All but one attending member of the Salem City Council expressed absolute condemnation of the actions of former Ward 6 councilor Daniel Benjamin at the November 28 meeting. At that meeting, council accepted Benjamin’s resignation and ‘censured,’ (expressed disapproval about and an official reprimand concerning) his posting of a video showing cars running into African Americans.
Ward 7’s Warren Bednarz said censuring “expressed our severe disapproval of someone, and that’s what this needs to do.” Ward 2’s Tom Andersen reported receiving 130 emails from residents “expressing their disgust” and called the posting “a reprehensible act.”
Ward 1 Councilor Chuck Bennett said he was disturbed by the images. Bennett said that heightened images were increasing in American society and that can cause people trouble in understanding what limits are appropriate. “Well, we’re telling you right now,” he said, “there’s a bright line in Salem, Oregon.”
Mayor Anna Peterson recalled becoming “very concerned for our community in light of the national election in its tone and tenor.” The Mayor noted that “The City of Salem will protect the civil rights of everyone and we will protect our residents.”
Only Ward 3’s Brad Nanke tempered his condemnation. Saying that it was “not acceptable to run people over, no matter who they are,” and condemning the post as “objectionable,” Nanke also expressed concern over the Salem public characterizing Benjamin as racist.
“Do I think Daniel Benjamin is racist?” Nanke asked. “No.” He cited Benjamin’s own multi-racial family and recalled a 2015 incident in San Diego when an African American man asked the two of them for spare change. “Without hesitation, Daniel Benjamin pulled out his wallet and gave the man a $10 bill,” Nanke said.
Nanke also said Benjamin had been observed by others online because he was “unsophisticated,” and that observers “found a post that was objectionable and pushed it, pushed it hard.”
Later in the meeting, Ward 4’s Kathleen Moore, criticized Nanke’s statements. “The fact that Councilor Nanke spent his time making excuses [for Benjamin’s actions] shows how far council has to come,” Moore said. “Making excuses is part of perpetuating [racism]. Shame on you, Councilor.”
Moore also observed that the all-Caucasian members of the council “are not representative of our community.” She gestured towards the audience, saying, “You can look at it and see.“ Moore encouraged “folks who are outside of the business interests, specifically the Chamber of Commerce,” to run for the Ward 6 position at the next election.