Witnesses: Candidate offered up neck in police brutality dispute
A Gresham-Barlow School Board candidate allegedly lay on the ground and challenged a Black man to step on his neck in an apparent push back against police excessive force protests that came to the national forefront after the killing of George Floyd and subsequent guilty verdict for the police officer involved.
According to witnesses, the incident with Joe Demers took place during the Gresham Farmers Market on Saturday, May 15, where he had set up to advocate for his candidacy.
Gresham Farmers Market officials said political booths are not allowed within the market, which is held at the Arts Plaza at Northeast Hood Avenue and Second Street in downtown Gresham. The Farmers Market leadership has asked Demers to stop setting up on Saturdays, but he refused. Other political candidates have similarly set up nearby the market.
An image of Demers lying on the grass was taken and shared by Helena Kordowski, who was visiting the market with her mother Crystal Alexander. According to Kordowski, Demers was heard saying that Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin did not kill George Floyd. Chauvin was convicted of murder by a Minneapolis jury for kneeling on Floyd's neck for more than nine minutes, preventing him from breathing.
Kordowski said Demer's statement was challenged by an unidentified Black man who was visiting the market.
Demers allegedly stated he would not have died from having someone step on his neck for 9 minutes, and challenged the other man to try it. After a back and forth verbal exchange — which never became physical — Demers went down to the ground. The other man never stepped on him.
Demers has not responded to The Outlook for a statement about the encounter.
Last summer Demers was at the center of a showdown between two groups of protestors fighting over the Gresham City Council's decision to fly a "Black Lives Matter" flag over City Hall in the aftermath of the Floyd murder.
Demers created a Facebook event "Keep Gresham Sound — Take the BLM flag down." At the time he said there was never any plan to tear down the flag, but his group was there to voice opposition to a decision that "should have involved the entire community."
"Thanks to all our patriots who showed up — we love our country," Demers said last year.
Demers has also been outspoken about his beliefs around the COVID-19 pandemic, questioning the effectiveness of masks and the vaccine. He posted an image on social media with the caption, "Unmasked, Unvaccinated, Unmuzzled, Unafraid." Another post from Demers stated, "It's a good day just walked through Home Depot no mask and no one said a word."
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has posted multiple studies that show wearing a mask protects both yourself and others, especially when in tandem with social distancing and good handwashing practices. Masks stop respiratory droplets from traveling into the air when you cough, sneeze, talk, shout or sing.
The CDC recommended wearing a mask even when not feeling sick, to account for potential asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic carriers.
The CDC has recently stated that those who have been fully vaccinated can resume activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing — unless local laws or rules require compliance. For anyone seeking a COVID vaccination, visit covidvaccine.oregon.gov
Demers' Gresham-Barlow School Board bid is not his first foray into politics. Last year he eyed a seat in Salem before pivoting to the Gresham mayoral race. He finished third with about 19% of the votes.
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