Black Lives Matter: City Council responds to recent events

Protesters gather on the lawn in front of Santa Clarita City Hall on Tuesday, June 09, 2020. Dan Watson/The Signal
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After several days of Black Lives Matter protests and a call for Santa Clarita City Councilman Bob Kellar to resign in light of his infamous 2010 “proud racist” comment, Mayor Pro Tem Bill Miranda implored the public for forgiveness and Mayor Cameron Smyth announced the return of a task force to promote community discussion. 

During a 2010 anti-illegal immigration rally, Kellar recounted how he had previously quoted Teddy Roosevelt at a council meeting, advocating for “one flag, one language.” He then said, “You know, the only thing I heard back from a couple of people? ‘Bob, you sound like a racist.’ I said, ‘That’s good. If that’s what you think I am, because I happen to believe in America, I’m a proud racist. You’re darn right I am.'”

Kellar has previously said, and reiterated Tuesday, his statement was taken out of context. “I am not a racist, never have been and never will be in my life. I have worked hard to help all Americans,” he said during the City Council meeting. However, a recent republishing of the comments and video from the rally on social media prompted a petition through Change.org that collected more than 27,000 names as of Tuesday evening.

Calling back on Kellar’s 10-year-old statement in the context of recent protests, several speakers demanded Kellar’s resignation during the public comment portion of Tuesday’s council meeting.

Santa Clarita City Councilmember Bob Kellar listens to public comments in the Santa Clarita City Hall council chambers in Valencia on Tuesday, June 09, 2020. Dan Watson/The Signal

“The people that have signed the petitions and/or letters do not know anything other than what a couple of young ladies said,” Kellar added, referring to comments brought forth by protesters about his 2010 remarks, and an online blog that recently published a previous interview with the councilman. “However, the folks living in Santa Clarita, for the most part, know who I am — as about 32,000 of them voted for me in the last election.”

The longtime councilman, whose term ends in November, announced in July 2019 that he would not run for office again for the 2020 City Council election. He joined the council in April 2000 and served as mayor four times. 

Miranda, a Latino who was first appointed to the City Council in 2017, and then elected in 2018, was the first of the council to address the call for Kellar’s resignation during the meeting. 

“I do not want us to have a reputation of being a racist city. We’re not a racist city; we can prove we’re not a racist city. And I’m sorry for all of those speakers who feel that we are,” Miranda said. “I believe in forgiveness. I believe a person can grow from what they said or thought or meant 10 years ago to the realization of what is happening today in our world, in our country, our community.”

“And if I could sit here next to that person and say I am convinced that person is not a racist, and you can argue all you want, but I wouldn’t be here if I thought this person was a white supremacist or a racist. I know this person,” Miranda added.  

The online call for Kellar to resign was echoed by residents who spoke up during Tuesday’s City Council meeting to also urge the council to denounce racism, which Smyth said the city did.

“I think that it’s important that we make a few things clear here in Santa Clarita, in that the city of Santa Clarita denounces racism in all of its forms. Period. All people are welcome in this community, every voice should be heard,” said the mayor, who then announced the return of a task force that was previously active in the 1990s. 

Human Resources Task Force

Smyth said Tuesday the return of the city’s Human Resources Task Force, established in 1994, would bring back a platform for the community to have conversations about things like racism, police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement. 

The mayor also said he’d partnered with William S. Hart Union School District through board member Cherise Moore to reactivate the roundtable. 

“I’ve been in conversation with Dr. Moore … and we’ve been talking about how we can use this moment to help move our community forward to hear the voices of those who have protested, to how we can develop a community and policies and plans that reflect our community,” he said. 

The proposal was supported by the rest of the City Council. 

Santa Clarita’s youth respond 

Just outside City Hall, about 50 Black Lives Matter protesters, most of whom were local high school and college students, participated in a sit-in demonstration before the start of the City Council meeting. There were also demonstrators in support of Kellar. 

Among the Black Lives Matter protesters was 17-year-old Cassidy Bensko, who said the first step in seeing a change in her community is for Kellar to resign. 

“This is a matter of human rights; it’s about condemning the systemic racism that lives and thrives within our justice system and our policing system. Structural change starts by looking who’s in office in our own community, so; I think he needs to resign. That is the first move,” she said. 

Smyth is expected to meet with local students on Thursday to further discuss the city’s response to the recent Black Lives Matter protests. The city received criticism from protesters for “bringing in the National Guard (Thursday) based on a conspiracy theory that was circulating on Facebook about protesters being bused in,” said Bensko. 

During their comments, several City Council members mentioned that issuing a local emergency and doubling down on law enforcement, including having the National Guard presence for last week’s protest that saw about 800 attendees, was the right call to protect protesters, businesses and the rest of the community. 

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