February 29, 2024

Whole Community News

From Kalapuya lands in the Willamette watershed

A People’s State of the City 2024: Still sweeping racism under the rug

9 min read
Dr. Silky Booker: We know this state has a problem with its Black citizens. So, what are we doing to address that? And as an advisory commission, I'd rather hear things that we could advise on for the plan and what the city plans on doing to address its issue with its Black citizens.

In addition to the official version from the mayor, we’re sharing several people’s versions of ‘The State of the City.’ In 2023, Eugene continued to sweep racism under the rug. At the Human Rights Commission Oct. 16, during a discussion of hate and bias reporting:

Dr. Silky Booker (Eugene Human Rights Commission, Oct. 16, 2023): As all of us know, especially Vice Chair (Thomas Hiura) could probably attest to, this is a political arena. And I say that because now you are in understanding what smoke and mirrors looks like.

[00:00:29] This state has a problem with Black citizens, period. It’s at the state level. It’s been reported. So rather than hearing numbers, and statistics, methodologies, I’d rather hear what the city and the state plan is to address this state issue with its Black citizens. It is no secret.

[00:00:52] And when you have the lowest population in the state, yet you lead every statistical category of crime against your demographic, I think that is a major problem that needs more addressing than some methodology and some numbers thrown at us.

[00:01:14] We know this state has a problem with its Black citizens. So, what are we doing to address that? And as an advisory commission, I’d rather hear things that we could advise on for the plan and what the city plans on doing to address its issue with its Black citizens, rather than going back and forth about some smoke and mirrors numbers when we know that the state has a problem with its Black citizens, Black African citizens.

[00:01:47] So that is what we need to hear as a commission is— not sweep them all under the rug— a plan to address that.

[00:01:57] John Q: If the city’s interested, here’s an issue that might be easily addressed. It was swept under the rug in 2023 by the mayor, the council president, the city manager, the city recorder’s office, and the manager of the Office of Equity and Community Engagement. On Dec. 14, 2022:

[00:02:17] Councilor Greg Evans (Dec. 14, 2022): I am not going to be influenced by racial politics played by certain people at this table, okay? Don’t call my friends in Portland because they’re Black and you think that they have influence over me. I reject, resent that repugnant behavior on the part of a certain councilor, and I am going to make my vote based upon what I think is right for this city at this time…

[00:02:54] I have no problem in naming names and calling people out behind this. It’s racist, it’s repugnant, and it’s against everything in my 62 years on this planet that I have worked for, I have stood for in terms of civil rights, civil liberties, and diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging.

[00:03:19] John Q: It soon became clear that Councilor Evans was talking about first-term Councilor Matt Keating. By remaining silent and offering no explanation, even as three other councilors apologized for his behavior, Matt Keating was the first to sweep this discussion under the rug.

[00:03:34] The city recorder’s office was next, omitting any mention of racism from the official record. The meeting minutes say only that Councilor Evans had ‘opinions’ and ‘concerns.’

[00:03:45] On Jan. 10, the largest neighborhood association in Ward 2 asked for an explanation. Though present, Matt Keating again remained silent, so the board asked its city liaison for a report.

[00:03:56] Southeast Neighbors board member (Jan. 10, 2023): Just to review, at the Dec. 14 city council meeting, Councilor Evans stated that a fellow member of council acted against him in a racist and repugnant manner, ‘counter to everything he had worked his career to accomplish…’

[00:04:12] It’s my belief that voting citizens should receive a full report with accurate and truthful details about these allegations, about acts Evans is referencing in his public remarks at the meeting.

[00:04:25] To my knowledge, an official report is not being furnished by the city of Eugene. It may be or it may not be, but we have not heard. With our own human rights committee in SEN dissolved or defunct, it’s my belief that as a neighborhood association board with the mission to promote awareness of important city issues, equity in our community, and a sense of community and belonging for all, we have a duty to ask for an account of the details surrounding this event.

[00:04:53] Therefore, I move that the SEN Board initiate this process by writing a letter to the Office of Equity and Community Engagement, asking that they direct us to the appropriate department, commission, or person that will then be asked to give us a full and accurate account of the event that transpired up to Councilor Evans’s comments at the council meeting that I mentioned.

[00:05:16] Southeast Neighbors chair (Jan. 10, 2023): Do I hear a second? (I second.)

[00:05:18] John Q: The vote was unanimous, and the neighborhood chair emailed the Office of Equity and Community Engagement. That office manager was next to sweep it under the rug. His reply on Jan. 12 stated: “We have not been directed to follow up…

[00:05:32] The city manager was asked whether her employees needed to be directed to respond to city residents. The city manager also swept it under the rug. As confirmed by a public records request, she also remained silent.

[00:05:45] With no mechanism to address accusations of racism against a city councilor, Whole Community News suggested a solutions journalism project, using ChatGPT to recommend mediation. We contacted the mayor, council president, city manager, and Office of Equity and Community Engagement.

[00:06:03] The council president was next to sweep the matter under the rug. Although the statements were made in a public meeting and related to a public discussion, he said the issue was resolved privately. He considered the matter closed.

[00:06:15] On Jan. 15, 2023, Councilor Evans called out Councilor Matt Keating.

[00:06:21] John Q (Jan. 15, 2023): Can we tell your story for the neighborhood news?

[00:06:24] Councilor Greg Evans (Jan. 15, 2023): Yes, absolutely. I’m not shy about sharing the situation at all. You know, I think it’s important that people know what their elected officials are willing to do to, you know, achieve their own aims.

[00:06:40] John Q (Jan. 15, 2023): You talked about veiled threats against you for voting a certain way, and you talked about the ‘Portland influence’ and (Yeah) behavior that was ‘racist and repugnant’ by a city councilor.

[00:06:55] Councilor Greg Evans (Jan. 15, 2023): You know, I got a phone call. This was a few days before the Monday meeting and the phone call was from an old colleague, an old friend of mine that Councilor Keating had asked to call me to influence my vote for Dan Isaacson but was calling me to let me know the tone and tenor of that conversation.

[00:07:23] At that point, I got increasingly angry… You contact an old friend of mine who also happens to be Black and, wanting to use influence with me as to Black people, to influence my vote. Totally inappropriate, and as we had continued to talk, we said, ‘Well, you know, this is a pretty racist move. You know, this is not, this is not okay.’

[00:07:58] I said, ‘I’m just not going to play this game.’ And the more and more I thought about it, the more and more I said, ‘Okay. I’ve been called by all kinds of people. Paul Conte, you know, various people that are involved in Eugene politics, whether they live here or not.

[00:08:18] By the time we got to the table on Monday, I was steaming. By Wednesday I was even more hot. And that’s when I said, you know what? I’m just going to pull covers off of this and I’m just going to put it on the table and tell people, you know, look, I’m not going to necessarily name names, but I’m going to tell folks what happened and what went on in this process.

[00:08:43] I also have been called by other ‘progressives,’ whose names I will not reveal at this point but who had threatened to recall me if I wasn’t going to support Councilor Keating’s candidate…

[00:09:05] Never have I seen the partisan wrangling that Councilor Keating has brought to the table. We are not Democrats or Republicans when we walk into that room. We are servants for the people in the city of Eugene, okay? And so I just basically took my three minutes and I outed him. You know, I put it on the table. I said, ‘Look, what this councilor did was repugnant. It stunk, it’s racist…’

[00:09:39] John Q: A few years back, there was hope that the city would stop sweeping things under the rug, when allies in Eugene took to the streets to protest the police murder of George Floyd. On Feb. 8, 2021:

[00:09:52] Councilor Greg Evans (Feb. 8, 2021): Before I came here, people said that Oregon was a great place: There wasn’t any discrimination, racism didn’t exist.

[00:10:03] When I got here, I found out differently. I would walk down the street, people would roll down their windows of their cars and call me the n-word, or throw garbage at me. All of my children, who have grown up here, in first grade, they were called the n-word, right?

[00:10:28] So, how do you explain to a five- or six-year-old and understand that that is the first experience that they have with understanding or being taught that they’re something less than in this community.

[00:10:50] It happened all the way from grade school through high school. And I know because my sons would go play football and they would experience those same kind of comments from other schools in this area.

[00:11:12] When my daughter came home and asked me that question, I had a real hard time, like I did with my boys, explaining what that was about and that those people were ignorant and they didn’t know you, understand you, or anything else.

[00:11:32] You know, I can’t begin to tell you just half of the stuff that I’ve gone through, or my family has gone through in this community.

[00:11:46] And it didn’t just start here. When I grew up in Ohio, similar, same thing would happen. You go, you drive through the wrong community, the cops would stop you. If you went across the wrong street, there would be a fight. This is the stuff that continues to go on.

[00:12:10] And I had a conversation with a couple of my friends, a few months ago about what was going on this past summer. And they said, ‘Okay, let’s see how long this lasts. Because we know that a lot of white people can’t hold their attention on anything for very long.’ So, you know, take that for what it’s worth.

[00:12:42] Mayor Lucy Vinis (Feb. 8, 2021): Thank you, Councilor Evans, for a very sobering comment. Councilor Zelenka.

[00:12:49] Councilor Alan Zelenka (Feb. 8, 2021): Yeah, thank you for saying that, Greg. We do have racism in Eugene, and it’s pretty significant. We have both, just blatant racism that Greg is talking about, institutional racism, and the stories and incidents that I have heard from being a councilor over the last 14 years curl the hair on the back of your neck and make me sick in the stomach. It’s just awful stuff that people have and hatred that they have.

[00:13:16] John Q: As predicted, the people of Eugene did not hold their attention on anything for very long. Councilor Keating avoided accountability, as city officials helped sweep it under the rug.

[00:13:26] It would be an easy place for the council to start. It doesn’t require help or cooperation from any other government agency. The city of Eugene can take that small step and start by addressing racism within its own ranks.

[00:13:39] At the Human Rights Commission in October, during a discussion of hate and bias reporting:

[00:13:46] Dr. Silky Booker (Eugene Human Rights Commission, Oct. 16, 2023): What are we going to do to address the issue that the city has and the state has with its Black and African citizens?

[00:13:54] So that is what we need to hear as a commission is a plan to address that… And not a swept under a rug and very poignant addressing… So that is my statement. I would like to hear a plan from the city: What are we going to do to address that issue?

[00:14:15] John Q: The State of the City: Still sweeping racism under the rug. Throughout 2023, the city showed no inclination to do anything else.

Whole Community News

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