Senate alters resolution against racist attacks

Measure narrowed to condemn only 'unlawful' discrimination

Posted: Thursday, April 12, 2001

After a tense, angry debate Wednesday, the Senate voted 16-2 in favor of a narrowed version of a House resolution condemning recent paintball attacks on Alaska Natives in Anchorage.

It passed only after the Senate amended the measure to condemn only "unlawful" discrimination, a change that raised the ire of some senators. The measure now goes back to the House.

The resolution is in response to an incident earlier this year in which three young white men videotaped themselves shooting paintballs at Alaska Natives in downtown Anchorage. The measure condemns the act and calls for the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights to investigate that and similar incidents.

Sen. Loren Leman, an Anchorage Republican, said the word "unlawful" needed to be added to the measure because some forms of discrimination are legal, such as providing state aid based on income or allowing people to vote and drive based on age.

Sen. Pete Kelly, a Fairbanks Republican, pointed to services or privileges only Natives receive such as Indian Health Services care and ownership of shares in Native corporations as examples of lawful discrimination.

Democrats in the Senate objected to the change. Sen. Bettye Davis, an Anchorage Democrat, said it's obvious from the context of the resolution what kind of discrimination it refers to. She said some forms of discrimination such as name-calling are legal, but nevertheless hurtful, and the Legislature should condemn them as well.

Sen. Georgianna Lincoln, a Rampart Democrat, agreed.

"I knew what discrimination was the first day I went to school and I went home crying to my mother and she didn't talk to me about lawful discrimination," Lincoln said.

But Sen. Jerry Ward, an Anchorage Republican, said he couldn't vote for the resolution without the change because he didn't want to be condemning thoughts or words that are "politically incorrect" but not illegal.

The amendment nearly failed on a 10-9 vote, but GOP Sens. Drue Pearce of Anchorage, Kelly and Gary Wilken of Fairbanks changed their votes from no to yes and it passed. Sen. Alan Austerman, a Kodiak Republican, joined Democrats in voting against it.

Wilken and Republican Sen. Lyda Green of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough voted against the resolution itself.

Green said she doesn't believe the problem is anything government can fix.

"It's what's in the heart that's going to change people," Green said.

Wilken said he didn't think it was the Legislature's role to get involved. He compared it to a drunken-driving accident last year that killed prominent Juneau residents and said the Legislature didn't pass a resolution condemning that. Rather, it allowed the justice system to take care of it, he said.

"My 'no' vote does not mean I condone racism," Wilken said.

Davis said the Legislature should speak out, and she was surprised the issue even needed to be debated.

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