1998-01-21 Holland Sentinel "Advocacy against racial bias urged to solve problems"

Advocacy against racial bias urged to solve problems
By: Paul Van Kolken
The Holland Sentinel

Citizens group decides to put of final recommendations until its Jan. 27 meeting.

A citizens group Tuesday saw advocacy programs for minorities facing the law enforcement process as one way to address the issue of over-representation in the county juvenile court system.

More than 50 people met to continue discussions based on a report that showed a disproportionate number of minority young people and young females were in the juvenile justice system.

But the group did not make its final recommendations, instead scheduling another meeting for later this month to conclude its work.

Chairman Rick Muniz, facilitator of multicultural services in Holland Public Schools, said the citizens intend to make a series of recommendations to the schools, law enforcement agencies and other organizations to help understand the ethnic and
cultural diversity in the county.

The group recommended that an advocacy program be established as a liaison between minority offenders and the police to explain the individual’s rights and procedures, especially for those facing their first police involvement.

The group also urged better communication between school and parents and that school meeting times be altered to accommodate working parents.

Many minority youths have difficult living in a white culture, it was pointed out, and could use an understanding teacher or police officer with whom to relate.

Fabiola Suarez said Hispanics usually don’t respond when they “get stepped on” but she said “we must speak out” when wronged. And she faulted the Hispanic community itself for not keeping others informed about events such as the meeting she was attending.

John Smith, a member of the Holland Human Relations Commission, challenged Holland to recognize diversity and provide it in the schools and government. “We need teachers who can relate to and be identified with the ethnic students,” he said.

He claimed several minority families have left Holland for other cities where they feel more comfortable.

“We should be open to teachers of color. If this community is an All-America city we need teachers of the same culture as the students. We need to open their eyes in the diversity of the staff,” Smith said.

Gary Rioder, an assistant principal at West Ottawa High School, said one of the biggest barriers is language. His own district, he said, needed to formulate a better link with the Asian community.

A hot line to report ethnic disrespect was suggested.

Gail Harrison of Grand Haven, involved with the North Ottawa Ethnic Diversity Alliance, claimed some ethnic officers may be part of the problem. “We need to develop a tracking of arrests and referrals to determine where the problem may be,” she said.

But Suarez said many Hispanics don’t want to become involved because of the harassment it could bring.

Second ward Councilman Victor Orozco told the participants “we need your help to make recommendations. We have differences without own ranks and we need to recognize that. Bring your recommendations to the committees…the Human Relations Commission. We must learn where the resources are located,” Orozco said.

“There is still lot of discrimination but we are focusing on it and we need citizen input. We still have a safe community,” he added.

The group agreed to meet again 7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 27 in the Boys and Girls Club, 435 Van Raalte Ave., to narrow the recommendations and determine how they will be presented to the schools, law enforcement agencies and other organizations.

The Holland Sentinel seeks to correct all errors. Mistakes will be corrected in this spot on page A2. If you spot an error, call an editor at 392-2311.

An article in Thursday’s Sentinel should have stated the Black River Bistro & Brewing Co. is at 13 W. Seventh St.
Comments by Gail Harrison of Grand Haven at Tuesday’s discussion about the juvenile justice system were about the system and programs in general, not about specific departments or individuals. The Sentinel regrets the errors