Clackamas County Commissioner Mark Shull was stripped of his board authority and liaison assignments Tuesday morning, in the wake of a controversial resolution he submitted that repeatedly likened the use of a “vaccine passport” to Jim Crow laws — which legally enforced racial segregation and discrimination against Black Americans in some areas from Reconstruction until the 1960s.
Four times, Shull’s resolution references Jim Crow, the name of laws that some Southern states and communities imposed on newly freed slaves and their descendants mandating separate public schools, parks, bus transportation, restrooms, seating in restaurants and even water fountains for Black and White people.
The resolution draws a clear comparison to the so-called “vaccine passport” policy in Oregon, which allows businesses and indoor event venues to let fully vaccinated patrons enter unmasked if they show proof of immunization.
“Covid-19 ‘vaccine passports’ and segregation and discrimination based on an individual’s Covid-19 vaccination status create the conditions of a new Jim Crow 2.0,” Shull’s draft resolution stated.
Digital vaccination records are vulnerable to privacy breaches, manipulation and “integration into a digital tracking system,” Shull said, and would establish something he called a “‘do to do’ system.”
“A ‘do to do’ system dictates that one must ‘do’ something (such as receive a Covid-19 vaccine) in order to be able to ‘do’ another thing (such as have a job or access to food in a grocery store) and is the next generation of a ‘show me your papers’ totalitarian technocratic regime,” he alleged.
“It is discriminatory, coercive and a violation of inalienable human and civil rights for either the government or the private sector to require that an individual show proof of vaccination to participate in normal society.”
Read the full draft resolution below:
News of the draft resolution and its content broke Monday evening and had quickly become a national news story by the time the board met the following morning to consider it.
All four of his fellow commissioners excoriated Shull over his references to Jim Crow — with Commissioner Paul Savas decrying its “tremendous racist implications” — and not for the first time.
Shull was formally censured by the board and was the subject of county and statewide calls for his resignation shortly after taking office in January, when Islamophobic and racist statements he’d made over a period of several years surfaced on social media.
On Tuesday, few were harsher in their rebukes than Chair Tootie Smith, who admitted she would have been in favor of a ban on vaccine passports — had Shull presented it without the racist analogies to Jim Crow — which she decried as “abhorrent” and “irresponsible.”
“You don’t throw gasoline on a fire and then expect to retract the statement,” Smith said. “Mark Shull, you have been through so much and at times my heart has bled for you. I have given you allowances. I have supported you, and you should know better. …
“I do not think vaccines should be mandatory. It is still a choice, and I will fight for that right as long as I’m here. But I will not tolerate the language of this resolution from anybody, including you, sir. It will not see today. It is dead.”
Shull’s actions had “irreparably harmed” any future action that commissioners could take with regard to vaccine passports, she concluded.
Savas criticized the timing of Shull’s decision to compare a person’s private health decisions to discrimination against Black Americans for the color of their skin, just after the one-year anniversary of the murder of George Floyd — which sparked prolonged, nationwide protests against systemic racism — and just ahead of Juneteenth, a date marking the end of slavery that the Oregon Legislature voted Tuesday to make a state holiday.
“The timing couldn’t be worse, in my opinion,” said Savas. “That’s all I have to say.”
But Shull was not cowed, maintaining that the references to Jim Crow had “nothing to do with racism.”
“It has to do with the restriction of civil liberties based on a law from a state,” he said. “That is all. Jim Crow laws started after Reconstruction and lasted 87 years. That was my reference for this, that when you pass a law to restrict civil liberties, they don’t go away anytime soon.”
Shull said he believes Clackamas Countians who have experienced racial discrimination would side with him in opposing a vaccine passport.
“This was a draft document to stimulate discussion, and that’s what it’s done,” he said. “I would submit that the people of color in this county would be the most against civil restriction based on a passport. They would understand what I’m referring to when I refer to those Southern laws that restricted civil liberties.”
“Well, Commissioner Shull, you’re getting your wish because this certainly has stimulated concerns, right across America,” Smith, a sometime ally, shot back. “You will answer for this, and you will answer alone.”
It was then that Smith moved to strip Shull’s committee and liaison assignments, which include the Clackamas County Fair Board and the Parks Advisory Board. The motion was seconded by Commissioner Martha Schrader.
“I take no pleasure in this,” she said. “This is very sad. It is very upsetting but I see no other recourse. I am very sorry it has come to this.”
In defending himself, Shull repeatedly urged listeners to read the draft resolution in full and suggested the whole charade had partisan motivations — though Smith and Savas are both fellow Republicans.
“Read the draft,” he urged. “You will find it is devoid of bigotry and racism. I referred to those laws of the Southern states during Reconstruction because they are a good example of what I want to avoid in this county. By referring to them, we are reminded of history and can learn from history.”
“We must not be afraid to refer to mistakes in the nation’s history,” Shull concluded.
Commissioner Sonya Fischer did not mince words, telling her colleague he should “work harder to constrain the bigotry that comes out of your mouth.”
“It cannot represent Clackamas County,” she said.
She later wondered if more action would be warranted — such as a second censure — given Shull’s apparent inability to understand why his equating a requirement to wear a mask based on voluntary health choices with decades of racial discrimination and persecution would be offensive.
“I’m very concerned about the perception of Clackamas County,” she said. “This is a tremendous stain on our reputation. … This is truly unacceptable that Mr. Shull continues to dig in his heels and justify these statements.”
Shull did just that, saying he was representing the constituents who had elected him and would continue to do so, regardless of “what the other board members say.”
“I will not be censored,” he said. “I will say what I feel and I will do what I think.”
Three commissioners voted with Smith to winnow Shull’s portfolio of responsibilities, with only Shull himself voting “no.”
“This means you do not represent the Board of County Commissioners in your dealings,” Smith said. “Thank you very much.”
Shull’s resolution was evidently modeled on a similar document that Yamhill County commissioners passed last week, which contains identical language about Jim Crow laws, along with a reference to the post-World War II Nuremberg Code that Clackamas County’s draft omitted.
Shull’s version, however, still contains two references to “Yamhill County residents” that were apparently left in by mistake.
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