PORTLAND, OR (KPTV) - The newest member of the Portland City Council says “white male privilege” is restricting access to city hall.
Specifically, Jo Ann Hardesty says the people who regularly disrupt city council meetings are white men who feel that their privilege entitles them to drown out the proceedings at the expense of other voices.
“The reality is there are white men who think it’s their job to come into Portland City Council and disrupt the proceedings,” Hardesty told reporters Wednesday.
Hardesty is the first African American woman to sit on the council and has only been on the job for three weeks.
During that time, she says she’s noticed a common thread.
“Today, we’re late because we had a white guy who came in and started yelling and had to be escorted out. The same thing happened last week and the week before that,” she said. “…I think it’s driven by privilege, just that here I am and by golly this is what’s on my mind and regardless of the agenda you have to listen to me and everybody else has to listen to me.”
But in the past, FOX 12 has seen countless protests interrupting council meetings that involve other people, representing a mix of races, genders and backgrounds.
Hardesty said in her three weeks at City Hall, she’s only seen white men interrupting proceedings, but she would call out anyone who disrupts the democratic process of city governance, regardless of race.
“I call it as I see it. If they were black men I would have said these black men need to stop doing this and black men should call them out on that behavior,” she explained.
Hardesty’s office sent out a press release on the matter Tuesday evening, saying the disruptions have “a chilling effect” on members of the public as well as City Hall employees, and discourage other people from coming to council meetings to testify on important issues because they fear for their safety.
“As someone who has spent a lot of time on the other side of this podium demanding accountability, I find it chilling and disrespectful that there are a few white men who think that everything this council does it about them. It isn’t,” Hardesty said through the press release. “…I am encouraging other white men and women to check the behavior of those who seek to drown out the voices of others.”
Mayor Ted Wheeler and fellow Portland City Commissioner Nick Fish also weighed in with reporters Wednesday, supporting Hardesty for speaking out publicly and sharing her broader concerns over repeated protests in council chambers.
But on the issue of specifically calling out white men?
“She is factually correct, they are all white guys who come in and do that, so I can’t disagree with her,” Mayor Wheeler said.
“She spoke her truth and I accept that and we should celebrate that,” Commissioner Fish said. “Might I have given the statement slightly differently? Maybe. But there are some people who fit the category she called out who are doing most of the disruptions.”
Mayor Wheeler also expressed frustration that their hands are essentially tied on the issue.
Because the courts have ruled that it’s unconstitutional to prohibit people from attending council meetings who are known to be regular disrupters, city leaders are only able to kick people out once disruptive protests start.
Wheeler expressed a desire to return to the court process to see if there’s another solution at hand.
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