It’s time to reckon with the increasingly toxic rhetoric and behavior sometimes seen on local social media pages and groups, Canby residents and leaders say, after a city councilor’s child was identified and publicly shamed on Facebook last week, leading to in-person stalking and harassment.
Several councilors and residents addressed the incident at Wednesday’s City Council meeting, including the child’s father, Councilor Sarah Spoon’s ex-husband, Ty Spoon.
“I’m not a political person,” Spoon said. “I’ve never been here before. I’m not here today because of Sarah. I’m here because of my child. It is completely ridiculous that I need to be here, to be honest. I thought we were better. I thought we were adults. For adults to do this to a child is ridiculous.”
Spoon said the 13-year-old, whom The Canby Current is not identifying, has been followed and filmed by strangers since the incident occurred Tuesday, Sept. 7.
“All of you, please think of this as your child,” Spoon said. “What would you do? My child’s afraid to walk down the street. My child looks over their shoulder when they go places. … I shouldn’t have to be here defending my 13-year-old from a bunch of grown-ups.
“It’s hard enough to be a kid already. Y’all are dragging them into shit that is not their fight. I don’t give a damn what your political opinions are. This isn’t about politics. This is about grown-ups picking on a child.”
The post that prompted Wednesday’s public comments appeared in Kids First at Canby Schools, a private Facebook group that local attorney and former City Councilor Tyler Smith started earlier this year to pressure the district to reopen schools from the Covid-19 pandemic. It now claims to “advocate, share ideas, and work to keep the focus on being open, and putting the kids first in Canby schools.”
The post (which, according to Smith, was actually a repost of an item that appeared in a different local group late last month) included a photo of the teen and alleged they had pulled down a yard sign with an anti-mask message. It also claimed the police had responded to the incident.
Retired Canby schoolteacher Kathleen Jeskey was shocked by both the original post and that a number of the group’s members participated in the shaming, including prominent citizens.
“Sometimes, kids do dumb stuff because they’re kids,” Jeskey said. “Kids make mistakes, and it’s the job of adults to teach kids to do better.
“So why do we have adults, including some city leaders, in a forum where they not only do not intervene when a child is being bullied, but they participate by making or liking rude comments about the child and the child’s parents? What in the world is wrong with an adult who would do that to a child?”
David Bajorin, a 13-year veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard and current Reserve member, also did not mince words Wednesday night.
“The more I see of Canby, the more disheartened I become,” Bajorin said. “I have to be blunt: I didn’t sacrifice 13 years of my life to the threat of bodily harm for the good of others to watch my chosen home fall into chaos and division. I didn’t sacrifice 13 years to watch my kids be put at risk by the irresponsibility of others.
“I didn’t sacrifice 13 years to watch bullying tactics take over both on the individual level and at the official level. We all have a responsibility to do better. We have to. We owe it to our kids to leave things better than we found them.”
David Tate called on councilors to set aside partisan divisions in the name of healing the community and supporting vulnerable residents and kids.
“In Canby, it’s not against the law to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer, but we have citizens that isolate these members of the community and they seek the council’s approval and support,” he said. “You cannot allow that to happen.
“In Canby, it’s not against the law to be Black, Indigenous or a person of color but we have citizens who discriminate against this community, and they seek the council’s approval and support. You cannot allow that to happen.”
Reading a prepared statement, Councilor Spoon did not speak about the incident directly, but what she sees as a larger trend of online bullying and toxicity.
“It’s time to take a stand,” she said. “The harassment and bullying I see online is no longer just obnoxious or annoying. It’s becoming reckless and dangerous. There is a consistent and clear pattern of escalation in our community’s online bullying. Private citizens are attacking each other, and now, children have been targeted, weaponized, doxxed, outed and attacked.”
Spoon said she believes Canby’s leaders, including herself, have failed the citizenry by not calling it out sooner.
“You’ve trusted us to lead, and we haven’t stepped forward to say, ‘Enough is enough,'” she said. “We should be the first ones to fight for the community. We should have decried the online bullying sooner even if it upset our most fervent supporters, or we feared backlash from the loudest people in our community.
“Because our top priority should be protecting our kids, protecting our neighbors, and defending the identity of Canby. We need to lead by example and stand up to bullies on the frontlines, instead of hiding on the sidelines.”
Spoon described the moment as a “call to action” for the community and asked citizens to join her in fighting against online cruelty.
“Canby is not alone in this,” she said. “In communities across the nation, there is a stronghold of cruelty. Families are estranged, friendships are ruined, and communities are being torn apart by divisive online behavior and the social media platforms that promote engagement over understanding.
“Canby finds itself at a tipping point. We have two choices: We can resign ourselves to being a microcosm of what is happening everywhere else, or we can be an example of what’s possible to the rest of America. We can still turn this ship around before the cruelty takes over and irreparably poisons our whole town.”
Her colleagues on the council were with her.
“I’ve been working with children professionally now since 1998, but I don’t speak as a teacher or a parent or a city councilor but as a human being,” said Councilor Chris Bangs. “I share this dream that I think all of you should share, that no one hurts the children anymore. That has to be what guides us.”
“Speaking as a parent of a child who also didn’t feel comfortable being who they were when they were in Canby, we do have some political differences,” agreed Councilor Greg Parker. “I always like to try to keep things on a policy level.
“Sometimes, that’s not possible, but I do think it’s not too high of a political lift to say, ‘We’ll leave people’s children, their families and their spouse’s source of income out of the political mix.”
Council President Traci Hensley sympathized, saying she has gone through similar experience as a result of her public service.
“Tt was only a few years ago that I was also in the headlines and scrutiny for some things that were happening in my family, so I understand,” she said. “We sign on for this, our families don’t.”
Councilor Shawn Varwig echoed the sentiment.
“Our kids, our families — leave them alone,” he said. “You can hate me all you want. You can say what you want to about me, but don’t mess with my kids because papa bear will come out.”
Those who don’t see a problem with bullying or harassing kids on social media shouldn’t be on these platforms in the first place, he said.
“Delete your Facebook page, because it just isn’t OK,” he concluded. “Whether we agree or disagree — and it’s clear that many of us on this council disagree politically and personally on many things — but I think one thing that we can all agree on is that our kids deserve to be safe.”
See the full council meeting in the video below:
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