BREMERTON – The city council is expected to pass an “equity and inclusion” resolution on Wednesday in response to the recent postings of more than a hundred white nationalist fliers that one police officer called “vitriolic propaganda.”
In December and January, scores of fliers supportive of the white nationalist group Patriot Front were taped to walls, windows and lampposts around Bremerton, with some tossed into front yards in plastic bags weighted down with rocks. With contemporary graphics and fonts, the posters bore messages like “blood and soil,” a Nazi-era phrase used in support of a German ethno-state, and “conquered, not stolen,” shown next to a map of the United States.
Many of the posters included links to a website espousing white separatist views. Photos of Patriot Front members on the website show them holding signs saying “America is our birthright” and “Deport Them All.”
Bremerton police sergeant Jeff Schaefer expressed disgust at the posters’ content and reaffirmed in a statement that it was illegal to post handbills on public or private property without the owner’s consent.
But local officials have been limited in their response to the postings, citing free speech protections. At a city council work session on Feb. 13 lawmakers said that removing the Patriot Front posters from city lampposts, but not other fliers, would be discriminatory.
“It’s not illegal for them to post that stuff,” one Bremerton police officer, Lt. Mike Davis said. “If the poster has specific dates to an event, when they say they are going to come and do their thing, that’s when you start.”
The resolution was introduced earlier this month by council president Eric Younger, and is meant to be an affirmation of “the city’s commitment to the principles of equity and inclusion,” the text of the measure states. Supporters say it’s necessary to clarify the city’s position regarding the racist propaganda.
“We need a timely response to the actions that happened in the community,” council member Michael Goodnow said during the work session. “If we don’t come out and say something – and this is the format that we would do it – then we seem sort of complicit with this kind of hate language being spread in our city.”
“This resolution shows a commitment by the city council,” the text of the measure states, “that they wholly reject the promotion of any regressive ideologies that promote discrimination, bigotry, hatred and violence.”
The resolution is the result of a compromise in recent weeks by council members and has won the support of most, but not all lawmakers. A section dealing with the city’s policies toward undocumented immigrants in particular chafed city council member Richard Huddy.
Huddy’s opposition stems in part from what he said was a perception that the measure is a “welcoming resolution” similar to one passed by the Seattle city council in 2017, which he opposed. He also worried it would run afoul of President Trump’s 2017 executive order threatening “sanctuary cities,” cities that do not comply with federal immigration enforcement, with a loss of grant funding.
The bill emulates a policy of the Bremerton Police Department that city officials will not inquire as to a person’s immigration status unless they are required to do so.
“City employees shall not ask for immigration status from a resident in providing a service, unless they are required to do so by state or federal law,” the resolution states.
“All individuals, regardless of their immigration status, must feel secure that contacting law enforcement will not make them vulnerable to deportation,” it continues.
During a pointed exchange at the work session, Huddy grilled Younger as to the purpose and timing of the measure.
“What is moving us to do this?” he asked.
“It’s in the resolution,” Younger said. “We had the hate fliers recently, and as you recall we had members of our community come and say it might be time for us to revisit that resolution that we basically put on hold a couple years ago. And I thought the time was right.”
“So you’re thinking that adopting a resolution like this will have a direct impact upon the distribution of hate literature?” Huddy asked.
“It’s a response,” Younger said.
In 2017, the Seattle city council unanimously passed a resolution confirming the city’s “commitment as a welcoming city” to immigrants and refugees, and criticized President Trump’s immigration policies directly.
Huddy expressed his opposition to the local resolution Wednesday, preventing it from being fast-tracked for approval at the next city council meeting.
“I have to tell you,” Huddy said, “I see this as just a welcoming resolution using different verbiage. And I also see it as being something that could potentially put us in a bad position” with respect to federal immigration enforcement.
As to its legality, Younger said the resolution had been vetted by the city attorney and that the police department’s current policies – implemented in 2014 – had already been greenlighted by the federal government.
“The Department of Justice has accepted our police policy manual and we have received grant funding,” Younger said. “We are not in violation of federal law.”
Most council members expressed support for the measure on Wednesday.
“I think it’s well written and I think it strikes a good balance as a compromise,” Kevin Gorman said.
“I also think this is an excellent compromise,” Lori Wheat, the body’s newest member, said. “I think that part of the resolution [dealing with undocumented immigrants] is designed to make sure that everyone who lives in Bremerton, all citizens, feel safe and comfortable living here,” she added.
According to the Bremerton Police Department manual, which the resolution refers to in crafting its language, immigration status alone “is generally not a matter for police action,” and police officers will not ask about immigration status “unless it is directly related to the crime being investigated.”
Younger echoed the police department manual on the value of undocumented immigrants not fearing deportation from local law enforcement.
“We do not want to see a situation where someone, because of their immigration status, feels that they cannot contact the police because life or property is in jeopardy,” Younger said. “We can’t have that.”
He also cited a city council meeting on Dec. 19, when roughly a dozen citizens shared concerns about the Patriot Front posters and requested action from the council.
The resolution will be put to a vote Wednesday. In broad language it also says the city will “continue to implement practices that seek to improve opportunities and quality of life for all residents, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, country of origin, immigration status, sexual orientation, gender identify, or religious beliefs.”
The full text of the resolution can be found beginning on page 130 of the current city council agenda packet, which can be downloaded here.
Gabe Stutman is a reporter with the Kitsap News Group. He can be contacted at email@example.com.