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Clackamas County takes formal stance against systemic racism, pledges to review policies for bias

Clackamas County joins a growing number of local jurisdictions and counties across Oregon in formally condemning systemic racism, police violence and the mistreatment of black Americans and other people of color. FILE PHOTO - Clackamas County Board of Commissioners

Following nearly two weeks of discussion sparked by the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor — two black Americans killed in recent weeks at the hands of police — Clackamas County's Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a resolution denouncing the acts that led to Floyd's death, as well as all racially motivated acts of violence and oppression waged against America's black communities for nearly 400 years. The resolution brought forth at the board's June 18 meeting included a call to action for the county to take a look internally at whether any of its policies perpetuate systemic bias or racism.

"The board of commissioners and all its staff join with America in sharing its anger, shame and sorrow about the intolerable violence directed at black, African-Americans and people of color," the resolution states. "Clackamas County will review all of its policies and ordinances for any discriminatory impacts and practices and encourage other jurisdictions to do the same."

County officials have weighed in a number of times in recent weeks on the events that led to Floyd's death and the protests that followed throughout the country, including in several communities within Clackamas County.

At their June 4 meeting, commissioners expressed disgust over the violent tactics used by Minneapolis Police as well as countless other instances of police brutality against black Americans.

Over the past two weeks, county staff and the board of commissioners have workshopped the resolution to most accurately reflect their feelings at this time and commitment moving forward to do what is in their power to prevent situations of this kind from taking place in Clackamas County.

"Everyone worked very hard to capture the pain and sadness that we're all experiencing at this time with our African American and black communities," said Commissioner Martha Schrader.

Commissioners reviewed several drafts of the resolution submitted by each member of the board and a few from county staff. The end result sewed together pieces of each.

One point brought forth by Commissioner Paul Savas was that some of the language brought forth in drafting the resolution seemed to water down its intent of the county declaring itself an ally of the black community specifically. Other drafts expressed a more general denouncement of discrimination of any sort, not just of black Americans.

"I think a lot of people got confused when they first heard that black lives matter. Some people thought, 'Well if I'm not black, I guess my life doesn't matter,' and that's not what it means," Savas said. "I think language that reflects as many sentiments as possible is where you get diluted. I don't want to dilute the meaning of Black Lives Matter."

Savas and Commissioner Sonya Fischer made similar declarations stating that this particular moment in history is about listening to and standing in solidarity with black Americans, and that straying too far from that specific message doesn't signal to black or African-American residents of Clackamas County that they are seen, heard and will be treated with respect.

"Having the emphasis on black lives in this particular circumstance, in this historic time, I think, is significant," Savas said.

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