Last Thursday, I attended the Humboldt County Human Rights Commission’s regular monthly meeting on the first Thursday of the month. This “regular” meeting of the HRC proceeded very differently from the “special” meeting they held in Garberville back in February, which I also attended. At that “special” meeting back in February, the HRC conducted no business. Instead, they listened to us for a couple of hours, and scribbled notes in magic marker on a big pad of paper.

This, most recent, meeting was very different. This time, we got the see the HRC in action, and after seeing what they do, I understand why the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors appreciates them so much. The HRC does a lot of work for the Board of Supervisors. In this particular meeting, we watched them hammer out language for a county ordinance modeled after so-called “sanctuary city” laws that other places have passed, or are now considering, in response to recent changes in Federal immigration policy. The volunteers of the HRC drafted the resolution at no charge, so that the Supervisors can get paid to grandstand about it. What a deal!

“Human Rights Commission” is a great sounding name, and if you read their charter you could imagine that they have awesome power, especially when you read the part about them investigating human rights abuses. The charter makes them sound like UN Peacekeepers, but the Humboldt County Human Rights Commission doesn’t work like that. The HRC is made entirely of laypeople, chosen, it seems, because they know how to give good meeting. They have no training in recognizing human rights abuses and no expertise in investigating them, because, as HRC Chairman Jim Glover put it, “That’s not what we do.”

I started going to these meetings because of an ongoing pattern of violence against poor and homeless people in Southern Humboldt. The HRC has received sworn testimony from people who claim they were assaulted, robbed and evicted by vigilantes in Southern Humboldt. These vigilantes handed out eviction notices bearing the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Department logo, and told their victims that they were acting on behalf of the Sheriff. I’ve seen a lot of corroborating evidence for these allegations, and investigative reporter Nicole Norris, aka Shakti, has been covering the story for KMUD.

These evictions were, at the time they occurred, just the latest violent attacks on poor and homeless people in Southern Humboldt, and concerned citizens were very careful to get statements from the victims, and sent those statements to the HRC, because this kind of violence has gotten so out of hand in Southern Humboldt. We demand an investigation into these crimes. We want to know who conducted these raids, and what, if any, legal authority they had to do so. We want to know how the Sheriff is involved, and why they have been so slow to investigate and prosecute these crimes, and we want the perpetrators of these crimes to be held accountable for their actions, and the victims compensated for their losses, because we don’t want vigilante violence in SoHum.

That’s why we went to the Humboldt County Human Rights Commission. We went to the HRC because of these specific human rights violations, and because we want to see them investigated. By now, it has been six months since these events took place, and two months since the special meeting where we complained about them not doing anything about the complaints made four months earlier. In the meantime, the HRC has gotten another dozen or so complaints of human rights abuse in Humboldt County, and another one walked in the door on the night of their most recent meeting. The HRC has investigated none of these complaints, and I doubt they would even know how.

I did get a copy of the HRC’s second draft of a new “proposed resolution” for “Houseless Emergency, Affordable Housing Zones and Sanctuary Parcels” which was at least partially motivated by testimony the HRC heard in Garberville back in February. The commissioners told us that the HRC had made similar recommendations to the Board of Supervisors in the past, which the Board of Supervisors repeatedly rejected. Commissioner Byrd Lochte told us that these recommendations had strained their relationship with the Board of Supervisors, because the Board of Supervisors just doesn’t want to hear it.

The way I see it, we have three overlapping problems here in Southern Humboldt:

The ongoing housing crisis in Humboldt County, which the Board of Supervisors doesn’t want to hear about, because the real-estate developers and property owners who pull their strings are too busy coming with ecstasy over all of the money they make from it.

As a result of the ongoing housing crisis, we have a lot of people living outdoors and in vulnerable situations, by necessity.

We have serious allegations against local vigilantes who attacked poor people in their camps, stole and destroyed the belongings of their victims, and evicted them from their camps without due process, using an eviction notice bearing the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Department logo.

This vigilante violence remains an ongoing problem in Southern Humboldt with deadly consequences. We demand an investigation into these crimes, and that the perpetrators be held accountable. We also want to know if anyone at the Sheriff’s Department gave these vigilantes permission to hand out eviction notices or in any way endorsed or allowed vigilantes to commit violent crimes against poor people in Southern Humboldt. These specific allegations of human rights abuse must be investigated and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Our Sheriff tells people that if someone breaks into your home, holds you at gunpoint and steals your money, you should call 911, even if you have a ton of weed around, because they want to catch violent criminals, and they’ll overlook the weed. Shouldn’t the Sheriff protect people who camp illegally, out of necessity, from violent vigilantes who raid their camps at least as much as they protect black market growers from the shady characters they associate with?

We need to know that the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Department is not protecting violent criminals within our community, and we need to know that they will uphold the law, and protect the peace by protecting the most vulnerable people in our community. Garberville is crawling with cops these days, and they spend most of their time harassing poor people, but we still don’t know who killed Stephany Gawboy, who set Ron Machado on fire or who’s been leading the vigilante raids into homeless camps in Southern Humboldt. It’s not enough for the Sheriff to be visible; the Sheriff has to arrest and prosecute the violent criminals who prey on the SoHum community, including those who prey on the poor and homeless.


John Hardin writes at Like You’ve Got Something Better to Do.