SALEM, Ore. -- The Salem city council ended Daniel Benjamin’s short tenure as a member in a filled downtown auditorium Monday evening, putting an official end to his tumultuous last days as a city councilor following a social media scandal.
City councilors unanimously voted to censure Benjamin and accept his resignation to open the seat for northeast Salem’s Ward 6.
Benjamin wasn't there. Instead, he watched the meeting from home. "No reason for me to go, right?" he told the Statesman Journal in a phone interview. He said he hoped people could "move on" and "not feel fearful" where they lived. He said if he saw violence against anyone, he would step in.
The meeting came after Benjamin drew fire for a post he shared on his Facebook account.
He had shared a video online that showed cars plowing into African-Americans with a caption written by someone else that said, "As this video shows people are starting to get tired of the BlackLivesMatter bullies blocking the roadways."
Police officers positioned themselves around Loucks Auditorium inside the Salem Public Library, where it appeared there were more than 200 people in attendance.
Councilors denounced Benjamin’s reposting of the video. Tom Andersen said he had received 130 emails from Salem residents that expressed “disgust” over the post.
He said there were multiple posts that were “completely inappropriate."
“I find that this is a reprehensible act,” he said. “It has no place in America and no place in Salem.”
Councilor Diana Dickey echoed his comments, saying she was “shocked” and “horrified” by what she saw on the video.
Jim Lewis’ voice shook audibly as he spoke. “I was ashamed for not only councilor Benjamin, but for the entire city council.”
He said: “That is not who we are.”
Councilor Brad Nanke, though, said Benjamin was not a racist. He said Benjamin had pulled out money for an African-American homeless man in San Diego last year.
Many showed up to publicly comment on the matter, with representatives of advocacy groups in Salem speaking.
The meeting at times hit on a complaint against two local law enforcement officials who allegedly cyber-bullied a Chicago woman on Facebook.
There’s still the matter of filling Benjamin’s spot on the council. Marion County Clerk Bill Burgess said a March 14 election is possible. There is a Jan. 12 filing deadline for candidate information, though, which is a fairly tight turnaround. The next date available election date would be May 16.
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