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Let's Talk About It: Choosing Civility



Editor's note: This is one in a series of opinion pieces solicited by the Journal. In the immediate aftermath of Nov. 8, it became very clear that people need safe spaces to discuss their ideas and feelings, and generally process what was the ugliest and most vitriolic presidential contest in generations. To that end, we reached out to a variety of community stakeholders, people who we felt could help starts this community dialogue. The response was overwhelming, and a full list of submissions complete with links can be found at the bottom of this post. We hope you'll also join the conversation by commenting online, writing letters to the editor and talking to each other.

Last week Americans exercised their constitutional rights to vote and protest, first by electing Donald J. Trump as president of the United States of America and then by protesting his election. America is such a beautiful and complex mystery. At the protest, Eureka police officers stood by watching over protestors, ensuring their rights were protected and that citizens could speak their minds. Most protesters were kind and peaceful. They just wanted to be heard. A few protestors, the same old tired ones, screamed expletives at the police and counter protesters who had shown up.

Here is what protestors did not know: EPD intercepted an online threat from a man who threatened to shoot protestors. EPD developed a two-tiered response: Confront the person who made the threat and protect protestors, even the ones who curse the police. Eureka, we can respond with anger, vitriol and violence, or we can choose civility. My goal for EPD and Eureka is to choose civility and be a force for good. There are four choices we must make to be a force for good.

We can choose civility. Civility toward our fellow countrymen and women is the byproduct of a healthy society. You and I can make a conscious decision to follow the lead of people like Dr. Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Pope Francis and Rev. Billy Graham. Part of civility is possessing the ability to discuss important topics without going nuclear. Even when we feel strongly about a matter, we can discuss these topics passionately but with the perspective that this is my neighbor, my brother or sister, my fellow Eurekan.

We must also confront evil. Those on the fringe who speak of hate or extremism, be it from the right or left, must be challenged. Yes, it takes courage. Doesn't it always take courage and personal risk to take a stand? Recently, a student at Baylor University was pushed and called the N-word. More than 300 students showed up to walk her to her class, as they locked arms and sang "Amazing Grace." Others confronted the aggressor. They told him racism is not accepted at Baylor. That is a powerful demonstration of how to confront evil. When a police officer in Urbandale, Iowa, was murdered, a black woman brought water to a white police officer standing a traffic post. She hugged him. They cried together. Through a simple act of targeted kindness, they confronted an evil that tried to divide them. You and I must stand united against racism, sexism and anarchist extremism. These ideologies have no place in a civil society.

We can invite the vulnerable to our dinner table. There are many who feel unwelcomed to the table of prosperity and public acceptance. We can consciously make a decision to be inclusive. Not in a sappy way, but in a real, tangible and substantive manner. An approach that creatively uses the strength of our differences to strengthen the fabric of this community. My mother was a young Jewish girl in post-World War II America. It was those who included her and loved her who helped heal the wounds of the anti-Semites who call her a "dirty Jew." Certainly it takes work on both sides, but should not the strong willingly offer a hand of hope to those more vulnerable?

We also must be honest with one another. This is the tough part. Too many people take cheap shots at one another using destructive and corrosive language to those simply expressing their opinion. Others cannot handle even small amounts of earnest debate. Our community cannot get past this current schism until we choose to speak openly, honestly and directly to one another. We must not only speak, but listen, and try to understand another point of view. Humboldt, we should evaluate a position on the quality of the argument, the method in which that message was delivered, and the passion possessed for our fellow neighbors.

This is what I believe will help heal our city, county and nation. This is how we become a force for good and not evil. The choice is ours, Eureka, Arcata, Fortuna, and the rest of Humboldt County. Can we be civil, confront evil, practice inclusivity and speak honestly? The unity and livability of our community depends on it.

Andrew Mills is the chief of police in Eureka.

Submissions from NAACP of Eureka First Vice President Liz Smith, local attorney and U.S. Army reservist Allan Dollison, North Coast People's Alliance Steering Committee Member Tamara McFarland, Eureka Police Chief Andrew Mills, Humboldt County Central Democratic Committee Chair Bob Service, local programmer and freelance writer Mitch Trachtenberg, Humboldt County Green Party Chair Dana Silvernale, Rabbi Naomi Steinberg, Humboldt State University assistant professor of history Leena Dallesheh, Friends of the Eel River Executive Director Scott Greacen and League of Women Voters Humboldt County President Rollin Richmond can be found by clicking their names.


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