Senator Facing Criticism For Comments Made During CROWN Act Hearing

Feb 10, 2021, 6:32 AM

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – A Utah lawmaker is facing criticism for comments some are calling insensitive.

The comments in question were made by Sen. Derrin Owens of Fountain Green during a hearing for a bill called the CROWN Act.

The act would prevent discrimination based on hairstyle – specifically natural hairstyles for Black women.

During the hearing, Owens made a comment and then tried to share a story about a recent encounter he’d had with a Black man and his children at a grocery store. He shared the story with three Black women who testified in favor of the bill.

“I don’t normally do this, take pictures of children, but they are adorable, two Black children,” he said during the hearing. “One has corn rows and one of them dreadlocks.”

“Let me just make a comment,” he added, “you people are beautiful.”

The senator then tried to show the women the picture of the children he had taken.

His comments were swiftly denounced by the progressive government watchdog group Alliance for a Better Utah.

In a press release, the group called Owens’ remarks “inappropriate and offensive.”

Katie Matheson, the group’s communications director, released the following statement:

Here we are on Day 9 of Black History Month, and we’re learning how little some of our elected officials in Utah understand race and racism. The purpose of the Crown Act is to protect against race-based hair discrimination. In his comments about the bill, Senator Owens unwittingly illustrated exactly why Utah needs such protections.

Utah enacted the Compact on Racial Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion just a few months ago. That compact, and our shared dedication to making Utah a place where all feel safe and welcome, demands more of us than what was on display in this legislative committee today. We hope the committee will hear the bill again, and that lawmakers will commit to educating themselves about race.

Owens and a fellow Republican voted against the bill, and two Democrats voted for it. Due to a tie, the bill won’t advance.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Derek Kitchen of Salt Lake City, said he plans on discussing the bill again when more of the committee members are present. He said it’s a problem that many people don’t realize is happening.

“While this may not happen every day, it does happen,” Kitchen said. “And this is our effort as a state to live up to our values of inclusion and justice and equality, and it codifies these protections for people.”

The CROWN Act is part of a larger national movement trying to eliminate this type of discrimination. So far, seven states – including Colorado and California – have adopted the act as law.

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Senator Facing Criticism For Comments Made During CROWN Act Hearing