Sunday, January 24, 2010

A Continued Need

One of the many distressing budgetary decisions Governor Otter has been considering since his state of the state address is a phase out of state funding for the Idaho Commission on Human Rights. As has been said time and time again, many of the budget cuts Governor Otter has proposed are more about the role of government, as he and other Idaho Republican leaders see it, than about the actual cost of maintaining programs like public television, the Commission on Human Rights, the Developmental Disabilities Council, and others. What is most unfortunate about the window of opportunity manifesting itself in the current recession is that Otter will do irreversible damage to programs that are needed now more than ever.

Otter's proposal for the Idaho Commission on Human Rights consists of an initial 27% cut in funding and comparable cuts each year until the commission is completely without state funding by 2014. In fiscal year 2009, the Idaho Commission on Human Rights took up 510 cases, many of which occurred in Canyon County and presumably dealt with Idaho's Hispanic population (surely, no thanks to Robert Vasquez). With militia groups in this state (and neighboring states) on the rise and a general distrust of immigrants emerging in many communities, the Commission has been one of the few organizations that those feeling threatened can go to when reporting human rights violations and concerns. The number of incidents will not cease simply because the state chooses to cease funding. Where will Idahoans go when they have concerns that do not involve a crime with which they can go to the police?

For some time, I have been debating whether or not to write about an incident that occurred at my place of employment. I have decided to share this story because I fear for a state with a history such as ours going forward without an organization like the Idaho Commission on Human Rights. I join many of my fellow Idahoans in the worry that now is the worst time to abandon dedication to the preservation and assurance of human rights.

At the end of October, a building on campus experienced a dropping of offensive white resistance music. Individual CDs in CD sleeves were left throughout the building, particularly in public areas where studying students would be highly likely to find them. The sleeves were marked "Free" and could easily have been mistaken as Halloween or ISU related because they were bright orange and written on with black marker. However, it turned out that the orange and black color scheme matched the flames on the CD label--flames placed directly under the image of a noose. The CD contained white pride music, though music is a stretch due to the yelling nature of the tracks, and included a website URL for the white resistance group/band.

The building itself has rules prohibiting literature drops and the CDs were clearly prohibited, but the nature of these CDs put us all on edge. After reporting the CDs to my supervisor, they were collected throughout the building and campus public safety officers were contacted. November saw the return of the offensive material.

There's no way of telling how many CDs were distributed, how many students picked them up and how many of those students went to the website and/or actually listened to the CDs. The website URL has changed to reflect the "Victory Forever" theme over the noose-related band name, but the website itself still greets readers with an anti-Semitic essay, links, and pdf versions of white resistance literature. The website links to various white resistance, white pride and Aryan group websites including the website for the Athol, Idaho based Aryan Nations. The pdf files include full text books by Louis Beam, David Duke, and Adolf Hitler.

Now, I have lived in Idaho my entire life and have heard plenty about Idaho's former days as the home of the Hayden Lake Aryans, but growing up in southern Idaho, I had never encountered a member of the Aryan Nations or felt their presence directly the way I did that day in October. To say it rattled me would be an understatement. My concern then was that the simple report to campus public safety would do little if anything to prevent this from happening again. Clearly, the incident in November confirmed my worry and there is no telling whether it will happen again or how large the white resistance presence is in southern Idaho.

Following the first incident back in October, I contacted David Neiwert, author of In God's Country and The Eliminationists, and asked about white resistance music and whether he had encountered it in his research. I admitted being distressed by the incident and David pointed me in the direction of Pam Parks, the head of the Idaho Commission on Human Rights, and the local Anti-Defamation League representative. Both of David's suggestions represent the avenue that Idahoans have available to them if an incident occurs that does not necessarily warrant a police report. Ms. Parks got back to me, I gave her the details of what had happened on campus, and the Idaho Commission on Human Rights took it from there.

Where will Idahoans turn as militia groups and Aryan groups rise again in this state without an organization like the Idaho Commission on Human Rights? Where will the most vulnerable among us turn when the very commission established to protect their rights is phased out due to a mislead belief that small government is good government?

For four decades the Idaho Commission on Human Rights has stood by Idahoans as they have struggled through periods that have damaged this state's image and tarnished her good name. Four decades ago, there was a need for a state organization that would provide the very service the Idaho Commission on Human Rights had. Four decades later, as the incident I have shared here clearly has shown, Idahoans are still in great need for an organization that makes the protection and preservation of rights a priority and the elimination of hatred in our communities a goal.

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