Human rights panel needs Moline residents to help attack injustice

Six months after it was back in action following a six-year hiatus, the Moline Human Rights Commission (MHRC) is asking Moliners to help the city identify and address issues of inequality, racial injustices and discrimination.

The seven-member panel, appointed by Mayor Sangeetha Rayapati on Aug. 31, 2021, has created the Moline Human Rights Community Questionnaire which is now available to Moline residents on the city’s website and social media platforms. 

The questionnaire asks respondents to share their experiences in areas such as equal employment opportunity, fairness in housing and other services, as well as to share instances of potential discrimination or harrassment they’ve experienced.

It also is collecting demographic and geographic data to help the commission tailor future programs and educational opportunities based on areas of need, the MHRC said in a recent news release.

For example, the anonymous survey (which took a QCBJ reporter about a half an hour to complete) asks residents to identify such information as their ward, age range, ethnicity and sexual identity.

Respondents to the Survey Monkey questionnaire also are being asked about any instances of harassment or discrimination they have experienced and/or whether they have observed discrimination or harassment instances or patterns in Moline.

In addition, respondents are asked to give Moline a letter grade from A through F about issues including the community’s tolerance of people who have different values or lifestyles, access to affordable and equitable housing, access to a quality education for all, and efforts to combat racism and prejudice.

The 13-question survey also seeks to quantify “How well protected do you think people’s human rights are in Moline when discrimination and harassment happens?”

“We want to be able to use the data we collect to be proactive, not just reactive,” said Betsy Zmuda-Swanson, who chairs the MHRC, which was disbanded in 2015 and recreated last year. “It will allow us to hear directly from residents what concerns they have and in what areas. We are in the process of setting up our goals and in order to address the issues people care about, we need to hear from them.”

In addition to Ms. Zmuda-Swanson, members of the panel appointed by the mayori are: Diokel Gning, Natividad Keim, Adrian Ritchie,Tionn Carter, Jose Castro and Matt Stoefen.

The group has been meeting since October 2021, Ms. Rayapati said during her state of the city speech last month. She told the crowd at downtown Moline’s Spotlight Theatre & Events Center on Monday, March 14, “The folks serving on the HRC are already making a difference, using their budget to provide statements of solidarity with our residents of color who have been targets of white supremacist literature on their doorsteps. I encourage Moliners to stand together by picking up a free ‘Hate Has No Home Here’ yard sign at City Hall or the library and engaging with their neighbors to let destructive forces know they are not welcome here,” she said. 

Purchasing more than 100 of those yard signs in multiple languages was one of the commission’s first acts, Ms. Rayapati said. The “No Hate” sign campaign came in response to several Moline neighborhoods being targeted with white supremacist literature in late December. The signs are free for any resident to pick up from City Hall, the Moline Public Library or the city’s Public Works building. 

“We are sending the message that those views are not shared by our people, they are not welcome and they will not be tolerated,” Ms. Rayapati said during her address. “Help us send the message that hate truly has no home in Moline.”

Ms. Zmuda-Swanson said her goal for the commission is to be out in front of issues, which is why gathering as many responses to the community survey as possible is important.

“Since we are a new commission, in many ways we are starting from scratch,” she said. “We know there are issues we aren’t aware of, and we want to hear about them.”

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