South Whidbey residents are calling on Langley leaders to be the first to support change in the community.
During a teleconferenced city council meeting Monday night, 37 members of the public attended to hear about Langley’s plans to support people of color, to share their stories about racism experienced in South Whidbey and, like so many around the nation, to call for the defunding of the police department.
Some were Langley citizens, others were just outside city limits, lived in Freeland or other parts of unincorporated Island County.
Those hoping for direct action to be taken during the meeting were stymied by the slow-moving gears of city government.
Citizens Derrek Jones and Preston Ossman expressed concern about the city’s budget, finding the investment in the police department rather than social services to be problematic.
Mayor Tim Callison responded that social services are paid for by county property taxes, not through Langley municipal government, and that the county is responsible for funding social services.
“Our size and our scope would not make sense for us to have those kinds of operations,” Callison said.
Jones voiced his frustration with the organization of the city council meeting, which started with citizen comments about Black Lives Matter but then jumped to the mayor’s haircut and landscaping, among other matters.
The conversation about dismantling systemic racial injustice, which Councilman Craig Cyr asked to be added to the agenda, wasn’t able to be continued until about two hours into the meeting.
“I believe now is the time for Langley to lead on this issue,” Cyr said.
In addition to citizen feedback forms that could be filled out and investigated, council members urged the public to contact them individually about concerns they may have about the city’s police department.
Numerous citizens called for the defunding of the Langley Police Department, hoping to incite change starting with the progressively-minded labeled Village by the Sea.
Jones said that he moved to Langley from LA and that he felt hopeful it was the place to make something happen. His experiences with racism in the workplace, however, showed him that South Whidbey was not immune to discrimination like so many might choose to believe.
Freeland resident Diana Sandoval agreed.
“I want to share how painful this is for people of color, especially black people,” Sandoval said. “And I think that’s something South Whidbey residents don’t understand.”
“As beautiful as this place is, it’s the most difficult place I’ve ever lived,” she said.
Several council members broke down in tears during the meeting, confessing that they may be living in a state of ignorance due to their white privilege.
“I never realized growing up the racial issues that occurred in this community,” Councilman Thomas Gill said.
Councilwoman Christy Korrow encouraged the other council members to take a step back and listen to the voices of people of color.
Citizen Kenesha Lewin expressed that these should not be one-time conversations held only while protesting is happening. She pointed to the lack of diversity at the city government level.
“Whenever there’s decisions trying to be made, we need to have a voice of color,” Lewin said. “You can’t have a table of whites deciding what to do for the people of color.”
Training and education, both for the council and police offers, was also recommended by citizens.
Lewin encouraged using locals as a resource, rather than trying to bring in someone from off island who would spend half of their contract trying to learn the city.
“We all don’t know what we don’t know and we all have an opportunity to grow and to learn,” Langley Police Chief Don Lauer said when asked what he thought about comments brought up during the meeting.
Citizens felt, however, that this response was a bit of a cop-out.
Lewin responded that people can go out and seek information simply by reading a book or watching a webinar.
“You don’t have to be educated on a topic to acknowledge it,” she said.
“Silence is one of the greatest killers. How many more people are going to die because of that?”
Others pointed to the great effort made with educating citizens in Langley about climate change, hoping that same enthusiasm could be brought to the table when discussing that black lives matter.
Lewin called for white allies to take a stand against racism, even if it means losing friends.
Sandoval encouraged people to be forgiving of each other and of themselves, and to continue questioning social structures that are oppressive to people of color.
“It’s really hard to hear where we’re failing, but don’t we want to hear that so we can make shifts?” she asked.
Cyr said he is planning to introduce a motion at next week’s city council meeting that would eliminate the use of the carotid control hold by the Langley police force.