COOS BAY — After listening to heated public comment regarding racism or the perceived lack thereof in the Coos Bay community, the Coos Bay City Council voted unanimously to adopt a resolution supporting diversity, equity and inclusion within the city.
About 10 people spoke to the council, which met for the first time in person at the Coos Bay Public Library since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Some asked the council why they would consider such a resolution, while others asked why the council hasn't done more to ensure people of all races feel safe.
During the meeting, about 50 people gathered outside to support speakers on both sides. Those speaking were only able to enter the library individually due to social distancing guidelines. The meeting was being broadcast via a speaker outside the library as well as on a Facebook live feed.
The two groups clashed loudly at first, with two Coos Bay Police officers on hand who stood between people when it appeared tensions were escalating. After a few verbal confrontations involving angry yelling and threats, the crowd calmed down and began talking to each other, with a few eventually agreeing to meet at a later date in the week to talk about how they could come together for a common cause despite their differences.
Jay Brown, a leader among the Black people in Coos County, posted a live feed on Facebook of the impromptu rally.
Inside, at the meeting, Tristan Avelis of Coos Bay was the first speaker during public comment, who spoke on behalf of the Safer as One group. He asked the council to consider establishing community-led committees that would provide a network of people who can promote inclusivity, represent the public's voice to local governement and educate people on how inclusion can look in the community.
Cameron Langley said he has been concerned about derogatory comments he's heard about many different minority groups in Coos Bay since he moved here in 2017 and attended Marshfield High School. He feels the city has "no sense of urgency to do anything about it."
Ray Cox, owner of Giddings Boat Works, also addressed the council, saying he was frustrated that the council felt the need to address racism when he's never seen a problem in Coos Bay.
"I've been here 20 years and I've never really seen any racism here until now," Cox said. "Why don't we address some real problems, like homelessness and drugs? ... There's some real problems going on here and we're talking about something like this."
Matt Holman asked the council if they believed there is systemic racism problem in Coos Bay.
"I don't see it," Holman said. "I work for a logging outfit and we're way over half Latinos, probably three-fourths and I asked those guys today, 'Do you feel racism in Coos Bay? Do you feel people don't like you just because of the color of your skin?' Nope. No, we like it here, Coos Bay is good,' they said."
Holman went on to say he doesn't understand the destruction of monuments and statues happening in larger cities.
"Yet you want to raise one because it's one you like? But the rest of us like our history and our things that happened and we can't have that, but you can have yours for Alonzo?" he said, referring to a plaque that is planned for Front Street in Coos Bay, memorializing the only documented public lynching of a man in Oregon, in Coos Bay in 1902.
"I'm not a bigot," Holman concluded. "I don't see a problem here in Coos Bay."
Dominque Toyer of Medford also spoke, talking about the rampant racism among America's founding fathers and advocating for more than a plaque to memorialize Alonzo Tucker.
"Since Coos Bay tried to hide the lynching, the city needs to serve as a beacon for integration, inclusion and zero tolerance for racism," Toyer said. "... You need to demonstrate a higher moral standard than our founding fathers. The reason you can't see racism is you don't have to."
Eddie Cordova of Coos Bay said the Coos Bay community has never been anything but warm, welcoming and supportive to his family.
"Nothing needs to be done and nothing needs to change," Cordova said, adding that the Civil Rights activists of the past did the groundwork and laid the foundation and "it's already there."
Rob Taylor warned that things are going to escalate.
"This is not about racism, this is a whole new government they are trying to lay on us," Taylor said. "It's Marxism, it's Maoism and they are trying to divide us. If you just look out the window right now, you'll see how we are divided, there are people ready to go to blows with each other."
Taylor said he was upset that the city plans to put up a memorial to Alonzo Tucker using tax dollars when "your streets are deteriorating."
"You've got homeless out there on the sidewalks and your doing this? It's ridiculous," he said angrily.
Jay Brown said she was upset that she's been leading rallies and promoting the Black Lives Matter movement for the past 30 days and has reached out to city councilors and the mayor, but hasn't heard back from any of them.
"I support you, I support all of your businesses and today I'm here as an angry Black woman that has been deemed violent and a terrorist even though that man that just came in and screamed at you, he wasn't considered a threat," she said, referring to Taylor.
Brown said she wanted the Black community to be included in the discussion and talked about the recent racist graffiti and other incidents that point to racism in the community.
"I'm upset," Brown said. "There's nothing being done. You guys made a statement about Juneteenth and didn't even want involvement from the Black community? ... I'm not here for Safer as One, I'm here as a Black member, a Black leader for this community, for all 14 of us. ... What are you doing for us, because as of right now, I don't see anything ... you guys keep making statements, but no actions ... you can't tell me that it's not racist here."
Following her comments, Mayor Joe Benetti said he was not aware of phone calls or emails from Brown and Councilor Carmen Matthews said he had been in contact with her and was hurt that she felt he had not responded. Benetti said City Manager Rodger Craddock, who was not present at the meeting, had also answered an email from Brown that had at first gone to his junk mail file. Benetti apologized and said he would be glad to set up a meeting with Brown.
After a statement read by Benetti outlining the city's commitment to racial equality, Benetti read the proposed resolution, which was then passed unanimously by the council. Benetti said the resolution is the first action the city is taking to ensure everyone in Coos Bay feels safe, respected and represented.
The city also plans to hold a series of community listening and learning forums where Benetti and city councilors will engage in open dialogue regarding the racial tensions taking place in the community.
"From these listening forums, we plan to come away with actionable next steps to improve our community," Benetti said.
In addition, the Coos History Museum is collaborating with stakeholders and community members to prepare a recommendation on how the community can commemorate the life of Alonzo Tucker and others who have fallen victim to racial injustices that have occurred in the community.
And finally, in response to what Benetti described as the "disturbing graffiti incidents we’ve seen throughout the last six weeks," the city is revisiting its ordinance on graffiti to ensure it addresses the current concerns of the community. People are asked to call 541-267-6666 to report incidents.
"It is our goal to not only remove the graffiti within 24 hours, but also to identify those who are responsible," Benetti said.
Read the city's Commitment to Racial Equality online at www.theworldlink.com.