The Eugene City Council/photo by Colin Houck

City Council’s Divided Vote Against White Supremacy Causes Controversy

Community members are expressing outrage after narrow passage of resolution

The Eugene City Council on Monday, July 22, narrowly passed a resolution condemning white supremacy. The 4-3 vote came after councilors deliberated for more than half an hour about concerns that the city would be policing people’s beliefs. Voting against the resolution were councilors Mike Clark, Emily Semple and Betty Taylor.

The narrow passage of the resolution has angered some residents. Comments on social media have been critical of the councilors who voted against passage, with some questioning those councilors’ beliefs and stating that they would no longer support them.

During the session, Clark first brought up concerns about language in the resolution that he said he felt condemned people for their beliefs. He moved to remove that language, but his motion was voted down, also 4-3.

“I can’t go to the place where we condemn people officially for their beliefs,” Clark said. “Who gets to decide next time?”

Clark asked if the council would also condemn Antifa, which he described as “violent.” Clark did not make any comments about violence perpetrated by white supremacists. He also said that the United States is a republic, and not a democracy, adding it’s “a very important distinction to many.” This distinction and free speech are both popular talking-points on the right, including the far-right and white supremacists.

Mayor Lucy Vinis, however, said an amendment would cause a delay, and that because other agenda items had been “punted,” creating a backlog, she couldn’t guarantee when the resolution could be brought before the council again, so she moved ahead. 

Both Semple and Clark made pains to note that they supported the spirit of the resolution, but freedom of speech needed to be addressed. Semple also pointed out that she brought the resolution before the council, and is on the Human Rights Council, the organization which organized the coalition that drafted the document.

Taylor said she simply didn’t see a need for the resolution.

On the other side of the vote, Councilor Claire Syrett said, “I think it’s an important distinction that our language here is not condemning the people who hold these beliefs, but we are taking a stand about the beliefs. I think we should condemn beliefs that claim that white people are better than other people.”

In an interview with Eugene Weekly, Semple said that she was disappointed the vote went the way it did and had hoped an amendment changing the language would result in a unanimous vote. Semple added that she is hopeful the resolution can still be passed unanimously. She said Councilor Chris Pryor will bring the resolution back on Wednesday for reconsideration.

Joel Iboa, chair of the Human Rights Commission, tells EW that he was proud the city passed the resolution, and the City Council is on the right side of history in passing it. About the “no” votes, he says he understands Semple is a thoughtful person and understood her concerns, but that Clark, while entitled to his own opinions, is on the wrong side. Regarding Taylor’s statements, he says he understands she may not have perspective.

“I think Councilor Taylor has probably the privilege of not seeing why we need this,” Iboa tells EW. “But I know the councilors know there are a number of people in our community who have experienced hate crimes or are feeling unsafe in the city. It’s concerning that Councilor Taylor said she didn’t think this was necessary.”