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City Star contemporaneous reports
Jackson County Executive Katheryn Shields
thanks the Task Force
and introduces chair Vern Barnet to comment in its report,
at a news conference at the First Amendment Memorial at Ilus Davis Park
Sept 10, 2002
Letter of Transmittal
To the Honorable Katheryn Shields, Jackson County Executive, and to Residents of the Greater Kansas City Metropolitan Area:
Following September 11, 2001, Kathryn Shields learned of fresh reports of bias seemingly related to the terrorist events of that day, in Jackson County, the larger metropolitan area, and elsewhere. Because these reports continued, a hoc responses seemed inadequate, and additional measures were considered. On February 14, 2002, after preliminary discussions, in response to requests from Arab-Americans, Muslims, and others, Shields appointed us to a Diversity Task Force.
In announcing the effort, she stated that she wanted to remind the citizenry that diversity is America's strength, not a weakness. She said that “in this time of national unity, we must truly come together as Americans. We must resolve to respect each others' differences. Above all, we must take positive action to ensure that no one has to live in fear.”
We were asked to volunteer time to fulfill
Our report was requested by September 10, 2002. In setting this date, Shields said, “There are times when America must wage war against the enemies of freedom, but we must take great care not to wage war against ourselves, against our friends and neighbors. As Americans, we must fight discrimination, we must fight hate, and we must respect diversity. We owe this to ourselves, to our children, and to the men and women serving in our armed forces even now, to keep America not only the home of the brave, but always and utmost: the land of the free.”
We want the public to know that our work has been conducted with the support we requested from Shields and her office. We worked independently and at no time did anyone seek to interfere with how we best thought to respond to the charge we had received. We appreciate the concern, the vision, and the commitment Shields has shown to the residents of Jackson County and the entire region.
We take full responsibility for our work and offer it to her, to governments, to businesses, to non-profit organizations (and particularly religious groups), and to the residents of the region. We hope our study and recommendations will be worthy of serious consideration and early implementation.
While our work is directed to the Kansas City region, we are pleased that one of our sessions was filmed by network CBS-TV from New York and may be part of a broadcast in October. [[ The half-hour program was broadcast Oct. 13.] We hope that what we have done will serve as a model for other communities.
The Task Force is grateful for the extraordinary assistance it received from the Reverend Rodger Kube, who provided us with liaison with the Mayor's Task Force on Bias Intimidation and Harassment appointed by Mayor Kay Barnes, and other community consultation. He assisted us in our research into both the situation in our community and in the historical and global context for understanding our situation. Under our direction, he drafted materials for this report. His skills, sensitivity, and passion for understanding and justice in our community were perfectly aligned with the project.
All of our meetings were public, with three meetings especially devoted to hearing from the public, April 18 (at the University of Missouri, Kansas City), Aug 15 (at the Islamic Center of Greater Kansas City), and Aug 22 (at the Antioch branch of the Johnson County Library). On July 22, we met with Michael Tabman, the Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the Kansas City Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. We also met February 14, March 7, March 21, April 4, May 2, May 23, June 6, June 20, July 18, August 27, August 29, and September 3. In addition, in April, we established a web site to further enable public comment. Although we have devoted a great deal of time as volunteers to this project, we recognize that we have still only a basic understanding of the situation, and that many areas of bias affected by 9/11, such as within the black, Hispanic, and gay communities, deserve further exploration.
Diversity Task Force Report
1. The Jackson County Diversity Task Force was created by County Executive Katheryn Shields to examine the extent of tolerance in Jackson County and the metropolitan region following unending reports of incidents of bias, especially directed against Muslims, following the September 11 attacks. The composition and procedures of the Task Force are outlined in the Letter of Transmittal.
We as Kansas City area residents have many values in common, even as we can find strength in our diversity. Understanding the role of religion in American life is a critical to many problems attributed to diversity.
3. Our research shows that we do have a
problem with intolerance in the area, and that sometimes this problem is
dangerous. We also learned of many cases where the residents of the area
have reached out to those they considered under threat with offers of protection
and assistance. Nonetheless, intolerance is a daily reality for thousands
of Kansas City area residents and must be vigorously addressed.
5. We discovered that the instruments of government established to protect us and our freedoms are themselves on occasion threats to those very freedoms. In these times of uncertainty and fear, Kansas City area residents must be assured that their civil and religious liberties are being guarded and guaranteed.
6. We have identified resources which can be accessed by religious institutions, governments, media, businesses, non-profit organizations, and the residents, to further understanding among various populations in the area.
7. Our study has led us to make three recommendations, which are detailed on pages 5-7, immediately preceding the Report proper. In brief, those recommendations are:
Recommendations from the Jackson County Diversity Task Force
These recommendations are presented to Jackson County Executive, Katheryn Shields, who authorized the formation of this Task Force, and to the citizens of the metropolitan Kansas City area. The recommended plan is based on the findings and research of the Task Force into the state of diversity and tolerance in the metropolitan Kansas City area following the events of September 11, 2001.
The Diversity Task Force perceives this moment in our history as an opportune time to both affirm the diversity of our metropolitan population, and to bolster the consideration of the complex set of social, religious and political issues that face our wider community.
The recommended plan consists of three major elements:
A. A Crisis Response Plan is proposed to protect the physical safety, and the civil and religious liberties of vulnerable ethnic and religious minority communities in the event of further terrorist activities at the local or national level. While the identity of any possible terrorist cannot be known, and future terrorist activities cannot be foreseen, there is predictability about the ‘backlash’ that targets innocent people.B. A Public Education Plan is proposed to continually promote a stronger “community consciousness” about the importance of pluralism and tolerance though a fuller understanding of and greater appreciation for the diverse ethnic and religious communities in the metro area. Wider cooperation between local, state, regional and federal governmental jurisdictions, law enforcement agencies, religious communities, private corporations, and not-for-profit institutions needs to be encouraged. The recruitment of local media outlets to be partners in creating a long term, metro wide campaign to promote tolerance is deemed essential to educating the public.
1. The Task Force recommends the following action steps for governmental crisis management planners and law enforcement agencies be completed within 90 days:
Ø creation of a catalogue of the religious institutions (mosques, gurdwaras, temples, synagogues, churches, etc.) where harassment and violence are most likely to occur.
Ø creation of a directory of contact persons within those religious institutions to insure definitive communication between them and governmental and law enforcement bodies.
Ø affording the opportunity to vulnerable religious institutions for security advice, audits, and safety checks.
Ø development of a set of emergency procedures for the protecting the physical security of those institutions, including evacuation plans.
Ø creation of a directory of specific contact persons within governmental and law enforcement agencies to be distributed to religious institutions and their contact persons.
2. The Task Force recommends that the Mid America Regional Council, within its purpose of regional governmental cooperation, be requested and empowered to coordinate the elements of the crisis plan listed above.
3. The Task Force recommends that faith communities and religious institutions, in conjunction with civil liberties organizations, develop a network to provide immediate support for vulnerable ethnic and religious communities in the event of further terrorist activities. A ‘buddy system’ among congregations and institutions needs to be created.
4. The Task Force recommends that Kansas City media outlets, including newspapers, radio, and television:
Ø provide opportunities for public service announcements to promote understanding and tolerance. The emphasis would be on the democratic and pluralistic values of America we are currently defending.
Ø cultivate relationships with authoritative spokespersons from within the ethnic and religious communities to deliver credible messages about the diversity of religion and the need for tolerance in Kansas City.
5. The Task Force call upon the Kansas City Area Joint Terrorism Task Force to develop and disclose its crisis management plans designed to reassure citizens from at-risk communities that their safety is being protected, and to include the steps listed above in such a plan.
1. The Task Force recommends the following actions be undertaken by governmental bodies and law enforcement agencies:
Ø declare their municipality or jurisdiction to be "Hate Free Zones" through formal legislative resolutions.
Ø provide continual leadership in forming public opinion through making religious understanding, civil liberties and tolerance a priority, including devoting website pages to those concerns, providing materials for citizens to reference, publicly denouncing bias harassment and hate crimes, and convening quarterly public meetings for citizen input about religious, diversity and tolerance issues.
Ø encourage public and private financial support for agencies working on these issues.
Ø assist law enforcement officials in developing the ability to understand religious differences, in making ongoing contact with minority religious and ethnic communities, and to respond to the victims of hate crimes with appropriate knowledge and sensitivity.
Ø provide law enforcement officials with a pocket-sized card developed by the Anti-Defamation League to help them determine if, in fact, a hate crime has occurred.
Ø address the issue of due process of law and jury bias in civil and criminal cases where one of the parties might be discriminated against because of national origin or religious background.
2. The Task Force recommends the following actions to faith communities and religious institutions:
Ø support the establishment of a metropolitan wide religious umbrella organization or network to encourage consideration of increased understanding, religious liberties, and other issues of common interest.
Ø revitalize the Jewish, Muslim, Christian dialogue forum.
Ø respond to distorted statements about religious affairs made by nationally known religious leaders and personalities.
Ø inform new and emerging religious minority community members about their religious and civil liberties using materials developed by the American Civil Liberties Union and adapted to local usage.
Ø encourage involvement by their members, and through them their places of employment, in inter-religious programming and understanding through the "Passport" program developed by the Kansas City Interfaith Council.
Ø teach their members about tolerance, diversity and religious liberties.
3. The Task Force recommends the following action to all media outlets:
Ø develop extended programming plans to promote a "community consciousness" of the importance of diversity, tolerance and religious and civil liberties as a strength of our metropolis.
4. The Task Force recommends the following actions to not-for-profit agencies, specifically those who are engaged in diversity efforts, tolerance building, and advocating civil and religious liberties:
Ø create a widely inclusive interagency forum for dialogue, cooperation, collaboration, and keeping abreast of emerging and continuing issues and common interests.
Ø develop methods for regular communications with law enforcement and crisis management agencies to facilitate cooperation and collaboration.
C. A Tolerance Monitoring Plan is proposed to build the capacity to monitor the state of tolerance in the greater Kansas City metropolitan area.1. The Task Force recommends the following actions for consideration:
Ø facilitation of a conversation with existing not-for-profit organizations with the current mission of promoting diversity, tolerance and civil and religious liberties about adding a monitoring/clearinghouse role to their programs. (We recommend a non-governmental agency because of the distrust of government we have heard in our public meetings and interviews. The multitude of jurisdictions in the metro area would logically point to the Department of Justice, but it is not fully trusted by minority religious communities.)
Ø provide financial resources, or assist in encouraging philanthropic organizations to invest resources, to make the addition of such a clearinghouse feasible for an organization.
Ø establish protocols for recording bias intimidation and harassment incidents that are not ‘illegal’ but should be part of the community’s awareness.
Ø create and disseminate an annual "report card" on the state of tolerance in the metropolitan area.
Ø develop a metro wide "hotline" mechanism for reporting bias and harassment incidents.
Kansas City Star stories The Kansas City Star 2002-04-18 Page: B2
The Jackson County Diversity Task Force will have a public hearing today at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
The task force was created by County Executive Katheryn Shields after incidents of discrimination and intolerance took place after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.
The hearing will be from 7 to 9 p.m. in Room 106 of the University Center, 5000 Holmes Road.
Anyone who has experienced or observed acts of discrimination or intolerance based on religion, ethnicity, race, sexual orientation or disability are asked to share their experience with the task force.
The Kansas City Star 2002-04-18 Page: B3
County leader extols progress, diversity
GLENN E. RICE
Jackson County Executive Katheryn Shields on Wednesday used her third state of the county address to highlight accomplishments over the past year and outline her hopes for the future. Those accomplishments included the creation of a mental health court, a countywide strategic initiative involving businesses and community groups, improvements in recording real estate deeds and the formation of a diversity task force.
Shields stressed the importance of diversity and racial and religious tolerance. " ... as long as we respect diversity, treasure our liberties and seek to do justice, the state of the county and the state of the country will remain strong and our future bright."
Shields also reflected on the Sept. 11 attacks.
"We meet (today) in a world profoundly changed by events both tragic and heroic," Shields said. "In the midst of change, it is important that we resolve to keep our commitments, to do our jobs well and to plan wisely for the future."
Shields, who is seeking a third term as county executive, said the county has had problems but has met those challenges and found solutions.
The county has had recent problems collecting property taxes.
Shields said the county has made strides, including an equitable compensation package for county employees and a service allowing businesses to use the Internet to bid on county business.
Shields said she planned to present a proposal to the Legislature that would allow residents to pay their taxes using the Internet.
Before the speech, a few people protested outside and inside the courthouse.
They complained that a county citizens review commission had violated the Missouri Open Records Law. A Jackson County judge fined a county employee and two commission members in the dispute.
Victor Callahan, chairman of the Legislature, said he gave one of the protesters his seat and the members of the Sheriff's Department asked the protesters to leave the chambers before Shields' speech. The two protesters stayed, but sheriff's deputies confiscated their protest signs.
Callahan, a frequent critic of Shields, said the protesters had a right to be there.
Shields said she favored removing their protest signs.
The Kansas City Star 2002-08-23 Page: B3
Diversity task force meets
The Jackson County Diversity Task Force - charged with investigating bias against area Muslims in the wake of Sept. 11 - met Thursday night to lay the groundwork for a report the group will issue next month. After a well-attended meeting at the Islamic Center of Greater Kansas City last week, Thursday's gathering at the Johnson County Library branch in Merriam did not draw any public comment.
The task force's report, timed to coincide with the first anniversary of the terrorist attacks, will address the group's findings that bias against Muslims and people mistaken for Muslims spiked and became more widespread after the attacks. At the same time, many in the community became fiercely supportive of their Muslim neighbors, friends and co-workers.
The task force is still taking public comment by phone at (816) 444-0494 and (913) 649-5114, and by e-mail at DTF@cres.org
The Kansas City Star
2002-09-10 Page: B8
Task force notes intolerance in KC
MARY SANCHEZ The Kansas City Star
Intolerance is a daily reality for thousands of Kansas Citians and must be vigorously addressed, according to a report to be released today by the Jackson County Diversity Task Force. The 12-member task force was organized by Jackson County Executive Katheryn Shields after reports of bias locally, especially against Muslims, following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
The group held public hearings and created a Web site for public comments. It also studied incidents of bias and hatred locally as well as an outpouring of support for affected groups.
The task force will disband after the report's release, and the group does not have any legal powers, said task force member Syed E. Hasan, who is active in the area's Muslim community.
"But, it is my firm belief the report will make a difference," said Hasan, a geology professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. "Hopefully, things will be better because of it."
The post-Sept. 11 experiences of the Jewish, Sikh, Hindu and Muslim communities in the Kansas City area were assessed in the report.
The 20,000-member Muslim community faced the greatest number of incidents involving bias, intimidation, harassment and violence, including telephone and letter threats and assaults, the report said.
The report said a letter sent to a Muslim in Kansas City read, "Get out of the United States of America. You have no loyalty or patriotism for the USA. Get out and live with your Arab friends."
Members of the area's Sikh community endured verbal attacks, rudeness and harassment after the attacks, according to the report of Charanjit Hundal, president of the Midwest Sikh Association, which represents more than 1,000 people.
Sikhism is not related to Islam, but rather began as an alternative to Hinduism and Islam, the report said.
Because Sikhs believe hair to be a symbol of holiness, they do not cut it and wear a turban to cover their heads.
They said their turbans made them the target of extra searches at airports after Sept. 11.
"Ironically, Sikhs look more like Osama bin Laden, with his turban and long beard, than most Muslims or Arab-Americans do," Hundal told the task force.
The Jewish community did not experience an escalation of threats, and no Jewish person or institution locally had an act of violence after the attacks, reported Marvin Szneler, executive director of the Kansas City Jewish Community Relations Bureau/American Jewish Committee.
But subtle and not-so-subtle anti-Semitic remarks and actions are a daily reality for the 20,000-member Jewish community, he said.
"Office colleagues brag about 'Jewing-down' the salesperson from whom they purchase their new SUV, or the man wearing a yarmulke gets a strange look from a store clerk," Szneler reported.
The task force made three recommendations:
A crisis response plan to counter backlash in the case of further terrorist acts locally or nationally. The plan should protect the physical safety, the civil and religious liberties of vulnerable ethnic and religious minority communities.
A public education plan to continually promote a stronger "community consciousness" toward diverse ethnic and religious communities.
A tolerance monitoring plan to track tolerance in the Kansas City area.
Included within the three recommendations are ones for media, nonprofit agencies, faith communities and religious institutions, government and law enforcement.
The report can be found at www.jacksongov.org. Choose "news," then "media releases."
The Kansas City Star
2002-09-11 Page: 4
Religions unite to grieve and to find understanding
HELEN T. GRAY The Kansas City Star
After Sept. 11, Americans flocked to houses of worship; prayed and sought solace in words of scripture. But within months, religious practices had returned to pre-attack levels. In Kansas City, however, there was one exception - interfaith activity.
The catalyst was ignorance about the religion of the group accused of the attacks.
"When news reports identified the terrorists as Muslim, Kansas Citians with Muslim friends knew they (the friends) were in danger and began to seek ways to respond to prejudice, including arranging programs for the public to learn about Islam," said Vern Barnet, interfaith leader and expert in world religions.
The first programs soon after the attacks brought together government leaders and representatives of many faiths to express a common grief.
The Jackson County Diversity Task Force, appointed by County Executive Katheryn Shields, began investigating the state of tolerance following Sept. 11.
"Now more than ever we must come together to respect our diversity," Shields said.
Coincidence played a part in the interfaith cooperation. Kansas City's first areawide interfaith conference had been planned for October.
It just happened that a press conference announcing the event, called "The Gifts of Pluralism," had been planned for Sept. 11. The press conference went on as scheduled, with footage of the attacks replayed on a television set behind the speakers.
About 250 people showed up, including government and civic leaders not originally expected.
"Coming so closely on the heels of 9-11, the interfaith conference was very well attended," said Donna Ziegenhorn, a writer and graduate student who has been involved in interfaith activities.
"Since 9-11, there's a real sense of urgency. The future of the world depends on how well we can know each other from different cultural and religious backgrounds. It's no longer just a nice idea but an imperative for the future."
The Islamic Center of Greater Kansas City reports a marked increase in visitors. The usual two groups per month has doubled since Sept. 11, and more individuals have come. About 300 people attended an open house in January, and another one is planned for Saturday.
"A lot of people are genuinely trying to learn more about Islam," said Bhaa Elashkar, office manager at the center.
Interfaith activity shows no signs of waning. Among the spinoff programs from the interfaith conference is the Passport Program and the Mosaic Stories Project.
The Passport Program encourages people to take advantage of the many opportunities to learn about faiths practiced in Kansas City. Participants holding an Interfaith Passport receive visa stamps when they attend activities related to the different faiths.
The Mosaic Stories Project, led by Ziegenhorn, collects personal stories from people of various faith backgrounds. The stories will be woven into a dramatic production that reflects the cultural enrichment of the community.
"Nothing bonds people more deeply than sharing their life experiences," Ziegenhorn said. "So I hope that we would come to have deepened relationships among people of different backgrounds."
To get an Interfaith Passport and for more on the Mosaic project and other interfaith activities, go to www.cres.org.