EDMONDS — When a vandal defaced the “I Can’t Breathe” artwork on a fence at downtown Edmonds’ Civic Field by using black paint to erase the first “T,” the mayor and all seven city council members quickly denounced the act.
That was the request of Alicia Crank, a Black Edmonds resident and member of the city’s planning board. To many, the city of about 40,000 is one of the most liberal in the county. It’s also one of the whitest, according to census data. As issues of racial justice have moved to the forefront of the national conversation, instances of racism continue to arise locally.
“Having an Edmonds kind of day for persons of color in this community means something different,” she told council members Tuesday. “For the past several weeks, it has been more and more difficult to embrace this concept of that being a good thing.”
On Thursday, a 70-year-old Edmonds man was identified as a suspect in the vandalism case. Police are recommending prosecutors charge him with a hate crime.
Council President Adrienne Fraley-Monillas called the crime a “vicious act” that embodies what’s happening across the country.
“It’s one thing after another in our city,” she said. “It’s clearly racism. There’s no question about it.”
Councilmember Kristiana Johnson said no art, whether it’s the Edmonds installation or statues along the East Coast, should be defaced.
Then, the council’s student representative spoke. For six minutes, Zach Bauder talked about Black Lives Matter, police brutality against Black people and the media’s portrayal of victims, calling them all lies.
He said police brutality also affects white people, the media rushes to judgment in favor of Black people and against police, and people falsely report incidents of racism because they are “desperate for attention.”
“The truth is there are people in this world who hate white people,” he said. “They try to justify their hate with phony intellectualism and fake sentences about our oppressive culture that is inherent within us.”
Some members were visibly dismayed by Bauder’s comments. The council took a brief recess. Afterward, Councilmember Susan Paine said she was disheartened by his words. Then, the council continued with the meeting.
Bauder graduated this spring from Lakeside High School in Seattle. He’s been the council’s student representative since September.
Tuesday was his last meeting on the council dais.
“He’s no longer serving on the board,” Fraley-Monillas said.
Student representatives are appointed to one-year terms, though they aren’t expected to attend meetings during the summer.
In the fall, he’s expected to attend Hillsdale, a conservative college in Michigan.
He could not be reached for comment.
At least three council members said they’ve reached out to Bauder to address his comments. One has heard back — Council President Fraley-Monillas.
“We haven’t seen any of this behavior throughout the year,” she said.
She told Bauder she was disappointed in his comments.
Councilmember Susan Paine also reached out. For her, the city, county and country have a troublesome number of examples of racism. Whether it’s the N-word being spray painted on a roadway last year or fake Black Lives Matter flyers being distributed in town.
“If I was African American, I would definitely be thinking that,” she said. “They’ve said it over and over again, they don’t feel safe being their authentic selves here. This isn’t a community that I want Edmonds to be. We’ve got some work to do.”
On Thursday, the Edmonds Youth Commission said Bauder’s comments did not represent the views of the group.
“The Youth Commission supports all on-going efforts to address the inequities and injustices that (Black, indigenous and people of color) face from all of the levels of government,” the group said in a statement. “Moreover, the Youth Commission believes in the need for diversity and the need for the voices of (Black, indigenous and people of color) to be heard, in order to begin addressing the issue of racism.”