The Prince William Board of County Supervisors will create the county’s first commission on racial and social justice.
The commission, approved by the board Tuesday, will be tasked with delivering a report that examines “the state of racial and social justice for people of color” in the county and making recommendations to the county government. The commission’s initial focus will be on policing, the “provision of government services” and public education.
Raul Torres, the director of the county’s Human Rights Commission, initially recommended that a “task force” spend the next year working on the report and action items for the board, but Woodbridge District Supervisor Margaret Franklin argued that one year wouldn’t be enough time and that a commission’s work should continue beyond the initial report.
Her amendment to turn the task force into a standing commission passed 5-3 along partisan lines, as did the vote on the resolution at large. Democrats supported the amendment and resolution, while Republicans opposed them. In the first year, the commission would not add any expense to the county’s budget because existing county staff would be reassigned to it.
“I don’t think a year is realistic in dealing with a lot of these issues,” Franklin said at Tuesday’s meeting.
The idea for the task force – which will include representatives from the school division, county police and the Human Rights Commission – was originally a response to the protests across the county and country following the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police in May.
Democrats on the board argued that the commission would not target the county’s police force, but instead would work collaboratively to improve policing in the county and the department’s relationship with minority communities.
“This permeates our whole county, our whole society, our whole country, and it’s not going to go away in a year,” said Board Chair Ann Wheeler. “This is going to be an ongoing issue that we’re going to have to address and deal with and talk about to change our county.”
Republican Supervisors Pete Candland (Gainesville District), Jeanine Lawson (Brentsville) and Yesli Vega (Coles) said that the commission would be redundant because the Human Rights Commission is already tasked with investigating instances of racial discrimination by county government.
Candland questioned whether racial injustice was even an issue in the county, asking Democrats to point to specific examples of documented bias, to which Neabsco District Supervisor Victor Angry replied that he himself had been profiled by Prince William County police.
“How many times has the county government been successfully sued on racial discrimination? The answer is zero,” Laswon said. “I don’t think we have this need to create a whole new commission when we’ve got lots of measures in place that seem to be working effectively given the statistics.”
But Angry said that the county needs a commission that would take a more holistic look at county government and social injustice, as opposed to the reactive nature of the Human Rights Commission.
“There are potentially things set up, systems in place, that we feel need looking into, drilling down in to see what’s going on,” he said.
According to the staff report, the commission will “examine the state of racial and social justice in Prince William County,” explore best practices from other jurisdictions and conduct “a series of dialogues about racial justice within the community, other local governments, and other agencies and organizations.”
“The information collected will serve as equitable tools that will address the equity issues of who benefits, who is burdened, and who participates in the planning of our policies, programs, and services,” the report reads.