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Anti-bias Task Force sees progress in campaign for respect and civility

Southold Town’s Anti-bias Task Force has seen success since launching its respect and civility campaign in November, co-chair Sonia Spar told Town Board members at Tuesday’s work session.

The group’s goals have included reinforcing the relationship between the community and police. It held three Synergy events in Greenport, Peconic and Mattituck, which acted as forums where community members and officials could discuss issues and concerns.

“The community is participating,” Ms. Spar said of the forums. The events have had an effect because community members will approach them and alert them to concerns they have, including on associations some make between immigration and crime.

“It is important that members of our community can denounce crime without have the fear that they will be denounced [themselves],” Ms. Spar said. The task force has constant contact with the Southold Police Department so that all are aware of any incidents, she said.

Suffolk County’s Human Rights Commission has reached out to the task force to share its best practices, showing the Southold group’s effectiveness, Ms. Spar said. The group also stays in touch with other East End anti-bias committees and has worked with local school districts to be preventive, not reactive, when it comes to bias.

Recently, community members have reached out with concerns about Confederate flags being flown around town and messages they might suggest if they are not in context of history, Ms. Spar said. Without context, some feel it is a symbol of a “racist agenda,” she said.

The task force marks its respect and civility campaign with a blue ribbon and those who wear it show an understanding of the goal to respect others in the community, Ms. Spar said.

Earlier this year, the members had the idea to design and distribute stickers that would carry the initiative’s message after learning of Greenport business owners had expressed concern about incidents in which people were made to feel unwelcome. Ms. Spar said some businesses were concerned that if they chose not to display the sticker, they’d be boycotted. But Ms. Spar said that is not the intent is not to create controversy.

“We don’t want to force anybody to use that sticker,” she said, adding that it is a personal choice to send a message. Councilman Jim Dinizio noted that businesses often prefer to appear “vanilla” to customers.

The task force will host its annual Unity Picnic on Aug. 12 from noon to 4 p.m. at the Peconic Lane Community Center. Supervisor Scott Russell noted the turnout for the event has grown and called last year’s attendance “unbelievable.”

Photo caption: Sonia Spar, the co-chair of Southold Town’s Anti-Bias Task Force, speaks at Tuesday’s work session. (Credit: Kelly Zegers)

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