County council debates Black History Month language
A proclamation in support of Black History Month will need some fine tuning before all members of the Clark County Council are willing to sign it.
The council reviewed a draft of the proclamation during Wednesday’s meeting. Black History Month has been celebrated each February since the mid-1970s. The Association for the Study of African American Life and History designates a different theme each year and this year’s theme is “Black Resistance.”
Council Chair Karen Bowerman and Councilor Gary Medvigy said some of the language in the resolution needed to be rewritten to make it less “combative” and “more uplifting.” Medvigy said he researched proclamations from cities and counties across the nation to get an idea of how they are supporting this year’s theme.
“I fully support having a proclamation by the Clark County Council,” Medvigy said. “There are some aspects of it that are – you used the word combative and I probably would too – and divisive. I think that’s not the purpose of our proclamations. We need to have uplifting and supportive and noncontroversial proclamations that we put our signatures to,” Medvigy said during the meeting.
Councilor Sue Marshall said she was ready to sign the proclamation as written, minus any typographical errors.
“I think it’s important to support what the local NAACP has drafted,” Marshall said.
The proclamation states this year’s theme “acknowledges the legacy of African Americans resisting all forms of racism, hatred and continual oppression while exploring how African Americans have resisted historic and ongoing oppression, in all forms, especially the racial terrorism of lynching, racial pogroms and police killings, since the nation’s earliest days.”
It continues: “Inequality and injustice still linger in our cities, states, and country, and it should be the aspiration and responsibility of every citizen to advance the American ideal of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all— celebrating the outstanding accomplishments and contributions of Black Americans throughout our history.”
This isn’t the first time the subject of racism has proved difficult for the council to tackle. In 2020, the council faced criticism over its decision to place flag decals associated with the Blue Lives Matter slogan on patrol cars.
During a heated discussion about then-Sheriff Chuck Atkins’ decision to remove the decals, former council chair Eileen Quiring O’Brien criticized Atkins’ decision.
“This is very disturbing to me. They have to go out and enforce these laws. I believe their lives matter.” O’Brien said during the meeting. “I do not agree that we have systemic racism in our county. Period.”
Local chapters of the NAACP and League of United Latin American Citizens were quick to challenge Obrien’s statement noting that local members of extremist groups like Proud Boys live in Clark County and actively participated in the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Both groups called for O’Brien to resign (O’Brien resigned from the council in January 2022) and a citizen-led petition was also begun.
In 2021, three employees from the county’s public works department filed a racial discrimination lawsuit against the county. The suit alleged that supervisors and other employees in the department’s road maintenance division has used racial slurs and other insults. The suit also claimed Latino workers were denied benefits that were provide other workers. The case is scheduled to go to trial in May.
The revised proclamation will be reviewed during the next council time meeting on Feb. 8. The earliest date for final review and signature is Feb. 21.
The draft proclamation can be read in full at https://clark.wa.gov/sites/default/files/media/document/2023-01/020123_Black%20History%20Month%20Proclamation%202023.pdf.
— Shari Phiel