Eileen Quiring’s comment last week about racial injustice was offensive and naïve. At a time that many Americans are opening their eyes to systemic racism throughout the country, the Clark County chair has revealed a blind spot.
“I do not agree that we have systemic racism in our county. Period,” Quiring said during a meeting with county councilors.
The comment came during a discussion about Clark County Sheriff Chuck Atkins’ decision to ban “Thin Blue Line” flag stickers and decorations from sheriff’s office vehicles, offices and uniforms. As The Columbian explained: “Once intended to support law enforcement and family of officers killed in the line of duty, the iconography has become a source of controversy due to a perceived overlap with ‘Blue Lives Matter,’ a phrase that emerged in response to the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement.”
Councilors were discussing a letter of support for Atkins’ decision. The council approved the letter 4-1, with Quiring the only dissenting vote.
The comment about systemic racism was a small part of a lengthy exchange, primarily between Quiring and Councilor Temple Lentz. But it drew a swift rebuke, leading to NAACP Vancouver and the League of United Latin American Citizens calling for Quiring’s resignation.
Quiring needs to acknowledge her comment was inaccurate, learn how systemic racism influences decision-making in our community, and work to eliminate it. If she is unable to accept this responsibility, she should step aside.
Meanwhile, the incident should lead to an examination by all citizens of what is meant by systemic racism. Because America’s history of bigotry extends beyond overt acts and to systems long designed to preserve the white-controlled power structure.
In the mid-20th century, that included redlining policies that prevented minority homeownership in desirable parts of a city. And it included denial of G.I. Bill benefits to more than 1 million Black U.S. veterans, hampering the economic advancement that was enjoyed by whites who had served in World War II.
Today, it includes well-documented disparities in police treatment of minorities, hiring practices by companies, and accessibility to health care, quality education and bank loans. National NAACP President Derrick Johnson defines it as “systems and structures that have procedures or processes that disadvantages African Americans.”
The United States should be beyond the point of denying that these prejudices exist. Alas, comments such as Quiring’s reinforce a trope that has prevented this nation from recognizing its flaws and working to eradicate them. All government officials and employers — The Columbian included — should be actively examining how their procedures and processes can provide equal access to the American dream and better reflect their communities.
Such efforts should not be viewed as a threat, but rather as an opportunity for growth.
As Lentz said: “Talking about supporting people who want to eradicate systemic injustice does not mean setting aside law enforcement, does not mean undervaluing others. This isn’t pie. It’s not like there is a certain amount of justice to go around, or there certainly shouldn’t be.”
Protests triggered by the death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis have brought attention to these issues. That attention should continue, and should be accompanied by a sincere desire for understanding.
It should not be accompanied by a denial of what is obvious to anybody willing to keep their eyes open.