Concretely championing civil rights means keeping the Civil Rights Commission independent

As someone with experience working with the Municipality of Princeton’s Civil Rights Commission, both in the capacity of formerly chairing the municipal Youth Advisory Committee and serving as a board member for Not in Our Town Princeton, I understand the importance of the Civil Rights Commission’s contributions to local justice-oriented efforts. On Jan. 8, the municipality introduced Ordinance #2024-01, which seeks to consolidate the Civil Rights Commission, the Human Services Commission, and the Affordable Housing Board into a Community Services Advisory Committee.

After performing side-by-side comparisons of the ordinances that have established the independent Civil Rights Commission since 2016 to the introduced ordinance proposing a Community Services Advisory Committee, I am worried that the consolidation would dilute the municipality’s commitment to civil rights.

Anti-discrimination work is a key aspect of the role of the Civil Rights Commission. In fact, the first objective of the Civil Rights Commission in the ordinance that established the body in 2016 is to “work cooperatively among people and groups to aid in the elimination discrimination between people based on ascribed characteristics including but not limited to race, creed, color, national origin, ancestry, age, marital status, civil 29 union status, domestic partnership status, affectional or sexual orientation, genetic information, pregnancy, sex, gender identity or expression, disability or atypical hereditary cellular or blood trait of any individual, or because of the liability for service in the Armed Forces of the United States or the nationality of any individual.”

This phrase indicates that the Civil Rights Commission’s primary role is to protect people in our municipality across an extensive range of identities. Even the phrase “civil rights” has a foundational anti-discriminatory connotation.

Another concern of mine is that, although the consolidation ordinance (rather vaguely) mentions equity, it fails to include many of the concrete, crucial goals that the Civil Rights Commission’s ordinances do. One of the Civil Rights Commission’s objectives is to “[d]evelop community education programs that foster open and effective dialogues about race relations.” The word “race” is not mentioned once in the Community Services Advisory Committee’s introduced ordinance.

In 2020, the municipality passed Resolution 20-195, declaring racism as a public health crisis. The consolidation of the Civil Rights Commission into a body without an explicit written commitment to anti-racism would be a step backward for the municipality’s acknowledgment of and fight against systemic racism.

Princeton prides itself on being a safe place. Even the simple existence of a Civil Rights Commission in our town represents a desire to systematically uplift all Princeton residents, regardless of background, to thrive here. Keeping the Civil Rights Commission as an independent body would represent an explicit municipal commitment to championing civil rights, aligning with our long-standing values.

Rio Baliga