Indiana commission investigates 300 civil rights cases

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – In the past two weeks, the Indiana Civil Rights commission has found probable cause to believe racism played a role in the firing of two employees by different companies.

Those are just two of about 300 cases the state commission is working on right now.

“Everybody wants equal access to a quality education, everybody wants opportunity for employment, everybody wants a nice safe environment to live work and play,” said Jamal Smith, Indiana Civil Rights Commission executive director.

The commission has about 30 employees. It was established to ensure equal rights for all Hoosiers and visitors to the state of Indiana.

“We do say all the time that we are in the business of putting ourselves out of business,” Smith said.

But that won’t happen anytime soon. His staff handles between a 1,000 and 1,200 cases each year.

Indiana State law protects against discrimination in five areas – credit, education, employment, housing and public accommodation.

Smith says even though some of the issues being fought for today are the same as they were in the 50s and 60s, the way the commission advocates has changed.

“We’re trying to do as much as we can to meet the people wherever they are,” Smith said.

The commission has embraced the idea that most people now gather online. It has a Facebook page. A Youtube channel with an online show called “One Indiana,” and a website, where you can “file” a complaint with the click of a mouse. They’ve even given their logo a new look.

They hope that a strong online presence will help those in need, find the commission. But Smith, whose headed up the commission for about 4 years, says still a large part of the commission’s demographic doesn’t have access to a computer.

“It’s still equally important for us to put on our boots and a polo and go into the communities that we claim we serve,” he said.

Smith has a picture of Martin Luther King, Jr. on his wall, drawn by a student. He says when he’s out building partnerships, or listening to people across the state, he’s often asked: ‘Isn’t everything equal now since we have a black president?’

“The fact that someone would ask that question,” Smith says, “to me is enough reason to continue to fight the fight and talk the talk and walk the walk, and make sure that we continue to fight for the rights of everyone.”

Click here for more information or to get in contact with the Indiana Civil Rights Commission.

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