McKinleyville’s advisory committee will tackle the issue of discrimination and open up a community dialogue about race relations.
The McKinleyville Municipal Advisory Committee (McKMAC) voted unanimously at its July 26 meeting to place the issue of racism on the agenda for its Aug 30 meeting.
That meeting will most likely be focused on organizing an upcoming forum of some sort, which may be facilitated by staff from the Equity Alliance of the North Coast. That organization, run by the Humboldt Area Foundation, facilitates meetings about racial equity issues and, as its slogan states, it works towards “creating a place where all belong.”
About 50 people filled the Middle School Conference Center last week – a sizable crowd by McKinleyville standards – to listen and provide input to the advisory committee.
Although the existence of racism in Mack Town was discussed, that wasn’t the purpose of the agenda item. The issue was whether to put the issue of racism on a future agenda.
Committee member Craig Tucker had asked that the issue be placed on the May 31 agenda, but committee Chair Ben Shepherd refused to do so, saying the issue was outside the county advisory committee’s purview. So at the May 31 meeting, the committee reverted to a policy it had approved in February which allows members to override the chair’s decision if two committee members support an agenda item.
But then Fifth District Supervisor Ryan Sundberg intervened. He contacted County Counsel, which delivered an opinion via email that the committee cannot unilaterally create its own rules. Only the Board of Supervisors can change committee rules.
That made the two-member rule to override the chair invalid. So Tucker now needed to get a majority of committee members to vote in his favor to override Shepherd’s refusal to put the item on the agenda.
But at last week’s meeting, Shepherd said he didn’t want to control what went on the agenda, That was something the committee should decide.
“I’m not going to step into it. I’m going to make the committee make the decision,” Shepherd said.
‘Can of worms’
The driving force in getting the committee to address racism was Tucker, who explained his reasons for doing so at the meeting.
“I want to say why I did what some people describe as opening a can of worms,” Tucker said.
“I’m not often a victim of racism myself. I’m a white guy,” he said.
“I grew up in South Carolina. I grew up in a community where there was a lot of racism,” Tucker explained. “I grew up in a place where the Klan did burn a cross at my local park when I was young.”
“I’ve seen a lot of bad things in that regard,” he said.
Tucker, who works for the Karuk Tribe, said he’s also seen a lot of racism towards American Indians.
Given the recently publicized cases in the national news of unarmed black men being shot by police, April’s stabbing death of Humboldt State student Josiah Lawson, Tucker said he felt McKinleyville needs to address the issue of racism. He also noted that when he tells people that he lives in McKinleyville, they often refer to it as McKlaneyville.
Tucker also complained about the “aggravating” process for getting items on meeting agendas.
At times, there were some tense back and forth between Tucker and Shepherd, but committee member Barbara Georgianna shut it down.
“I would like this banter to stop,” said Georgianna, who urged the committee to address the issue on the agenda.
All committee members who spoke said they agreed that racism is a topic worthy of discussion.
Committee member Kevin Jenkins said the topic needs to be discussed as much as possible. “It’s just something you need to shine a light on to make it go away.” Jenkins said.
But Jenkins and some of his fellow committee members were uncertain whether the advisory committee was the right venue for the discussion.
Some members of the committee – which is made up of seven white men and one white woman – said they were uncertain as to the extent of racial problems in McKinleyville.
During public comment, though, they got the answer.
“Racism is definitely a thing,” said Daniel Feicco, who is Native American. “It’s baked into our culture.”
As to whether the discussion falls under the committee’s purview, “ Feicco said “It’s a public safety issue.”
Paula Tripp-Allen, also a Native American, said racism is an issue. “There’s not a lot of blatant, blatant racism, at least not here on the coast,” she said, but there are a lot of microaggressions.
Another man urged the committee to move forward and tackle the issue. “Be bold, be brave and go for it,” he said.
Committee members who were initially reluctant to move forward seemed to come around when Patrick Cleary of the Humboldt Area Foundation indicated that his organization could help the committee with a future forum or discussion of some sort.
There was also a discussion of holding a joint meeting with the county’s Human Rights Commission, which tackles race issues as part of its charter.
The next committee meeting is tentatively scheduled for Wednesday, Aug. 30 at the Middle School Conference Center, 2285 Central Ave. in McKinleyville.
Jack Durham is the editor of the Mad River Union. Subscribe here.