Invoice Would Increase Civil Rights Enforcement In N.H.’s Out of doors Recreation Areas

A bill in the New Hampshire Senate would require conservation officers to receive training in civil rights enforcement, anti-discrimination and de-escalation.

Concord Democratic Senator Becky Whitley currently says reports of racism or other discrimination in state parks and other recreational areas will be passed on to local police. The state, she says, does little to keep track of how often they occur.

“Incidents like this happen across the state, but of course they often go unreported due to fear and longstanding suspicion,” Whitley told NHPR.

She said she drew up the Inclusive Outdoors Act after New Hampshire employees reported to Audubon that they found stickers with white supremacist messages on their Concord trails last fall.

MP Maria Perez, a Milford Democrat who immigrated to the United States from El Salvador more than 30 years ago, told the Senate Natural Resources Committee on Tuesday that she felt unsafe after seeing this vandalism in one location where she likes to walk.

“The parks and recreation and police officers, as well as everyone participating in this training, will help us unite our communities and make us feel that they are welcome to all,” said Perez.

Perez added that when she was walking her dog in her own neighborhood, she was also told to leave the community because she is of Hispanic descent.

Asma Elhuni, a resident and activist from the upper valley, said she and other friends who are Muslim immigrants had similar experiences wearing hijabs during walks and exercises – including unsolicited questions from local police that made them feel unwelcome. Elhuni said the incidents were not reported for fear of retaliation.

“I train every day. I don’t go to my parks … because I look so different, I’m a Muslim in hijab and I pull myself out. Second, I’m worried about my safety, ”she said during the virtual committee testimony.

Elhuni compared the civil rights training for nature protection officers to the idea of ​​a restaurant with a sign saying “Immigrants are welcome here”.

“This bill will … do better to make us feel safer when we go to places we might not otherwise go,” she said. “This bill is kind of a way of letting us know that this is an inclusive community and that we are all welcoming.”

Following the racial vandalism in Audubon, some State Park and White Mountain National Forest officials told NHPR that they had not heard of similar incidents on their public land. Audubon officials said other land trusts they contacted had also experienced nothing similar.

Whitley, the main sponsor of the bill, said it was not clear if this reflected the reality of unreported incidents. She hopes this bill will normalize the reporting and follow-up of these issues, as victims may feel safer asking a park attendant for help than a police officer.

The proposal would codify that state conservation officers receive training on ethics, diversity and de-escalation and enforce anti-discrimination measures.

The changes were recommended by Governor Chris Sununu’s Police Commission Commission last year. An executive order coming from that commission will apply the new rules to nature conservation officers, but Whitley said it was important to anchor the change to the statute.

The Senate Natural Resources Committee has not yet made a recommendation to the entire Senate on the bill, but has not raised any major concerns at Tuesday’s hearing.

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