PUNXSUTAWNEY — Exactly what a violation of someone’s civil rights is was explained during an assembly at the Punxsutawney Area Middle School Tuesday.
“The practice or policy of discrimination ... foments domestic strife and unrest, threatens the rights and privileges of the inhabitants of the Commonwealth, and undermines the foundation of a free democratic state,” said Robert G. Flipping Jr., intake and education and community services supervisor for the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC).
Flipping said the commission was first contacted regarding an incident in which children in their early teens were harassing mixed-race youth at Harmon Field in Punxsy.
“Little did the kids realize that some of the comments that were made bordered on ethnic intimidation,” he said. “Little did they realize that ethnic intimidations carry more severe penalties for that type of criminal offense and something had to be done regarding these serious allegations.”
Flipping said discrimination appears to be on the increase everywhere, especially in small towns such as Punxsy.
“Some of this increase in discrimination and ethnic intimidation can be attributed to having an African-American president (Barack Obama), and because of that, we’re seeing resentment, and the economic difficulties have put more people under more pressure,” he said.
There are other types of discrimination that fall under the category of protected classes, race, color, age (40 and above), sex, disability, known association with a person with a disability, religion, ancestry, national origin, familial status (housing), retaliation, use of a guide or support animal, possession of a GED and employment.
Flipping said during the assembly that civil rights are not just history; everyone has the right to live, work, learn and play free from discrimination.
“Equal opportunity is part of your civil rights,” he said, adding that not all prejudiced behavior rises to the level of illegal discrimination. But it may be illegal discrimination if the way someone treats you stands between you and an education, job, a home, a public place or service, he said.
Flipping said that discrimination changes with the times and technology. These days, one is not likely to be denied service at a lunch counter; made to sit in the back of a bus; or prohibited from voting because of race or gender.
Today, there’s all different kinds of harassment:
• A classmate constantly bullied by a demeaning text.
• A sexy cell phone photo, meant for one person, forwarded all over the school.
• An embarrassing Web cam video posted online.
• A teacher singling out minority students for discipline while ignoring the same behavior from others.
• One student constantly picking on another, making negative comments about religion or the country where he or she was born.
• A teacher making sexually-suggestive comments to a student, or promising better grades for sex.
• A student receiving repeated, unwanted “sexts” from a coach or a boss.
• A student who uses a wheelchair but has no access to an auditorium or after-school activities.
• A student who has seizures, asthma or learning disabilities being taunted by peers.
Flipping said these things may be cruel, unfair or abuses of power. But if they are severe or pervasive enough, they can also be illegal discrimination because they deny someone’s right to equal opportunity, he said.
Flipping said students may learn more about their rights and responsibilities and how to file a complaint of illegal discrimination at www.phrc.state.pa.us .