Speaker’s racist remark prompts call to change county public comment policy

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SAN DIEGO — A speaker’s racist remark has prompted calls from a local civil rights activist to change the policies around public comment sessions at San Diego County Board of Supervisors meetings.

Rev. Shane Harris, who leads the organization People’s Association of Justice Advocates, wants the county governing body to implement a policy that would more clearly outline when and how to cut the mic on residents who make offensive comments during their speaking time.

“Currently, there are no boundaries on how far ‘freedom of speech’ goes at a public meeting during public comment,” Harris writes in his new proposal, which you can view in its entirety at the link below. “This is why researching and/or implementing boundaries is important.”

The proposal comes in the wake of comments made Tuesday night by a man identified by officials as San Diego County resident Jason Robo.

Addressing the supervisors who last month voted to approve a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for new hires in the county, Robo made disparaging remarks about Supervisor Nora Vargas, told another he’d like to see her “hang from a tree” and compared the county’s public health officer Dr. Wilma Wooten to Aunt Jemima.

His remark about Wooten drew a sharp rebuke from Vargas, who told him that he’s “not allowed to talk to her that way.”

“Absolutely not,” Vargas said. “Not under my f—– watch.”

The comment sparked outrage for many, including Harris. Robo also was met with a smattering of cheers among others in attendance.

“This kind of assault on a Black woman, this kind of assault on a public health officer will not be tolerated by the community,” he said. 

Harris’ plan calls on the county’s law office to review the man’s statements and look at the legal ramifications for banning “the use of statements that are inciting racism without infringing on freedom of speech.” Once that’s established, banned remarks should result in the person’s mic being cut off and the rest of their public comment time being ceded back to the board, Harris says.

The activist also calls for a “three strikes” policy for people who make racist comments, leading them to be barred from public meetings if they repeat their behavior.

He went on to say that free speech is important, but hate speech should not be tolerated.  Vargas had a similar opinion, saying free speech is very broad, but hate speech is unacceptable.

“I strongly believe there is no space for hate speech in civil discourse,” she said. 

FOX 5’s Dillon Davis contributed to this report.

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