By Zach Hagadone
Attendees to the June 17 meeting of the Sandpoint City Council exceeded capacity — restricted to no more than 20 people in Council Chambers to maintain COVID-19 social distancing — with many more gathered in the hallway and entrance at City Hall.
The meeting covered a lot of ground, from master planning to a presentation on policing from Sandpoint Police Chief Corey Coon to a new sidewalk cafe ordinance to downtown revitalization. Far and away, however, citizens turned out in numbers to participate in the public forum portions — specifically to comment on issues of racism and intolerance, as well as a proclamation adopted by Mayor Shelby Rognstad affirming that “the message of hate has no place in Sandpoint and all are welcome.”
The proclamation, brought on behalf of the Love Lives Here campaign, emphasized a public commitment to “upholding the civil and human rights of all citizens” while denouncing acts of racism, bigotry and xenophobia.
Reading from the proclamation, Rognstad said that the community’s public image, democratic government and economy are and have in the past been threatened by both local and out-of-area groups that sow messages of racial discord.
The mayor presented the proclamation to Rebecca Holland, a member of the N.Idaho Women’s leadership team and Bonner County Human Rights Task Force, as well as a vocal advocate for local progressive causes.
At the meeting, Holland unveiled a new campaign geared toward local businesses who wish to publicly express their support for Love Lives Here Sandpoint. Described as a “kindness campaign” and set to launch Saturday, June 20, businesses that opt to sign a declaration of principles will be given a six-inch sticker to display at their front entry “as a sign of acceptance for all people regardless of race, gender, nationality, sexual orientation, religion and more,” according to a news release from N.Idaho Women.
In addition, participating businesses will be given a guide on how to respond to and report incidents of hate or harassment if they receive them.
“We know we can’t uproot problems unless we understand the extent of them,” Holland said.
Others also spoke in favor of the proclamation, applauding its intent and Rognstad for adopting it.
Several speakers testified that community division comes less from acts of racism than intolerance for differing opinions — especially against those on the conservative side of issues related to the Black Lives Matter movement and associated nationwide protests, as well as the presence of armed private citizens who have deployed themselves downtown claiming to provide protection for local businesses against the property damage seen in some cities amid protests against police brutality.
Sandpoint resident and business owner Anita Aurit, who also serves as vice president of Bonner County Republican Women Inc., told the council that “far too often” labels like racist, bigot or “Nazi” are “used to brand Christians, conservatives and many others with different opinions in this community.”
Aurit added, “intolerance is wrong, hate is wrong, no matter where it comes from.”
Other testimony at the meeting challenged the notion that racism is a problem in Sandpoint sufficient to merit such a proclamation, much less the presence of a BLM movement or affiliated group.
Robert Rosendary, who traveled from out of the area to be at the meeting, and whose recent YouTube video “Robert Rosendary aka Donald Draper gives BLM Sandpoint a Lesson!” made the rounds on local Facebook forums, addressed the council, asking whether racially motivated violence occurs in Sandpoint.
“Does that happen here? Does that happen in Sandpoint? But you guys parade BLM in this divisive action,” he said, questioning why such a racially homogenous community would presume to address the notion of black lives.
“I’m that black life. Why are you speaking for me here?” he said. “Why is there a Black Lives Matter here at all? … I’m like one of the five chocolate chips in the cookie here.”
Another speaker, Sandpoint resident Michelle Mandolf, said simply, “There is no racism here.”
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