Across our entire nation, the largest civil rights movement since the 1960s is taking place; and this sign of progress to come is happening in the middle of one the worst infectious disease crises our country has ever seen. Needless to say, this moment demands great leadership and accountability from our elected officials. We, as much as ever before, need leadership that helps to unify us. We need leaders that operate on the basic notions that we all have the best intentions, we can all listen to one another, we are all willing to humbly discuss the flaws in our society, and we all want a community that is safe for everyone. Specifically, it is a time for every government official to take a hard look at their own leadership and ask what they are doing to help ensure that people of color can trust that they are safe in their communities.
When horrific video of George Floyd's killing circulated, people were once again reminded of a long history of unarmed black Americans being disproportionately assaulted and killed in police custody. People are asking clear and fair questions about why so many cases have so apparently lacked justice. As hundreds of thousands of people have been coming together all over the world in protest, demanding justice, many leaders have knelt in peaceful solidarity and many governing bodies have passed resolutions that recognize and condemn systemic oppression and violence against black and African Americans.
Meanwhile, Mayor Dan Holladay of Oregon City took to social media where he referred to the disproportionate number of black people killed by police as "hardly an epidemic." Then, at a city commission meeting, while many other mayors were using this moment to chart new paths for progress and reform, his remarks essentially included an all-too-common claim of perfection. In another meeting, the mayor said, "I will not bend the knee in supplication to an enraged mob." This is a mockery of the people in our community who have been gathering peacefully to raise awareness of racial injustices. It misses a critical opportunity to respect the pain felt by communities of color, and the importance of peaceful assembly from a diverse range of community members.
Then, during a meeting in which commissioners sought to make remarks about racism, when the meeting agenda required the chance for remarks from commissioners, Mayor Holladay abruptly ended the meeting over their objections. At the following meeting, he delivered remarks in response to community outrage, in which he included no apology for denying that there is an epidemic of violence against black Americans. He walked out of that meeting just as commissioners were to deliver their remarks on the matter. A few days later, during the adoption of a resolution against racism that was requested by city commissioners, the mayor was the only member to offer zero discussion. Finally, a letter from the Metropolitan Mayors Consortium has offered Mayor Holladay a chance to acknowledge that systemic racism exists in every city, commit to our society's collective struggle for racial justice, and offer support to those feeling the pain caused by racist atrocities; Mayor Holladay is the only mayor out of 26 that has not signed that letter.
Mayor Holladay has served as an elected official for many years, from the school board to the city commission, to the mayor's office. Such long-term dedication to public service does deserve recognition, but when executive leadership includes such brazen disrespect for colleagues on the city commission, along with remarks that amount to a denial of systemic racism; then that leadership is counterproductive to a shared intention of building a safe, healthy and inclusive community. Many leaders at all levels of government are working diligently to amplify the voices of those that are marginalized or oppressed and are clearly dedicating themselves to the cause of racial justice. With an over 400-year history of atrocities committed against black and African Americans, now is a time for all of us to work to do better in the struggle for racial justice. This is not a time for silence.
Steven Soll, Ph.D., is a member of the Oregon City School Board. He also teaches science at Clackamas Community College and University of Portland.
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