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Day: September 4, 2018

City council dragging its feet on inclusivity talks

Of the Keizertimes

In January 2017, a user of the social network posted a photo of a swastika drawn in the snow at their home. It was the second time in two years it happened at the residence in the Gubser neighborhood.

The post was met with mixed reactions, some downplayed the severity of the act while others encouraged the resident to report it to the police. Keizer resident Cyndi Swaney took one of the most vocal stances against it.

“It was surprising at how nonchalant people were in talking about the swastika compared to gang tagging going on a few miles away,” said Swaney in a recent interview. She is a teacher in the Salem-Keizer School District.

A few months later, Swaney and a small group of friends attended a string of city council meetings asking for the city council to consider adopting an inclusivity resolution – a statement declaring the city a safe and inclusive space for everyone regardless or race, creed, national origin, gender identity and sexual identity. In the months before the ask, the Salem-Keizer teachers union, the Salem-Keizer School District, and the City of Salem had all adopted similar resolutions.

The request barely got out of mouths of the group before the language of the resolution was deemed “inflammatory” by City Councilor Amy Ryan. In later discussions, the petitioners were accused of creating cover for undocumented immigrants and attempting to make Keizer a sanctuary city.

Nevertheless, Keizer Mayor Cathy Clark said the city would look into “putting Keizer wheels” on such a resolution, and suggested the possibility of establishing a task force. The idea was discussed once more in a work session in July 2017, but the council hasn’t resurrected the conversation since. While other issues have come and gone in that time, the council has canceled seven of its last nine work sessions when it might have taken another look into the inclusivity issue.

“I’m really surprised at the pushback,” Swaney said. “I never would have thought it would take this long. I believed them when they said they would look into forming a committee and have more work sessions to discuss it.”

Swaney realizes that an inclusivity resolution would not put an end to acts rising out of bias and hatred, but such statements are also more than words.

Randy Blazak has been studying hate groups and ways to counteract their messages for the past three decades and said inclusivity resolutions are one way to do it.

“Institutional changes are important in moving the ball forward toward equity, but they are also important to the people served by that institution. We know that someone can be marginalized by a neighbor calling them names, but we can also be marginalized by the institutions that are supposed to serve us, whether it’s a government, bank, or the airline that you fly,” Blazak said. “If you are a person that is a target of that marginalization, any movement toward equity can be incredibly helpful and it means those people can work at their full potential. There was a study that came out last year that found when people can be their true selves, they will work four times as hard and be more involved in the institutions. These [inclusivity] statements ultimately help all of us in that way.”

Earlier this year, a Hispanic Keizer resident was assaulted by another man who lived in his neighborhood. While the crime appeared to rise out of racial bias, the case is still working its way through the justice system. If the victim lived in Salem – which has far-reaching inclusivity language in its adopted statues and ordinances and a volunteer Human Rights Commission to assist victims – he might have had some reassurance that his assailant didn’t represent the community as a whole.

Danielle Meyer, who chairs the Salem Human Rights Commission, said even though it can only provide reassurances in many cases, the words still matter.

“Sometimes all we can do is be there to listen and say we’re sorry that happened, but people really appreciate hearing that. It means a lot to them,” Meyer said.

As it stands, the only statements regarding inclusivity and diversity in Keizer’s city charter are ones marginalizing people with non-mainstream sexual and gender identities. City residents approved the changes to the city charter – the founding document of the city -– with 55 percent of the vote in 1993. (See chart on Page A1 for the differences in language.)

City Councilor Roland Herrera, the sole Latino voice on the Keizer city council, said some recent efforts like Keizer Police Chief John Teague visiting the city’s predominantly Latino church improve relations between Latino residents and Keizer public safety officials, but there is always room to grow within that relationship and other spaces.

In recent years, he’s been employed as a mentor at Kennedy Elementary School and a parent recently reported that, when she was asking about school enrollment on Facebook, someone commented telling her to “go back to Mexico.”

“She was in shock. She had never heard anything like that and didn’t know how to respond. I tell people about incidents like that and they will say that it can’t happen in Keizer, but it does, sometimes,” Herrera said in an interview last week. “I want people to be aware that it does exist for some people.”

He added that it’s incumbent on everyone to “get out of their comfort zones because that’s how you grow.”

Herrera bristled at the idea of an inclusivity resolution being tagged as a maneuver to provide cover for undocumented residents.

“We just want people to be open-minded. If someone is wearing clothing that’s a little bit different, be open-minded and welcoming. I don’t think an [inclusivity resolution] answers everything, but it would be helpful,” Herrera said.

Swaney said support among the group that requested consideration of the inclusivity resolution has not diminished, but actions at the federal and state level (the ending of DACA and the emergence of an Oregon ballot measure to repeal a statewide sanctuary state law) have shifted priorities up the chain of governance. She, for one, is not giving up the cause precisely because she’s seen how lives and minds can be changed by taking a stance on inclusivity issues.

When Swaney taught at Claggett Creek Middle School, she handled an incident when members of the school’s leadership team were found drawing a swastika on a binder during a school project.

“It was a white privilege thing and they didn’t understand. Some people wanted them off the leadership team and I advocated to teach them about what the symbol was and what it represents. In the end, they were put on probation I think we were able to do some positive education.”

(Keizertimes intern Random Pendragon contributed to reporting of this story.)

Driftfishing is hands-down the most popular, and rewarding method of fishing for steelhead. The skills of casting, reading water conditions, a feel for drifting lures along the river bottom, and detecting subtle bites–or “takes”–have to be mastered. Volumes have been written on the subject.

Typically, anglers will stand in thigh-deep water and cast for hours hoping to entice a steelhead to take the offering.

Basic codes of the river usually are that anglers will allow a courteous distance of 10-15 yards between anglers.

Steelheaders like to assign labels to different anglers: The bitcher, whiner, long-liner, and most annoying of them all, the Corker.

The Corker, an angler sees another angler hook fish, or that angler could be where he wants to fish. So, he will move downstream, below the angler, and attempt to intercept the fish first. He will work at mirroring that angler’s casts.

Hooks a fish, he has “corked” the guy.

Corkers basically come in two types. Aggressive corkers simply barge in where they want to fish with little regard for any form of river etiquette. He may make an attempt at conversation. “Nice fish you got there. Should be one out there for me.”

One of the most notorious corkers on one of the coastal rivers was a man who would bring a son and daughter fishing. An angler would catch a steelhead. While the angler is tagging his fish, the Dad sends the 10 to 11-year-olds to fish that spot. Most anglers will move rather than confront kids. After the Dad feels enough time has passed, he moves in and takes over the spot.

Next we have the Sneaky Corker. He moves in at a respectable distance below his target. He very slowly employs the old “crab move” as he slides sideways upriver without even making a ripple.

Today, Bill is having a good day hooking steelhead. He is in the “Hot Spot.”

He has hooked two that come cartwheeling out of the water and shake the hook. He has a chrome-bright 10-pounder on the bank and has released another. If he tags a second fish, he is finished for the day. He wants to continue fishing.

Sneaky, slowly begins to move closer. He is desperately trying to figure out Bill’s secret.

“What color you using?” he asks sheepishly.


Bill hooks another fish.

“How much weight you using?” as he inches closer.

“About an inch.”

“Could I see how long your leader is?”

Now he is close. I can’t believe the nerve of this guy, trying to wedge in between me and old Bill.

Hispanic man assaulted while waiting for son

Of the Keizertimes

On Feb. 7, 2018, just after 1 p.m., on Elizabeth Street North in Keizer, a Hispanic man was waiting by his truck outside his apartment for his son so they could go to work. Then John Ross Niko pulled up.

According to police reports, and verified by a witness who called 9-1-1, Niko got out of his vehicle approached the Hispanic man, began threatening him before punching him in the face, then got back in his vehicle and fled the scene.

On another day, in another instance, the words Niko used before the assault and during and after his arrest might not have mattered as much, but Niko is still facing charges of assault and second-degree intimidation because his actions appeared to have been motivated by racial bias. In Oregon, charges of second-degree intimidation are leveled against suspects when crimes are motivated by the suspect’s “perception of the other’s race, color, religion, sexual orientation, disability or national origin.”

The victim told police Niko stopped his car and said, “Why are you standing here? Go back to Mexico,” then got out of the car and hit him in the face. The responding officer noted in his report that the victim was bleeding around his nose when he arrived.

A witness and the victim’s son said Niko instigated the altercation, and a struggle continued while the son tried to separate the two men. However, Niko appears to have had a history of targeting the the victim and his son. The victim told police Niko, 36, had previously verbally harassed him. The victim’s son claimed Niko once tried to run him over while walking the family dog.

Niko’s vehicle was found around the corner at his residence and the victim and his son were able to identify him as the assailant from a DMV photo. Police returned to Niko’s home and placed him under arrest while he protested against being “arrested for being attacked by an illegal.” Niko asked officers whether they knew the man’s legal status, but it is illegal for officers to ask that question in Oregon because it is a sanctuary state and has been that way for three decades.

When officers asked Niko how he knew the man was in the U.S. illegally, Niko responded, “because he does not speak English.”

The officer said Niko’s continued racially-motivated statements while in a police vehicle prompted him to activate his in-car camera to record them. Niko also said that he did have encounters with the son while walking a dog and that the last time it happened “he did not run him over, but he did not slow down for him and his dog.” He also claimed he was not speeding at the time.

Keizer Police Department Lt. Andrew Copeland said the incident was the only one of its kind he could find in Keizer in recent years. The last one was in 2010 and involved a threat painted on a curbside. Regardless, he said the Keizer Police Department wants residents to report such incidents if they are victimized or witness them.

“If we can establish a pattern of behavior for a specific group or person, where they’re continually slandering or inputting their bias against a specific race or gender or whatever, that would be very good to document for the police department so we can build up that case if something does happen,” Copeland said. “If we have a group that’s being discriminated against, we need to see what we can do to help them out.”

Ideally, he added, police would be able to confront the antagonizer before it rises to the level of physical harm.

Copeland and members of the KPD leadership know and understand that the department, currently, does not reflect the citizenship of Keizer.

“I think that we, as a police department, we don’t represent our city. It’s not that we haven’t tried, we just don’t,” Copeland said.

When the department put out a recruiting call for officers earlier this year, the top five applicants were all white males. This was after going to great lengths to lure a Spanish-speaking officer from another agency.

To bridge some of the gap, KPD began hosting its annual BLAST Camp with a goal of putting city’s youth in close proximity to police officers in non-threatening circumstances. Students at schools with predominantly low-income or minority populations are given access to early sign-ups for the camp.

One of the side effects of the camp being run by current and former KPD officers is that the officers themselves get the chance to see other sides of the community.

“We go out to the community and we interact with people, typically, on their worst day. They’re calling the cops, something bad happened – their house got broken into, they’re frustrated, they’ve been assaulted, domestic violence,” Copeland said. “So for an officer to come in and see youth full of life and love, it just brings meaning back to the job. It’s healthy for both, sometimes more healthy for the cops.”

As a point of contrast, in the Salem Police Department, Lt. Debbie Aguilar is a liaison to the Salem Human Rights Commission that works with victims of hate- and bias-motivated incidents. Aguilar educates fellow officers on what constitutes bias incidents and hate crimes and sets aside incident reports suspected of involving bias motives so they can be brought to the attention of the commission and dealt with.

Copeland said the thing the department needs most is more people and time to devote to connecting with the community. Even after the department added five officers, it remains relatively bare-bones for a city the size of Keizer. A community resource officer works on issues around community connection, but she only works part-time.

“If we had someone who could reach out and set up the meetings, to establish relationships, set up a meeting with an agenda” it would create an avenue for better communication and better dialogue about community issues between community members and the police department, Copeland said.