Lebanon council to consider establishing citizens committee on racism

The Lebanon city council will consider establishing a Human Relations Commission eight months after an incident in June prompted increased calls to reckon with racism in the community.

Following requests from members of the MLK Community Coalition of Lebanon and other residents, Councilmember Krista Wyatt introduced an ordinance Tuesday night to establish the commission.

Wyatt pointed to an incident in June when three white men and a white woman allegedly harassed a 19-year-old Black man in downtown Lebanon for wearing a Black Lives Matter facemask.

“Some say we don’t need this but the overwhelming majority of people say that we do,” Wyatt said.

Wyatt said the stories of racism she’s heard from Lebanon residents, including a biracial couple that said they might move because they don’t feel safe, are alarming.

Councilmember Wendy Monroe cosponsored the ordinance. Council will have a first reading of the legislation at its Feb. 9 meeting, discuss the legislation during its work session on Feb. 17 and vote on it Feb. 23.

The Human Relations Commission would “research, investigate and discuss current available information, methods and approaches that address discrimination, bias and prejudice within Lebanon and similar sized communities,” according to the proposed legislation. The citizens group would be appointed by council and report back to the elected officials with recommendations.

Wyatt said a lifelong Lebanon resident was concerned the council would not take this step because the council members may believe in limited government.

“It is not our job (to tell people what to say and do) and that’s not what this is about,” she said. “This is about establishing a citizen’s committee to work on a problem of racism and any related issues that we have … It’s trying to come together with solutions to make our city a place people want to live in and feel safer … This is enough. (If we don’t do this,) it’s sending a message that we’re limiting who we want to live here.”

About 93% of Lebanon’s population is white and less than 3% is Black, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Statewide, about 82% of Ohio’s population is white and over 13% is Black.

In August, the city council unanimously passed a resolution denouncing racism, prejudice and discrimination and resolved to continue to work for change in the community on these issues.

Raye Kimberlin, coordinator of the MLK Community Coalition of Lebanon, said the resolution was encouraging but Lebanon City Council needs to do more “because we are historically known for being a racist community.”

In 2015, the federal government investigated racism in the Lebanon City Schools and in 2017, the school district gave $150,000 as part of a settlement with families and agreed to revise policies.

“I see the schools actively working to improve diversity, equity and inclusion; however, the kids don’t live at the school 24/7. They go home … and they’re influenced by their family members or friends, their communities,” Kimberlin said. “So until the outside world comes together and learns how to be better humans, it will be harder for the schools, teachers, administration and students.”

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