WASHINGTON, D.C. – Attorney General Karl A. Racine today released a report highlighting key civil rights concerns District residents shared with the Office of the Attorney General (OAG), including concerns about housing discrimination, racism, and bias-motivated violence against the LGBTQ+ community. The report, “Community Voices: Perspectives on Civil Rights in the District of Columbia,” summarizes input received at five community listening sessions about ways in which discrimination can limit access to opportunities in housing, employment, and education, and can lead to physical, emotional, and economic harms. OAG will use these findings to help define priorities for its newly formed Civil Rights Section, which fights illegal discrimination against District residents. The report also describes OAG’s work in responding to resident concerns so far, including significant enforcement efforts, and potential next steps.
“Community members described to us a painful truth—many District residents still face harmful discrimination and even violence because of who they are, who they love, or where they are from,” said AG Racine. “The passionate and personal stories residents shared have pointed our civil rights work to a path forward. We will continue to listen and work closely with the community to knock down barriers to opportunity here in the District.”
The District’s Human Rights Act (HRA) is one of the strongest civil rights laws in the country. It broadly outlaws discrimination based on traits including race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, and disability. In response to evidence of ongoing bias and discrimination in the District, OAG launched its Civil Rights Section in April 2019. The section, composed of four attorneys and one investigator, protects the civil rights of District residents by bringing lawsuits to challenge discrimination, advocating for legislation to strengthen antidiscrimination laws, and engaging in educational community outreach so that residents know their rights. The team focuses on combatting large-scale discriminatory practices in order to serve as a significant deterrent to illegal discriminatory conduct.
In order to inform the priorities of the Civil Rights Section, OAG hosted a series of five community listening sessions across the District this summer to hear directly from residents regarding their civil rights concerns. At each listening session, OAG used real-time polling and small group discussions to capture the experiences and views of participating community members. In all, over 90 residents from all eight wards of the District participated in the listening sessions.
Throughout the listening sessions, attendees raised many concerns, and a few stood out. The civil rights issues of significant concern to participants were:
- Housing discrimination: Listening session attendees were asked to identify which area of discrimination—housing, public accommodation, education, and employment—concerned them the most. Forty-nine percent of participants chose housing, 28 percent chose employment, 15 percent chose education, and eight percent chose public accommodations. Some expressed concern about discrimination against voucher holders, others spoke about lending issues, including the targeting of predatory mortgages to marginalized communities. Seniors particularly focused on rising rents and discrimination based on age.
- Racial discrimination: Participants were asked which form of discrimination—disability, sex, LGBTQ+, race, or national origin—concerned them the most. Fifty-two percent of participants chose race discrimination, 16 percent chose LGBTQ+ discrimination, 14 percent chose disability discrimination, 11 percent chose national origin discrimination, and seven percent chose sex discrimination. While respondents across wards were most concerned about racial discrimination, this was most pronounced in Wards 5, 7, and 8.
- Bias-motivated violence and discrimination against LGBTQ+ individuals: Residents are concerned about increases in bias-motivated violence, harassment, and discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community. Sixteen percent of respondents were most concerned about discrimination against LGBTQ+ individuals, which was second only to racial discrimination. Attendees spoke about discrimination and harassment they faced in the workplace because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, including the inability to access a gender-appropriate restroom.
- Discrimination against religious minorities and immigrants: Residents expressed concern in small group discussions about the rise in anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim bias, citing the current political climate. Attendees were also concerned that immigrants faced increasing discrimination but were afraid to report illegal conduct because they did not want to call attention to their legal status. Finally, attendees were worried that many immigrants did not know their rights or how to exercise those rights when interacting with law enforcement.
- Potentially discriminatory District government actions: Residents expressed concerns about some interactions with District government, including police-resident interactions. At every listening session, some attendees spoke about police interactions with residents that they believed had troubling racial dynamics. Residents suggested what they perceived as over-policing in certain neighborhoods—particularly in Wards 7 and 8—led community members to distrust the police. Residents also expressed concern about potentially biased enforcement of school-discipline policies against students of color and students with disabilities.
A copy of OAG’s report, “Community Voices: Perspectives on Civil Rights in the District of Columbia,” is available at: https://oag.dc.gov/sites/default/files/2019-11/Civil-Rights-Report.pdf
OAG is working to bolster the District’s effectiveness in enforcing the HRA on a larger scale. In the last year, OAG has worked with Apartments.com to eliminate discriminatory ads from their platform; filed lawsuits against Evolve LLC and Curtis Investment Group, landlords that unlawfully discriminated against low-income renters; and reached a settlement with Renewal by Andersen, a window company that illegally refused to do business in certain District neighborhoods. OAG also reached out to Zillow.com and Craigslist.com requesting their help to fight housing discrimination in real estate listings on their platforms. AG Racine introduced legislation in the Council of the District of Columbia to allow the office to bring civil enforcement actions against people who commit bias-motivated violence, whether or not they are criminally charged, and to clarify OAG’s enforcement authority under the HRA.
Upcoming Community Events
OAG will host two community conversations in November to share the findings of the report and provide updates on the Civil Rights Section’s current work to fight discrimination in the District. View the schedule and sign up to attend the community conversations at: rebrand.ly/OAGRSVP or call 202-727-3400.
Civil Rights Resources
The Civil Rights Section investigates and challenges discriminatory policies and practices that have significant impact on the people of the District. If you believe you have been a victim of discrimination, you may report it to the Civil Rights Section by:
- Calling (202) 727-3400
- E-mailing us at OAGCivilRights@dc.gov
- Mailing OAG, ATTN: Civil Rights Section at 441 4th Street N.W., Suite 600S, Washington, D.C. 20001
OAG’s goal is to ensure equal treatment and meaningful opportunity for all District residents by complementing the work of the Office of Human Rights (OHR), the primary District agency that investigates individual complaints of discrimination. You can file a complaint with OHR at https://ohr.dc.gov/ or call 202-727-4559.