Opinion: Commissioner Shull's bigotry deserves to be canceled
"I am running for County commissioner to stand up for you the people, your families and your businesses, and to work for a brighter future for all of us."
These are some of the first few words you can read on Mark Shull's campaign page for Clackamas County. But after it was uncovered recently that the newly elected commissioner has a documented history of disparaging Black and brown communities, some of us are wondering what he really meant when he said he'd work for "all" of us.
As the daughter of Guatemalan immigrants and Black Americans who grew up in the Jim Crow South, watching leaders spew hateful rhetoric about marginalized communities is incredibly personal. I have spent the last year working with so many Portlanders who are pushing for government reform to benefit all our diverse communities.
Yet, despite these good intentions, I, along with other community leaders for racial justice have been receiving hateful, racist letters threatening to murder us for daring to speak out and wanting better for our community. These anonymous threats, mailed to our homes, are directly connected to the continued inability to confront hate toward marginalized communities — especially when such hate comes from our leaders.
A society looks up to its leaders because they set the tone for acceptable behavior and discourse. When we don't call out bigotry and demand as a community that those actions have consequences, we invite others to act on those ideas.
The insurrection at the U.S. Capitol last month is a perfect example of how unchecked and escalated rhetoric is a danger to our society and our democracy.
Which brings me back to Shull. In response to an unprecedented show of unity among Oregon's leaders, his constituents and his own colleagues on the Clackamas County Commission calling for his resignation, Shull has only doubled down.
Even more disappointing, he has claimed that these calls for him to be held accountable for a disturbing pattern of racist behavior are simply efforts to "cancel" him. His shallow attempt at apologizing was immediately overshadowed when he falsely claimed, again, that the Muslim community "believes in shariah law over the U.S. Constitution."
It's therefore no surprise that his actions don't inspire confidence among his constituents, particularly those from the communities he disparaged, that reconciliation is possible.
These next few years are going to be critical for communities of color. Our elected officials need to adopt legislation that considers the unique needs different communities face in overcoming the pandemic, among the many other urgent societal issues we must address like police accountability and the houselessness crisis.
There is too much at stake to risk putting those critical decisions in the hands of a leader who has shown a pattern of hateful, violent rhetoric toward communities of color, and I stand with the many leaders and residents of Clackamas County in calling for his resignation.
What those of us from marginalized communities are trying to communicate to the larger Oregon public is that we do not feel safe on our streets and in our homes when hate goes unchecked. What might seem like simply a political debate or difference of opinion, has very real repercussions in the lives of those of us who are the targets of this hate.
It is not unreasonable to expect that leaders who have powerful roles in delivering services to diverse communities have the basic cultural competency skills to inform those tough policy decisions. If we can't even agree that blatant bigotry is crossing the line and deserves consequences, then how can we expect to begin repairing the fractured relationships in our communities and start working towards equity-based solutions?
The Trump era already has set the bar frightfully low — we cannot afford to set the bar even lower with our continued inaction in response to racism. That's why there's only one move that Mark Shull can make to help raise the bar back up: Resign.
Candace Avalos is a Portland State University educator and co-founder of the Black Millennial Movement. She chairs Portland's Citizen Review Committee and serves as a member of the city's Charter Review Commission. She lives in Portland.
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