Tag Archives: #BlackLivesMatter

Benicia passes historic resolution, takes action on Black Lives Matter

City Council debates, weakens and passes a nontheless historic anti-bias resolution

By Roger Straw, August 28, 2020

Benicia city staff and the Benicia City Council heard from Benicia Black Lives Matter residents and passed a resolution on August 25 requiring the hiring of a part-time Equity and Diversity Manager and giving birth to a number of other measures to combat unconscious bias and overt racism in Benicia.

The Resolution was accompanied by a 6-page  Staff Report and Recommendation, clearly outlining the need, documenting significant steps already being taken by Police Chief Erik Upson, and detailing a multi-pronged emphasis aimed at recognizing black lives in Benicia and taking actions to address unconcious bias.

After hearing from multiple members of the public, almost all of whom were supportive of the measure, Councilmembers debated the staff recommendation at length, downgrading the hiring of a new Equity and Diversity staff, but approving all other recommendations.

Some egregiously dismissive comments were made by several Councilmembers during the discussion.  More could be said, but today I will focus on the excellent outcome.  Benicia might be the first and only small city (27,570 residents) to take such positive steps in the wake of the murder of George Floyd.  Kudos to City staff and electeds for taking this profoundly important action!

Here are the proposed items from the resolution, with outcomes in red:

  1. Create & fund a part-time Equity & Diversity Manager – Council amended the resolution to reduce from 3/4-time @ $133,000 to 1/2-time and “temporary” at $89,000/year and requiring extension after 6 months.  Also requiring that the Manager place first priority on item 6 below.  See also the DRAFT Job Description.
  2. Join the Government Alliance on Race and Equity (GARE) and explore National League of Cities’ Race, Equity And Leadership (REAL) Initiative. GARE membership at cost of $1,000 – approved as recommended.
  3. Mandate anti-bias training for all City employees and elected and appointed officials – approved as recommended, at a cost of $8,000.
  4. Recognize Juneteenth as a City holiday – approved as recommended.
  5. Establish Benicia Library program related to BLM – approved as recommended.
  6. Commission an Equity Indicators report, similar to one prepared for the City of Oakland. (https://cao-94612.s3.amazonaws.com/documents/2018-Equity-Indicators-Full-Report.pdf) – approved as recommended at a cost of $75,000 for consultant costs.
  7. Create Council subcommittee and liaison relationship with BBLM similar to BUSD liason committee – approved as recommended.
  8. Enhance civic engagement efforts and remove barriers to allow broader community inclusion in City business – approved as recommended.
  9. Support business opportunities for Black residents—seek opportunities for BBLM to work with the Chamber of Commerce and Benicia Industrial Park Association and other business organizations and consider holding City workshops to assist. Consider re-evaluating use of the Commanding Officers Quarters as a business incubator to support this effort – approved as recommended.
  10. Create a webpage with resources for those interested in learning about the City’s actions related to BLM and with appropriate resources provided – approved as recommended.

Stay tuned for more on this!

City Council considers major program to recognize Benicia Black Lives Matter and address unconscious bias

Important Benicia City Council meeting Tues. August 25, 6pm – Please write or call in to show support!

By Roger Straw, August 24, 2020
Protesters hold up signs during a “Black Lives Matter” protest in front of Borough Hall on June 8, 2020 in New York City. Vanity Fair, by ANGELA WEISS/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

Following the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police and peaceful protests here in Benicia, a new local organization was formed, Benicia Black Lives Matter (BBLM).

When BBLM members contacted Benicia elected officials and city staff, including Police Chief Erik Upson, they were met with attentive openness, warmth and a willingness to take action.

BBLM offered a good list of recommendations, and shortly, a Staff Report and a City Resolution were drafted for consideration by the City Council this Tuesday.  The report, Recognition of Benicia Black Lives Matter and Consideration of Resolution to Take Actions to Address Unconscious Bias and the accompanying Resolution outline measures already taken, and call for significant changes, including these 3 major components and more.

  • Creation of a part-time Equity and Diversity Manager position (30 hours/week) at an estimated cost of $133,000 per year;
  • Conduct an “Equity Indicators in Benicia” report with consultant costs estimated at $75,000;
  • Mandate anti-bias training for all City employees and elected and appointed officials at an estimated cost of $8,000.

City Council members will consider whether to approve the resolution at its meeting today – Tuesday, August 25, 6pm on ZOOMThe discussion and vote is the ONLY item on Tuesday’s Agenda, so it will come up quickly.  The ZOOM access information follows below.

To show support by email, see BENICIA – WHERE TO WRITE

To attend the ZOOM meeting – here’s from the 8/25/20 Council Agenda:

How to Submit Public Comments for this videoconferencing meeting:

Members of the public may provide public comments to the City Clerk by email at lwolfe@ci.benicia.ca.us. Any comment submitted to the City Clerk should indicate to which item of the agenda the comment relates. Specific information follows:

– Comments received by 3:00 pm on the day of the meeting will be electronically forwarded to the City Council and posted on the City’s website.
– Comments received after 3:00 pm, but before the start time of the meeting will be electronically forwarded to the City Council, but will not be posted on the City’s website, and will not be read into the record.
– Comments received after the start time of the meeting, but prior to the close of the public comment period for an item will be read into the record, with a maximum allowance of 5 minutes per individual comment, subject to the Mayor’s discretion.

Additionally, the public may view and provide public comment via Zoom (via computer or phone) link:
https://us02web.zoom.us/j/87202237323?pwd=Q2F2ZkUzbU1HMm5HYmNNU0kxNGZ2Zz09
• If prompted for a password, enter 454382.
• Use participant option to “raise hand” during the public comment period for the item you wish to speak on. Please note, your electronic device must have microphone capability. Once unmuted, you will have up to 5 minutes to speak.

John R. Lewis – Though I am gone…

“Now it is your turn to let freedom ring.”

New York Times, By John Lewis, July 30, 2020

Mr. Lewis, the civil rights leader who died on July 17, wrote this essay shortly before his death, to be published upon the day of his funeral.

While my time here has now come to an end, I want you to know that in the last days and hours of my life you inspired me. You filled me with hope about the next chapter of the great American story when you used your power to make a difference in our society. Millions of people motivated simply by human compassion laid down the burdens of division. Around the country and the world you set aside race, class, age, language and nationality to demand respect for human dignity.

That is why I had to visit Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington, though I was admitted to the hospital the following day. I just had to see and feel it for myself that, after many years of silent witness, the truth is still marching on.

Emmett Till was my George Floyd. He was my Rayshard Brooks, Sandra Bland and Breonna Taylor. He was 14 when he was killed, and I was only 15 years old at the time. I will never ever forget the moment when it became so clear that he could easily have been me. In those days, fear constrained us like an imaginary prison, and troubling thoughts of potential brutality committed for no understandable reason were the bars.

Though I was surrounded by two loving parents, plenty of brothers, sisters and cousins, their love could not protect me from the unholy oppression waiting just outside that family circle. Unchecked, unrestrained violence and government-sanctioned terror had the power to turn a simple stroll to the store for some Skittles or an innocent morning jog down a lonesome country road into a nightmare. If we are to survive as one unified nation, we must discover what so readily takes root in our hearts that could rob Mother Emanuel Church in South Carolina of her brightest and best, shoot unwitting concertgoers in Las Vegas and choke to death the hopes and dreams of a gifted violinist like Elijah McClain.

Like so many young people today, I was searching for a way out, or some might say a way in, and then I heard the voice of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on an old radio. He was talking about the philosophy and discipline of nonviolence. He said we are all complicit when we tolerate injustice. He said it is not enough to say it will get better by and by. He said each of us has a moral obligation to stand up, speak up and speak out. When you see something that is not right, you must say something. You must do something. Democracy is not a state. It is an act, and each generation must do its part to help build what we called the Beloved Community, a nation and world society at peace with itself.

Ordinary people with extraordinary vision can redeem the soul of America by getting in what I call good trouble, necessary trouble. Voting and participating in the democratic process are key. The vote is the most powerful nonviolent change agent you have in a democratic society. You must use it because it is not guaranteed. You can lose it.

You must also study and learn the lessons of history because humanity has been involved in this soul-wrenching, existential struggle for a very long time. People on every continent have stood in your shoes, through decades and centuries before you. The truth does not change, and that is why the answers worked out long ago can help you find solutions to the challenges of our time. Continue to build union between movements stretching across the globe because we must put away our willingness to profit from the exploitation of others.

Though I may not be here with you, I urge you to answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe. In my life I have done all I can to demonstrate that the way of peace, the way of love and nonviolence is the more excellent way. Now it is your turn to let freedom ring.

When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war. So I say to you, walk with the wind, brothers and sisters, and let the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love be your guide.

Benicia Police Chief Erik Upson in conversation with local seniors group

“Culture Trumps Everything” says Benicia Police Chief

Benicia Herald, by Lois Requist, July 17, 2020

Carquinez Village invited Benicia Police Chief Erik Upson to speak to the community via Zoom last Monday. I’m using today’s column to report on that meeting.

Chief Upson began with a national perspective, saying that national standards for policing on testing, hiring, ongoing training, etc. don’t exist. Contrary to other occupations, a podiatrist, for example, for which national standards exist, the consumer can rely on a podiatrist anywhere in the nation having similar training.

Chief Erik Upson

The chief’s philosophy is that “culture is most important.” Even if a police agency has good guidelines written down, bad things can happen, depending on the culture. Egregious events such as happened in Minneapolis can occur if the culture doesn’t reflect the written policy. More about this later.

Chief Upson said his philosophy is “We’re neighbors. We care about the whole community.” He went on to say that he tries to follow a policy of being a great human being. Caring about other people. When he interviews a candidate to work in his department, he goes out to coffee with them, to try to get a sense of the person. He talked about the “golden shovel” award, which is about “recognizing and rewarding officers for exemplifying our culture, going out of their way to do something that benefits the community though it might not fit in the more accepted perception of what policing is about. Caring about people as people and manifesting a true sense of caring about humanity.” Upson understands the need to respect everyone and learn to recognize our own implicit bias, something we all have, but aren’t always aware of.

Chief Upson was asked if blacks, even blacks who live in Benicia, are stopped more frequently than whites. Of course, he’s aware of racial profiling, but he wouldn’t want that to happen here. He’s been Benicia’s Police Chief for five years, so he has hired most of the police force. He tries to weed out people who don’t fit with his philosophy.

In New York, a young white woman called the police on a black man who was bird watching, saying he had threatened her. Since the incident was recorded, it was easy to see that wasn’t the case. He’d asked her to put her dog on leash. Upson has a policy that, if someone calls and complains about another person, but doesn’t indicate that the other person has committed or is committing a crime, the police may not follow up on the call.

He was asked about the possibility of having town hall meetings here, as some other communities have, to discuss racial inequities; he thought that a good idea. Schools also came up in a question to the chief. He said that two officers work with the schools, endeavoring to have good relationships with the children and the staff.

One person asked the chief about the release of 8,000 prisoners in California due to outbreaks of the Corona Virus in prisons. Upson said they get a list of anyone being released who has ties to Solano County. They would check out the situation if appropriate. He pointed out that many people being released are older people over 65, who were scheduled to be released in 90-120 days.

Another person asked about handling of homeless people. Approximately 40 people are identified as homeless in Benicia. Working with the county, Benicia police try to help by getting these folks into shelters, and offering other mitigations, as appropriate.

Upson has been a police officer for 30 years and has never shot anyone, though he certainly recognizes the need for officers to carry guns, reminding us there are 250-300 million guns in the country and a good number of people quite willing to use them.

He was also asked about crime during these times of COVID-19. He said there is an increase in property crime—stealing of cars and damaging property, not breaking into homes, as most people are at home now. “There is also an uptick in domestic violence,” according to the chief.

He was also asked what “taking the knee” means to him. He said it’s a “demonstration of caring.” Some people, when hearing the slogan “black lives matter” ask “don’t all lives matter?” Upson remarked that “when a house is on fire” you turn your attention to that. It doesn’t mean that other houses (or lives) are any less valued.

I mentioned earlier about Chief Upson’s approach that “culture trumps everything.” So, I asked the chief how the culture can be changed. He answered that it takes time, modeling good behavior, and leadership.

In terms of implicit bias, he said the department has made a Public Service Announcement (PSA), and he is aware of the concept of “restorative justice.” In that regard, I’d like to add a link here of an article I’ve read on that subject.

He urged us to ask if we have needs or questions, and I think that applies to the entire community. Chief Upson was approachable, direct, and honest about the situations the department faces and his philosophy about the best ways to handle whatever comes up. I was pleased to spend the hour in conversation with him. I should also point out, that on the city’s website there’s much more information about the police.