Apparently Snohomish City Council members Swede Johnson and Doug Thorndike aren’t able to distinguish between legitimate city business and their personal anti-immigrant biases. According to reports that first appeared in the Snohomish County Tribune on March 3rd and the Everett Herald just this morning, the two elected officials, supposedly in the context of a debate over a proposal for new “gateway signs” intended to welcome visitors to their city, decided to take the opportunity to express their perceptually discriminatory views on immigration.
According to Tribune reporter Jessica Sparks,
” A project to build a sign to welcome visitors to the city of Snohomish has stalled, but last month two city officials revived the conversation by e-mailing an antiimmigration joke that suggests Mexicans in the United States are here to take advantage of social programs.”
The “joke”, in fact, was a photo of some suggested signage that might be considered to be Thorndike’s and Johnson’s view of the increase in the numbers of Hispanic to the county and more specifically to the city of Snohomish.
The email was sent to fellow city council members Melody Clemans and Karen Guzak, both proponents of the gateway sign proposal. The proposal is currently on hold and is not a part of the 2008 council agenda. The email contained no text and was sent with the subject heading: “Gateway Signs.”
While Thorndike, who sent the original images to Johnson, has not issued any comment to the media Johnson has defended the email as his attempt to ”to show how powerful an image can be.” Clemans has called the image “racist and bigoted” and was quick to point out the disconnect in the messages being sent.
”I do not understand using such a distasteful and discriminatory message to make a point about the power of signs,” she wrote in an e-mail. “Using inflammatory depictions of immigration issues has no relationship to the issue of a gateway sign for our community.”
According to the article in the Everett Herald there was some discussion of this email at the Snohomish City Council meeting on Tuesday.
” The image is discriminatory, Snohomish resident John First said at a City Council meeting Tuesday where the e-mail was discussed.
"I was embarrassed that it was being circulated by council members," said First, 49. "I was upset to see it because of the message that it implies."
About a dozen people at the meeting commented on the image, most saying it was offensive and inappropriate.”
Also at the Tuesday meeting was Snohomish County Democrats Chair and Snohomish resident, Mark Hintz. Yesterday Mark sent me a copy of the statement that he read to the council on Tuesday (and has sent on as a Press Release as a member of the Diversity Committee of the Snohomish County Democrats.
” The Diversity Committee of the Snohomish County Democratic Central Committee takes a stand against “white privilege” in our county. Recently two Snohomish City council members used the internet in an inappropriate manner and must be held accountable for their actions.
These two members of the council, Council Member Thorndike and Council Member Johnson recently sent an inappropriate email message to another Council Member that was an example of “white privilege”.
“White privilege is the advantages given freely to white people for no other reason than being born with the “right” skin color. If their skin color had not been white, they would not have been making these jokes. This is no way for an American to treat another American.
Mr. Thorndike and Mr. Johnson have left question marks with most people about their decision-making process. If either were my employee, this behavior would not be tolerated. As an elected official (Ed. Note: Hintz is an elected Fire Commissioner in Snohomish County) I expect a higher standard of leadership than what they displayed.
It is time that this attitude is removed from our society and the respect of all people be truly adopted.”
Johnson and Thorndike were not without their supporters.
” Kirk Williams, 50, of Snoho¬mish said he thought the image similar to political cartoons in newspapers and said it raised a legitimate point of view about U.S. immigration issues.
"It's not that these people don't like Hispanics," Williams said of Johnson and Thorndike. "These men aren't like that."”
I would like to give these men the benefit of the doubt but, when asked by Jessica Sparks at the Snohomish Tribune if these images reflect his personal views of Mexicans, Johnson’s reply was
”My personal views are my personal views.”
While we have presidential candidates being asked to distance themselves from the comments of others, I think it is not unreasonable to ask elected officials to take more responsibility for their own actions and statements. It is absolutely ridicules for anyone in Johnson's position to expect reasonable people to believe that the images he has passed along to his fellow council members has any bearing in the context of a proposal for a sign to WELCOME people to the city (and all of its people) he was elected to represent.
Chair, Demcoracy for Snohomish County