by Frances Edstrom
I received a call from the Winona City Clerk informing me that I was mistaken when I termed the Winona Human Rights Commission the mayor's commission. Those commissioners are appointed by the city council, not the mayor, she said.
(However, in a show of hands at their latest meeting, most of the commissioners indicated that they been appointed by the mayor.)
I would suggest, then, that city council members attend a meeting and see for themselves what their appointees are up to.
At best, in their Thursdy night meeting, most of the commissioners exhibited an appalling ignorance of civics, geography, and current events. At worst, they showed a chilling propensity to throw out law, logic and truth in order to forward personal vendettas and a political agenda.
Commissioner Larry Lee said he didn't want Africa associated with the Ebola virus. He said that if we read the news, Ebola was spreading all over. Commissioner Valerie DeCora Guimaraes asserted that the Ebola virus attacked black people almost entirely. She knows this because she is a nurse, she said.*
Commissioner Deb Patee said that the word "African" was a racial slur akin to "fag" and what she referred to as "the N word." Her reasoning for this was that "the average person hearing the word ‘African'" thinks not of people from Africa, but "African-American. She described herself as a teacher, which gave rise to the idea expressed by some present that Patee might educate people who don't know it that "African" refers to people in the continent of Africa, just as "American" refers to people from the American continents. Her idea of education, apparently, is to teach people to take offense where none is given, or when they misunderstand.
Patee also claimed that Deputy Police Chief Andrea Essar said that what John Edstrom wrote in his football column was a hate crime. Essar denies making such a charge, saying, "It's not a hate crime. I never said it was a hate crime." Dist. 861 school board chair Steve Kranz's name was invoked as having made a similar accusation. Patee also claimed "Africans" were a protected class under the Minnesota Human Rights Act.**
Police Chief Frank Pomeroy explained to the commissioners that a hate crime must first and foremost be a crime, which this is, of course, not. Shouldn't Ms. Patee, who also sits on the Winona Hate Crimes Task Force, know what a hate crime is before slinging accusations? Shouldn't all the commissioners know this?
In prefacing their contention that what was written in the Winona Post was offensive, or even racist, several of the commissioners admitted that they had not had time to read what had been written in the Winona Post.
They also referred to the "many" letters to the editor complaining about the Winona Post, which they had not read. In fact there were not "many" letters, merely a couple.
The commission chair, Diana Miller, explained that there had been no formal complaint lodged against the Winona Post in this instance. She said she received phone calls from WSU students who wanted to know what the commission's reaction was to Edstrom's football column so they could include it in papers they had been assigned to write on the subject.
This, and "people talking about it" were enough for the commission to launch an attack on the Winona Post, apparently. Miller did, however, acknowledge receipt of a formal complaint lodged against the Winona Daily News, which was almost immediately set aside.
Patee and Guimaraes told the assembly how "hurt" and "upset" they were, practically coming to tears, but when questioned as to how they would word a statement condemning the Post, could not formulate anything beyond emotional generalities. Guimaraes, in fact, misunderstood the question, thinking she was being asked to rewrite John's football column. "Couldn't he have just said they played poorly?" she asked.
The absurdity of the entire proceding was summed up, in my mind, by Commissioner James Allaire when he told Ms. Pattee at one point that her emotional outbursts were better suited to a therapy session than a public meeting.
Finally, the commission voted to back the mayor's letter to John Edstrom removing him from the Merit Board, although it was clear that not all the commissioners had even read the mayor's letter. In addition, with Miller and Allaire dissenting, to form a subcommittee to draft an "educational" letter to be discussed at their January meeting
The accusations of violations of human rights, deliberate lies, egregious ignorance, and personal vendettas rife in the Human Rights Commission should not be tolerated, lest Winona wishes to reprise such historical horror shows as the Salem Witch Hunt and the McCarthy hearings. Such action as we witnessed at the Human Rights Commission simply serves to divide the citizens of Winona, not unite them.
If this is the city council's commission, we suggest they rein it in before the poisonous nonsense filling up the commission's meeting room spills over into Council Chambers.
*According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the virus first surfaced in Africa and cases of the virus in humans are virtually exclusive to that continent. It also flies in the face of fact and logic to suggest that a virus has a color bias. The Ebola virus is also present in non-human primates, according to the WHO.
**In information supplied by the Winona Police Dept., protected classes consist of race, color, creed, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, disability, public assistance, age, sexual orientation, familial status and local human rights commission activity. The areas in which these classes are protected are employment, housing, public accommodations, public service, education, credit and business.