NAACP calls on school board candidate to end campaign following controversial Facebook comment

Kari Zohner, candidate for Salem-Keizer School Board Zone 1 (campaign photo)

The Salem-Keizer NAACP has called on Kari Zohner, a candidate for Salem-Keizer School Board, to end her campaign after she criticized Oregon State University for posting a photo of George Floyd earlier this week.

The university posted a photo of Floyd Tuesday on its Facebook page after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of Floyd’s murder. Floyd’s murder sparked nationwide protests against racism and police bruality last year, including in Salem.

In the since-deleted comment, Zohner wrote, “And now I’m no longer following you. My Alma Mater. Eulogize a criminal..great.”

A screenshot of Zohner’s since-deleted comment on the Oregon State University Facebook page.

Zohner has deleted her comments and posted a statement on her Facebook page in response to the criticism she received. 

First, I want to say what I’ve felt and said since yesterday’s conviction of Derek Chauvin: I believe all people should be treated equally. The conviction was a small step towards justice,” she wrote. “I am sorry that my frustration with the divisiveness in our society came out in the wrong way in a Facebook thread. I should have been more thoughtful with my words.”

Unfortunately, these personal attacks against me are an effort to distract from my opponent’s socialist agenda that is out of touch with our community. I will not let the intimidation of some distract me from the issues that matter to our community–the issues that are the reason I am running to serve on the school board,” Zohner continued.

Through her campaign manager David Kilada, Zohner declined an interview Thursday with Salem Reporter and said she intends to continue her campaign.

NAACP President Reginald Richardson said he attempted to reach Zohner Wednesday to understand what she meant by her post, but was unable to leave a voicemail because her messages were full, and said she didn’t respond to his texts.

“We believe in talking to people first because who among us hasn’t put our feet in our mouth? There may have been some reasonable explanation,” Richardson told Salem Reporter. “I can’t imagine what the reasonable explanation is, but there could be one.”

The NAACP issued its statement Wednesday night.

“We understand and support the First Amendment right to free speech. However, this hateful rhetoric is founded in racism and has no place in the auspices of the Salem-Keizer School board or any elected office. We must hold our leaders accountable and make clear that this behavior will not be tolerated in any form. The Candidate for School Board Zone 1 must rescind her candidacy immediately,” the statement said.

Kilada said Zohner didn’t respond to Richardson because she was inundated with messages, some threatening, after screenshots of her comments were shared on social media Wednesday.

Zohner is one of four candidates seeking the board’s zone 1 seat to represent west Salem. Her platform has focused on resuming full-time, in-person school for district students and resuming the district’s school resource officer program.

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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Rachel Alexander is Salem Reporter’s managing editor. She joined Salem Reporter when it was founded in 2018 and covers city news, education, nonprofits and a little bit of everything else. She’s been a journalist in Oregon and Washington for a decade. Outside of work, she’s a skater and board member with Salem’s Cherry City Roller Derby and can often be found with her nose buried in a book.