VALPARAISO | The city's Advisory Human Relations Council is developing a “welcome statement” in response to racially derogatory comments aimed at minorities in the Valparaiso community.
The incidents involve people who were out walking in the city and targeted with verbal slurs by others driving by in vehicles. Residents, as well as Valparaiso University undergraduate and law students, have reported being targeted.
At their regular monthly meeting Tuesday at Valparaiso City Hall, council members offered input on a statement drafted by Chair Ivan Bodensteiner.
The statement is designed to be signed by members of the community. It reads in part, “We sign this statement because we believe no one should be made to feel unwelcome in Valparaiso because of race, color or national origin.
“We understand how actions and words that make one feel unwelcome cause fear and isolation, and we want to express our firm belief that they do not represent the sentiment of the majority of the residents and businesses in the community.”
Council member Rick Soria suggested the statement should include language about sexual orientation in addition to color. Council member Bill Oeding said heavier people also reported being victims of verbal slurs.
Member Zahra Nwabara said though those groups are important, “people of color are seeing the brunt” of the attacks in Valparaiso.
Bodensteiner asked council members to send him more suggestions by email. He said he hopes to have a final draft of the statement finished by the council's meeting next month.
The goal is to have the document signed first by Mayor Jon Costas and educational leaders, including Valparaiso Community Schools Superintendent Mike Berta and Valparaiso University President Mark Heckler.
The statement then would be posted online and in churches, schools and other venues for residents and students to sign.
Bodensteiner has said the statement is not designed to prevent the incidents, most of which are perpetrated by people who can't be identified and who are protected by the First Amendment right to free speech.
Rather, it's a way to let community members express their support for diversity and condemn the actions of people who verbally assault others because of their appearance.
“Don't judge us by the people who do those things,” Oeding said.
The board's next meeting is May 28 at Valparaiso City Hall.