To the editor: There is a need for a Human Rights Commission (HRC) in our region. People who feel they are victims of discrimination should have a readily available place to have their claims heard.
However, this commission should reside with Kent County and not with the Town of Chestertown.
• There are roughly 3,000 Black citizens in Kent County and only 1,000 of them reside in Chestertown. Creating the HRC at the town level will not serve Black residents living elsewhere in the county.
• Eleven of the 23 counties in Maryland have HRCs. Only three towns or cities have their own HRCs: Baltimore, Annapolis and Cumberland. In terms of relative size these are ranked No. 1, 26 and 70 among towns and cities in Maryland. Chestertown would be the smallest — by far — ranking at No. 191.
• Many discrimination claims will inevitably pertain to the schools and public safety. These functions are largely controlled by the county, not the town.
• The town has publicly apologized for its role in slavery and historic discrimination. The county has been silent while the vast majority of enslaved persons labored on the plantations out in the county and not in the town. The county needs to step up.
The county had a functioning HRC from 2003 to 2011. It had bylaws, a budget and a set of rotating commissioners. It ceased to meet in 2011 and now it does not even appear as an active commission on the county’s website.
Creating an HRC is a very heavy lift for a small town like Chestertown. The county is the right place for this commission to exist. At this level it could represent the interests of far more people of color and it could draw on a wider pool of talented people to serve on the commission. The county also has more resources to support the work of the HRC.
Why not update and restart the county HRC to reflect the realities of 2020 rather than having Chestertown start a new one?