Amid work to address systemic racism under a national spotlight, Portland Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty says she has been receiving a high volume of racist messages.
Hardesty, a former state legislator and the first Black woman elected to the Portland City Council, said while racists messages directed toward her aren’t uncommon, she has been shocked “at the high level of racist, white supremacist rhetoric” that she’s received in recent months.
“The racists have come out in full force,” she said.
She said she’s been getting letters sent to her home, texts to her phone as well as emails and messages on social media. Hardesty said she’s had to block more people on social media in the last 60 days than ever before.
Hardesty, who was elected to the council in 2018, has been a key architect in recent months of Portland’s latest police reform plans. Many of her proposals led the City Council to agree to redirect $15 million previously budgeted for police to other city programs and initiatives in June. The council unanimously voted Wednesday to put a ballot measure before voters in November to decide whether the city should create a new civilian-led police oversight system. It’s a proposal Hardesty’s office crafted and sponsors.
“Quite frankly, I’ve been outspoken the same way for 30 years,” Hardesty said Thursday during a news conference announcing a public campaign to promote the police oversight measure. “The only difference is people are listening now and we’re changing policy now.”
Hardesty’s office shared copies of about a dozen emails and instant messages she received in July with The Oregonian/OregonLive. All of them contained some combination of racist slurs, epithets and sexist comments.
Some of the email addresses trace back to Florida and Ohio and at least two to Portland. One of them, dated July 22, called Hardesty a racist slur and said, “Get the [expletive] outta my city!”
The messages led Mayor Ted Wheeler to issue a public rebuke Thursday, demanding people in the community who are involved to stop immediately. People are welcome to disagree with anyone on the City Council, he said, but the racist and threatening messages he’s seen directed at Hardesty were “way over the line” and “unacceptable.”
“If you ever wonder whether racism is alive and well in the city of Portland, I can confirm that it is and that she has been subjected to it,” Wheeler said.
Hardesty said she believes the messages show that public dialog is shifting from a police-driven narrative to a community justice-focused one.
“It is never without risk that you take on policing. I’ve been doing it for 30 years,” she said. “First they laugh at you, then they try to discredit you and then you win.”