The Okanogan County commissioners have gone on record denouncing racism, social injustice, and violent action and excessive force in the enforcement of local and state laws.
All three county commissioners signed the proclamation on Monday (June 29) after a discussion and revisions to the earlier draft.
The final proclamation acknowledges that violence is escalating across the country in response to the use of excessive force in policing. It says the commissioners advocate respectful and diplomatic forms of solving differences. They commit to making every effort to promote peaceful and respectful presentations and discussions to help resolve issues of social injustice.
The final proclamation eliminates references to the First and Second Amendments and the right to assemble and bear arms. It no longer mentions the role of the county sheriff in ensuring peace and safety. It also deletes mention of a peaceful demonstration in Omak in early June.
After the working draft of the proclamation was published in the Methow Valley News, Okanogan County Commissioner Andy Hover heard from a constituent who was “very, very unhappy” that it mentioned the Second Amendment, he said.
Once things calmed down, they had a constructive conversation, he said. She explained that there was no reason to pit the right to bear arms against civil rights, Hover said.
“I thought, ‘She’s right.’ You can decry racism without mentioning the right to bear arms,” he said. Hover pointed to a series of peaceful local rallies and said the proclamation would be stronger without reference to any specific event.
Commissioner Chris Branch, who wrote the original draft, said he’d included the reference because of comments he’d heard after the Omak rally for social justice, where armed civilians showed up to protect businesses. Branch said he’d heard from people who’d felt intimidated by the presence of people with firearms.
“I recognize everyone’s rights,” Branch said. The solution to problems is being able to talk things over, he said.
It comes down to more than rights, Hover said. “It’s recognizing, Why don’t we be nice to each other?” He invoked his grandmother’s admonition that people should treat others the way they want to be treated.
County Commissioner Jim DeTro, who was out of the office when the board discussed the first draft last week, speculated that people may be venting because they’re frustrated by the prolonged shutdown during the coronavirus pandemic. Some believe their rights are being trampled, he said.
DeTro said he supported the proclamation but was concerned that it might “stir the pot” during the election campaign. Both Hover and Branch are running for re-election in November.
The other commissioners specifically wanted to wait so that DeTro could be part of the discussion and sign the proclamation, Hover said. “We all believe people shouldn’t throw rocks or be racist,” he said. The aim of the proclamation is to support treating everyone with respect, Hover said.
DeTro, who has come under harsh criticism for an image of a bloodied semi-truck he posted on his personal Facebook page with a reference to people protesting police brutality, said he has stopped posting on Facebook.
Okanogan County Sheriff Tony Hawley reviewed the draft proclamation and said he supported it.
Text of proclamation
The proclamation that was signed by all three commissioners on June 29:
WHEREAS, the Okanogan County Board of County Commissioners acknowledges that violence is escalating across this nation in response to the use of excessive force in policing; and
WHEREAS, the County Commissioners understand through social media and conversation that additional efforts to raise awareness of racism and use of excessive force that there will be future peaceful assemblies; and
WHEREAS, the County Commissioners advocate for respectful and diplomatic forms of solving differences.
NOW, THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, the Okanogan County Board of County Commissioners [say] the following:
1. Denounce violent action and excessive force in enforcing the laws of the cities, county, and state; and
2. Denounce any form of racism and/or social injustice; and
3. Promote peaceful and respectful presentations and discussion that may help in resolving issues of social injustice; and
4. Will make every effort to participate in peaceful and respectful conversation in an effort to resolve social injustice and conflict.