The never-ending effort to free KC of prejudice
The Kansas City Star
During Black History Month the nation celebrates the civil rights movement, which led to laws attacking discrimination and segregation in America.
But exclusion, bigotry and exploitation still occur despite the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and dozens of others federal, state and local laws. Together, the laws try to ensure equality and opportunity in housing, employment and public accommodations.
The Kansas City Human Relations Department’s Civil Rights Division strives to help people who suspect they’ve been treated unfairly. Last year, the department started an anti-discrimination program called “Report it, Don’t Ignore It!”
It was funded with an $85,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and in partnership with Phillips-West Public Relations of Kansas City.
Billboards went up. Ads aired on radio and television, and were placed in area newspapers. Inserts were put in water bills.
Brochures were printed, T-shirts, cups and buttons, and other material were made and an 11 a.m., 30-minute, call-in radio program was begun Saturdays on KPRT-AM with Bob Marley’s song, “Get Up, Stand Up,” as the theme.
The radio program has been successful, ongoing, and podcast on City Hall’s website. Expect the billboards to go back up this spring, said Mickey Dean, assistant director of the Human Relations Department. Overall reports of discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations tripled to 70 to 80 calls a month.
“We’re encouraging people to file complaints. That’s what we’re here for,” said Dean, whose department started after the 1968 riot in Kansas City, following the assassination of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
He said only about 10 percent of workplace cases are reported. “We tell them if they don’t report it, nothing will change,” Dean said.
“Some of the things that occur in the workplace need to be addressed,” he said. The “Report it, Don’t ignore it” program “is to make citizens aware that these are your rights, and you have a right to file.”
“One of the things that we hear the most is, ‘I didn’t know that,’” Dean said. “Everyone knows you can’t discriminate against people because of their race, but what about no dreadlocks policies?”
Complaints led to cases being filed, and two companies removing the dreadlocks ban from their dress codes.
“A lot of people didn’t know they have avenues,” said Carrie Stapleton, president of Phillips-West. “It’s a pretty great learning experience for my team.”
The Civil Rights Division upholds the city’s anti-discrimination ordinance based on race, national origin, sex, religion, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, familial status (housing), marital status (housing) and age (employment).
Apartments can’t discriminate against adults with children or segregate them to certain floors. Persons with disabilities have surpassed race in filing fair housing complaints, Dean said.
Race remains on top in employment discrimination complaints. But as the population gets older, age discrimination complaints keep rising.
Racial discrimination complaints are tough to prove. But with age discrimination, there is more direct evidence.
Not all complaints filed with the department lead to action. But each one is investigated.
The department is pursuing a discrimination case against a Main Street pizza restaurant whose deliveries stop at Troost Avenue on the east but extend to Mission Road to the west.
“Overall it’s to make sure there’s equal access in housing, employment and public accommodations and to try to eliminate discrimination in Kansas City,” Dean said.
The Obama administration has devoted more resources to discrimination cases than the Bush administration did.
“That in turn helps us,” Dean said. “There’s an atmosphere out there that you can’t do that.”
The push is to free the city of bigotry and chronicle a better history for everyone.
Reach Lewis W. Diuguid at 816-234-4723 or send email to Ldiuguid@kcstar.com.