March Cheers & Jeers

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category icon Columns, Opinion

March certainly held true to the “in like a lion, out like a lamb” saying this year. With spring flowers popping up all over town and the recent warm weather, it’s hard to believe we were battling snow and ice just a few weeks ago.

It’s also hard to believe the Washougal girls basketball team was celebrating its first-ever 2A state tournament win in early March when the team’s superstar player, Beyonce Bea, is now putting on her tennis whites and helping the Washougal girls tennis team smash its way to victory. Our first March cheers obviously belongs to the Washougal girls basketball team players and their head coach, Britney Knotts.

The second cheers goes to the Washougal School District for its commitment to helping all students succeed and reevaluating discipline policies that often punish students who need school the most. According to an article in our March 21 issue, the district’s new procedures and policies aim to “decrease the number of students who have multiple, reoccurring disciplinary incidents such as suspensions; and the disproportionality of incidents in regard to student mix.”

The district has been focusing its efforts on evidence-based policies that have shown success in lowering the disproportionate number of students of color, male students, lower-income students and special needs students who are spending time out of school or class due to suspensions and expulsions as well as trips to the principal’s or vice principal’s office for behavior issues.

At a time when the United States Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has gutted Obama-era protections designed to make sure students of color were no longer being disciplined at higher rates than their peers, it is encouraging to see the Washougal district pursue measures that will ensure justice for all students.

Unlike the month’s weather, this editorial came in like a lamb, but will go out like a lion with its one and only Jeers. This one goes out to the Camas and Washougal public officials who felt it was appropriate to comment on the “politeness” and “civility” of speakers who, led by members of Patriot Prayer and Three Percenters — two groups known for attracting far-right extremists — came to city council meetings asking officials to create “Second Amendment sanctuary cities” and instruct police to reject Washington’s new, voter-approved gun-safety laws.

Attorneys from both cities have said disregarding the state’s laws would be a violation of city officials’ and law enforcement officers’ oaths of office, and neither Washougal nor Camas is likely to implement the speakers’ requests.

That is where it should have ended.

Instead, several Washougal city councilors, a city administrator — as well as both cities’ mayors — went on to make comments during public meetings and to members of the media about how “polite” and “civil” the speakers were.

Have these officials never heard about the violence that follows these groups? Do they know but not care? Why did they think it was OK to give these groups a free pass for simply “being polite” at a city council meeting? It seems like a pretty low bar, considering some of the violent acts that have shown many members of these groups are anything but polite or civil.

Let’s not forget it was Patriot Prayer folks who, in the spring of 2017, decided to hold a “free speech” rally in the heart of Portland just one week after a man — who had recently attended another Patriot Prayer rally in Portland’s diverse Montavilla neighborhood wearing an American flag and throwing Nazi salutes — verbally attacked two teen girls on a Portland MAX train and then slashed the throats of three men who had come to the girls’ defense, killing two of them. It was Patriot Prayer members who thought dividing a city one week after it had been shocked and horrified by these senseless murders was a good idea.

Let’s not forget it was at another Patriot Prayer event in June 2018 when a man who had driven hundreds of miles to attend the “free speech rally” screamed through a megaphone: “What we should be doing to all the illegals that are jumping over our borders, we smash their heads into the concrete. Handling business. Separating them from their kids,” before joining six other “Proud Boys” who were kicking an antifascist protester curled into a fetal position on the ground.

Let’s not forget others who have espoused the same anti-government rhetoric that forms the main talking points for groups like Patriot Prayer and the Three Percenters, such as Timothy McVeigh, the man who bombed a federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995, killing 168 people, including dozens of children.

When officials talk about groups like Patriot Prayer and the Three Percenters they must take into account the violent acts associated with people attracted to these groups’ causes. To note only that speakers associated with these groups are behaving themselves in front of city officials is a huge disservice to anyone who has ever encountered the groups’ followers when they are being the very opposite of polite and civil.