McKinleyville working on racism issue

Jack Durham
Mad River Union

McKINLEYVILLE – Leaders in McKinleyville are slowly developing a strategy to combat racism. But what, exactly, that strategy will include has yet to be determined.

“We’re at the conceptual stage with this,” said McKinleyville Municipal Advisory Committee (McKMAC) member Craig Tucker at an Aug. 30 meeting at McKinleyville Middle School. More than 50 residents turned out for the standing-room-only meeting.

Tucker explained to his fellow committee members and those in attendance that an informal group called the Working Group on Race met on Aug. 18 and discussed a variety of ideas on how to address race relations. Present at the meeting were Tucker, McKMAC chair Ben Shepherd, Sheriff William Honsal, local clergy and representatives of the Humboldt Area Foundation, McKinleyville Family Resource Center, McKinleyville Middle School and the McKinleyville Community Services District.

Tucker said that the group wants to do something more than to just hold a meeting where people complain about racism. The group might hold a series of workshops or maybe distribute educational materials.

“I think there are a lot of possibilities but I think what we really want to do is end up with something that would actually be meaningful and effective,” Tucker said.

Racial tensions have heated up both locally and nationally since last year, when Donald Trump, during his successful campaign to become President of the United States, threatened to deport millions of undocumented people and called for a ban on Muslims entering the country. On April 15, 19-year-old Josiah Lawson, who was black, was stabbed to death at a house party in Arcata. Some at the party alleged that racism played a role in the killing. The case is still unsolved.

Tucker asked that the committee discuss the issue of racism back in May, but then the committee got bogged down over a dispute over who controls the meeting agendas and whether racism falls under the advisory committee’s purview. That led to a meeting July 26, during which the committee debatd whether to put the issue of racism on a future agenda. The committee ultimately voted unanimously to do so.

And if last week’s meeting is any indication, there’s no longer any hesitation among committee members to discuss racism and play a part in the discussion.

“I think this is the kind of problem where no one is going to solve this for us,” Tucker said. “We have to solve this for ourselves.”

Committee Chair Shepherd, who in May kept the issue off the agenda because he said it outside the committee’s purview, was fully in support of the discussion and also participated in the Aug. 18 meeting of the Working Group on Race. “It was an excellent meeting in that we made a lot of progress toward the goal of a healthier McKinleyville,” Shepherd said.

No KKK in town

The committee also discussed the persistent rumors that the Ku Klux Klan operates in McKinleyville. Sheriff Honsal has said that there is no evidence that then KKK is operating in McKinleyville. The website of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups, has no mention of an organized hate group operating in McKinleyville.

Fifth District Supervisor Ryan Sundberg elaborated on the KKK rumor.

“We actually did look into this with the Sheriff and he worked with the FBI recently, to really dig into it deep to see if there is anything there,” Sundberg said.
There is an anonymous posting on an internet chat site from 2008 that claims there was a planned meeting of the KKK at Clam Beach, but it appears to be a hoax.

“There is absolutely nothing to it. There is no KKK in McKinleyville,” Sundberg said. “So if you can help us dispel that rumor that would be really great,” Sundberg said.

However, as several speakers noted at the meeting during the time for public comment, the absence of the KKK in town does not mean there is not a problem with racism.

David Couch, who is a member of the McKinleyville Community Services District Board of Directors, said that he was recently reminded by his 30-year-old daughter about an ugly incident that happened back when she was a student at McKinleyville High School. A teacher, who was white, moved to McKinleyville with his black wife and their children, Couch said. One day someone burned the image of a cross on their lawn, Couch said. Shortly after the couple moved away, he said.

Others point to comments on the internet as evidence of Humboldt’s racist underbelly.

“The comments on the internet are terrifying,” said Breanne Olmstead. “I feel personally unsafe putting myself up here on public record this month and last month.... People in our community have made it clear that people of color and those who support them or speak out against racism will be targeted in our community. That is very clear on the internet.”

Repeatedly during the discussion, those who spoke said they wanted to make McKinleyville a safe place for all people. But committee member John Corbett said the goal should be even greater.

“Of course we have to have a safe community, and that’s the bottom line... there shouldn’t even be a discussion about that, but to me that’s too low of a goal. Our goal should be equal opportunity, period,” said Corbett, whose comment was met with applause.

The issue will be standing agenda item for the committee’s monthly meetings for the foreseeable future. The next meeting is tentatively scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 2 at the Middle School Conference Center, 2275 Central Ave. in McKinleyville. The Working Group on Race is also trying to organize another meeting.

“What I think we need is a couple months more of meetings,” Tucker said.


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