ONTARIO — Following up on protests that took place earlier in the month, members of Black Lives Matter Ontario spoke at the Tuesday meeting of the Ontario City Council.
Three members of the group spoke (Jennifer Yano, Quincy Sullivan and Jack Lloyd) and discussed some of the items from the list of demands that was released during the Black Lives Matter protest that took place on June 5.
Yano was the first to speak, and talked about art diversity for signage in Ontario, specifically the beautification section of the city’s strategic plan.
Yano said she attended the City Diversity Committee meeting on June 17, where they discussed cultural art for signage. She said the company that the diversity committee is working with is Trademark, a Boise-based company with a team of all-white artists and what Yano called “a very specifically cultivated white aesthetic.”
“Why is an all-white team called upon to represent the cultures of people of color?” Yano asked.
Yano also spoke on the Diversity’s Committee’s representation of the different ethnic groups that were decided on, and how it displays racial biases.
“How can our white population be represented by a career choice while our folks of color are represented by the country from where their ancestors came?” she asked. “It is a seemingly inclusive gesture that displays how white is thought of as the norm, the standard, and therefore no country or region acknowledgement is made, and instead white folks are shown as individuals who represent their career and families. Meanwhile, folks of color are not granted the display of autonomy of choices they’ve made in their lives, but instead are representing just their country.”
Yano, who is Japanese, Mexican and Peruvian, also shared with the City Council a story from her upbringing. She said her mother used to take “meticulous care” in helping her get ready for school, with Yano saying that she wasn’t able to go to school without makeup on and in sweatpants.
Yano said she thought it was because she might be ugly.
“She told me that unfortunately there would be many people who did not like me for reasons I couldn’t control,” Yano said. “They would be able to withhold opportunity and status from me if they saw fit. And although it isn’t fair, many would associate our looks with all Latin and Japanese individuals and use them as a reason to believe we weren’t fit to belong or be treated with equity.”
After Yano spoke, Quincy Sullivan, took to the podium to seek clarification on the fine forgiveness program.
Sullivan said his current understanding of how fine forgiveness works is that when someone is struggling with their water bills, and is in need of assistance, they have to ask whoever is at the front desk. Sullivan said fine forgiveness should not be up to “whoever is working the front desk,” especially if that person has not completed a documented anti-bias training.
“Our ask is to help protest marginalized community members who cannot afford to pay and do not know about requesting forgiveness or a repayment plan,” Sullivan said.
The final speaker was Jack Lloyd, who discussed talking about race. Lloyd, who is white, said that a lot of white people don’t like to talk about race because it is uncomfortable.
“I can safely say that I have never been discriminated against because of the color of my skin,” Lloyd said. “That’s something a lot of people in this room can say. I can also say that my individual actions have never been weaponized against my race. That’s not really something that [Yano] can say.”
Lloyd finished the discussion with one final point on systemic racism:
“If anybody in this room feels like this message coming from me right now has more validity or believability than either of the two people who spoke before me, then that would be kind of a wake-up call for everybody.”
Black Lives Matter Ontario was formed in early June, organizing the two days of Black Lives Matter protesting that took place in the city.
Black Lives Matter protests were sparked nationwide by the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died in Minneapolis, Minnesota after a white police officer kneeled on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes. The arrest was witnessed by other officers standing nearby who did nothing to stop the kneeling officer when Floyd repeatedly told the officer he could not breathe before becoming unresponsive.
Protesting in Ontario took place on June 4 and June 5. On June 4, the protest started in the Albertsons parking lot, with a group of over 400 people walking to Ontario City Hall. On June 5, a much smaller gathering started at Rite Aid and walking to city hall for a forum with Ontario Police Chief Steven Romero. It was on the second day of protesting that members of Black Lives Matter Ontario formally introduced themselves as an entity.
On June 13, Black Lives Matter Ontario held a vigil at Lions Park, where leaders of the Burns Paiute Tribe came to discuss the systemic racism that indigenous people have suffered for hundreds of years in eastern Oregon.