Sequim council supports dialogue on discrimination

City Manager Charlie Bush

City Manager Charlie Bush

SEQUIM — The Sequim City Council plans to open a dialogue on discrimination after a report of the removal of racist notebook papers posted in Sequim High School.

Some community members have called for action and conversations following the removal of the papers in December.

Council members gave their support in an unofficial vote Monday to opening a dialogue on discrimination in the future, but when and where hasn’t been fully realized yet, City Manager Charlie Bush said.

“We plan to keep talking about it,” he said.

“Discrimination is an issue everywhere. It’s an important role of government to foster conversations and actions to make progress.”

Bush said “there is already a lot on the books” related to discrimination and hate crimes in city policy, but one solution could involve bringing in a speaker on unity and/or discrimination.

Bush said he followed the suggestion of members of Sequim CommunityPlus to prompt opening dialogue across Sequim, so he spoke with council members about taking action.

Mike Flynn with Sequim CommunityPlus said the poster in the school was pretty shocking and that he wanted to encourage the council to take some kind of action.

He said the poster “could have been dismissed as a child playing” but the “images on there were absolutely disturbing.”

A student found a piece of paper with swastikas, a derogatory term for African-Americans, a burning cross and other hate-themed messages Dec. 15 hanging outside the school library. A copy was found nearby, too.

Deputy Mayor Ted Miller said he was concerned about whether the poster was an isolated incident or a trend.

Flynn said at least two adults spoke about ethnically based discrimination at the most recent Sequim CommunityPlus meeting, and City Councilwoman Candace Pratt said another parent had video of discriminatory discussions as well.

Emily Straling, student liaison to the city council, said the papers are not “tolerated and not indicative of our student body.”

“We are not a hateful, racist school,” she said.

She added that the incident led her and others to be more observant and she’s encouraging people to look up, see discrimination and fight it.

“This isn’t everyday high school,” Straling said. “It’s an incident that completely shocked our high school … [but] now we are on the lookout. Now we’re getting a stronghold in becoming great again.

“There’s changes coming, and we’re getting stronger and stronger with love, not hate,” Straling said.

School clubs such as Be the Change and the LGBTQ alliance are discussing it, Straling said, and she’s part of a new committee of students and staff looking to open dialogue on campus about discrimination.

Straling said the student or students who made the art have not been identified yet.

Sequim School District Superintendent Gary Neal said Tuesday night that school officials continue to investigate the matter.

School administrators previously said if the student or students are discovered, they could face suspension and police enforcement.

City crime

Throughout 10 years, the city of Sequim has reported one hate crime to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Bush said.

On Dec. 21, 2010, a swastika was found on school walls and remains an open case classified as third-degree malicious mischief.

Bush said hate crimes when filed federally must meet a certain criteria for classification after review and that law enforcement may receive a reported call for a hate crime but it may not be one after investigation.

One case Feb. 21, 2014, was graffiti reported as anti-Jewish, but it was found to be “not racial- or hate-based.”

Some of the other calls for alleged hate crimes to Sequim police include:

• A letter in the mail against Catholics but no suspect or arrest in 2007.

• A fight at a school over racial slurs but no charges filed in 2010.

• A letter with homophobic slurs in 2011, still an open case.

• Church vandalized with spray paint in 2012, open case.

The Sequim Police Department did not receive any calls for alleged hate crimes in 2015 or 2016.

“But that doesn’t mean things aren’t happening or things aren’t coming up in the school district or other places and not being resolved,” Bush said.

________

Matthew Nash is a reporter with the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which is composed of Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum. Reach him at [email protected].

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