The city’s Human Rights Commission (HRC) meetings continue to be beset by outbursts and interruptions, with the latest meeting on Thursday, April 7 seeing several audience members escorted out after warnings from Chair Janine Grillo Marra. As in recent months, the City Council Chambers saw a small contingent of audience members touting signs to abolish the commission, people taping the meeting with their phones and numerous interruptions and asides from the group. April’s meeting also saw a few people in the audience holding their own signs in support of the commission.
Unlike several recent meetings, the HRC ended its April meeting without ending early. However, Grillo Marra did end the meeting before addressing all the issues on its agenda, including the public forum at the end of the agenda, to the consternation of several of those who showed up in opposition to the commission’s existence.
Early in the meeting, Grillo Marra laid out the rules that the commission must follow in accordance with the Open Meeting Law. “Guests are expected to speak in a respectful way; aggressive speech and slander will not be tolerated,” said Grillo Marra. “Guests will be muted or deemed out of order after being reminded more than twice, and guests may be removed from the meeting.”
Grillo Marra said guests had the right to record the meeting, but could not move around and disrupt the proceedings. “No person can address the commission without the permission of the chair,” she said. “We are glad that you are here, but you have to be silent, and no person shall disrupt the proceedings of a public body.”
During her report to the commission, HRC Executive Director Dr. Maritsa Barros said she wants to hear from all voices in the community, but did address the recent dissent at meetings. “It’s not easy to work when we have this opposition in the room,” said Barros. “I just hope that – for those who are not seeing eye to eye with us right now – that just your presence and being with us and being part of the conversation, hearing the things we are discussing and trying to get accomplished, you will be moved and that you will have a new perspective and understanding of what authentic and true inclusion looks like and what it takes to get there.”
The commission covered several topics during the meeting, including information on local Ramadan, Easter and Cambodian New Year celebrations. The commission also addressed ways it can help the local Cambodian community combat discrimination and inequities.
During the discussion, Grillo Marra issued several warnings to people in the audience and asked for the removal of several people yelling comments. “This is our monthly meeting, and there are other avenues where you can reach out to the HRC and people will respond to you,” said Grillo Marra.
Commission member Kourou Pich continued the discussion on the Cambodian discrimination and spoke of some of the discrimination she has experienced in the community. “I have been harassed as an [Asian Pacific Islander] and also have been attacked as well, emotionally and physically,” she said. “So I want to thank you for uplifting the Cambodian community and acknowledging the experiences we have gone through.”
The commission then proceeded with a discussion of how it can help the city celebrate Pride Month.
As commission member Kathi Reinstein was speaking, Grillo Marra asked that a woman who was blocking the RevereTV feed with an “Abolish the HRC” sign be removed from the meeting. “It’s fine – everyone is entitled to their opinion, so I’m fine with it,” said Reinstein. “I am looking forward to working on this commission for a very, very long time.”
As the meeting reached the 90-minute mark, Grillo Marra said the last item on the agenda would be tabled to a future meeting and that there would not be time for a public forum. “There is no law for us to [hold a public forum],” said Grillo Marra. “If there is time to do it, we allow it, but we do not have to offer it. For those who feel they were shortchanged, please notice that we did not get a chance to cover an agenda item, which is our monthly meeting for business, so we did not just disallow the public forum.”