Eugene can no longer ignore our long history of racism and racial injustice. Oregon has a deeply racist history which has permeated many aspects of our systems and lives. The experience of living in Eugene is much different for our residents who are Black, Indigenous, or People of Color. We can no longer pretend that mere statements of inclusion are going to address this. We need to deeply examine where we are and where we want to go, and make actual changes to the way we act in order to create a more equitable and just Eugene for everyone.
We need proactive and immediate action to begin breaking down the systems that perpetuate racial discrimination and bias, and rebuild them in a manner that is more just and equitable. This means:
- Truly listening to BIPOC members of our community, and following up with action. The upcoming Working Groups the City Council has scheduled is a necessary step, but all too often when the City creates a working group or committee, they produce a report that goes on a shelf. Without a commitment to action, including necessary funding and willingness to change policies, procedures, and laws, we are listening without really hearing. The fact of the matter is that communities of color have been struggling to be heard for decades, for centuries. In order for this to not just be yet another example of Eugene conducting a community engagement process that doesn’t produce any actual action, we need to rebuild the trust that we aren’t just going to listen, but actually hear and follow through. Trust is built through action. While broad reforms that will take time are needed to actually address these problems (see below), that doesn’t mean that we need to wait until we’ve held yet another working group in order to start making changes. We can start by looking back to the numerous previous working groups and processes on questions of equity, policing, and human rights, such as the marginalized voices working group and the climate equity panel, and begin putting funding and effort behind those recommendations now.
- Systematic Reform. Many of the base structures on which we have built our city have deeply racist roots, and tweaking around the edges isn’t going to fix it. Policing in the United States has a deeply troubling history with racism and oppression, and Eugene has not been exempt from this. Eugene’s police department has, over the years, already made many necessary reforms and supported innovative programs, but we are still functioning within a core system that was designed not just to protect residents from violence, but to use violence to keep residents “in line.” Our zoning and land use systems are based on policies that were explicitly designed to exclude people of color and low-income residents from our neighborhoods. We have numerous laws on our books that are intended not to protect the health and safety of our residents, but to protect the racist comforts of some residents at the expense of others. The fact of the matter is that many of the inequities and injustices in our community are not undesired side effects of our systems—they are the natural, unavoidable outcomes of those systems. This type of change will not be easy. But if we truly want a more equitable and just Eugene, we need to be willing to make the kinds of big changes we need. In 1971, Eugene reviewed all the ordinances and laws it has passed since its founding, identified those that were still relevant and needed, and organized them into the Eugene Code. Fifty years later, perhaps it is time to do another comprehensive review.