Tag Archives: Racism

Making ‘good trouble’ in Benicia

Shakoor-Grantham starts city’s version of Black Lives Matter

Nimat Shakoor-Grantham founded the Benicia Chapter of the Black Lives Matter movement. (Chris Riley—Times-Herald)

Vallejo Times-Herald, by Katy St. Clair, January 13, 2021

BENICIA — “What are you doing here, shouldn’t you be in Vallejo?”

This was a question Benicia resident Nimat Shakoor-Grantham says her Black son was asked as he walked down a street in town. He had also been pulled over before and asked, again, what he was doing in Benicia, she said.

A Black woman sitting in a Benicia restaurant told Shakoor-Grantham that she was pelted with ice cubes by white males at a nearby table. The message she got was, “You don’t belong here in our space.”

As for Shakoor-Grantham, an African-American woman who has lived in Benicia since 2002, the disrespect she has seen has ranged from a man at Safeway calling her “gal” and telling her to go fetch him a cart, to threatening letters left on her doorstep — again asking, “What are you trying to do here?”

She thinks that last threat was because she founded the Benicia group of Black Lives Matter. She has had anonymous people taunting her with, “You are poking the bear, and when the bear gets poked, the bear gets mad,” or “Why are you creating trouble in Benicia?”

The “trouble” she and her BBLM colleagues are getting into is what the late Senator John Lewis would call “good trouble,” or raising awareness of inequality, bias, and prejudice among citizens in town.

“We specifically address issues with the government, city, and county,” she said. “We address issues of education and Black arts and culture. We also promote the awareness of systemic racism and bias.”

This last aspect of their work — promoting awareness of systemic racism — was highlighted by former Mayor Elizabeth Patterson on her blog “El Pat’s Forum” at the end of December.

Patterson described a council meeting where BBLM members addressed the body about a need for an equity and diversity manager, something that many cities have. The job of the manager will be to become a liaison between citizens, government and businesses to promote awareness and movement toward a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable place to live for people of color in Benicia. The hire will reach out to the school district as well as art and cultural organizations and spaces as well.

“When the recommendation was presented to council by staff and BBLM members, many council members were quick to offer ideas about what they thought BBLM needed,” wrote Patterson. “One could almost feel the insult that a white city council was telling the panel of four BBLM members what they needed.”

Shakoor-Grantham was at the meeting and agreed with this assessment, but told the Times-Herald that what struck her more was that they seemed more interested in how much it was going to cost to hire a person to do this rather than discussing the importance of having one.

“I said, these are my experiences here, what can be done about it? And I got crickets,” Shakoor-Grantham said.

Patterson agreed that discussion became money, writing “there was a lot of haggling over the cost.” She then pointed out what she described as “structural racism.”

The cost of hiring a part-time equity expert (30 hours a week) was put at $133,000, which council members said the city could not afford. However, Patterson points out, some of the same council members had recently estimated the value to the city that fees from developers bring in and they came up with $230,000.

One councilmember, she wrote, described this amount as “nothing” to the general fund, meaning in the town’s large budget they could “almost forgo” even collecting the fees.

The mayor then juxtaposed this with the proposed equity hire.

“The structural racism is clear. A council will say the city cannot afford programs that might have been beneficial to Black and Brown people, but can afford to subsidize market rate housing and businesses.”

For Shakoor-Grantham and BBLM, the mayor’s message was exactly what they have hoped to hear from government.

“I am very happy that Elizabeth had the insight, awareness, and courage to write this,” Shakoor-Grantham said. “She saw the apparent disparity and refused to remain silent as many people who shouldn’t remain silent choose to do,” she wrote in an op-ed in this paper.”

BBLM has about 30 members, she says, and everyone is committed to moving Benicia “in the right direction.” She estimates that 80 percent of the group is made up of white allies. She is quick to point out the many stereotypes that some people might have about Black Lives Matter.

“We want to work together with people, to learn and evolve together,” she said. “We aren’t trying to guilt trip white people.”

Shakoor-Grantham acknowledges that everyone, even herself, holds biases that they need to be aware of. However she says if your bias impacts the peace of another member of this community or makes them feel like they don’t belong here, it is important to address it. She feels she also has a big ally in Police Chief Erik Upson, who she says has been incredibly responsive.

“I have faith in him,” she said.

Overall, she is pleased at progress that has been made and she is looking forward to the city hiring the equity manager.

“There’s some good stuff happening, I’m really happy,” she says. “The good stuff out-shadows any of the negative.”

Benicia Black Lives Matter on structural racism: ‘we still have a long way to go’

An email by Nimat Shakoor-Grantham, Benicia Black Lives Matter Organizer  [See also BBLM on Facebook, and “Our Voices” Interviews]

A Better Benicia

 

Hello Everyone,

I just read this powerful document from Elizabeth Patterson and I must say that I am experiencing a lot of emotions. I am very Happy that Elizabeth had the insight, awareness and courage to write this. She saw the apparent disparity and refused to remain silent as many people who shouldn’t remain silent choose to do.

If no one acknowledges and speaks out about such things, then such things will continue to happen. I found this writing very enlightening and encourage all to read it. This writing is not one of blame, but of shedding light on a problem that has remained in the dark for much too long.

I am saddened because situations like this still exist and not many people are even aware of it (“There’s no racism in Benicia”) . If people are aware of it, they are choosing not to speak; Maybe because the powers that be and community members at large don’t see this as an issue, they agree with this behavior, or are too timid to say anything, as some people think it best not to “Rock the Boat.”

I assure you that the Benicia Black Lives Movement (BBLM) is here to “Rock the Boat,” not by burning, looting or hating the police (as is the falsely applied stereotype), but by bringing to the attention of the government and the citizens of Benicia that events and issues of structural, conscious/unconscious racism, bias and social injustice will be identified, called out, fought against, and will certainly not be tolerated.

This is why I am so proud of Elizabeth for writing this document. The BBLM is collaborative and will not identify challenges that need to be addressed without working with the appropriate people toward the solution. I Thank the City Staff, Mayor, Past Mayor and City Council for the support you have shown us so far, but we still have a long way to go (as is made very clear by this attached writing). I again recommend that everyone read Elizabeth’s writing and work with us to create a better Benicia for All Citizens.

Sincerely,

Nimat Shakoor-Grantham
Benicia Black Lives Matter Organizer 
https://www.facebook.com/BeniciaBLM
https://beniciablacklivesmatter.com/interviews

 

Analysis and illustration of structural racism in Benicia

From an email by Elizabeth Patterson, former Mayor, City of Benicia
Elizabeth Patterson, former Mayor, City of Benicia

EL PAT’S FORUM
by ELIZABETH PATTERSON
Benicia, California

STRUCTURAL RACISM IN BENICIA

I have no doubt that the Benicia City Council members earnestly want to address structural racism. No one wants to be a racist and most people seek to avoid racists acts.

So, what is structural racism? I am going to describe two examples – one locally in Benicia and the other at the federal level.

Benicia City Council, August 2020

Last fall the city council responded to city staff’s recommendation to address the urgent and timely requests of the local group Benicia Black Lives Matter (BBLM). The three legs of staff recommendations are:

  1. establish a commission for equity and inclusiveness
  2. initiate through a consultant an “Equity Indicators” analysis in Benicia, and
  3. hire a part-time Equity and Diversity Manager, 30 hours/week at an estimated cost of $133,000 per year.

When the recommendation was presented to Council by staff and BBLM members many council members were quick to offer ideas about what they thought the BBLM needed. One could almost feel the insult that a white city council was telling the panel of four BBLM members what they needed. After some discussion, a 4/1 council majority put aside most of their objections and accepted the recommendations, but with amendments.  (Council Meeting of Aug 25, 2020 Item 11A, Agenda / MINUTES / Video [Item 11.A beginning at minute 19:35]).

There was a lot of haggling over the cost of the part-time Equity and Diversity Manager. After lengthy discussion and in an effort to get to “yes” the council majority made the position temporary so future councils could determine if they wanted to restore the position to permanent status. It is the haggling over the cost that I want to highlight.

Compare Benicia City Council, December 2020…

Recently, the city council had a thorough and thoughtful discussion on updating the city’s impact fees. Details can be found at on the city website (Council Meeting of Dec 15, 2020 Item 15B, Agenda / MINUTES / Video [Item 15.A beginning at minute 54:30]).

Much time was taken up by the council discussing how much the city should impose fees to recover costs of the impacts from commercial and residential development. Staff provided data about what 100% recovery of costs would be and recommended in most cases the city impose less than 100%. These fees were established after nearly two years of staff and consultants reviewing other cities, evaluating city capitol needs and the nexus of the impact of new development or expansion of existing businesses. Seventy-five percent was the recommendation in most cases. This is customary in Benicia and not contrary to the General Plan goal that development pays its own way. The intent in the general plan is to recover the costs of development and more intense business activity impacts to parks, roads, pipes, wastewater and so forth from large developers – think Seeno or Valero. The real costs were not done in the past and Benicia taxpayers continue to pay the price for not assessing those impact fees to the new developments.

I agree with and have supported modest subsidization of individual residential development and small businesses. The subsidy should not be a giveaway but should fall in line with other Solano cities’ rates.

But you would not have heard that sentiment at the council meeting. A member of the public in the development business for small residential projects (small in terms of one to four units but not a major subdivision) spoke about the cost of materials and labor in addition to land costs, permit costs and, of course, the impact fees. Council members expressed understanding and sympathy for the challenge of residential development.

It is noteworthy that those same rising material costs and increasing labor costs are paid by the city, and yet the city is being asked to absorb the impact costs.

Structural Racism in Benicia

This is where the structural racism comes in. In December, the city staff was asked what – in approximate numbers – did the city get from all the impact fees charged in the last fiscal year. Staff hesitated in providing a number because it is complicated and risks comparing apples and oranges. The number eventually offered the council was approximately $230,000. And Vice Mayor Campbell noted that $230,000 was “nothing to the general fund” and the city could almost forgo impact fees.

But go back to August and BBLM: Council members said that $133,000 (highest pay level for a position with benefits) was too expensive and we couldn’t afford it.

Impact fees cannot be spent on anything but capital projects. But if the impact fees are largely subsidized and the city has to pay the market rate for material and labor, taxpayers pick up the remainder of the subsidized capital costs. Without adequate impact fees, we live with poor and unsafe roads for bicyclists and pedestrians and other capital infrastructure such as completing the library basement, ensuring water supply capacity and parks. Inadequate funded development impacts pushes the needed capitol infrastructure costs to the general fund – forgoing $230,000 is a cost to other programs such as art and culture, human services, adequate planning staff, retaining employees and so on.

The structural racism is clear. A council will say the city cannot afford programs that might have been beneficial to Black and brown people, but can afford to subsidize market rate housing and businesses. You get the idea.

Structural racism is this kind of unconscious bias in decision making that we can afford some things that are beneficial to the mostly white Benicia and cannot afford programs that would help Blacks gain parity with white wealth.

When the city completes its study on Equity Indicators, we will see more clearly and concretely what impediments to racial equity exist in Benicia. But it is apparent that not adequately funding programs and staff to investigate racial equity and make recommendations is good example.

Structural Racism in Washington, D.C.

The Federal example is so blatant that I will take less time to highlight here. At present, Congress will not provide COVID-19 relief funds to state and city governments to help pay public school teachers, public safety, public health and so on to provide services for all residents. In this case, the disproportionate effects of COVID_19 on black, brown, indigenous, pacific islanders and women is classic, and shines a light on structural racism at the highest levels.

We can agree on the problem that there are massive disparities between people driving buses, working in grocery stores, nursing homes, assisted living, hospitals, janitors – and the majority of higher paid workers able to work at home. Add to this problem the burden carried by women – white, brown, Black – who often have lost their job because it is a lower-end job or can’t work because of the cost of childcare and the need to provide online schooling.

City and state agencies are running out of funds to provide childcare, unemployment, teachers and substitute teachers, social workers, and other essential workers – all of which will help with depression and increasing suicides. And Congress refuses to provide relief funds to states so that this can be done.

In addition, some experts say that stimulus checks are not sufficiently targeted toward those most in need. To extract stimulus checks as a concession from Republicans, Democrats were forced not only to forfeit state and local aid but also to shorten the duration of the enhanced unemployment program to three months from four.

That is structural racism in Washington, D.C. America has been doing that since we used US Bonds to finance the slave trade. We have done that by preventing Blacks from moving into residential development with good schools and thus handicapping the next generation in education. Others have catalogued and documented federal actions that have led to the wealth gap between Blacks and whites.

Next time…

The next time you hear someone say we can’t afford a program that is directed at helping to close the wealth gap, be sure to respond that we can’t afford not to.

This is the time for us to shine and do the right thing and I believe we will. . . 2021 is our New Year for getting it right after all.

White supremacists gathering in D.C. in advance of inauguration

For D.C. protests, Proud Boys settle in at city’s oldest hotel and its bar

The Hotel Harrington and Harry’s Bar in downtown D.C. have been frequented by Proud Boys in recent months.
The Hotel Harrington and Harry’s Bar in downtown D.C. have been frequented by Proud Boys in recent months. (Craig Hudson for The Washington Post)
The Washington Post, by Joe Heim and Marissa J. Lang, Dec. 27, 2020

Located just five blocks from the White House, the Hotel Harrington is the city’s oldest continuously operating hotel and has a long-standing reputation as one of the most affordable in the heart of the District. But over the past few months, the Harrington has been gaining a new reputation: Proud Boys hangout.

The militant right-wing organization that vigorously supports President Trump, which has clashed in violent street battles with members of antifascist groups and others who oppose Trump, has made the Harrington its unofficial headquarters when members come to the District. Several hundred Proud Boys recently stayed at the hotel while in town for the Dec. 12 protest of Joe Biden’s election as president.

More protests by pro-Trump groups are planned in downtown D.C. on Jan. 6.

Wearing their signature black and gold colors, large numbers of the group spent much of the afternoon of Dec. 12 drinking openly and chanting on the street in front of the hotel at 11th and E streets NW. They ranged in age from late teenagers to 50- and 60-year-olds, though most appeared to be in their 30s and 40s. Others filled the outdoor patio at Harry’s, the hotel bar, where they had gathered on previous protest weekends and on the Fourth of July. Harry’s closed midafternoon, but the patio and street in front of it remained crowded throughout the night.

The repeated and growing presence of Proud Boys at the bar and hotel has unnerved some guests and workers, many of whom are Black and Hispanic and were intimidated by their presence, according to two employees who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

In the past three months, Harry’s has been cited three times for violating social distancing and mask regulations. The violations occurred on weekends when large numbers of Proud Boys and other pro-Trump supporters, in town for demonstrations, were in the bar.

For the hotel and the bar, there seems to be uncertainty about what steps they can or should take. Ann Terry, the general manager of the hotel, declined to comment. During a brief phone call, John Boyle, the owner of Harry’s, declined to comment other than to say that the bar closed early on Dec. 11 and 12 because of concerns over not being able to maintain coronavirus social distancing guidelines. The bar’s website announced it will be closed on Jan. 5 and 6.

Enrique Tarrio, the leader of the Proud Boys, said in an interview, that in the past, the group’s members have stayed at the Harrington and frequented Harry’s because they’re accessible to downtown D.C. and close to the Trump hotel and the White House.

He said that the corner in front of the hotel and bar has remained a gathering point for the Proud Boys, but that the group had outgrown Harry’s because it wasn’t big enough to accommodate all of its members who attended the most recent protest, which he said numbered about 1,000.

Tarrio said the group’s members would not stay at the hotel or go to the bar if the businesses asked them to stay away.

“Of course not. I wouldn’t want to go somewhere, a private business where I’m unwelcome,” he said. “There’s many other options.”

Tarrio said he wasn’t aware of reported incidents of Proud Boys refusing to wear masks inside the bar or hotel but said “for the most part, we’re not big on masks.”

Since opening in 1914, the 250-room Harrington has billed itself as an affordable tourist hotel, hosting tens of thousands of visitors to the District over the past 106 years. It was also a family business. Charles McCutcheon, the owner of the hotel until he died earlier this year, was the grandson of its co-founder. Many employees of the hotel have been there for generations.

For some of them, a longtime employee said, there is a fear that the hotel’s reputation is being tarnished by the Proud Boys’ repeated presence at the hotel and bar.

“It’s sad that they feel so comfortable here because obviously nobody who works here supports this stuff,” the employee said.

As dark approached on the night of Dec. 12, members of the Proud Boys donned Kevlar helmets, bulletproof vests, protective forearm coverings and large rucksacks. Many carried long poles, long-handled black flashlights and collapsible batons. Some carried cases of beer. They departed the hotel in packs and began marching through the District’s downtown chanting “Whose streets? Our streets!” and “F— antifa!”

The group made repeated efforts to approach Black Lives Matter Plaza near the White House, where they hoped to encounter a smaller number of antifascists and others who had gathered to voice their opposition to Trump and keep his supporters from removing signs or artwork critical of the president and memorializing Black people killed by law enforcement.

D.C. police spent much of the night trying to keep the groups apart and at one point established a police line along 15th Street NW. Unable to break through the barrier, a group of Proud Boys doubled back to the hotel holding a Black Lives Matter banner from a nearby church. They carried it in front of the Harrington and lit it on fire as members circled the flames yelling and hooting.

City officials later said four churches in downtown D.C. had Black Lives Matters signs removed and damaged. Tarrio told The Washington Post he was among those responsible for tearing down and burning the signs.

For the most part, police were successful in keeping the groups apart, but there were skirmishes. At least four people were stabbed during a melee near Harry’s. Police have declined to comment on the political affiliations of those involved.

In the days after the protest, District leaders expressed concerns about the Proud Boys’ presence.

“These Proud Boys are avowed white nationalists and have been called to stand up against a fair and legal election,” D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) said. And D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) said a beautiful weekend “was ruined by white supremacists who came to our city seeking violence.”

Bowser said that the city had encouraged Harry’s to close early for the protest weekend and that the bar was not open after 4 p.m. on either Dec. 11 or Dec. 12. The mayor declined to draw a connection between the violence late that Saturday and the bar around which Proud Boys and other Trump supporters continued to gather through the night.

But D.C. Council member Brooke Pinto (D), who represents the ward in which Harry’s is located, said the bar’s complicity in allowing “hate groups” to gather should not be overlooked.

“I am angered and troubled by the violence committed by white supremacists in our city and in Ward 2 over the weekend and last month,” Pinto wrote in a statement to The Post. “Harry’s disregard for public health guidance as these hate groups have gathered in their establishment without masks and without being socially distant before taking to the streets and further jeopardizing the health and safety of District residents is absolutely unacceptable.”

Pinto said she would like to see greater enforcement of the District’s coronavirus protocols and would “encourage local businesses to protect our residents first,” though she did not elaborate on how businesses such as Harry’s might do so. Boyle did not respond to Pinto’s comments.

Harry’s Bar at Hotel Harrington, which opened in 1914 and hosts tens of thousands of visitors each year, has recently become a popular spot for members of the Proud Boys.
Harry’s Bar at Hotel Harrington, which opened in 1914 and hosts tens of thousands of visitors each year, has recently become a popular spot for members of the Proud Boys. (Craig Hudson for The Washington Post)

In all, Harry’s has been cited for flouting the city’s mask ordinance three times since October.

On Oct. 10, an investigator from the D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration noticed a server was not wearing a mask as he waited on tables filled with patrons who were also barefaced though they were not actively eating or drinking, according to the ABRA incident report.

The investigator issued Boyle a warning and noted that Boyle said it “would not happen again.”

A month later, on the night before the “Million MAGA March,” a city investigator reported patrons were not wearing masks and were moving about the bar freely, gathering in large groups and flouting social distancing requirements. Outside the bar, he wrote, more than 50 people were gathered listening to loud music and drinking in the street. The investigator called the situation “unacceptable” and issued Harry’s a $1,000 fine.

Boyle “admitted that he lost control of the establishment,” according to the ABRA report. The investigator found “the establishment was basically operating as normal prior to Covid.”

The next day, after thousands of Trump’s most ardent supporters packed D.C. streets and marched to the Supreme Court, many gathered at Harry’s to celebrate.

Dozens of maskless people were gathered outside the bar, waiting to be seated, the ABRA investigator wrote, while patrons inside crowded around small tables and moved freely around the establishment without donning face coverings.

The ABRA investigator slapped Harry’s with another $1,000 fine, its second in as many days.

Patrick Young, 37, spent most of Dec. 12 at Black Lives Matter Plaza, poised to defend the space in which racial justice activists have gathered for months.

Throughout the day, he said, he saw “marauding bands of Proud Boys” try to make their way past police lines and into the plaza.

He was worried that as the night wore on, and as far-right agitators imbibed more, the threat of violence would increase, he said.

The next day, he called Harry’s Bar, asking to speak with the owner. To Young’s surprise, Boyle answered the phone.

“I told him I was very concerned that the bar was becoming a base of operations for the Proud Boys,” said Young, an organizer with the activist coalition ShutDown DC.

It and other local social justice groups have for weeks encouraged their members to call Harry’s and encourage the bar to denounce the Proud Boys and close during large pro-Trump gatherings.

Downtown hotels also received calls and emails from D.C. residents and activists imploring them to deny service to visiting Trump supporters.

ShutDown DC organizers said they will continue to lobby business owners and city officials to do more. Harry’s, they said, will remain priority No. 1. The group launched an online petition this week calling on ABRA to revoke the bar’s liquor license.

“As long as people are coming into our community with the expressed intent of terrorizing our friends and neighbors, we are going to work to keep each other safe,” Young said.

Peter Hermann and Julie Tate contributed to this report.