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Darrell Berkheimer: Ending racism is a community-wide issue

Residents of the twin cities of Grass Valley and Nevada City occasionally appear to be patting themselves on the back for their many accomplishments. And they have good reasons to do so.

One of my early columns in The Union, published back in April, carried the headline The “gold” I found in Grass Valley. It mentioned but a few of the many services, activities and organizations that make this area a great place to live.

But today, unfortunately, I must call attention to a pocket of hatefulness and prejudice that exists in this area — however small it might be.



Few people, if anyone, will admit to being hateful. Nor do we like the thought of pointing a finger at any hatefulness we have in our backyard. We prefer to condemn the prejudices that we see elsewhere in the world.

Yes, of course, all lives matter. But it is our nation’s black residents and citizens who have faced daily dangers and discrimination consistently — for more than two centuries.

But today’s story is about prejudice — and that disgusting word racism — that is evident right here in happy valley.




It’s about how a visiting black family was reportedly threatened with a shotgun during their family reunion a year ago at Rollins Lake — and how little has been done about that incident. And it’s about how a local congregation has been intimidated for merely displaying a Black Lives Matter banner that was vandalized and stolen.

The Rollins Lake incident occurred in August last year when one of two men carried a shotgun as he threatened members of the black family, causing children in the family to scream in terror. The incident drew the attention of the Sacramento news media.

Three months later Nevada County District Attorney Cliff Newell said he was continuing to review the evidence in the incident. He said: “I am not going to rush to a conclusion; I have three years to file a felony.”

A year later I can only wonder if two more years will pass with nothing being done.

The Black Lives Matter banner was displayed at the Unitarian Universalist Community of the Mountains — shortly after the Rollins Lake incident. It was hung above the building’s Church Street entrance last September.

Since then the banner was stolen, and then replaced with a second one. After that it was vandalized with a knife, and then repaired. And finally, it was stolen again a few weeks ago.

I think it appears obvious that the congregation wanted to make a statement — a statement that says we are long overdue to end racism in our nation.

It’s a social injustice that continues today when it was supposed to have been corrected 150 years ago — and then again 50 years ago. It provides our nation with an ugly open wound — as racism against blacks is still with us.

We all know it has been a continuing national problem. But did we really think it would be a local problem, too? Did we expect it to be a problem that mars the generally, quite respectful nature of this area?

Yes, of course, all lives matter. But it is our nation’s black residents and citizens who have faced daily dangers and discrimination consistently — for more than two centuries.

I believe the intent of the Black Lives Matter movement has been deliberately perverted by some racists who originated the claim that it ignores how much all lives matter — and who claim it also was started to level criticisms at police and their procedures. Racists always look for a means to redirect criticisms away from their actions.

So attacks on the movement were initiated as maneuvers designed to shift attention from the real purpose of Black Lives Matter — maneuvers to distract our attention from how blacks continue to suffer significantly more discrimination and prejudice than any other group.

The UUCM congregation also received anonymous emails and phone calls with messages from several people who said they considered the banner offensive.

That’s an opinion. And those folks have every right to that view. It is their right to free speech.

But trespassing, vandalism and theft are not opinions. They are breaking laws. And they are attempts to intimidate — and to take away the free speech to which others are entitled. Much more serious, of course, is the shotgun intimidation and threat to a visiting family.

Both situations, however, are blemishes on this community — a community that appears to pride itself with open attitudes in all manners of expression, leadership and growth opportunities.

But these incidents also point to a certain complacency about racism and lack of leadership.

And if those incidents go unchallenged, what others might occur in the future? What other group or organization will be threatened, intimidated or have its free speech challenged?

The battle against racism and intolerance should not be a piecemeal one that is left up to individual community congregations or organizations. It should be a community-wide effort.

Community leaders and clergy members should be meeting to decide how to make a statement that racism will not be accepted here. And banners saying as much should be flying high in the middle of both Grass Valley and Nevada City — or something just as conspicuous.

A mere hint of a community effort to show intolerance of racism was initiated last year by Grass Valley resident Shera Johnson. She created an online fundraiser for the family involved in the incident at Rollins Lake, which resulted in more than $5,000 in contributions toward a nicer vacation experience this year.

That type of expression is but a small example of what our twin communities should display — that intolerance of any minority is not wanted here — and not just for today and tomorrow, but for all the todays after tomorrow.

That’s just the kind of leadership that I think many people expect from this community.

Darrell Berkheimer, who lives in Grass Valley, writes a biweekly column published Saturdays by The Union. Contact him at mtmrnut@yahoo.com.


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