ASHLAND -- Ashland councilman Dennis Miller took a moment prior to the public comment section of Tuesday night's city council meeting to address the members of Colorful Ashland, a local group aiming to raise awareness of racism in Ashland.
“When the mayor and I met with you a month and a half or so ago, I let you know that the council will not adopt the resolution you provided, but we would possibly consider an alternative," Miller said. "I admit we’ve been struggling with that alternative, not because we have anything to hide; on the contrary, this council was very transparent and will continue to be.
"This council and the mayor are guided by Christian values and do believe as you do that all lives matter and that no one should be discriminated against because of their race, sex, age, marital status, or national origin. We recognize and abhor the very small minority that are disrespecting you as you stand for your cause. But no resolution and no proclamation from the government will alter what is in a person’s heart or mind -- only God can do that, and we will pray that transformation takes place.
"Let us be very clear: this mayor, this council, this city government does not and will not condone any discrimination and will continue to support ‘all lives matter’ and that no one should be discriminated against," Miller said.
During the public comments section of the session, several members of the community took to the microphone to express their opinions on racism in Ashland. Councilman Steve Workman stated that this would be the final time the council would permit members of Colorful Ashland to speak regarding the topic.
“This will be the last time we entertain remarks from any special interest group, including yourself," Workman said. "We've mentioned it three times now and we would ask at this point that we just leave it where it is.
"Our problem is not hearing from members of the community, it is simply not entertaining matters from special interest groups that don’t pertain to the city business.”
Sarah Coe, a member of the community, read from a statement she had prepared during her turn to address the council.
“Analyzing data from public sectors as well as enacting policies to ensure positive social change and in order to make the city of Ashland more equitable for all people is a function of city government; that is why racism needs to be addressed," Coe said. "While overt racism such as hate crimes, lynching, racial slurs -- they’re often easy to see.
"They’re also easy to brush off, as I feel like they have been. This is a national issue that probates criminal justice, healthcare, housing, employment, education and every other public sector. When people claim that racism doesn’t exist in Ashland, or that it’s the minority, I believe it’s possible that those people have never seen overt racism. To deny racism in Ashland is to deny the lived experience and the pain of our black indigenous neighbors who live in Ashland."
Lisa Shafer, a member of Colorful Ashland, requested that council re-examine its definition of a "special interest group."
“Is it a special interest to look at racism?" Schaefer asked. "Is it only an interest of African Americans? Is it only of people of color?
"I don’t believe it is. Attacking racism, confronting racism, working with our own racism is an interest of all people, because if we live in a society with no racism, we can all benefit. It’s a good thing that we’re opening up the discussion. It’s beautiful that it’s being discussed because that means we can take care of it.
"I would implore you not to silence us. Instead, look at this as an opportunity to make your town truly sparkle. It is every human being’s business to make this world safer, fairer, and kinder. If you say it’s not your business, you should resign."
Community member Mike Burrows then took the microphone to respond.
“If you’re going to stand on the corner with a sign implying that there’s people who don’t agree with you about lives, no matter which one it is, and you don’t expect someone to make a remark, you’re on the wrong corner," Burrows said. "People are going to remark; you’ve got your belief, they’ve got theirs.
"You have to say ‘he or she’ is a racist; ‘he or she doesn’t think Black lives matter.’ You can’t just make this blanket statement and then expect people not to say something to you on the corner of Ashland. Who (specifically) doesn’t think Black lives matter?"
As the commotion continued to grow between the opposing viewpoints, councilman Workman weighed in on the matter.
“We’ve heard opposing sides," Workman said. "Mr. (Dennis) Miller read a statement from council; he speaks for all of us in his statement, which we've given twice before.
"We’re asking you not to use the council meetings as a forum or a microphone to promote your organization, your club, your group, and continue to call all of Ashland racist. It’s just wrong. That is absolutely wrong, and I will say this: We will not be bullied. This council, this administration will not be bullied. We do not have to allow for public comment at these meanings; we do so as a courtesy. We want to hear from our constituents and appreciate their insight. We cannot tolerate your use of our meetings as a way to imply that everyone in Ashland is a racist. We're not going to do it, and if we have to use security, we will.”
After the conclusion of the meeting, Workman reiterated that council meetings are always open to the public and that all individuals are welcome at these sessions. If there are specific instances of racism that need to be addressed, those issues will be gladly accepted, he said. But as for the broad topic of racism, there is already highly-descriptive legislation in place to protect against discrimination.
As a reminder to readers, every council meeting is livestreamed on the City of Ashland's Facebook page.