AFSCME, City Condemns Hate Speech

AFSCME Local 66 Executive Board member Sandy Pernu-Wallin speaks out forcefully against racist fliers posted in the Iron Range. She was interviewed by KBJR Channel 6.
AFSCME Local 66 Executive Board member Sandy Pernu-Wallin speaks out forcefully against racist fliers posted in the Iron Range. She was interviewed by KBJR Channel 6.

AFSCME members and our elected officials are standing up against hateful, racist speech in the Iron Range.

On Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, KKK fliers were posted along Highway 169 in Virginia, Britt and Embarrass and delivered to homes there, according to news reports. The fliers try to incite people to join the KKK. They tout “white pride” and claim celebrating the great civil rights leader’s life is akin to celebrating a “communist pervert.”

“I was appalled,” says Sandy Pernu-Wallin, an AFSCME Local 66 Executive Board member who has lived in Virginia for 58 years and works there. “You felt like you were back in the 1930s. There is no way we can tolerate racial bigotry in our community.”

The news first appeared on Facebook and then in City Pages. Pernu-Wallin immediately sent it to the mayor and everybody else, she says. “I wanted to let them know this is very serious. We need our leaders to come out and say this is wrong.”

And they did. Virginia Mayor Larry Cuffe quickly condemned the action.

"This is hatred, this is racism, and that is not tolerable," Cuffe told KBJR Channel 6. “Our community doesn't accept this kind of garbage. We don't want it distributed at all, and we're going to try to do something that ensures that it doesn't happen again.”

Virginia city councillor Nevada Littlewolf told WDIO the KKK fliers were meant to incite fear, but that won’t work: "If someone is trying to hurt someone in our community, we band together, we come together around that.”

Cuffe told reporters that city officials are working with their Human Rights Commission to investigate and promised to take a measured response.

Pernu-Wallin says the incident’s timing was especially upsetting. Her mom, also a strong AFSCME member, marched with her husband in Washington D.C. on a major anniversary of Dr. King’s famous March on Washington.

 “I grew up with the holiday, being a part of it,” she says. “I thought we had changed our culture. But with the current administration, it starts at the top: They’re promoting racism. It’s just not good for our communities. It’s so poisonous.”