A bold new direction: City values draft to include condemnation of white supremacy

Keizer resident Mathew Poteet offered emotional testimony at a city council work session. 

A new draft of a Keizer values statement includes a statement condemning white supremacy, a massive shift in the wake of backlash by residents who wanted the statement to go further.

The statement could also include recognition of the Kalapuya Tribe members that once inhabited the land the city now occupies. The values statement and its contents were the only topic at a city council work session Monday, Nov. 9.

Even without public input to lead off the meeting, tension was palpable from all corners, but the entire council was commended by multiple residents who offered comment later in the night. Council members appeared swayed to discuss condemning white supremacy, if not totally convinced, by testimony provided by Benny Williams, the president of the Salem-Keizer NAACP (See related story NAACP).

The statement included by consent of the council was found by Councilor Elizabeth Smith in a resolution from the City of Philomath:

“Keizer condemns racism and those who display racism, discrimination, intolerance, bigotry, and hostility; and does not tolerate expressions or acts of hostility, intimidation, or harassment, and, instead, is committed to elimination of all forms of racism everywhere it exists; and denounces violence against people of color.”

A statement acknowledging the Kalapuya, or American Native populations, was left to be further developed.

Including a definition of white supremacy proved to be a sticking point. Councilor Roland Herrera said that it was self-explanatory and unnecessary.

Herrera used as an example a recent report from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that found the greatest threat in domestic terrorism arises from white supremacy.

“They didn’t need to define it, I think everyone knows what white supremacy is,” Herrera said.

Mayor Cathy Clark said defining the term would leave less room for confusion.

“If we define our terms it sets the framework and clarifies what we a talking about,” Clark said.

Councilor Kim Freeman, who advocated for including recognition of tribal history in the area, also embraced inclusion of some sort of defining statement.

“The more clear we can be, the stronger the statement will be. This is a new conversation for some people in government agencies,” Freeman said. “We’ve had to get there and it takes a lot of education in understanding the words we use. Being clearer will help us further this work.”

The document remains a draft and may still change before adoption by the council.

“Rather than wordsmithing it tonight, I would like to have the city attorney come back to us with a version that might work,” Clark said.