Recently, the Juneau Human Rights Commission wrote a letter to the editor purporting to be an apology to those of us who associate as "The Men's Crisis Center" through our voluntary obligation to clean up a one-mile stretch of North Douglas Highway.
The apology, according to the letter signed by Mary Clair Tarlow-Bernstein, chair of the commission, was made because "These individuals feel we made incorrect assumptions..."
We would have let this issue drop long ago if it were about our wounded feelings.
But there is a far more serious concern that prompts our response: the conduct of an organization, created by the City & Borough Assembly, that felt justified in falsely accusing our group of condoning hate crimes against women.
On the basis of statements they found on a Web site, the commission members judged us guilty, failed to notify us of their charges, and then convinced the Juneau Borough Assembly to pass a resolution against our group.
Three weeks before the Juneau Human Rights Commission brought the issue before the Assembly, a front page story in the Juneau Empire and three follow-up letters to the editor put into the public record the names of six of us, all longtime residents of Juneau, who for the past 12 years have associated as a group for the purpose of cleaning up a highway.
The Juneau Human Rights Commission, created early last year, apparently had not found any issues to justify its existence until they seized the opportunity presented by the most tenuous of links between our group and the Web site. Imagining us to be sexist oppressors, they refused to let facts get in their way. Instead of contacting anyone associated with the "Men's Crisis Center" Adopt-a-Highway sign, they marched off to the Assembly.
In early December, after the Assembly withdrew its resolution against us, we met with the commission to address our concerns. Commission members admitted they could have contacted us, but chose not to before they went to the Assembly. We quickly demolished the "incorrect assumption" that we were responsible for the Web page - the basis of their allegations - by noting that the newspaper article, printed three weeks before they brought the issue to the Assembly, included an interview with the California songwriter who candidly admitted it was his work.
The commission's accusations then deteriorated from our group condoning hate crimes to us tolerating a Web site, to which we responded that most of us knew nothing about the Web site until it became a public issue. Grasping their last straw, several commissioners insisted we apologize to them because they believed that the name "Men's Crisis Center" mocked women's shelters.
It is impossible to prove that we were unaware of the Web site, or that we actually thought of the sign as self-deprecating humor, but no effort is needed to prove that, upon engaging in a verbal exchange with us, the commission found itself well short of human rights violations and within the murky zone of political correctness.
Sanctioned by the Juneau Assembly to protect human rights, the commission itself violated human rights in their efforts to condemn a group of men guilty of nothing more than cleaning up a one-mile section of highway.
As evidenced by their recent letter to the editor, this commission cannot admit it erred.
We have witnessed this kind of behavior in the highest office of the land and in those who have fallen to the lowest depths of addiction. It is the inability to accept personal responsibility, which nothing good comes of.
There are serious violations of human rights in this town that deserve to be revealed: inequities in pay, health care, employment, education, housing, incarceration, but almost all of whom experience these inequities are people of color or those of low income (and usually both). The members of this commission - three men and three women, all white and who appear comfortably middle class - seem ill equipped for their assignment. Without question they have proven themselves incapable of seeing beyond their ideological blinders.
Leaving the Juneau Human Rights Commission as it is currently constituted is dangerous for our community. We advise the Juneau Assembly to disband the commission and start over.
Peter Metcalfe, Kurt Iverson and Vance Sanders are members of the Men's Crisis Center, a group that cleans up garbage along a one-mile stretch of highway in Juneau.
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