PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty took aim at “white male privilege” in a press release addressing the continued disruptions during Portland City Council meeting.
Hardesty, who just joined the city council at the beginning of the year, said the “disruptions create a chilling effect on people who are unaccustomed to coming to our City Hall to have their voices heard. People are afraid to bring their children to our important civic meetings.”
These disruptions, she said in a late Tuesday night release, “seem to be caused largely by a small group of white men who use their privilege to: Act disruptive, Act disrespectful, Act self-centered.”
During Wednesday’s city council meeting, she spoke about the 4 or 5 white men who she said consistently cause meetings to be shut down by yelling and trying to keep other members of the public from being comfortable enough to testify and harassing council members.
“The reality is that they are white men who think it is their job to come in and disrupt city council,” Hardesty told KOIN 6 News after the meeting. “They don’t come in with an agenda — how we can solve the housing crisis? How we can fix the police? They just come in and yell and curse and intimidate people.”
She noted she knows many of the disruptors personally and respects their desire to be heard. But, she said, “their issues and concerns shouldn’t drown-out the voices of others who come to this building seeking the same access and opportunity. As someone who has spent time 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 is about them. It isn’t.”
One of those men was removed from council chambers Wednesday for distrupting.
The longtime Portland activist said she ran with a promise that anyone and everyone will have a “respectful interaction” with leaders at City Hall.
“We fail in our job when we don’t make access equal, accessible, and fair to all who seek a voice in our processes. We live in a state built on white supremacy and the legacies of that history linger on today,” Hardesty said.
Her “open message” to those who disrupt the city council said she is ready to help if people come with a proposal to improve Portland.
“However, if this is simply about having footage for your YouTube channel or Facebook page, you should be aware that using your privilege in this way cannot continue. You have a right to have your voice heard, but not at the expense of other people.
“I am encouraging other white men and women to check the behavior of 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.”
Other city council members told KOIN 6 they agree with Hardesty and are frustrated that they can’t legally ban or take stronger action against people who are disrespectful and disruptive.
“I wasn’t prepared to be afraid for my physical safety at my job and that is sometimes the level of hostility going on in the room,” Commissioner Chloe Eudaley said.
“Might I have given the statement differently? Maybe, but there are people who fit the category she
called out,” Commissioner Nick Fish said.
Asked if he believes race is a part of this issue, Mayor Ted Wheeler told KOIN, “Jo Ann is factually correct.”
Wheeler also said, “the best we can is when they stand up or start yelling or interrupting people’s testimony we can kick them out.”