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May 24, 2022

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Clark County, cities issue proclamations

Declarations rebuke hate speech and promote inclusiveness

By , Columbian political reporter

The cities of Ridgefield and Vancouver, as well as the Clark County council, have joined the growing number of local governments across the country issuing proclamations decrying hate speech and reaffirming their values of inclusiveness.

Following the divisive and racially charged presidential election, local governments, ranging from major cities to school boards, have made formal gestures to condemn violence and harassment against minority communities while calling for unity. The Southern Poverty Law Center, a Montgomery, Ala.-based national monitor of hate groups, has reported an uptick in incidents of harassment and intimidation against racial and religious minorities with 701 incidents since Election Day on Nov. 8.

Locally, Bridgette Fahnbulleh, president-elect of the Vancouver chapter of the NAACP, said her organization has received increased reports of harassment since the election, and she was “cautiously optimistic” about the recent proclamations from Clark County and the city of Vancouver.

She said her organization has received reports of harassment from individuals in Vancouver. She said most reports have come from Vancouver schools and have involved Latino students being told by their peers to go back to Mexico or that they would be deported soon, a reference to President-elect Donald Trump’s hard-line immigration policies.

“The atmosphere has changed,” Fahnbulleh said.

At Vancouver City Council’s Monday meeting, Mayor Tim Leavitt read a proclamation on behalf of the city declaring that “we are a nation bound not by race or religion, but by the shared values of freedom, liberty and equality. … Our community is strengthened by our growing diversity and ensuring that pathways that foster diversity, dignity, tolerance and respect remain clear and open.”

The proclamation also encouraged leaders in the federal government to “quickly develop a humane and efficient pathway to immigrant legalization, including a process that does not mandate the deportation of otherwise law-abiding residents of our community.”

During the election, Republican presidential nominee Trump repeatedly called for the deportation of undocumented immigrants and for a wall to be built along the country’s southern border to prevent illegal immigration.

“There are a lot of people in our community that understandably have anxiety and fear about their safety, their security and their livelihoods here in the U.S.,” Leavitt said. “And there are a lot of people who are anxious because of the rhetoric we heard during the election.”

Leavitt said that he’s heard of incidents involving inflammatory graffiti or racially charged remarks being made to people in Vancouver. But he nor the Vancouver Police Department have heard of any major recent events involving racial hostility, he said.

“The reality is in every community there is an element of racism and ignorance,” he said.

He said he wanted to set a positive tone for the city with the proclamation and also to call attention to what he said is broad support for an overhaul of U.S. immigration policy.

Ridgefield Mayor Ron Onslow issued a proclamation that was supported unanimously by its city council on Nov. 17.

Unlike the proclamation issued by Leavitt, Onslow’s did not contain any language directed at federal immigration policy. The proclamation states in part that “reports of bullying, harassment, hate speech and violence have risen across the nation in past months.”

The proclamation declares that Ridgefield supports the efforts of Not in Our Town, a national campaign to stop hate speech and promote inclusiveness. It further states that “when people stand together for what is right, they build strong, diverse communities that are safe for everyone.”

Onslow said that the proclamation wasn’t issued in response to any incident in Ridgefield.

“We just want to stay ahead of things because we are growing so fast and we have a very diverse community,” Onslow said.

On Tuesday, the Clark County council issued a similarly worded proclamation without any discussion. After the meeting, Council Chair Marc Boldt told The Columbian that he began considering the proclamation, which was signed by every member of the council, after riots broke out in Portland in response to Trump’s election victory.

As for other municipalities in Clark County, Battle Ground Mayor Philip Johnson said his city may consider a similar proclamation after Thanksgiving. Washougal Mayor Sean Guard didn’t respond to a request for comment. Camas Mayor Scott Higgins said there were no current plans to issue a proclamation, in part because he said his city already is an inclusive place.

“We’ve been proclaiming that for years,” he said.

Columbian political reporter

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