Mayor Jason Snider has an uncomfortable message: systemic racism exists in Tigard.
To those who don’t see it, he offered a story during the June 9 City Council meeting about an African American resident who was recently drawing with sidewalk chalk – “an activity that happens in almost every neighborhood I’ve ever been in Tigard, frequently,” Snider said. “It happens in my neighborhood. It happens on my own property.”
But in this case, he said, the sidewalk art resulted in someone calling the police on the woman, presumably because of the color of her skin.
“And that’s her experience. That’s her lived experience in Tigard this year,” Snider said. “Think about it for a second. It’s absurd; it is absolutely absurd. And for people denying that this happens, this kind of activity happens all the time. And all you need to do is talk to someone who is, perhaps, not like you who has these experiences.”
The recent death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minnesota, along with many other incidents, has pushed the topics of racism and police use of force to the forefront nationwide. And that includes Tigard.
During the June 9 meeting, council members had a discussion – the first of many to come – about addressing racism on the local level. The council was focused on listening to community members, especially those who are marginalized.
“I have been struck for the last week and a half by just how people who are black experience things and I don’t,” Councilor Liz Newton said. “Listening to people talk about feeling safe. I heard one gentleman talk about having to have a conversation with his 8-year-old son that he doesn’t think a man should have to have with his 8-year-old son. So I keep thinking about the importance of us listening and finding ways to do that.”
Councilor Heidi Lueb suggested that the city take a multi-pronged approach to talking to the community, including things like surveys, social media and, when permissible, in-person gatherings outdoors.
Students should also be part of the conversation, Youth Councilor Meghan Turley said, speaking of a new school resource officer that was part of the police levy package passed by voters in May.
“I think a lot of students have had their opinions or views of the additional police officer in schools shifted over the past weeks,” she said. “So I think those conversations are really important … to make sure you’re making students comfortable in that environment.”
She tasked the council with ensuring that schools get the non-law enforcement resources they need, such as more mental health resources, adding that, “A lot of students view that as an alternative to an additional [resource officer].”
In an earlier statement in response to the killing of George Floyd, Snider laid out three goals for the city and community: “eliminate institutional racism and ensure equity within all city operations and structures; eliminate institutional racism and ensure equity within the Tigard community; improve the lived experience of all persons of color in Tigard such that everyone enjoys the safety and privilege that white men do today.”
On June 9, he reiterated his call for concrete results.
“People like us have been talking about this stuff for decades to centuries and, you know what, we’re still where we are. And it’s pathetic,” he said. “We cannot let this moment slip by, and we must be action-oriented in a meaningful way.”