Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty after being sworn in to the Portland City Council on Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2019.
In a statement issued late Tuesday night, Portland Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty said “white male privilege” empowers a small band of men who regularly disrupt City Council meetings and drive visitors away.
“I am concerned about how privilege and, specifically white male privilege, is limiting the public’s access to City Hall,” Hardesty said.
She rebuked the men she said are disruptive, disrespectful and self-centered.
Their outbursts come like clockwork.
Nearly every council meeting is halted by a handful of men who call themselves “cop watchers” or citizen journalists. They shout about the police department or ramble on about actions they say are corrupt. They also videotape themselves and the commissioners and refuse to leave when asked. They later post their camera footage to social media websites.
Sometimes the so-called cop watchers take their activism beyond City Hall.
Two of the men have showed up at the homes of Mayor Ted Wheeler, Police Chief Danielle Outlaw and District Attorney Rod Underhill to videotape them. Other times they follow officials to their personal cars or offices. One was later jailed and accused of violating a stalking order to stay away from the chief.
By issuing her statement, Hardesty, in her third week as a city commissioner, is taking a different tack than her council colleagues. The others mostly ignore the disrupters, or at least try to.
Hardesty said she is all ears if the men have policy proposals. But she implored them to stop hijacking council meetings.
The interruptions frighten people and lead others to stay away from City Hall, Hardesty said.
“I find it chilling and disrespectful that there are a few white men who think that everything this council does is about them. It isn’t,” said Hardesty, who is the first African American woman to sit on the council.
She implored other white people who attend council meetings to intervene and stop “those who seek to drown out the voices of others.”
“Civic discourse cannot thrive if it is not coupled with civility and respect for all others,” she said.
— Gordon R. Friedman
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