PORTSMOUTH — In a time where existing racial inequities and violence have become more prevalent, Portsmouth City Council took one step closer to outright condemning acts of hate and discrimination in the city Monday night.
Condemning racism and acts of discrimination was a matter of consensus for the council, who moved the legislation onto first reading for the March 22 council session. Mayor Kevin Johnson, however, deviated by citing issues with some of the legislation’s language and whether or not it was needed here in Portsmouth.
“I do agree with a resolution condemning acts of hate, condemning acts of discrimination, but as far as the wording, I don’t necessarily agree,” said Johnson during the City Managers session. “I refrain from using common sense, but isn’t this something that we should be doing without passing legislation anyway?”
Council’s newest members – 4th Ward Councilwoman Lyvette Mosley and 6th Ward Councilman Dennis Packard- introduced the draft as a discussion item during the Feb. 22 session and pushed for its need.
Common sense does apply in these instances. Mosley and the rest of the council agreed in the idea that racism is not something that should be promoted or even tolerated. With no action, however, she feels the problem will only worsen.
“The Asian American population is really being discriminated against in a high number,” she said, where the spread of the coronavirus has been unfairly blamed on the race. “People are targeting them.”
“I guess I just haven’t seen all of this that you speak of,” replied Johnson, who said earlier in the meeting that he was “uncertain” why this specific portion was necessary.
The importance of the legislation could not be overstated for 5th Ward Councilman Edwin Martell, who shared his encounters with racism as a man of color.
“Unfortunately, we have to do things like this because nobody is using common sense,” he said, this issue of particular significance as a father. “People are treating us like we are pieces of trash.”
What this legislation does is draw attention to those who have not experienced racism, Martell feels, instead of acting like it does not happen. In his view, the proper response includes not being racist and taking steps to fight back at the rhetoric when the opportunity presents itself.
Martell has experienced upfront racism, but the incomplete response by bystanders only compounded how he continues to feel about the instance. Standing in-line at a gas station convenience store, he recalled the moment when he was having a phone conversation with his father in Spanish.
“Because of that, using my heritage tongue, I was told this is America and in America, we speak English,” Martell recounted, being of Puerto Rican descent. “As I stood there in disbelief that this man was being belligerent to me for speaking in my native tongue, other people stood there and watched in silence.”
Without a word from the others, he said he felt alone. Without a word from the others, he felt they were in agreement with the man who aired this view.
“There is no one around me that is helping me with this situation,” Martell said. “When we talk about not doing things like this resolution, that’s just as bad as standing in silence.”
As cited in the legislation, acts of discrimination toward Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have increased over the course of the pandemic. Pew Research from July found that about three-in-10 Asian adults had been “subject to slurs or jokes because of their race or ethnicity since the outbreak began.”
Inequities in vaccine recipients have also been experienced by the Black community, as originally reported by the Ohio Capital Journal. As of Monday, Black people make up 5.9% of the nearly 2 million Ohioans started on the COVID vaccines yet are 13% of the state’s population.
Many vaccines, however, are not attributed to a race, instead marked as “unknown” by the Ohio Department of Health dashboard. More than 140,000 people fall under that category in Ohio and 1,623 do so in Scioto County.
1st Ward Councilman Sean Dunne said this legislation will not end racism but could go toward making Portsmouth a more welcoming place to residents and visitors.
“We want to reinforce the fact that this should be just common sense,” said Dunne. “I do think that statements made by government do have an affect on people, so this is just one way of countering other statements.”
Reach Patrick Keck (740)-353-3501 ext. 1931, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @pkeckreporter.
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