A screengrab of the Salem City Council at it's first meeting of the year 2021.
After a push by Salem activists, the Salem City Council on Monday unanimously denounced white supremacy by name through a resolution passed Monday evening, following nearly an hour of public comment with citizens demanding councilors use stronger language to condemn the violence that has occurred in Salem at the hands of some far-right groups.
Protests at the Capitol and in downtown Salem have become increasingly common since the summer, with more than 100 protests at the Capitol since June, according to Salem Police Chief Trevor Womack. Some anti-coronavirus lockdown protests have ended with attacks on Black activists and businesses, prompting the outcry from the community.
Monday’s resolution further condemns and rejects “the belief system of white supremacy and racism, and [remains] committed to the elimination of all forms of racism everywhere it exists, including institutional racism.”
Initially, Mayor Chuck Bennett requested a report from the Human Rights Commission on actions Salem should take to promote diversity as a core strength and ensures everyone - regardless of culture, race or ability - can thrive in safety and dignity.
Councilor Tom Andersen amended the mayor’s motion, adding in a commitment that the community be “free from acts that are rooted in racism, discrimination, intolerance, bigotry, and hostility.”
Andersen told the council the community had been crying out for a definite statement from the city council condemning white supremacy.
Julianne Jackson started a petition demanding Salem leaders condemn white supremacy that garnered more than 600 signatures.
She spoke at Monday’s meeting and said she heard the term white supremacist more Monday than she had in meetings over the previous six months.
“To even have my experience being acknowledged is making me really emotional,” Jackson said.
When reached Tuesday, Jackson said she felt great about the resolution and was surprised by the unanimous vote by council.
Bennett drew the ire of some public commenters at Monday’s meeting, with people accusing him of downplaying concerns of residents of color.
He said the resolution would be something more than just a virtue signal from the city and accomplish objectives heard over the past few months. He didn’t give specifics of what those objectives were.
During Monday’s meeting, several people spoke demanding stronger language from the council and expressing anger over the violence that has unfolded in the city with what they called inaction from city leaders.
Emily Terry, a south Salem resident who spoke during public comment, said Salem residents have taken the brunt of violent acts in the city with no justice.
“What all Salem residents have witnessed unfold in the capital city has been nothing short of astonishing. We have witnessed white supremacist and white nationalist groups come into Salem and terrorizing the residents who live here, our Capitol, our city grounds, government officials and local minority-owned businesses,” she told councilors Monday.
In public comment documents, Laura Sauter wrote that Proud Boys must be strongly discouraged from spreading hate and violence in Salem.
“While I can appreciate (if I squint hard enough) the good intentions behind the mayor's motion that the city council request a report from the Human Rights Commission on ‘promoting diversity in Salem,’ I urge the city council to take stronger action,” Sauter wrote.
Councilor Jim Lewis questioned why the council was condemning white supremacy specifically, but not other forms of hatred.
“I’m struggling to be against one type of hatred and the groups that do that, like the Proud Boys, but yet we never hear about other types of hatred. And I don’t know if this is correct or not, but the antifa groups that have been attacking downtown Portland and law enforcement for months now. Should we be, if we’re going to specifically identify one type of hatred, should we be identifying all types of hatred?” said Lewis, who voted in favor of the resolution.
His comments drew pushback from several of his fellow councilors.
Councilor Jose Gonzalez said the hate he’s experienced is over something he can’t control and is based on assumptions about where he comes from because he’s Latino.
Bennett said the issue before council is “quite specific, it is white supremacy, it is racism.”
Andersen said it more blatantly.
“We’re pretty much all privileged white people with the exception to councilor (Jackie) Leung and councilor Gonzalez, we have no idea what 400 years of institutional racism has done to people of color in our country,” Andersen said.
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