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The first African-American woman on the council accuses a small group of white men of using their 'priviledge' to repeatedly disrupt the proceedings.

PORTLAND TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - Jo Ann Hardesty at a previous demonstration outside City Hall.Two weeks after becoming the first African-American woman to serve on the City Council, Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty is speaking out against a small group of white males who frequently disrupt council hearings.

"This behavior limits access to those entering this building for the very first time or for those who are new to the political process. This is not the spirit of speaking up for civic change that is the heart of activism," Hardesty said in a statement released early Wednesday that she read at the start of the Jan. 16 council meeting.

In the statement, Hardesty accused the men of using their "privilege" to disrupt the proceedings without adding anything of value to the issues the council is considering. As a result, Hardesty says, many other Portlanders are afraid to come to council meetings, especially parents with young children.

"As someone who has spent time a lot of time on the other side of this podium demanding accountability, I find it chilling and disrespectful that there are a few white men who think that everything this council does is about them. It isn't," said Hardesty, a well-known activist who has served as president of the Portland chapter of the NAACP.

"I am encouraging other white men and women to check the behavior of those who seek to drown out the voices of others. Civic discourse cannot thrive if it is not coupled with civility and respect for all others," said Hardesty.

Other council members thanked Hardesty for her statement, including Commissioner Nick Fish, who said city employees have told him they do not feel safe at council meetings.

Mayor Ted Wheeler, who has clashed with protesters in the past, also thanked Hardesty, saying citizens have been subjected to verbal abuse at council hearings, as recently as last week.

"That has no place in this chamber," said Wheeler. "It's a form or harassment and intimidation."

He blamed the problem on a "relatively small group of disruptive people."

Although protesters have occasionally disrupted council hearings in previous years, such disruptions escalated after Donald Trump was elected president in November 2017 and are now happening at practically every meeting.

Mayor Ted Wheeler convinced the council to adopt new rules intended to limit such behavior, but they cannot be applied to people in advance of their actions because of First Amendment restrictions.

"The courts have told us so far that we cannot exclude anyone from this chamber based on their previous behavior," Wheeler said, noting that relatively few people were at the meeting, despite a full agenda of important issues, including affordable housing.

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