The Vancouver City Council has passed a resolution to acknowledge the existence of systemic racism, calling on itself to take “proactive steps to address its many manifestations in our community.”
Councilors approved the statement unanimously, in a vote that kicked off their remote meeting Monday evening.
“This is an acknowledgement, for me, of a lot of work that lies ahead. A lot of tough conversations, a lot of difficult situations that we’re going to have to confront,” Councilor Ty Stober said.
The statement includes a pledge to work on racial inequities in public health and prosperity, including unemployment, low educational attainment, food insecurity, inadequate health care and insufficient housing.
“We value inclusion, mutual knowledge and respect for diversity,” the document states. “We oppose racism and oppression in our city. We will continue to build an equitable and inclusive culture and fight racism throughout our community.”
The vote Monday evening stands in contrast to the Clark County Council, where Chair Eileen Quiring has drawn fire for her June 24 comments denying the existence of systemic racism in Clark County. A petition calling for Quiring’s resignation had about 7,400 signatures as of Tuesday afternoon.
On Tuesday, the Yacolt town council held a similar vote on a proclamation “acknowledging and denouncing systemic and institutional racism” in the north Clark County city. That resolution failed, 3-2.
An all-white council
The mayor and every member of the Vancouver City Council is white. With very few exceptions, that’s held true through the 163-year history of the city government – and, as Councilor Erik Paulsen pointed out Monday evening, it was the elephant in the virtual room as they passed a resolution denouncing systemic racism.
“When we talk about systemic racism, it’s also important that we understand that we are the policy-makers over one of those systems, which is local government,” Paulsen said. “And so let’s not lose sight of the fact that every single decision that we make, and the legacy of the decisions that have been made prior to us serving, are all a part of that system.”
Late last year, the city formed a Community Task Force on Council Representation, a seven-member group meant to advise the city council on policies that could make the government more diverse and representative of the city it serves.
The task force took a three-month hiatus linked to COVID-19. It reconvened June 18, as protests raged in Vancouver and across the country demanding justice for Black people killed by police.
Protests aren’t the only current development to throw racial inequities into stark relief, Councilor Laurie Lebowsky pointed out. She cited recently obtained data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that shows people of color are far more likely than white people to contract the novel coronavirus.
“The pandemic has exacerbated and really shown the persistent inequities among historically marginalized communities,” Lebowsky said. “I support this statement. I’m glad we’re doing this. And yes, it’s just a first step.”