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Shasta Equal Justice Coalition Statement on the May 30th Incident at the Board of Supervisors Meeting 5.31.2023

The SEJC envisions a Shasta County where there exists equity and justice for every community member, inclusive of all identities, backgrounds, or circumstances. That possibility is constrained when derisive speech is allowed or remains unchallenged, particularly in public forums where critical decisions about public safety, education, and well-being are discussed.

On Tuesday, May 30th, the Board of Supervisors allowed a speaker to not only use “the N word” without being immediately reprimanded, but to return to the podium again, raising his middle finger to an African American Veteran who was notably upset by the speaker’s remarks. The African American community resident who voiced his opinion from the audience was escorted from the chambers by private security, reportedly after an officer of the law noted that the young man had done nothing wrong.

The difference in responses to these two individuals cannot be excused under cover of free speech. It is not that the word n___ is offensive in and of itself; rather the context, use, and intention make it so. In this case, its use was inappropriate, odious, and unacceptable. To study the constitution is to know that there re limits to free speech including obscenity, child pornography, defamation, incitement to violence, threats, copyright infringement, prohibited disclosure, and fraud, among other situations.

Ultimately, there are arbitrators who make decisions about what fits the criteria laid out in law: the courts, judges, educational administrators, and sometimes public officials. In the meantime, it is important to address how decisions about free speech are applied and to recognize the ways in which bias can infiltrate such decision making.

It is also important to acknowledge that the words that we use and allow matter. We know that anger, fear, hopelessness, and experience of marginalization can result from being in the presence of suchracially motivated language on a daily basis for people of color.

When such words are allowed in the halls of government, it is difficult to not view those behaviors and attitudes as sanctioned or treated as small matters by decision makers and, by extension, an imagined broader community. Allowing such statements to pass without comment or redress undermines public trust and the possibility for all community members to feel welcomed and included at such meetings, much less to feel safe offering their own public comment.

We call on our public officials to respond publicly to such incidents in the interest of public safety,
accountability for personal behavior, fostering civil conversation, and affirming the dignity, worth, and humanity of all who live in our county.

We furthermore ask members of the Board of Supervisor to revisit adoption of a robust code of conduct reflective of the needs and interests of the diverse communities that reside in Shasta County, a code that is supportive of fair and equal treatment and justice.

Press Release

-from press release

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