The vocal anarchists who increasingly attempt to disrupt Richmond City Council meetings are drawing widespread condemnation. The following SF Chronicle column from Chip Johnson is a good exposure of the meanness and hate that characterizes this group.
Connecting the dots of what is going on is still ongoing, but here are some of the converging themes:
- The point people for City Council disruptions include Wesley Ellis, Pam Bilbo and Reginald Russell, all associated with Men and Women of Valor, a 501(c)3 headed by Clarence Wise, an El Sobrante real estate broker at 5487 Country View Drive, El Sobrante, CA, 94803. Man and Women of Valor registered as a 501(c)3 with the IRS but has filed no tax returns and has not registered with the California Attorney General Directory of Charitable Trusts.
- Corky Booze is an integral part of the anarchy but continues to deny it. Nat Bates is in just as deep but projects a more passive involvement, acting as an enabler and defender.
- Mark Wassberg is not tight with the core group, but they encourage him because of common ground on homophobia, xenophobia and ranting against the mayor, Jovanka Beckles and the RPA.
- Homophobia and Xenophobia are salient recurring themes.
- The group’s tactics are to cause disruptions and then try place the blame on the mayor for not keeping order, squelching free speech and for not responding to aggrieved community members.
- We believe the group is indirectly funded by Chevron as a tactic to discredit the mayor and RPA. We have strong evidence that the disrupters attending the July 23 City Council meeting were recruited from the Souper Center and local liquor stores and paid to participate.
- Although not all the members of all the organizations support the disruptions and there is internal dissension among the organizations, there is tacit approval from several organizations that coalesced earlier this year to block the potential selection of Eduardo Martinez to replace Gary Bell on the City Council. These include: The Community Mobilization Leadership Coalition in Richmond, “established to block the appointment of Eduardo Martinez to Gary Bell’s seat on the Richmond City Council and to recommend a replacement who aligns with Gary Bell’s philosophy and campaign platform” (A Chevron candidate). Members of the coalition that hosted the reception include the Black American Political Action Committee (BAPAC), Black Women Organized for Political Action (BWOPA), Black Men & Women (BMW), National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), National Brotherhood Alliance (NBA), Men and Women of Purpose, Men and Women of Valor, 1 Richmond, One Accord Project, and Guardians of Justice. In August 2012 1Richmond was founded by "a group of citizens representing local neighborhoods, including North Richmond, Central Richmond, South Richmond and Parchester Village ... to reduce violence, raise public awareness and involvement and advance the education of Richmond's youth." It is closely associated with Councilmembers Corky Booze and Nat Bates and at some of the meetings there have been claims of significant Chevron financial support.
Time for Richmond hate speech to end
By Chip Johnson
The one thing about hate speech is that even when you try to hide it inside a broader political agenda, it still sounds like hate.
And that's what has been spewing from the mouths of a small but boisterous group of Richmond residents who have been disrupting Richmond City Council meetings for months.
Sometimes, the point they're trying to make is muddled and unclear.
But when it's not, it's ugly, homophobic and stunning considering that it's being said during a public meeting in one of the most liberal regions of the nation.
Comments made at the June 26 and July 2 City Council meetings and posted on YouTube provide a horrifying example of hate - yet at least one council member defended some of the statements as fair, reasonable public comment.
"What I'm saying is these lesbians and homosexuals are no lower than an animal," Richmond resident Mark Wassberg breathed into the podium microphone in the council chambers. "That's what they are. It's disgusting."
It didn't get any better when the Rev. Wesley Ellis approached the microphone.
Whatever his intended point was, his comments quickly turned to Councilwoman Jovanka Beckles, who is African American and lesbian.
"There goes a girl, trying to be a man," Ellis said, referring to Beckles. "You proud of it, right?
"But you know what? "You're just a little girl trying to be a boy, and don't even have the tools for it."
Ellis, who brought a bullhorn to Tuesday's council meeting, has been escorted out of council meetings before and it happened again on Tuesday, after the group broke into song just as the meeting was about to start. Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin had finally had enough. She cleared the chamber and held the meeting without a public crowd.
If that weren't enough, instead of defending the rights of a colleague, instead of warning speakers that foul-mouthed venom would not be tolerated, veteran councilman Nat Bates defended the atmosphere of intolerance.
"First of all, I didn't view the audience as being hateful," Bates said during the council meeting. "For council member Beckles to accuse individuals of being hateful out here. Rev. Ellis had his viewpoints. Others had their viewpoints. I didn't see that as hateful."
If the shoe was on the other foot and a speaker was describing African American residents in such a manner, I doubt that Bates - who is African American - would come to the speaker's defense, although he says he would.
"If the Ku Klux Klan came to this council and sat in the audience, I would defend their right to express themselves, even though I don't agree with them," said the 81-year-old Bates. "I stand by the principles of free speech."
Beckles views the personal attacks - some of which were too offensive to print - as some sort of perverted, horribly misguided political strategy in advance of her re-election campaign.
"There are legitimate reasons to protest - fairness in hiring, institutional racism, privatization of the criminal incarceration system," Beckles said. "That's the kind of stuff you protest, not getting kicked out of a meeting cause you don't know how to behave.
"They say our meetings are like the Jerry Springer show. Well, they're the Jerry Springer audience."
Beckles and McLaughlin and Councilman Tom Butt lay the blame squarely at the feet of colleague Corky Boozé, whose election to the council coincided with the rise of the outbursts in the council chambers.
Some council members refer to the group as "Corky's Army."
Boozé countered that the protests were the product of frustrated African Americans with no "voice" in government.
That's a rather convenient cloak to disguise what this group is apparently really all about.
Because if that's their best public speaking voice, and homophobic comments and personal insults are the only things they can offer, they'd best just shut up, because their collective ignorance is jarring, divisive, and hurtful to other people just trying to live their lives.
"That's the kind of room these people have been given, and they have taken it to the extreme," Beckles said.
The city's Human Rights and Human Relations Commission have discussed barring hate speech from public meetings. It's a tricky business in a land that cherishes and protects the people's right to speak freely.
But what's happening in Richmond is over the top, and responsible city officials need to put a stop to it.
-- To view a YouTube video of the homophobic comments made during a Richmond City Council meeting last month, go to http://bit.ly/1c6Xhe6.
Chip Johnson's column appears in The San Francisco Chronicle on Tuesday and Friday. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.