December 20, 2006
Town Addresses Bias Issues
A future without racism.
Members of the Southampton Town Anti-Bias Task Force met with the Southampton Town Board at their work session last Friday to present their strategic plan and update the board on programs and procedures aimed at erasing racism and raising awareness.
Councilman Steve Kenny, town board liaison to the task force, said one of the most important functions of the organization is providing those who have experienced a bias incident with someone to talk to. "They are the first line of defense, so they know someone cares." The ABTF shows the public that the town cares about such incidents, said Kenny.
Southampton Town Supervisor Skip Heaney pointed out the integral educational component of the group.
"They're not only reactionary," said Kenny. "They're proactive."
In addition to discussing the year's events, such as a picnic planned to promote diversity, the board heard reports from the ABTF's education, legislative, executive, special projects and community, and communications public relations, and membership committee.
Next year, the ABTF will focus on young people and hate crimes, with panels devoted to answering questions on what parents can do, signs of hate crimes, and penalties for such offenses.
Another initiative discussed was the placement of diversity officers in schools.
ABTF members thanked the town board for funding a quarter of the Unraveling Racism program and said they would like to meet individually with town board members to discuss initiatives.
Dianne Rulnick, co-chair of the ABTF, explained how the ABTF works with groups such as ERASE Racism, and said it was imperative that each group could speak independently and still work together to eradicate racism.
Lucius Ware, president of the Eastern Long Island chapter of the NAACP, discussed a recent incident reported in The Independent last week regarding a figure hanging from a tree at a Majors Path home that sparked cries of racism from some. Southampton Town Police responded to complaints and said the homeowners had put the figure out to scare deer not realizing they were doing anything to "annoy or alarm anyone."
"There's no way this kind of thing can continue and not be harmful in many ways," said Ware. "The answer to those who say it was a fun thing and not done to harm, no matter how much people say it, it is those who are harmed who have the answer."
After hearing of the incident, Heaney said, "I don't disagree. Even if the stunt was done for the reason given in the paper, it's a knucklehead thing to do, pure and simple."
Rulnick said sensitivity and communication were integral parts of the education process.