Councilman Kai Hagen (D) knows that conversations around racial equity and social justice can often be challenging.
Still, it’s something he believes should be addressed by him and other County Council members at some point this year, as he intends to introduce legislation involving those issues.
Hagen posted a lengthy post on Facebook earlier this week detailing what he was seeking to accomplish, including references to legislation passed late last year by the Montgomery County Council.
That legislation, once passed, set up a racial equity and social justice program, required the County Executive to develop a racial equity and social justice plan for the county, and required the “Director of the Office of Legislative Oversight to submit a racial equity and social justice impact statement to the Council for each Bill,” among several other initiatives.
The debate over how the legislation would look in Frederick County will be difficult, Hagen added—but he expects that.
“I think it would be odd not to expect that because this is a tough issue,” Hagen said. “This is a long-term systemic issue, this is not something that came about quickly or recently, or will be ended easily or quickly. It’s embedded in everything.”
Councilwoman Jessica Fitzwater (D) said said there needs to be at least be council workshops of local policing and other issues tied to racial equity and social justice, in order to better understand those topics. But it needs to be an inclusive discussion.
“This needs to be something that is an inclusive effort and isn’t a couple of white legislators saying what they think it needs to be,” she said.
Fitzwater, who is a teacher, added that county and Frederick County Public Schools officials could do more to ensure minorities and people of color are represented in their workforces.
“This is a matter of fairness, this is a matter of tearing people with respect regardless of their skin color … to me, this is basic human and civil rights,” Fitzwater said.
She added, however, she’s optimistic about the conversation she’ll have with other council members, given their work in the past.
“These conversations are difficult across the board, regardless of whether it’s with your friends, family or colleagues,” Fitzwater said. “I respect my colleagues. We have all worked hard to work with one another, and to have constructive dialogue and debate, even if we don’t all agree on things.”
Council Vice President Michael Blue (R) said he would have to see whatever Hagen introduces.
Blue seemed to take the conversation further, however, saying these conversations should be happening constantly, not just when they’re in the national consciousness.
“I think this should be on everybody’s mind all the time … government should never discriminate on the basis of race, sex or religion and other things, and that should be all the time,” Blue said.
“I’d be interested to look at all aspects of equality and inequality, and whether that’s hiring and that’s promotions and whether there’s an area where that can be racism, even if it’s done not intentionally,” he added.
Councilman Phil Dacey (R) said he needed more specifics on the legislation. But he added he wouldn’t shy away from the conversation, given recent events.
“I’m open to a discussion about it and to see what the evidence says,” Dacey said about any discrimination in the community. “Although I’m skeptical, I’m not opposed to the idea that a government should pass a law because it’s outside of our values.”
Hagen targets a late September or October date for introducing a bill, but noted that was a very soft target, and could move earlier or later.
“I hope that what happens is that we do a better job and would put systems in place that would make that very likely, if not required, of viewing so many of the elements of our community, including government, but not just [government], through the lens of racial equity and [social] justice.”