Ferguson incident prompts La Crosse to create new commission

Human Rights Commission is combination of two former La Crosse committees

Since the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, we’ve seen hundreds of protests and plenty of violence. The city of La Crosse doesn’t want to see any of that happen in its city, so the city council is taking a proactive approach.

The La Crosse City Council voted to create the Human Rights Commission earlier this month. A group of seven community members who will be focusing on educating and talking with the public about discrimination in both the community and in workplace, including City Hall.

La Crosse Mayor Tim Kabat is eager to see what a soon-to-be-formed racial equality committee can accomplish in his city.

“That Human Right Commission has a big job, because these are not things that you’re just going to solve with a couple of meetings or whatever, but it’s important that we try, and it’s important that we provide these opportunities,” Kabat said.

The commission’s goal will be to educate the people of La Crosse on all types of discrimination. It will work with local groups to eliminate discrimination and inequality within the city.

“We have to give a place for people to talk about these things and come forward with ways for how we can improve our city. Because we really want to have a city that is an open city for everybody,” Kabat said.

According to 2010 numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau, La Crosse’s population is made up of 2 percent Hispanic or Latino, 2.3 percent black or African-American, 4.9 percent Asian and almost 90 percent white residents.

Kabat said the workforce inside city hall needs to be representative of those demographics, but right now, that’s not the case.

“We’ve made progress towards that, we’ve got a ways to go, though. Especially when you look at our management level positions. It’s very male and it’s very white,” Kabat said.

Kabat said one specific department he would like to see become more diverse is the police department. “The police force is a lot different than how the community looks,” he said. “I mean, they’re just very different.”

Kabat said the protests and violence around the nation is causing people in his own backyard to question police officers.

“When I’m out in the community, and especially talking about what’s going on at the national level, there is mistrust,” Kabat said.

A racial discrimination lawsuit was filed against the La Crosse Police Department earlier this year. When asked how those allegations played into the decision of making the Human Rights Commission, Kabat said he thinks it pointed out the city has work to do.

The commission has its first meeting in February. One of the first topics on their agenda is education on fair housing.