LANCASTER — The City Council unanimously introduced an ordinance to create the Lancaster Social Equity Commission whose goal is to help make the city a safer, more equitable place to live.
The commission requires a second approval before it is established. The commission will have seven “Commissioners of Change” and up to three alternates.
Their purpose, according to a description, “shall be to cultivate and sustain diversity and inclusion through accountability and civilian oversight by fostering a fair and equitable justice system with transparency in all forms of government in the City of Lancaster.”
“We can’t have a city where 20% of the population is feeling oppressed,” Mayor R. Rex Parris said.
Parris said he wants the city to find ways to do things that have never been done before, without being judgmental of the sheriff’s department.
“I think we just need to support the things that work and quit doing the things that we know don’t work. That’s what this group is all about,” Parris said.
Councilman Darrell Dorris liked the idea of an equity commission.
“I guess my concern was if it’s an equity commission it needs to still make sure it looks like our city,” Dorris said.
Parris said the proposed commission is diverse.
“I think it’s probably weighted more to African-Americans, but this thing has grown out of Black Lives Matter, so it should be weighted that way,” Parris said.
The proposed commission is not to be considered anti-police or an attack on the police.
“We’re going to be working on that with the sheriff’s department as to what changes, what adjustments, are we going to make so that we have a level of fairness that we haven’t had in the past?” Parris said.
Parris’ willingness to put energy toward the creation of the commission came from how well the Black Lives Matter demonstrators behaved in the city.
“They treated us with a great deal of respect because we treated them (with respect),” Parris said. “There was a much different protest behavior in Lancaster than there was in Palmdale. Let’s call it the way it was. And I think that has earned them a seat at the table.”
Parris thanked Deputy Mayor Heather Varden and Nigel Holly, a member of the Lancaster Homeless Impact Commission, for their work developing the proposed commission.
“I made it very clear,” Parris said. “I’m not interested in talking about things we can’t change. And I’m not interested in talking about things that aren’t going to happen. There has to be a clear path so that the entire community is improved by these efforts. And I think we’re going to be able to do that.”
Vice Mayor Marvin Crist said he would like to see the city do things for the community as a whole regardless of race.
“The criteria for something shouldn’t be based upon color,” Crist said. “I think someone famous said that. It’s the content of your character. I don’t think we’re addressing that.”
Crist supported creating the commission. He agreed with Dorris that it should represent the community.
“A couple of people from different colors should be represented so everybody can hear what it is,” Crist said. “I don’t want to just pacify people anymore. I think that’s the biggest problem that all communities have is that they have pacified people for way too long. It’s time to actually make some results.”
Youth leader Shawntwayne Cannon, a possible member of the commission, thanked the Council for its support.
“We have an opportunity to change the perspective on what it means to be a community leader in Lancaster,” Cannon said. “Today is the beginning of reimagining for our city in areas of public safety, civic engagement, and economic equity.”
Pastor Jacob Johnson of the Growing Valley Baptist Church in Lancaster applauded the council for moving forward with the proposed commission.
Johnson said the idea for the commission came from local African American pastors, primarily himself.
“The spirit of it is really to connect our community to deal with some of the challenges we have and then to help with some changes to come. ... This is a special opportunity for us to do something great,” Johnson said.
Youth leader Giovanni Pope, another possible member of the commission, said they are not trying to pacify anyone.
“We are trying to deliver to the community that they have not seen for a long time,” Pope said. “We are going to have to work hard to earn your trust but that is something we have tried to build over the past few months.”
Pope was part of the group that did the Black Lives Matter demonstrations in the city.
“We worked extremely hard to make sure that those did not disrupt the lives here in Lancaster but it got our point across,” Pope said.
Community member Fran Sereseres asked what would be accomplished with the commission.
“I have to see something, I have to hear something that is going to help the whole community,” she said.