Systemic Racism Protest

A small group of protesters line Southeast Court Avenue outside of the Umatilla County Courthouse in Pendleton on Wednesday, July 15, 2020. The protesters gathered outside the courthouse to protest in opposition to the commissioners’ dismissal of systemic racism in Umatilla County. County officials adopted a resolution on Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020, in response to the order placed on July 15 by advocates for the Black Lives Matter movement.

PENDLETON — Cassa Frost was pleasantly surprised.

Frost, a Black Lives Matter Eastern Oregon Allies admin moderator, was not expecting the Umatilla County Board of Commissioners to pass a resolution in support of communities of color and actively take a stand against racism in the county during its Wednesday, Aug. 5, board meeting. But that’s exactly what the commissioners did.

“The responses we’ve been getting in this town have been so vicious and negative, so when this happened today, it wasn’t even a sigh of relief, it was a gasp of awe,” she said.

County officials adopted the resolution titled “Stance Against Racism, Discrimination and Social Injustices in Umatilla County” in response to the order placed on July 15 by advocates for the Black Lives Matter movement.

During the commissioners meeting, members from Black Lives Matter Eastern Oregon Allies, Umatilla County Response and Participa Oregon, among others, read statements to the board highlighting how important the resolution is for the Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) community.

Community members and activists in attendance said passing this resolution will set a precedent that racism is not tolerated in the community.

The resolution included a declaration that the board of commissioners believe that racism exists in Umatilla County. It also stated that they respect peaceful protesting and recognize the importance of contributions by people of color.

Nolan Bylenga, a candidate for Oregon House District 58, met with Umatilla County Commissioner George Murdock to share his perspective on why a declaration is an important first step to addressing inequities in the community.

Murdock said the resolution is comprehensive and detailed in how the commissioners plan to address those inequities, outlining areas that need attention within the BIPOC community. According to Murdock, the commissioners are working on short- and long-term initiatives that will address the inequities outlined in the resolution, including access to health care, housing, education and mental health resources. He also said they are looking at ways to address inequities in leadership roles and positions of power.

Murdock said he stands with the initial resolution passed in support of police officers in June, but he understands now that it was incomplete.

“The commissioners concluded that the first resolution was incomplete, misinterpreted and misunderstood,” he said. “Since that time we have felt that we should work on another resolution that really addressed issues that require our leadership on behalf of our citizens.”

Nastasha Stiles, one of the organizers and advocates for the movement, said she hopes this resolution holds people accountable and sparks significant change in the community.

“This isn’t a pass for them to get to ignore the past and past actions,” she said. “If anything this makes them more accountable now. They have to live up to what they put in their order.”

Frost said she hopes Umatilla County residents will join them and stand united as a community to obtain equity and fight against systemic racism.

“I hope a lot of the community here, not just in Hermiston but in Umatilla County, can see that we’re moving forward as a whole and we’re not condoning this as a community,” she said. “This is the first step in a long road.”

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