A virtual Vancouver City Council meeting this weekend was briefly halted after unidentified attendees interrupted with racist and sexist epithets.
The council met Saturday as part of a series of retreat sessions. Councilors meet via Zoom due to the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak.
Councilor Laurie Lebowsky was speaking about 90 minutes into the meeting when at least two men interrupted. They spent roughly 30 seconds directing the epithets toward councilors, Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle said.
Under state law, the council was not legally allowed to adjourn the meeting without a formal process. But eventually, the consultant group hosting the meeting managed to “clear the room” by muting all but the councilors and those directly involved in the meeting.
“The technician couldn’t hit that mute button fast enough,” McEnerny-Ogle said. “It was very upsetting and shocking.”
Councilors, some of whom appeared visibly shaken, recessed before resuming their work. McEnerny-Ogle said that they plan to file a report with the Vancouver Police Department.
“I apologize to anyone and everyone that had to listen to that trash,” Councilor Bart Hansen said in a statement posted to Facebook. “I do see this as another reason for this council to band together in denouncing this blatant and disgusting display of racism.”
In addition to the hateful language, the episode also underscores challenges local governments have faced in facilitating public comments since COVID-19 started to spread.
Before the council’s Monday night meetings, which the city itself administers, those who wish to offer comments are asked to either submit them in writing or register to speak by noon that day. The retreat agenda did not include a public comment session, but it provided a Zoom link, phone number and meeting identification number for those who wanted to listen.
“You wouldn’t have that at an (in-person) meeting because you can see who it is,” McEnerny-Ogle said. “These two males could have been from anywhere.”
The city council meeting apparently was not the only one interrupted over the weekend.
That same day, those who attended a virtual Clark County Democratic Women meeting saw pornographic images as people shouted racist remarks, the organization said on Facebook. The organization said the photos were interlaced with images of supporters of President Donald Trump.
“We will not be intimidated by your postings of virulent sex acts, the promotion of a president who lost through a free and fair election process and racism,” the organization said in a statement. “We condemn all acts of violence to include virtual acts against us as women and all people of color and sexual orientation.”
Councilor Ty Stober linked the incidents on Saturday to the deadly riot Jan. 6 at the U.S. Capitol.
“This experience was traumatic. It demonstrates that the attacks on our government institutions don’t just happen through armed insurrection,” Stober said in a statement. “The attack on the U.S. Capitol, the attacks on our state capitols and the Zoom-bomb that happened today are being conducted by people who believe the United States should only exist to serve them. I, and the Vancouver Council, strongly disagree.”