U.S. Civil Rights Commissioner Peter Kirsanow on Tuesday urged Portland to reconsider its decision to funnel millions in stimulus funding to “artists of color,” warning that distributing federal dollars based on race violates civil-rights laws.
In a letter to Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, Mr. Kirsanow asked why a city determined to eradicate “systemic racism” would designate $2 million of $63.8 million received under American Rescue Plan Act to “Relief and Recovery for Artists of Color.”
“The City’s planned distribution of federal monies in a racially discriminatory manner raises serious concerns about Portland’s ability to remain compliant with federal and state civil rights law,” said Mr. Kirsanow in his letter. “Accordingly, I urge you to reconsider the implementation of the City Council’s incipient plan.”
The city council agreed last week on a plan for spending the federal dollars, the largest slice of which goes toward creating six homeless villages at a cost of $35.6 million, while a slim $1 million is directed to “community safety,” as shown on a document posted by KGW-TV.
It was the $2 million for non-white artists that raised red flags with Mr. Kirsanow, who asked the city to “reconsider this deeply misguided distribution immediately.”
“Where does one begin?” asked Mr. Kirsanow. “It is remarkably ironic that a City that has gone to such great lengths to embrace ‘racial justice’ — under the leadership of a Mayor who is wont to invoke the ills of ‘systemic racism’ with some frequency — would appropriate funding to unabashedly advance racial discrimination in the disbursement of federal and municipal funds.”
The plan is reminiscent of the Biden administration’s effort under the federal rescue plan to pay off the loans of farmers of color, a provision that has been hit with multiple court injunctions following lawsuits from White farmers and ranchers.
The administration lost another round in court Monday when a federal judge denied its request for a stay in a lawsuit filed by Tennessee farmer Robert Holman, who is represented by the Mountain States Legal Foundation and the Southeastern Liberty Foundation.
Mr. Kirsanow said that the city’s “decision to appropriate monies for ‘artists of color’ is likely in direct contravention of federal civil rights law.”
Mr. Wheeler said last week that the spending would help “diverse local artisans and businesses access capital and technical assistance.”
The city also allocated $1.5 million for “undocumented business owner assistance” and $700,000 for “minority chambers of commerce support.”
The Washington Times has reached out to Mr. Wheeler’s office for comment on Mr. Kirsanow’s letter.
Mr. Kirsanow cited Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which says, “No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
Appointed in 2001 by President George W. Bush, Mr. Kirsanow is the longest-serving member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. He wrote the letter as an individual member and not on behalf of the commission as a whole.
“Yes, racial discrimination is still illegal, and I have confirmed that ‘person in the United States’ does include artists in the City of Portland,” he said.