June 12, 2024

Whole Community News

From Kalapuya lands in the Willamette watershed

Human rights commissioners share concerns about racial injustice in Eugene

8 min read
Human Rights Commissioner Thomas Hiura: We've never had a person of color be mayor. That's not an accident. Almost 40 people have held that role. They've never been a person of color. And that's not an accident.

Human rights commissioners comment on racism during the recent election campaign, a brutal assault on a Black student, facial recognition software, and the police department’s organizational culture. On May 21:

[00:00:14] Human Rights Commissioner Scott Lemons: I think my most important comments are the liaison role for Eugene Police Department, and since I am terming off and Dr. Booker is going to keep the torch going forward, I just felt that everyone should know.

[00:00:27] So first of all, EPD: We are so close to getting them to do the cultural audit, which is so necessary. It’s been done every 10 years and has not been done so far, and especially with this that that I brought to the Human Rights Commission. I’m really hoping that the Human Rights Commission does take under their purview that EPD does undergo the cultural audit, or at least recommends to City Council that they go through the cultural audit, because all the Police Commission can do is recommend and then it’s up to (EPD) Chief (Chris) Skinner.

[00:00:59] But if there’s two boards that are recommending the same thing and just for context, there’s not been any pushback from Chief Skinner on this cultural audit. My biggest thing is it needs to be independent from EPD and that’s what we have fought for the most.

[00:01:14] Secondly, and this has taken nine months plus, is EPD and facial recognition software. I think we have finally crossed the finish line that EPD has agreed to at least consider putting an overarching policy saying, ‘We will not use facial recognition software in any of our policing activities, and we will come back to the Police Commission if we see that as necessary.’ But again, that is up to Chief Skinner, whether or not to enact.

[00:01:44] And I see that as a very big human rights issue, not just out of what you see out of China and everything, but facial recognition really does not do well when it comes to people of color and other marginalized communities. So I do think that’s a human rights issue and I would love the Human Rights Commission to be in support of all of that going on at the Police Commission and to keep watch going forward…

[00:02:08] John Q: While the Police Commission supported both issues, he saw value in action from the Human Rights Commission.

[00:02:15] Human Rights Commissioner Scott Lemons: We got that all across the Police Commission before I was able to term out, but it’s still in Chief Skinner’s hands. It’s still in City Council’s hands.

[00:02:25] If there were two commissions that were worried about the same exact issues for the same reasons, that speaks to City Council much more than if it’s just one liaison on a Police Commission. So I really want to bring it to the Human Rights Commission as well.

[00:02:43] John Q: With a draft letter for review by the HRC:

[00:02:48] Human Rights Commissioner Dr. Silky Booker: To kind of piggyback off what Commissioner Lemons was speaking on, a letter on behalf of the Human Rights Commission addressed to the mayor, City Council and Eugene community, it addresses the ongoing issue of racial injustice within our city, particularly affecting Black community members.

[00:03:01] It stems from the racially-motivated assault on the Black autistic Willamette High School student. And also, parts and pieces along with that will be the Eugene bias and hate crime report. And then just from various incidents that have happened throughout our community that have directly affected the Black community in a very negative tone.

[00:03:23] So it addresses to the mayor, City Council, as well as the community at large. It’s very detailed. It’s an ask. It’s a lot of ask in there, immediate action ask within the letter. So I hope all of you get an opportunity to read it. And then hopefully by next month’s meeting we have a response from everyone that was addressed in the letter to the Human Rights Commission and possibly a blueprint or a plan of action, a way forward, to address the letter and the racial climate that we continue to see elevated in our community.

[00:03:59] And then one other thing that I would like to speak on, and maybe not so in depth now, but just something that I feel like really needs to be on the human rights purview is the mayoral candidacy racism, and I feel like tampering that has happened throughout this particular election, specifically dealing with the racism that has come with the Black mayoral candidate and the scrutiny she has been through. Hopefully I can speak with her, to come speak to the Human Rights Commission as to her experience.

[00:04:30] And again, once we hear from her, if she chooses to come to the Human Rights Commission, we as a Commission take action and address City Council in various levels within our city, because this is just unacceptable. And it’s sickening, it’s very disheartening. And if all aren’t disgusted by this type of racism and tampering and harassment, well, what kind of citizens are we?

[00:04:59] Human Rights Commissioner Blake Burrell: Absolutely. Thank you, Commissioner Booker. And we can get that letter and make sure it’s distributed for commissioners to review and provide comment. And I appreciate the level of depth that you provided in it.

[00:05:11] And I appreciate everything that you’re talking about. I know that this political race has definitely brought up a lot of conversations around what it is like for a candidate who is Black running in the city of Eugene, knowing the legacies of racial bias in this region and the barriers to accessing positions of power be a challenge and bring out a lot of hate and a lot of bias incidents, and candidates become a target for that.

So I appreciate you bringing that to this conversation, and I think for folks in this room who have either engaged with individuals who run in races or go into public roles who are not white know that there is targeting that happens and there’s an extreme amount of bias in this region. So I appreciate you bringing that to the floor, Commissioner Booker.

[00:06:03] Human Rights Commissioner Thomas Hiura: I just want to echo an appreciation for bringing that forward. It’s certainly something we care about. We must care about making sure everybody has an equal chance. People in general shouldn’t get their names all butchered every time when they’re running. People shouldn’t get their religious personal beliefs brought up in a narrative that isn’t applied to all candidates, you know?

[00:06:24] So there are a lot of things that we as a Human Rights Commission stand for with regard to equity and fairness because we’ve never had a person of color be mayor. That’s not an accident. That’s like almost 40 people that have held that role. They’ve never been a person of color. And that’s not an accident. So thanks for bringing that up. I’d love to hear more.

[00:06:47] Human Rights Commissioner Blake Burrell: I want to provide one, well, two shout-outs to both Commissioner Booker for being recognized at the NAACP Gala. It was wonderful to see you on stage and for you to not know you were receiving that award. Heck of a speaker for not having a speech prepared. And you spoke from the heart and I just appreciated seeing you at that and I wanted to acknowledge how fabulous that was.

[00:07:13] Human Rights Commissioner Dr. Silky Booker: Thank you. Thank you so much, Chair, and thank you to the NAACP. It was definitely unexpected, but it’s never about me. I always say it’s about the community. I’m able to be uplifted because of the community that’s behind me. So I’m just a small piece of a bigger pie. But I do really, really appreciate the sentiment and the acknowledgement. As we all know, we all of us want to be heard and recognized and appreciated, but it doesn’t go without other people contributing to that in a very, very major way. So, thank you. I really appreciate it.

[00:07:44] Human Rights Commissioner Blake Burrell: Absolutely. And on that, Commissioner (Demond) Hawkins, thank you for the amazing work you do with the NAACP. It was wonderful to see you on that stage and to be sharing the work that you all do in this community. And just the level of positive impact that I can see in you holding that space and connecting with members of our community, it was just fabulous to see you in your element.

[00:08:09] I appreciate you inviting the Human Rights Commission to bring that award. know I told you at the event, but I think from all of us, I just want us to say, you know, truly, thank you, holding that space at that event and allowing us to talk about our human rights work and our alignment with the goals of BIPOC populations and the Black community in the city of Eugene is so, so important. So that space to be able to highlight our work was just wonderful. So thanks for having us there and for everything you did to pull that off.

[00:08:41] Human Rights Commissioner Demond Hawkins: Thank you very much and I’m glad to see the Human Rights Commission come represent out there and just share what we do in this community and how it all overlaps in the lines. The reality is that we all care dearly about our community and we all are fighting very similar battles in this community as even Commissioner Booker talked about. We’re dealing with these things and if we stay silent, that’s a response in itself, right? So just being able to speak up and calling these things out when they’re out there.

[00:09:10] And also acknowledging those that do the work, that just do it. There’s not a salary attached to it. There’s not a super title attached to it. It’s just the work that needs to be done. So yeah, thank you very much. I’m glad to be a part of this group and what’s been done at the NAACP. And we picked a great winner for the Human Rights Award there too as well.

[00:09:36] Human Rights Commissioner Scott Lemons: I was so honored to be at the NAACP and to be presenting the award. I really want to give a big shout out to (Commissioner) Blake (Burrell) because I got really emotional because Dallas Boggs was brought up several times. So our chair really hung up the Human Rights Commission and stood us up while I was sitting there breaking down and telling people how much Dallas Boggs meant to me and to our community.

[00:10:07] So I just wanted to shout out and honestly, quite honestly, that was probably the highlight of my year. I can’t wait to see it again. Can’t wait to be there again. Thank you for inviting me. Thank you for bringing me on stage and making me feel included.

[00:10:24] And towards the end of the NAACP meeting, I realized that anybody, regardless of race, gender, can be a card-carrying holder of the NAACP. I encourage everyone to do so, but I am so glad that out of this gala, people realize, like, we have a place as well in your organization. So thank you, Demond, for everything. Thank you, the NAACP for hosting. Thank you for even having someone like me and I’ll leave it at that. Thank you.

[00:10:58] John Q: Human Rights commissioners prepare to share a letter with the community, expressing concern about racial injustice in Eugene.

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