NAACP exposes local discrimination
The number one purpose of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is to eliminate racial discrimination and segregation from all aspects of public life in America. The year is rushing to a close with many old issues unresolved. The greatest of these issues continues to be that of unemployment and/or underemployment of African-Americans in Alachua County and in the City of Gainesville. Affirmative Action is not the most important issue for black progress in Alachua, but it is part of a redistributive chain that must be strengthened if we are to confront and eliminate black poverty.
The status of Alachua County government's employment of African-Americans within County departments ranges from passable to zero. A study of the County's employment of African-Americans revealed that of the 108 African-Americans employed by the county, 58 are employed in the lower-paying positions and 39 of those employees are employed in Maintenance and Skilled Craft areas. The Fire Rescue Services Department (FRS), with 1997-98 funding of $23,173,544 and a staff of 274 (including reserves) does not employ any African-Americans. We are convinced that there is a strong tie-in between the failure to employ African-Americans and the verified "NIGGER" statement voiced by Lieutenant Baker of FRS. The lightness with which this derogatory statement was addressed by Chief Will May of FRS was an indication of the degree of commitment to the continuation of the present situation. [Fire Rescue Lt. Elwood Baker was discussing the police shooting of Larry Robinson with community activist Mike Garson. According to Garson, Baker said of the witnesses to the shooting, "They're nigger witnesses, they don't count." Garson lodged a complaint.] When addressed by the NAACP, the County Manager's report concentrated on the Lieutenant's level and did not address the absence of appropriate actions by the Chief of Fire Services.
The City of Gainesville's employment of African-Americans (774 white and 244 blacks) is as dismal as that of the county. The city's white employment increased by eight from 1997 to 1998, while the low black employment decreased by seven employees. And so the employment figures continue to show a marked difference. With the exception of the Protective Services (47 blacks) and Bus Drivers (41), the majority of African-Americans in the city government are employed in the areas of General Support staff (21), skilled craftsmen (31), and miscellaneous service (38). The Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU) employs the largest number of African-Americans in the job groups of General Support (15), skilled craftsmen (46), and miscellaneous service (4). The 1998 total number of employees for GRU is 601 white and 95 African-American.
The NAACP is aware of the injustices and questionable policies--patterns that are carefully crafted in the employment of both white and black women. And we are actively involved in a coalition that addresses those issues. The number of female department heads are few, but the female secretaries and clerks are numerous.
Local communities continue to be traumatized by the shooting death (July 26, 1998) of Larry Robinson of Archer by Sheriff Deputy Donald Hawkins. The trauma is intensified by the fact that the deputy knew the victim and could have arrested him on any day, that the many witnesses who live in Archer related different accounts of the incident, that the facts have been challenged by the use of police records including the police tape of the officer's calls and the explanation of the security safety of the officer's holster. The grand jury cleared the deputy through their finding of "no true bill." The grand jury's decision closed the case for the justice system, but there continue to be repercussions from the shooting and the trial. This was evident in the statement made by an employee of the County's Fire and Rescue Services.
The ongoing issues of education or the mis-education for black children of Alachua continues even through the summer months. The issue of the home delivery of pizza-companies won't deliver in the southeast and northeast areas of Gainesville--have many citizens asking the age-old question, HOW LONG? How long must the same issues occur? The NAACP has not received replies from letters sent to the owners of the pizza businesses.
There have been periods in our history when many obstacles were eliminated--it was in the sixties that legal barriers to black access to civil and voting rights were erased--that the War on Poverty lifted half of America's poor people out of poverty--and shortly thereafter the number of poor old people was more than cut in half.
In the NAACP, we have committed ourselves and the organization to the task of creating an infrastructure for lasting empowerment and true economic parity; to the task of promoting educational excellence and individual responsibility and to the developing of innovative and effective ways to involve young people. We will, without equivocation or timidity, reclaim our rightful place as the voice of African-Americans and others who believe in the power and the premise that all people are created equal.
"And Still We Rise"
Ruth Brown is the president of the Alachua County Branch of the NAACP.
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