Public outcry from Utahns and Americans across the country protesting police brutality toward Black and Brown people is moving local government to take a stance.
The West Jordan City Council took the first step toward creating a commission on diversity Wednesday, passing a resolution 6-0 that affirms the city’s commitment to racial justice and equality for all citizens.
“My real goal in this is just to come out as a City Council of West Jordan … and say publicly and out loud that racism and bigotry and discrimination is not OK in our city,” Council member Zach Jacob said. “We don’t want it here.”
Jacob said the resolution is intended to tell protesters the city hears them and plans to listen. The resolution does not create a diversity commission just yet, but it expresses a desire to create one within 90 days.
Jacob said the commission will include several minority communities that will likely give recommendations to the City Council but would not have authoritative power. He said the resolution encourages Utahns to be more understanding.
“If [racism is] the view that somebody wants to take, then we invite them to educate themselves, to sit down with people who are different than they are and to have a conversation and to begin listening and to change minds and change hearts,” he said.
The resolution says West Jordan is committed to providing training to all city employees on issues of race, inherent bias and discrimination.
“There are uncomfortable conversations to be had. And we need to get comfortable being uncomfortable,” Jacob told the council.
“Especially as people in a relatively peaceful and happy and worry free existence — at least when it comes to worry that we face when we walk down the street because of the color of our skin,” he added.
Councilman David Pack said he is grateful the final version of the resolution has a “more positive tone” than the initial draft which reminded him of emails he has received from companies advocating social equality that have been “so negative.”
The initial resolution said “we hereby condemn racism and acts of hate and violence” and that violence has no place in West Jordan City.
Some council members also took issue with the word “privilege” in the statement “the City Council recognizes that the privileges enjoyed by other Americans may inhibit them from fully understanding how racism impacts the lives of minority Americans and people of color.”
Pack said he “would definitely be in favor of a diversity outreach committee.” However, he said it should include different demographic groups, socioeconomic statuses, professions, religions and ethnicities.
“I totally, completely, 100% agree that Black lives matter. I also completely agree that police lives and jobs matter and that brown people matter, white people matter, gay people matter, straight people matter, religious people matter, atheists matter,” he said. “I just want it to be about a positive message promoting change.”
Pack also wanted to make sure the resolution on racial equality doesn’t imply that the council opposes police.
“I just want to make sure that in promoting this message we’re not sending some subliminal message that we are against police,” Pack said. “I think we can be pro police and pro racial equality and diversity. It doesn’t need to be one or the other.”
Pack said he likes to think the overwhelming majority of police officers are wonderful people and the majority of racial and ethnic minority Americans are good people.
“Anytime ... there’s that 1% that does something wrong whether it’s a teacher or police officer you know, then that profession seems to get dragged through the mud,” he said.
Pack praised the efforts of the West Jordan Police Department to reach out to different demographics in the city.
“Once they come together and police are interacting with these different ... groups within our city, then there’s mutual trust, there’s communication, there’s compassion, there’s understanding,” he said in the meeting. “Instead of being brought up by your parents raised to think that someone is the enemy — namely police.”
Jeanetta Williams, President of the NAACP Salt Lake Branch, said she was happy to see Jacobs write the resolution but was surprised that he had to change the language.
“I was shocked that some of the folks in the City Council thought that [some of] the language needed to be taken out before it could even get passed,” she said in an interview. “That’s what’s wrong with our society now is that they want to water down things and … whitewash because they didn’t want to use the word … privilege.”
She said it is important to have a diversity commission made up of ethnic minority Utahns.
“They cannot have … 10 white people talking about diversity,” Williams said. But she said the committee would only be effective if its recommendations are heard and acted upon.