Deerfield Selectboard considers starting Humans Rights Commission to ensure town is inclusive

  • Deerfield Inclusion Group members Annie Curtis, Deborah Yaffe and Hannah Yaffe speak to the Deerfield Selectboard about issuing an anti-hate/discrimination statement Wednesday night. STAFF PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer
Monday, September 19, 2022

DEERFIELD — The Select Board is establishing an ad-hoc Human Rights Committee following several meetings in which residents asked the board to put out an anti-hate statement.

The Deerfield Inclusion Group, a community group formed by residents to promote diversity, equity and inclusion, requested the Select Board put out a public statement condemning all forms of hate following a string of reported events over the last two years, including homophobic slurs being carved into picnic tables at the Tilton Library, two different instances of swastikas found in town, and the destruction of Black Lives Matter yard signs.

“We felt it was very important for our town to acknowledge this and come out with a very public statement saying that discrimination of any form has no place in our community,” Annie Curtis, a member of the Deerfield Inclusion Group, told the Select Board on Wednesday. “The unintended consequence of not saying something is it sort of perpetuates these cycles of harm and violence, whether we mean to or not.”

The group presented the board with several statement examples from neighboring communities and provided a draft statement it could adopt, but Select Board members elected to create a statement in their own words and to pursue a potential permanent Human Rights Commission or committee.

“I fully believe the first step is public acknowledgment. Hate has no place in the community — it doesn’t,” said Select Board member Tim Hilchey. “I think we could use a committee … have it be a living, breathing part of the community. If something comes up, there’s a place to go.”

Select Board Chairman Trevor McDaniel and fellow member Carolyn Shores Ness said they were impressed by an anti-discrimination workshop they came across at the Massachusetts Municipal Association’s 2019 conference. A grant could help bring that workshop to Deerfield.

Several residents acknowledged that money may have stopped the board from hosting a workshop, but a lack of money shouldn’t have stopped members from putting out an anti-discrimination statement.

“Things should have been happening already,” said Lu Vincent, a member of the Inclusion Group, referring to discrimination of all forms as a “second pandemic” that has swept through the country. “Let’s do it now. We have a lot of resources. … Let’s not leave marginalized communities wondering if this is a safe place to live.”

As a first step to addressing hate and discrimination, the Select Board is convening an ad-hoc Human Rights Committee to pave the way forward.

“It’s something that can happen immediately,” Hilchey said. “We need to address this and make sure everyone’s clear that Deerfield is an inclusive place.”