A BLM activist asks Rogue River leaders to address racism, Aug. 29 march and BBQ planned
Note: An asterisk (*) denotes someone interviewed but requested their identity kept confidential out of personal concerns. The Rogue Free Press does work with vetted confidential and anonymous sources.
ROGUE RIVER, Ore. -- A member of Southern Oregon’s Black Lives Matter organization and Southern Oregon Coalition for Racial Equity appeared before the Rogue River city council during their Aug. 6 workshop meeting.
Dominique Toyer said she went to the meeting to discuss “racial issues” that she feels exist in their community.
“Over a period of time, we’ve seen that some towns might be oblivious to the possible racism that exists,” she said. “Most often, it’s there to some degree. Talking about it makes some uncomfortable. Very uncomfortable. But, it needs to be discussed.”
According to both Wikipedia and the official website, BLM is a decentralized movement advocating for non-violent civil disobedience in protest against incidents of police brutality and all racially motivated violence against Black people. While Black Lives Matter can primarily be understood as a decentralized social movement, an organization known simply as Black Lives Matter exists as a decentralized network with about 16 chapters in the United States and Canada. The broader movement and its related organizations typically advocate against police violence towards black people, as well as for various other policy changes considered to be related to black liberation.
In July 2013, the movement began with the use of the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter on social media after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of African-American teen Trayvon Martin 17 months earlier, in February 2012. The movement became nationally recognized for street demonstrations following the 2014 deaths of two African Americans: Michael Brown—resulting in protests and unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, a city near St. Louis—and Eric Garner in New York City. Since the Ferguson protests, participants in the movement have demonstrated against the deaths of numerous other African Americans by police actions or while in police custody. In the summer of 2015, Black Lives Matter activists became involved in the 2016 United States presidential election. The originators of the hashtag and call to action, Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi, expanded their project into a national network of over 30 local chapters between 2014 and 2016. The overall Black Lives Matter movement is a decentralized network of activists with no formal hierarchy.
Not surprisingly, BLM has gained a number of detractors since its inception more than seven years ago -- some calling the movement “Marxist” in nature. However, the independent nonpartisan fact checking website PolitiFact found the claim to be more complex than some think.
Toyer emailed her PowerPoint presentation the morning of the meeting.
“Most places, they have a laptop to use and so on,” she said. “When I got there -- well, nothing. So, when I had the chance to speak, I had to wing it.”
Toyer gave Mayor Wayne Stuart and the councilors an example of how American history has been whitewashed over the years. She told them the story about Phillis Wheatley, a slave who became the first African-American author of a book of poetry.
“Back then, many people didn’t think that a Black slave was capable of writing poetry,” she said. “In 1772, Phillis had to defend herself in a Boston court -- John Erving, Reverend Charles Chauncey, John Hancock, Thomas Hutchinson, the governor of Massachusetts, and his lieutenant governor Andrew Oliver -- were there. The court finally sided with Phillis. That's something that's not covered in our history but should be."
Toyer knew she was going over her time limit but wanted to give another example.
A more personal one.
Toyer's grandmother works for White City VA offices. A few years ago, a vindictive domiciliary resident called 911 and reported that she was seen driving under the influence -- she wasn't. After getting home, Toyer's grandmother was drinking some wine when officers from the Medford Police Dept. showed up and arrested her for DUII. The case went to trial and all charges were dismissed.
“I was using this as an example of systemic racism and profiling. Even law enforcement overreach,” she said. “That’s when a police officer tried to explain why it was done that way. That’s when I said he -- or any law enforcement officer -- shouldn't use their badges for bullying.
“That’s when it got quiet and everyone seemed very uncomfortable.”
City administrator Mark Reagles said Chief Curtis Whipple was at the meeting and had spoken up.
“I really didn’t get the gist of what was said,” he explained.
Toyer thanked Stuart and the councilors for their time -- then left.
“I want to go back,” she said. “I plan on going back at some point. I want to continue the dialogue with Rogue River.”
Reagles said Toyer certainly left an impression on the councilors.
“Someone commented that (Toyer) was very brave for coming and talking about this,” he said.
Reagles disagrees with the idea that Rogue River has problems with racism.
“I’ve lived here for a long time and I haven’t seen any racism. No problems. Rogue River doesn’t have problems like that,” he said.
Unfortunately, he is wrong.
According to the 2010 census, the racial makeup of the city was 93.3 percent White, 0.8 percent African American, 1.2 percent Native American, 0.4 percent Asian, 2.1 percent from other races and 2.2 percent from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 5.3 percent of the population.
A very white community.
One with racial issues. For example:
Joe McPherson is a business owner, The Double R Pub. Since the Covid-19 pandemic, McPherson has made a number of racial slurs such as “Kung Flu” or the “Asian Flu” on social media. He doubles down when confronted and others -- mainly Rogue River residents -- have defended him and repeated the very same slurs. Most echoed terms used by Trump.
During a 2016 9/11 ceremony held by VFW Post 4116, now deceased member Chuck Spark said that if anyone took a knee during the event, there would be “trouble.” Especially, if that acted like that "Black SOB Colin Kaepernick." During a conversation with Mark Poling -- VFW member and city councilor -- Kaepernick’s name was mentioned. Another VFW member overheard the conversation and said, “Kaepernick -- where’s the goddamned KKK when you need them the most?” Poling said nothing and laughed.
*Diane Hawkins said she was invited to have dinner with friends at the VFW. “This was when President Obama was in office. People were repeatedly saying the N-word, others talked about lynching (Obama) like they did to Blacks a long time ago and said a cross should be burned on the White House lawn. It was disgusting. I’ve never been back there. Filthy bigots.”
Sherry Prudhon, VFW Auxiliary president, routinely made comments to the press about immigrants and refugees being a drain on America and taking away resources from veterans.
Michael Vieira, a Rogue River resident, made social media comments on how no one is allowed to criticize “the Zionist Jews” and people like Mel Gibson have to apologize or else never work again.
*Sutter Kane, who has spent a number of years chronicling the activities of area white supremacists and right wing extremists, said Earl Shamblin, Rogue River’s former police chief who died earlier this year, was very racist. Family members and close friends, known as the “Shamblin Mafia,” made it known they would make a Black person’s life “miserable” if they ever got “uppity” or “forgot their place.” Another former police chief, Ken Lewis, was overheard making anti Islamic comments, derogatory comments about the LGBTQ community and other minority groups. To Lewis' credit, however, he did clean up the Rogue River Police Dept., Kane said. "He got rid of Shamblin's friends, who were just as bad as Earl. From that point on, Shamblin had it out for Lewis."
During a Rogue River planning commission meeting, someone preparing a PowerPoint turned on her laptop and there was an image of her son on it, next to his bike. A Japanese motorcycle. One of the commissioners said, “Get rid of that goddamned Jap rice rocket.” Most laughed but no one rebuked the commissioner.
For many years, a Rogue River church used its ad space in the Rogue River Press to run anti-Islamic diatribes. The congregation members never complained nor did the readers.
Rogue River has a problem.
It’s not known if and when the community will ever admit to it.
Mayor Wayne Stuart contacted me early Friday morning, on speakerphone with Reagles. He said Toyer contacted him and asked to appear before the council.
"I was curious about what she had to present," he said. "So, I agreed to have her on the agenda -- and felt it was important enough to have her speak for about 25 minutes or so. It was a very interesting presentation and eye opening. I'm glad she reached out to us."
Like Reagles, Stuart felt there wasn't a problem with racism in Rogue River. Having lived in the community for many years, he said he's never seen it.
"However, if someone feels that there's a problem, they should approach the council and tell us about it," he said.
I posted the initial story to the Rogue River Oregon Facebook group. Many reacted with hostility and said there was no racism. One man even said that since Mexican restaurants are very popular in Rogue River, that was a sign of no racism existing in the community.
That's what he said.
However, a number of people did talk about their experiences with racism. A few talked about how racism was a reason why they left Rogue River and would never come back. One person talked about the time when a POC family moved into the neighborhood . . . and had neighbors talk about wanting to get rid of the family because they didn't belong. Some talked about negative experiences at the VFW post and some local businesses.
From one reader:
I was riding around Rogue River with a friend one day, this man gave me that dirty look of disgust. My friends reply was, “There are Mexicans in Oregon, chill out he’s not being racist.” Privileged. My favorite Italian restaurant in Southern Oregon is Paisano’s. I appreciate the people that work there and obviously enjoy their dishes. But walking in there is always something that I would have to worry about. I would just have to put my blinders on and ignore the racial slurs and stereotypes. My problems of being tanned year round in a white ass town 🙄 Patti’s Kitchen in Gold Hill, yikes! Love their biscuits and gravy but definitely not the ambiance. A family was bothered because there was a wait and I was occupying a small booth to myself. I uncomfortably picked up and left after her obvious remarks then she proudly says, “That’s right, you should know better”. Are the majority of Oregonians racist? Hell yes! And you ask why I’m pissed off.
Most, when they came forward with their stories and experiences, were met with scorn, name-calling, accused of lying or told to move.
And, of course, threats of violence.
It's understandable why some people don't want to believe racism and other societal ills exist in their community. Some don't want to think that their family and friends would ever embrace racist views. A small town like Rogue River is almost a utopia, devoid of big city problems. Some just don't want to accept the fact that racism and the like exist. They don't want to think ill of their hometown.
While some honestly are, well, naive in their umwelt -- there are those who are quite fine with embracing racism and hatred. It's happening in Rogue River. Gold Hill. Wimer. Phoenix. Talent. It happens everywhere.
Dominique Toyer did a commendable thing by reaching out to the Rogue River leadership and Stuart did something positive by willing to hear her out. That's how a dialogue is started and, hopefully, an understanding is eventually reached. One can only hope it'll happen in Rogue River.
However, judging by comments made by some Rogue River residents, they don't want a dialogue -- let alone an understanding. No, they're comfortable with the lies spread about the BLM movement and spreading false information about those killed because of police brutality or victim shaming Breonna Taylor or Ahmaud Arbery. Or echoing racist dog whistles like "black on black" crime. They cloak themselves in rabid nationalism -- no, not patriotism -- conspiracy theories, faked videos and the hateful ramblings of Trump and his ilk.
Those people are the problem.
Meantime, Toyer is planning on talking with other communities and has been involved in rallies throughout the region, most recently Coos Bay.
“It’s a very important time for our country,” she said. “People need to wake up and see the reality that’s racism and how it’s hurting us,” she said. “I want a better world for my son -- and everyone else’s sons and daughters. We want a better world with no more Trayvon Martins, Tamir Rices or George Floyds. That’s why I’m doing this -- and I’m not giving up.”
Toyer said an event is being planned for Aug. 29. Starting at 10 a.m. that Saturday, there will be a march followed by a BBQ at Palmerton Park. There will be a mic open for biracial people to speak about their experiences, she said. Some performances are planned as well.
It's called "You Are Enough," she said.
"This is a peaceful gathering and I hope folks will stop by," Toyer said. "This is how you open a dialogue with others and cultivate an understanding. That's how things change for the better. In the meantime, we're printing up brochures and will be passing them throughout Rogue River soon."
This could be a defining moment for the Rogue River community. A positive one, some hope.
Toyer is a member of the Southern Oregon Coalition for Racial Equity. It's been corrected and The Rogue Free Press apologizes for the mistake.