Richland's White Leaders See No Racism, Despite Reports By Minorities

Apr 25, 2017

Since the presidential election, many Northwest cities and towns have adopted resolutions reaffirming that all people are welcome -- regardless of race, religion or sexual identity. Boise, Eugene, Seattle, Spokane and Spokane Valley have. The Wenatchee city council is scheduled to consider one this week. But not Richland.

In a new promotional video for the City of Richland -- white people wakeboard on the Columbia River. White people hike Badger mountain. And white people drink red wine.

If you’re white -- Richland can be pretty comfortable. But if you’re brown, LGBTQ or something other than Christian - it can be uncomfortable. Especially lately.

M.K. Anand is a nuclear mechanical engineer here in Richland. Just recently, an East Indian couple he knows got a disturbing note wrapped in a diaper deposited in front of their Richland house. Saying stuff like …

“‘Watch your back’ and ‘kill them’ and everybody is really concerned that is something happening and are we really safe?” Anand says.

And students and teachers in the Richland school district have noticed an uptick since the presidential election of things like: racial name-calling. Laughing about the holocaust. And even white boys telling an African-American girl, “We don’t like black people.”

Incidents like these prompted a few residents to start talking to the Richland City Council. They want the city to adopt an inclusivity statement -- that commits Richland to protecting and serving its residents without discrimination.

Ann Fraser is a middle-school teacher in the Richland schools. She has been at all but one city council meeting since February. She’s white - and feels the need to stand up.

“It’s hard to see people of color stand up week after week and get talked down to. And women get talked down to," Fraser says.

On the seven-person council: Five are men. And six are white.

“The City of Richland Police Department prides itself on trying to gather as much data as we can,” Richland police chief Chris Skinner says.

Richland’s police chief presented his numbers at council. He says in the last several years, around 19 reported cases of racial bias, intimidation, malicious mischief or hate-crimes -- including graffiti -- have been documented by the city.

Mayor Robert Thompson used those numbers to bolster his view that racism and intimidation aren’t happening much here.

“Communities, law enforcement, perceive problems that really exist, as opposed to sometimes perceived problems," Thompson says. "So I really implore people that if you have been transgressed against, you need to go to the proper authorities to address that.”

Fraser and Anand say police can’t track all the racism or intimidation in Richland - because many minorities are afraid to go to the police. Or afraid of losing their government jobs.

After one recent council meeting, Jessica Monterey and Richland councilman Phillip Lemley ended up facing each other in the darkened parking lot. She’s young and Latina. Lemley’s white, retired and grew up in Little Rock.

“I just cannot believe that this community of Richland discriminates openly against any of those people," Lemley said.

“I really think you are being willfully blind to an issue that is important to a lot of people who live in your community," Monterey said.

“I have to do what is good for the majority of 54,000 residents," Lemley said. "Not 20, not the vocal minority of 20, you know. I am not saying you don’t count.”

Fraser and others say they know with Hanford and the national lab, this is a federal company town. They’re not asking the city for sanctuary status. But they plan to keep showing up to council until an inclusiveness statement makes the official agenda.

Copyright 2017 Northwest News Network