Gresham Mayor Shane Bemis gave an emotional speech to conclude Tuesday's City Council meeting, Aug. 15, in which he condemned hatred and ignorance in the wake of the White Nationalist rally which left one woman dead in Charlottesville, Va., last weekend.
"We have no place for intolerance, hate or ignorance in this city," Bemis said. "Our diversity is one of our greatest selling points, and people want this to be a place where they can come together."
The rally in Charlottesville was held last Saturday to protest a plan by officials to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee, the Confederacy's top general during the Civil War. By the end of the rally violence had erupted, leaving one person dead. Heather D. Heyer, 32, was killed when a car smashed into a crowd of anti-fascist protesters. Nineteen others were injured.
"It's really important we have a place to be a community — I see that now more than ever," Bemis said. "Thirty three percent of our population since 2000 has been from another country. We are growing in diversity, and it's something we need to hang onto, cherish and support.
"Racism isn't right, ignorance isn't right, intolerance isn't right, hate isn't right," Bemis said. "Those aren't values this city, or this council, holds."
Bemis had to pause and collect himself several times during his speech.
"Gresham High School has a ton of diversity," he said. "My (eldest) son goes there, and he has a lot of friends of a lot of colors that aren't like his. When I talk to him, I want to know what they think. Are they afraid? Are they nervous?"
"We have some work to do, but this community is ready for it," Bemis said. "We will work together and come out better, stronger and more together as a community."