PRINCETON: Civil Rights Commission should be independent


Jacqueline L. Swain, Princeton
The following is a letter to the Princeton mayor and council: 
I thank mayor and council for considering the reinstatement of the Civil Rights Commission as an independent agency. I am a former member of the commission directed by Joan Hill. I’ve also used their services.
In 72 years I have experienced a good deal of racial discrimination and/or harassment. One incident stands out. A Sicklerville construction company was hired by the borough to construct/reconstruct Griggs Corner. While it was a gaping hole, the company parked their trucks in the middle of Witherspoon Street from Hulfish to Paul Robeson Place. As I walked home for lunch one afternoon, the workers were sitting around in their trucks and on the steps of the adjacent buildings having lunch. As I passed, one of the truck drivers sitting high in his truck started loudly singing a song about “Jigger boos.” The other workers joined the chorus. I could not believe my ears.
Since they were hired by the borough, I called the borough to make a report. Surely someone would assure me they would investigate. My call was transferred to many extensions. Finally, I was able to speak with someone and this is what I was told: “walk another way,” or “just ignore them.”
Needless to say, following this exchange I was seething. I called Ms. Hill and told her my experience. She, too, felt their response was unacceptable. I also called my pastor to alert him that others in the John Witherspoon neighborhood more than likely had been or would be harassed as they passed the site. My concern was that if one of the young men from the neighborhood was approached in this way, there would be bloodshed. My pastor also contacted Ms. Hill.
When I returned to my office I wrote a letter to the mayor of the borough. However, before I could mail my letter, Ms. Hill, whom everyone knew was a “no nonsense” director, had taken care of the matter. The next day she checked with me to see if I had problems going or from work. I had none. She told me that the contractor was put on notice that further incidents would mean they would be off the job.
The point is, I had complete confidence in going directly to the Civil Rights Commission with my concern, not through another borough department. While I know times have changed for the better to some degree, many people in the community would prefer going directly to an independent Civil Rights Commission that they know will address all claims in a timely manner and has their back.
I’ve heard that “This is Princeton. We don’t need an independent Civil Rights Commission. Princeton does not have these problems.” We know this is not true. This is why I am appealing to mayor and council to reinstate the independent status of the Civil Rights Commission whose sole charge would be matters of civil rights. 
Jacqueline L. Swain 
Princeton 