18 Dec 2020

ANC:

ANC 6A’s resolution and increasing our empathy

The DC flag. Photo by Mr. T in DC

Update: The resolution is a draft.

Recently, I was made aware of a resolution passed at the December 6A ANC meeting by 6A01 commissioner Marie-Claire Brown. The resolution, a draft of which you can read below, was a motion to remove Elizabeth Nelson as chair of ANC 6A’s Transportation and Public Space committee for over 10 years. Ms. Nelson had previously served as chair of the community outreach committee starting on January 12, 2006 until 2015. The resolution also included language to have mandatory human rights training for ANC 6A future volunteers. I asked Ms. Brown, who, with fellow commissioner Sondra Philips-Gilbert, explained the situation to me. Ms. Brown told me the following, via email:

At the November 12, 2020 ANC6A meeting Ms. Nelson, without regard for the potential damage, verbally compared the decision of the Department of Human Service to shelter unhoused women at the Sherwood Recreation Center to the Middle Passage. As you are aware, the conditions for enslaved Africans crossing the Atlantic Ocean in the Middle Passage were brutal and deadly. Enslaved Africans were segregated by gender and then chained and packed closely together in ship holds. Captives then endured up to several months of extreme temperatures, harsh weather, filthy living conditions, contagious diseases, death –absolutely inhumane conditions– in these ship holds as they crossed the Atlantic Ocean to be sold as chattel in North America, South America, the Caribbean and elsewhere where those who survived further lived in inhumane conditions, providing the slave labor that built this nation. Thirteen to nineteen percent of the 10-15 million captive Africans died in the Middle Passage. Approximately 2 million or more slaves died in the middle passage. This prompted a number of emotional calls and emails from offended attendees with concerns about whether the Commission condones such behavior. The Commission voted unanimously to adopt Resolution 2020-001 at last night’s meeting (December 9, 2020). A revised final Resolution is in draft to reflect some friendly amendments and should be published shortly.

Ms. Philips-Gilbert added the following,

The final Resolution that was adopted by the 6A Commission will include action steps needed to avoid and ensure this community is knowledgeable and sensitive to Black, Indigenous,and other People of Color. It is our hope that the requirement in this resolution will enhance Bill B23-0038 “Racial Equity Achieve Results Amendment Act of 2020,” and become a model for all Advisory Neighborhood Commissions in the District to follow.

Mayor Bowser signed Bill B23-0038 into law on December 7, 2020. You can see the signed bill here. You can access recordings of the November and December meetings by clicking on the month names.

I reached out to Ms. Nelson for a statement regarding her removal, and this is what she had to say:

I am truly sorry that I used insensitive language in expressing my concern for the well-being of the women who will be sheltering at the Sherwood Recreation Center this winter. I imagined myself in their position and was overcome by the mental image of 60 mask-less people in an enclosed space, lying just 6 feet apart, no partitions and limited ventilation, trying to sleep through the night, listening to their neighbors breathe and wondering if they will get sick. I remain concerned that they will get sick and some will die. Still, that is not an excuse; the analogy I used was inappropriate and hurtful. I wish I hadn’t said it and I apologize for having done so. I especially regret diverting attention from the inadequate plans for our unhoused neighbors, who risk COVID-19 in a shelter and hypothermia on the streets.

Now more than ever, it’s important for us as neighbors to be fully aware of the power of our words and the impact they may have on community members. Thank you to Ms. Philips-Gilbert and Ms. Brown for making this information and their remarks accessible, as well as to Ms. Nelson for sharing a humble and honest reflection regarding her dismissal. It’s sad to see a person who’s been a dedicated volunteer have to sidestep, but may her mistake make us all grow more as a community.

This is not the first time that ANC 6A has had to grapple with issues of racist rhetoric in recent months. Back in August, and as covered by the Hill Rag, several 6A residents started a petition for ANC 6A to retract a letter introduced at their June meeting that called for a modest increase to the Metropolitan Police Department budget. The letter’s intent was to direct those funds to activities that support police work, such as “necessary training in nonviolent response, implicit bias,” and other trainings.

ANC6A RESOLUTION NO. 2020-001

Resolution regarding ANC6A zero tolerance for racism or other human rights violations; for the removal of Elizabeth Nelson as Chair of the Transportation and Public Space Committee; and to require human rights training of all elected and appointed representatives of ANC6A

WHEREAS, Advisory Neighborhood Commission 6A (ANC6A) is a diverse community comprised of residents who may possess any of the 21 traits protected from discrimination under District of Columbia law; and

WHEREAS, ANC6A seeks to serve all residents of the District who reside within its borders in a fair, respectful, transparent, manner, without regard to race; color; religion; national origin; sex; age; marital status; personal appearance, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, Family responsibilities, political affiliation; disability; matriculation; familial status; source of income; genetic information; place of residence or business; status as a victim of an intrafamily offense; credit information; status as a victim or family member of a victim of domestic violence, a sexual offense, or stalking; and

WHEREAS, racism that disproportionately adverse impacts on Black, Indigenous, and other Persons of Color, has taken the spotlight in 2020, to the point of being declared a public health emergency across this nation; and WHEREAS, the Council of the District of Columbia in introducing the Racial Equity Achieves Results Amendment Act of 2019, currently under consideration by the Mayor, reported, among other things, that it has become evident that “for many black residents across the District, there exist two pandemics, one being COVID-19, the other, racism;” and

WHEREAS, the Council has further stated that now is the time that local governments can and should take bold steps and remedies to correct the wrongs created by centuries of racist policies that have negatively affected black residents; and

WHEREAS, as an extension of District of Columbia local government, ANC6A must similarly take bold steps and remedies to correct wrongs that have been occasioned under its purview; and

WHEREAS, there are natural and unavoidable consequences of discriminatory acts or practices by representatives of the District government including humiliation, indignity, and other adverse and serious results; and

WHEREAS, appearances and public perception are important in building and maintaining trusting relationships between government and the residents whom we represent in ANC6A; and

WHEREAS, statements made by any ANC official during an official public meeting and be reasonably attributable to the Commission, whether intended or not; and

WHEREAS, in July 2020, this Commission was the subject of controversy in which the Commission was accused, by members of the ANC6A community of engaging in racist behavior, requiring a community discussion at the Community Outreach Committee meeting of August 24th ,2020; and
WHEREAS, Elizabeth Nelson has served as an official representative of ANC6A for more than a decade and is currently the duly appointed Chair of the Transportation and Public Space Committee for ANC6A, having been reappointed to the position in 2018; and

WHEREAS, Elizabeth Nelson made a racially charged statement during official discussions between the Commission as a whole and various officials of District government agencies, including the Departments of Human Services, Parks and Recreation, and General Services; the DC Council; the Office of Advisory Neighborhood Commissions; and the Executive Office of the Mayor, at the November 12, 2020 monthly
Advisory Neighborhood Commission meeting; and

WHEREAS, members of the Commission, Committee Members, persons having business before the Commission, and members of the community were deeply offended, humiliated, and angered by the statements made by Elizabeth Nelson; an

WHEREAS, community members and District Government official contacted members of the Commission to voice their hurt, their shock, and their disdain for the behavior that they witnessed during an official government meeting; and
WHEREAS, there are current longstanding members of the Transportation and Public Space Committee who stand ready and wiling to assume the duties of leading the Committee.

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that ANC6A declares its refusal to tolerate any actions by any person elected to or appointed to an official position of the Commission that violates any of the aforementioned human rights specified by the government of the District of Columbia in the course of any public meeting of the Commission; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that effective immediately ANC 6A shall remove Elizabeth Nelson from her appointed position of Chair, Transportation and Public Space Committee; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, ANC6A will request a presentation to be provided by the DC Office of Human Rights at a future monthly meeting not later that six months after today’s date; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that each person holding a position within ANC6A, whether elected or appointed, shall complete Human Rights Liaison training, or its equivalent, offered at no charge by the DC Office of Human Rights; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Bylaws of ANC6A shall be amended to minimally include mandatory human rights training and, additionally, any other appropriate training on cultural competence, as may be deemed appropriate and selected by the Commission, to be required of any ANC6A Commissioner or the chairperson or co-chairperson of any committee formally organized under the Bylaws of ANC6A


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