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Kennewick Councilman Defends Anti-Latino Remarks To A Divided Public

Courtney Flatt
Northwest Public Radio
A young protester at Kennewick City Hall, where councilman Bob Parks defended himself at the first council meeting after his Facebook comments on Latinos of Yakima and Pasco.

"You're not funny, Bob."

That was the opinion of one man who shouted his disapproval after tepid applause for Bob Parks, Kennewick city councilman Tuesday night.

Parks had just delivered his defense of a meme he had posted to Facebook that he said was anti-illegal-immigration, not anti-Latino—and, he insisted, it was supposed to be funny.

"When I shared that meme on Facebook," Parks said to a quiet crowd after a sometimes heated public comment period, "it was a joke. And some people don't take that as the way it is."

'Friends of all colors and races'

The meme was a photo of a sheepish-looking Bernie Sanders with the text, "I went to Yakima today / Now I know why Trump wants to build a wall." Parks added the comment, "Wait until he sees pasco (sic)!" In the 2010 Census Yakima was about 40 percent Latino; Pasco, 55 percent and Kennewick, 24 percent.

People of many races denounced Parks' comments, called for him to resign, or invited him to experience Latino culture of the Tri-Cities: Poetry readings, a classroom visit or a taco run to Mexican restaurants.

Parks told the crowd, though, that he has friends of "all colors and races."

"And a lot of them have a lot of other things to do," he said. "I could have packed this place with people if I wanted to. But that's not what I wanted to do. I wanted to hear what everybody here had to say tonight."

Some white attendees told the multiracial crowd, "you people are the problem."

"I don't know any of you people," William Spencer of Yakima told the crowd. "I know these people can't be happy watching the news every night, and seeing Garcia stabbed Rodriguez and Martinez killed some Indian down on the reservation in Toppenish. It's sickening."

"I don't see anything racist with what this man did," Spencer said, "other than put something out there that actually needs to be put out there and discussed."

Parks said he was sorry for outbursts at the meeting and that they were not meant to be an outcome of his remarks.

White councils, Latino populations

"He represents all of Kennewick," said Elizabeth Hernandez after the meeting. "He needs to take into account that he cannot just be saying stuff about his community that's racist."

Both Hernandez and Parks pointed to his First Amendment right to say whatever he wants. Hernandez, though, said she expects more of someone who represents her on an elected board.

"As a leader you need to focus on social justice and inclusiveness," said Hernandez. "And he's not doing that."

A federal court case determined proportional representation was a problem in Yakima, where a Latino was never elected to city council despite a Latino population that had been growing for years. The court decided Yakima needed to elect its city council by districts and the first Latinos were elected to the council last year.

"A gentleman [tonight] talked about Yakima's gerrymandering they came up with," Parks said when he took the floor Tuesday night. "The best people should be elected. Not the best woman or the best Hispanic."

Parks said he'll serve out his term through 2017.

"You do what you folks got to do," Parks said. "I will ride off into the sunset."

Courtney Flatt of Northwest Public Radio contributed to this report.

Anna King calls Richland, Washington home and loves unearthing great stories about people in the Northwest. She reports for the Northwest News Network from a studio at Washington State University, Tri-Cities. She covers the Mid-Columbia region, from nuclear reactors to Mexican rodeos.