Protecting our values: Responding to hate speech in Claremont
by Ed Reece | Special to the Courier
As the Mayor of the City of Claremont, I feel compelled to address a recent incident that has shaken our community and prompted us to take a strong stand against hate speech. During a recent City Council meeting conducted partially over Zoom, we were confronted with an egregious act of intolerance: a Zoom “bombing” that unleashed a torrent of antisemitic, racist, and homophobic comments. Such behavior is not only offensive but fundamentally contrary to the values and commitment to inclusiveness that Claremont holds dear.
Claremont has always been a place where diversity, inclusion, and respect for one another have been our guiding principles. We celebrate our differences and strive to create a safe and welcoming environment for all members of our community. The recent Zoom “bombing” incident has reminded us that we must be vigilant in upholding these values, even in the digital realm.
I want to emphasize that Claremont is not alone in facing this challenge. Many other cities and public agencies have experienced similar Zoom “bombings” over the past months, and they, too, have tried various strategies to address this issue. We considered our early pandemic practice of reading written comments aloud, but this can be abused in the same manner as the anonymous Zoom calls, and in some ways would be worse because it would force staff to read hate-filled letters out loud to meeting attendees. We also considered reducing the time limit for public comment to one minute and/or changing Zoom meeting IDs, which need to be publicly accessible. After careful consideration, we have come to the difficult conclusion that the most effective way to protect our community from hate speech is to eliminate remote Zoom comments during public meetings altogether.
We share the concerns some residents, like Mr. Gerecke, have raised. I want to assure you that we did not take this decision lightly. We recognize the importance of public participation and value the input of our community members. The decision to eliminate remote Zoom comments should not be seen as a limitation on your ability to engage with us; instead, it is a step to ensure that, to the extent possible, our meetings remain a respectful, safe, and productive space.
Our commitment to hearing from our community remains unwavering. We encourage you to continue sharing your thoughts, concerns, and ideas with us through alternative means. You can reach out to staff and City Council members via email, letters, phone calls, and more. Be assured that staff will continue to accommodate individuals with disabilities who wish to participate. Your voices will continue to play a vital role in shaping the policies and decisions that impact Claremont.
By taking this action, we aim to discourage future incidents of hate speech from tarnishing the integrity of our public meetings. Our priority is to create an environment where everyone feels safe and respected when participating in the civic process. We understand that there will always be differing opinions, and we welcome constructive criticism and diverse perspectives. However, the hate speech we endured at our October 10 meeting does not align with Claremont’s values.
Let this be a reminder to all Claremont residents and to those who wish to engage with our City: although the First Amendment protects hate speech, we will not provide a convenient platform to amplify hate speech in any form. We will protect the values that define Claremont, and we will encourage public meetings to continue to serve as a platform for civil, respectful, and inclusive dialogue.
I want to thank our community for your understanding and cooperation in this matter. Together, we will continue to make Claremont a beacon of inclusiveness and respect. We look forward to hearing from you through the various channels that remain open, and we are committed to considering all forms of communication from our community with equal weight.
In Claremont, we stand united against hate, and we stand together in defense of our values. Let this incident catalyze a renewed commitment to the principles that make Claremont the vibrant, inclusive, and welcoming community we all cherish.
Mayor, City of Claremont