Clark County Council discusses resolution condemning systemic racism

Council approves motion to create resolution and will adopt Tuesday

VANCOUVER — In response to the social unrest across the nation after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, members of the Clark County Council voted to create a resolution condemning systemic racism and pledging to enact change.

The resolution, which began as a letter, was drafted earlier this week and was today approved to be revised and will be revisited at the council’s next meeting. Via WebEx call, the councilors discussed their support for the tone and message of the letter, but did differ on the addition of one element regarding the justice system. 

Members of the Clark County Council are shown in this file photos, from left to right, Councilor Temple Lentz, Councilor Julie Olson, Council Chair Eileen Quiring, Councilor John Blom, and Councilor Gary Medvigy. Photo by Mike Schultz
Members of the Clark County Council are shown in this file photos, from left to right, Councilor Temple Lentz, Councilor Julie Olson, Council Chair Eileen Quiring, Councilor John Blom, and Councilor Gary Medvigy. Photo by Mike Schultz

“I think that this is an important message and I’d like to see it sort of held up a little bit higher than simply a statement and make it a resolution of how we plan to move forward,” said Councilor Temple Lentz. “I had a couple of amendments, one was to request that in the document, we change the phrase, systematic racism to systemic. It’s a language point, but I think it’s an important one.”

Lentz explained that she sees systematic as an issue of something procedural, and obviously not wanted, whereas systemic speaks to something endemic in the system. The other councilors agreed to the change and the rephrasing of the final paragraph.

Councilor Gary Medvigy also provided a desired addition, by requesting a line in the resolution regarding the justice system and asking residents to support the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. 

“I think we need to do something, and I really appreciate the substance and tone of this one,” Medvigy said. “The only addition I had put in was just basically a line about our justice system. Obviously a theme is equal protection under the law, and one of the things that’s happening nationally that I think has gotten really out beyond where it should be, is ignoring the presumption of innocence and the investigative stages and right to a jury trial.”

Councilors Lentz and John Blom pushed back with concerns over potential consequences of what they described as a somewhat divergent message.  

“I agree with the sentiment, but one of the concerns that I’ve heard is that there’s many people, particularly minority people of color, that feel like the system hasn’t worked fairly,” Blom said. “You know, it took three days for charges to be filed on this when there was clear video evidence. So I think, talking about that, but finding a way to recognize that also, maybe the system hasn’t actually worked to promote equality.” 

“I agree with many of the things you said Councilor Medvigy,” Lentz said. “To be frank, I think that it’s somewhat tone deaf to advocate for waiting for the justice system to play out when the deaths that led to this response, those individuals did not receive the benefit of a jury trial because they were killed. If we’re going to say, let the justice system play out in a letter that is in response to the anger about the deaths of those who did not receive that treatment, I think we would be making an error.”

Medvigy replied to both sets of comments rebutting assessments of the potential perception, but said he would still be wholly in support of the resolution even without his addition. He also said he does not favor resolutions because of their slow process, and suggested an expedited process for this resolution.

“There’s hundreds of thousands of jury trials where justice has been allocated. We jump to presumptions about what you watch on a video,” Medvigy said. “I am not in any way tone deaf and I understand the point. But nevertheless, I don’t want to join a mob either. A video just paints a soda straw view of anything, and forensic evidence, evidence of what happened before … All of that is going to be relevant to it playing out. Yes, there are injustices. Yes, they do happen. But the hundreds of thousands of police contacts that occur every day are done peaceably, honorably, and in the interest of justice.”

Councilor Julie Olson also supported Lentz’s additions, and was followed up by Blom who asked for the addition of the name of a black man to the resolution who died in Tacoma police custody earlier this year. Manuel Ellis was being restrained in a similar method to George Floyd when he died, according to the Seattle Times

The council intends to adopt the resolution at their next meeting on Tuesday. A draft copy of the resolution can be found here.

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