The Office of the District of Columbia Attorney General released a report on Nov. 6 on how residents feel about civil rights issues and what the agency plans on doing to enforce laws guaranteeing fair treatment under the law.
The report, “Community Voices: Perspectives on Civil Rights in the District of Columbia,” compiles what 90 residents told D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine and his Civil Rights Section staff at five community listening sessions on the way discrimination hinders their opportunities for housing, employment, education and public access in the District. In a statement, Racine said he empathizes with those who suffer from discrimination.
“Community members describe to us a painful truth — many District residents still face harmful discrimination and even violence because of why they are, who they love or where they are from,” the attorney general said. “The passionate and personal stories residents shared have pointed our civil rights work to a path forward. We will continue to listen and work closely with the community to knock down barriers to opportunity here in the District.”
According to the nine-page report, 44 percent of the listening sessions participants consisted of Blacks while 34 percent identified themselves as White, 13 percent as multiracial, seven percent of Hispanic origin and two percent Native American. Females made up 68 percent of participants, with males at 29 percent and three percent non-binary.
Only 16 percent identified themselves as a member of the LGBTQ community. Sixteen percent said they belonged to immigrant groups.
Housing discrimination emerged as the main form of bigotry, with 49 percent saying that, the report said. Employment came in second with 28 percent, followed by 15 percent in education and eight percent, public accommodations.
When it came to what form of discrimination concerned participants, 47 percent said source of income discrimination, 40 percent mentioned access to credit and 13 percent chose place of residence or business discrimination, the report said. Participants said racial discrimination as the main barrier in their lives at 52 percent, followed by 16 percent sexual orientation bias, 11 percent national origin, seven percent gender discrimination and four percent based on a disability.
The report highlighted concerns over negative police interactions, particularly from participants who reside in Wards 7 and 8. Participants residing in Wards 7 and 8 complained also about city and private resources being concentrated in well-off neighborhoods in the city without regard to their areas.
The attorney general’s office held two community conversations regarding the report on Nov. 13 at the Capitol View Library in Southeast and the headquarters of the Human Rights Campaign in Northwest. Michelle D. Thomas, the chief of the Civil Rights Section, presented the report to members of the community, in the absence of Racine both days.
Thomas said her section has initiated action to fight discrimination in the District based on the report. One effort has produced lawsuits to combat housing and source of income discrimination and she cited such companies as Evolve LLC, and the Curtis Investment Group who don’t want renters who use housing vouchers as payments.
In another action, she said her section has helped the attorney general’s office introduce a bill in the D.C. Council that would fight hate crime by allowing the office to sue offenders who commit hate crimes civilly even if the U.S. Attorney’s Office doesn’t prosecute them.
Thomas added her section will pursue cases where businesses discriminate based on neighborhood.
“We reached a settlement with Anderson Renewal, a window-replacement company that did not serve residents who live east of the Anacostia River,” she said. “Anderson Renewal paid a $50,000 penalty and end its practice of ignoring customers east of the river.”
Thomas said her section will continue to fight the anti-immigration policies of the Trump administration and will work to educate District residents about their civil rights.
“My section is available to talk to community groups, rights groups and anyone about the District’s civil rights law,” she said. “We are serious about reaching out to the community.”
Thomas said even though her section has committed to fighting discrimination in the District, she said residents need to do their part also.
“We want you to reach out to us,” she said. “Call us, email us and write a letter to us. We want to make sure that your rights are respected.”