Valpo diversity group seeks response to racial incidents

2013-01-22T21:00:00Z 2013-01-22T23:46:03Z Valpo diversity group seeks response to racial incidentsSUSAN EMERY Times Correspondent nwitimes.com
January 22, 2013 9:00 pm  • 

VALPARAISO | The city's Advisory Human Relations Council is discussing how to respond to incidents involving racially derogative comments in the community.

Council Chair Ivan Bodensteiner raised the issue at the group's regular monthly meeting Tuesday at City Hall.

Bodensteiner said the incidents are happening with regular frequency and usually involve dark-skinned people who are out walking in the city and are the targets of verbal racial slurs by people driving by in vehicles.

“I don't think it's something the law is equipped to deal with,” Bodensteiner said. “But we've got to figure out a way to express to the community that's not what we expect.”

Residents, as well as Valparaiso University undergraduate and law students, have reported being targeted, Bodensteiner said.

To express the city's zero tolerance for these types of incidents, the council will ask Mayor Jon Costas and Valparaiso University President Mark Heckler to write a letter to the community that could be distributed through newspapers, churches and the Chamber of Commerce.

The council also discussed creating a petition that residents and businesses could sign to indicate they do not condone the incidents.

Council member Rick Soria also suggested the upcoming national event, Random Acts of Kindness Week, could be used to combat racially charged incidents.

In another matter, the council agreed to be proactive in planning for the city's 2014 celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

This year's event was attended by about 40 people, many of whom were city employees, and featured a speech by Costas.

Council member Zahra Nwabara wondered if a different city department could be in charge of the event each year and decide on the activities.

“Just to get them more involved so it's not just a speech on the day and then nothing,” she said.

Members also explored how Valparaiso High School students, who had the holiday off, could become more involved in the day's activities, including attending the city's event or events at Valparaiso University for extra credit.

The students' participation also could include signing up for service projects and engaging in activities in school before the Martin Luther King holiday.

The council's next meeting is at 5:30 p.m. Feb. 26 at City Hall.

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