Will pool promote racial harmony?

By Gus Bode

In April 2000, Carbondale Police officers responding to a block party used Mace on scores of black partygoers, prompting more than 60 people to file formal complaints with the city, alleging excessive force and discrimination.

In the aftermath of this ugliness, the SIU/Carbondale Task Force on Race and Community Relations proposed forming the Human Relations Commission to act a board with the directive of finding ways to improve the relationships among individuals and groups of different racial, religious and ethnic backgrounds.

Despite differences of opinion over how much power the commission should have, the City Council signed off on the commission and it held its first meeting in April 2003.

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After the initial arguments over subpoena power and other operational issues were settled and the HRC became an advisory board, the commission faded from the view of many in the community until last October, when the commission decided to form “study circles,” small groups of community members who would meet to discuss ways to improve community relations.

These study circles, otherwise known as Carbondale Conversations for Community Action, were approved and funded by the City Council last November. The groups have met a number of times since then, but until very recently it appeared they had made little progress toward tangible reform.

This may change, though, if members of the study circles get their wish.

Last week, members of the Swimming Pool Action Committee, the most recent in the long list of descendants spawned from the original Task Force on Race and Community Relations, discussed ways to bring a public swimming pool to Carbondale.

We agree that a public swimming pool is needed in Carbondale, but we wonder if the city can afford such a project in the immediate future and we worry that the various commissions, committees and conversations that were formed in response to the April 2000 incident have lost sight of their original purpose.

These groups would not exist if not for the alleged racial insensitivity on the part of the Carbondale Police Department when it responded to the party. The purpose of forming the HRC was to address grievances regarding that incident and any future alleged discrimination and to act as a mediator in disputes regarding racial issues.

While a swimming pool would provide much-needed recreation to people of all backgrounds, we wonder if this is the best way to address any racial strife that still exists in our community, which is the original goal of the HRC and the study circles.

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While a city the size of Carbondale should have a public pool, are a few months of swimming each year really the most important issue in regards to minority relations?

And even if the study circles and the City Council decides that a pool is the solution, how will it be funded?

While we agree that a public swimming pool would be good for the community, we fear that the HRC has lost sight of its original purpose and has taken the easy way out instead of taking on the difficult task of undertaking meaningful reform to promote racial harmony.

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