PORT ANGELES — A complaint about racist graffiti at the City Pier prompted a Port Angeles City Council discussion about racism in the city, with more expected in the future.
A letter was emailed on June 28 to the seven council members and City Manager Nathan West describing the experience of a multiracial family visiting Port Angeles when they came across a racial slur and other expletives painted over a shed at the City Pier over Father’s Day weekend. It is not known where the family lived.
The city council discussed the letter on July 5 and said it would discuss it more at a later date, which has not been set.
The letter was written by Aileen Arsenio, a family member who did not see the graffiti but saw the effect its message had on her family.
She could not be reached for comment despite several attempts.
The graffiti was on the side of a shed on the pier and had the N-word and other racially charged words around it.
Once alerted to the graffiti, city officials said they directed park staff to paint over it.
Council member Lindsey Schromen-Wawrin said that “a coat of paint doesn’t solve the problem.”
At the city’s July 5 meeting, Schromen-Wawrin read the letter from Arsenio aloud.
In it, she expressed thankfulness for the city’s quick action, but also concern about how the graffiti could reflect on the city’s character to other visitors.
“I want to reiterate the severity of the incident on my family and the effects this could have on your community and any visitors coming to your city,” Arsenio said.
“I want to thank you for your prompt responses and appreciate your updating us on the situation … We are glad to see that the vandalism has been covered to avoid others experiencing what our family did but know that covering up something so vile represents how we are part of the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) community and feel most incidents tend to be resolved,” Arsenio said.
Arsenio encouraged the council to take the incident as an opportunity to have discussions about how to address racism.
“I hope this is the beginning of an ongoing conversation about the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts within our local governments,” Arsenio said, requesting that the topic be “a standing item that requires you to grow as representatives of your community and to leave a legacy that continues to reflect, honor and encourage diversity, equity, and inclusion within your city and organization.”
Over the past 20 years, a handful of racially-charged incidents have been reported in Port Angeles.
One of the most significant was the harassment and vandalism against members of the U.S. Coast Guard who were people of color in 2003 — which led to the creation of a commission on racial issues.
In 2018, an Asian American family was harassed at the 9/11 Memorial Park.
A group of Neo Nazis were reportedly intimidating locals and visitors downtown in 2019, and in 2020, a man was charged with a hate crime for throwing eggs and shouting racial slurs at Black Lives Matter protesters.
Rather than taking each incident separately, Schromen-Wawrin said: “I would prefer as a council that we talk about policies in place that lead to inequity and inequality.
He recommended that the council read “Breaking Ground: The Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe and the Unearthing of Tse-whit-zen Village” by Lynda V. Mapes.
Mayor Kate Dexter agreed with the recommendation, suggesting that the whole council read the book and then return to have a larger work session about addressing the city’s history and what can be done at a policy level about racism.
“One of the recommendations in the letter was to educate ourselves. I know we have multiple copies of Breaking Ground at City Hall, I think maybe that’s a starting point for council perspective is that we commit to reading and then maybe have an opportunity to have a work session to have a follow-up to this discussion after we’ve all read it,” Dexter said.
In the meantime, West encouraged the community to continue to report to the city any racist graffiti or actions they witness.
“I think it’s important that we ask the community to step up and support us in demonstrating that racist behavior isn’t going to be tolerated or acceptable, and to report to us when they see something like that in the community,” West said.
Reporter Ken Park can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.