What Has Lane County Changed A Year After Protests For Racial Justice?
Government officials and organizations across the country passed resolutions in response to Black Lives Matter protests last year. They said they would better support Black community members. However, not everyone is impressed with local efforts to help Oregonians of color.
Black Lives Matter protests lasted consistently throughout last summer in Eugene.
The City of Eugene created the police policy ad hoc committee to suggest changes for some of the local police department’s policies. They later approved a resolution that condemned white nationalism in January.
Eugene Mayor Lucy Vinis said the city also reevaluated its 2019 community safety initiative.
“That engagement process really revealed people who were saying, 'We don't want you to talk about community safety, we want you to talk about community well-being,'" said Vinis. "That's a profound shift. And it implies kind of very broad societal shift in thinking.”
Protesters for months demanded the city allocate more funding toward CAHOOTS -- Eugene’s non-police crisis response team. But the city hasn’t provided the $1.8 million the group requested. Instead, it’s budgeted one-time funding that will be about 7% of CAHOOTS’ original request.
The Lane County Board of Commissioners passed a resolution last June to support Black Lives. Joe Berney is the chair of the County board of Commissioners. He said he still has mixed feelings about what the statement means for the community.
“Resolutions are interesting things," said Berney. "In and of themselves, they don't do squat. Unless they engender action and change they don't mean much. You might as well put them on a shelf and forget them.”
But Berney said they want to fulfill their promise to engage with people of color -- to hire more diverse staff and provide more accessible healthcare. The county worked with local organizations of color to vaccinate community members, and passed a resolution in April that made racism a public health crisis. They will also open a sixth Community Health Center to reach people who are low income or don't have health insurance.
Springfield Mayor Sean VanGordon said his city did not issue a resolution in response to the BLM movement.
“We didn't pass a resolution against racism, but we did talk about the fact that political violence isn't welcome here,” said VanGordon.
VanGordon said he had many additional conversations with community members about their reactions to the social justice protests. But the actual number of six people isn’t very high, and may not reflect the entirety of the community.
VanGordon said the city hopes to host community conversations about the police department this month.
But even though city and county leaders say they are making strides, some community members are not so impressed. Henry Luvert is a longtime Eugene resident, and a former president of the NAACP of Eugene/Springfield for about 20 years. He said there have to be conversations between local leaders and the community.
“To build change, there has to be dialogue,” said Luvert.
But his efforts fell short many years ago when he urged then Eugene Chief of Police Pete Kearns to host conversations about race.
“I remember talking to Chief of Police Pete Kerns," said Luvert. "And I said, ‘Pete, why can't we have a dialogue with police -- have study circles on race?’ He said he didn't think they would go for it.”
Whether that’s changed is questionable. Both the Eugene and Springfield police have been hit with multiple use of force lawsuits in response to actions during social justice protests. Protests also reignited questions around people who were killed by police, such as Stacey Kenny and Charlie Landeros.
This summer, the BLM protests and public calls for more inclusion have tapered off. Thinking back to last year's protests, Luvert said he isn’t surprised.
“It was like, okay, seen this movie, know how it's going to end," said Luvert. "There'll be some minor changes, and then we'll drift back to the status quo. And what happens is you can make some changes, but status quo creeps back in. And the reason why it creeps back in is because the changes aren't made substantial or go deep enough to affect enough people.”
On the state level, Senator James Manning of Eugene hopes to pass legislation that would have a long term impact.
“Have we moved the needle? I think considerably," said Manning. "Is there more to do? There is much more to do because we're talking about years of systemic racism. We're talking about a system that was designed systemically to oppress and hold black people -- people that look like me.”
Lawmakers passed seven police reform bills last year and at least eight more so far this session. And several laws that support Oregonians of color--including one that makes it a crime of intimidation to display a noose in Oregon.
Editors' note: This project is a collaboration between KLCC and The Eugene Register-Guard.
Contact reporter Jordyn Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @thejordynbrown; reporter Tatiana Parafiniuk-Talesnick at Tatiana@registerguard.com and on Twitter @TatianaSophiaPT; and reporter Elizabeth Gabriel at email@example.com and on Twitter @_elizabethgabs.