’s recommendations:

-The mayor should lead efforts to open and maintain lines of communication with the Latino community, revitalize the role of the Office on Latino Affairs and appoint more Latinos to commissions, boards, and high-level government positions.

-The city should develop an affirmative action program for Latinos.

-The police department should improve its relations with the Latino community and recruit Latino officers.

-Bilingual or multilingual signs should be installed in city courts and Spanish-English interpreters made available.

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