Tensions were running high going into the City Council work session on Monday, Nov. 9. More than one Keizer resident in attendance started off their testimony by saying they came in with a different prepared statement, which was revised by the progress made in the work session.
Most in attendance echoed previous calls for condemning white supremacy, which the council added to the value statement during the time before public comment.
“I came here tonight with a heavy heart after hearing some of the comments and some of the concerns that were made, but I want to thank you for taking the time to assert that my life matters as a citizen of Keizer,” said resident Claire Snyder. Snyder is a Black and Latina woman who has lived in Keizer since she was 6 years old.
“I want to thank each and every one of you for making yourselves uncomfortable to make me feel safe because that is what you are doing,” Snyder said.
While many struck an appreciative tone, there were difficult moments dragging some of Keizer’s past into the light.
When she was 16 years old, Snyder said, a Keizer police officer drew a gun on her which prompted her to move out of Keizer for a period of time so that she could feel safe.
Written testimony also recalled a time when the Keizer Police Department did not have the more forward-thinking leadership it has presently. Former co-city manager John Morgan wrote to the council to remind them of times before many of the current councilors lived in Keizer.
“In the 1990s, a rallying cry in the police department (was): ‘Let’s go beat some b**ners!’ Both leadership and toleration of this type of white supremacist ethic was part of the justification for firing then police chief, Chuck Stull,” he said.
While Keizer voters approved a measure to rewrite the city charter and remove the language that marginalized LGBTQ+ residents, another local leader told councilors that it was incumbent upon them to continue leading the city away from such incidents.
“That history doesn’t define you as council members, if you walk away from it. The closer you stay to that history, the more it will stain you,” Levi Herrera-Lopez wrote in a submitted statement to the council. Herrera-Lopez is the executive director of Mano a Mano Family Center, a Salem-based nonprofit that serves more than 100 Keizer families.
Michele Roland-Schwartz, a Keizer resident and director of a local nonprofit that works with other agencies to train in and reduce risk factors for domestic violence, talked about the preventative work that the Oregon Attorney General’s Task Force has tried to do when it comes to working with the most vulnerable populations. She spoke specifically with Native and Indigenous populations where it is not a matter of “if” they experience domestic violence, but “when”.
She said sexual violence is deeply connected to attitudes of manifest destiny, white supremacy and stolen land.
“This city taking bold leadership and denouncing white supremacy helps crack that open and it offers us an opportunity to heal communities,” Roland-Schwartz said.
While many of the changes councilors made to the document were met with approval by those offering public testimony, others still saw room for growth.
“Unfortunately, what I see in the draft statement looks like the worst of both worlds,” said Keizer resident Pat Fisher in her written statement to the council. “It does not have sufficient detail to discern what actions really need to be taken – and by whom – nor does it have a reassuring or welcoming tone.”
Fisher also offered in-person-testimony before the council where she advised them to rephrase much of the document as though it were talking to a neighbor. She also wanted to see the council move rapidly toward formal adoption.
“I hope that you will get this done before the turn over of the new council because you all have invested a lot in this and it would be that much more difficult if you had to start over with different people involved,” Fisher said.
The council is not allowed to vote during work sessions, but some version of the values statement will likely be taken up at a city council meeting in the coming months.