Category Archives: Anti-racism

Benicia Black Lives Matter calls on Solano County Supervisors for sheriff oversight

[BenIndy editor: reaching for “balanced coverage” and controversy, this Times-Herald article allows a right-wing conspiratorialist too much latitude in framing the discussion.  Benicia Black Lives Matter members’ substantive Tuesday comments are covered only briefly in one paragraph (#10).  The article then gives 5 paragraphs to the Sheriff’s defenders, including an outrageous and unsubstantiated attack on BBLM.  The article then concludes with 4 paragraphs highlighting two BBLM members’ responses to the wild and crazy off-topic charges.  The discussion at Solano BOS is a serious one, and our coverage should focus primarily if not exclusively on real issues.  – R.S.] 

Solano County Supervisors hear opposition, support for sheriff oversight

Vallejo Times-Herald, by Katy St. Clair, May 12, 2021

Far-right ideology was linked to department

In the wake of revelations that members of the Solano County Sheriff’s Department has shown support for far-right ideologies, several county residents called in the supervisors meeting on Tuesday.

Some expressed their opposition and others voiced their support for agendizing a discussion about creating an oversight board to monitor the sheriff’s office.

In an internal email obtained by the Times-Herald, the Solano County Republican Central Committee organized its members to call into the meeting with talking points in support of the sheriff’s office. Members were told not to identify themselves as Republicans, but several callers expressed the points covered in the email.

According to an investigation by the nonprofit newsroom Open Vallejo, a deputy and two sergeants of the Solano County Sheriff’s Office promoted a far-right militia “for years” that is linked to terrorist plots and the Jan. 6 insurrection on the Capitol in Washington D.C.

After Open Vallejo’s story, which featured far-right Three Percenter symbols taken from public social media accounts and other online sources belonging to members of the sheriff’s office, Benicia Black Lives Matter wrote a letter to the supervisors asking for a “full investigation both at the county level and at the city level” to make sure that “policies and procedures — including those focused on recruitment and disciplinary actions — are in place to actively expel these extremists from the ranks of law enforcement.”

The letter was also sent to Solano County Sheriff Thomas Ferrara.

The Three Percenters have been dubbed a “radical anti-government group” by organizations such as the SPLC and the FBI. The FBI also claims that many members of these groups are in law enforcement, according to CBS News.

In February, BBLM asked the board of supervisors to condemn right-wing extremism and conduct a full investigation into Open Vallejo’s allegations. They also asked the board to consider creating an independent oversight committee, citing a new law that went into effect in September of last year.

Assembly Bill 1185 makes it easier for supervisors or voters to establish independent oversight boards to oversee activities within the sheriff’s department. Such boards would also have subpoena powers — something that many independent police oversight boards do not.

On Tuesday, several members of BBLM called in to support the creation of an oversight board, or the very least have a discussion about it. One member said that learning that there were people who supported Three Percenter ideology in the sheriff’s department “caused alarm for me” and said this was a public safety issue. Another caller said there is now fear and suspicion about the sheriff’s office and therefore civilian oversight is warranted.

Callers who opposed agendizing any discussion of oversight said it would create more government bureaucracy.

“Since when has government solved anything?” asked one caller.

Two callers referred to BBLM as “left wing anarchists and Marxists.” A man who identified himself as ex-law enforcement, said that “out-of-town forces are trying to bring their dysfunction to Solano County and to disrupt the peace that we’ve had here.”

Another caller named Steve said that the mass media makes it “almost impossible” to get all the facts.

“We have seen cops everywhere get charged with violations of protocol… Some cops are incompetent and get removed. Most of the time the accusations are inaccurate,” he said.

According to Bay City News and confirmed by the Times-Herald, Benicia Black Lives Matter received a response from Sheriff Ferrara. In the letter, Ferrara said he was “sickened” as he watched the Jan. 6 attack and that he can confirm that none of his employees were present on that day.

However, the sheriff’s letter did admit that the far-right images posted on social media by his officers were “disappointing” but were “not in themselves a crime…or in violation of (then current) policy.”

Further, Sheriff Ferrara said he had arranged for extremist ideology training for all of his staff, including himself.

Ferrara also told BBLM that he consulted with the FBI, which he claims, “confirmed none of my employees are members of any extremist organizations.”

When Open Vallejo attempted to verify this, the FBI instead called Ferrara’s statement into question. In a statement, spokesperson Gina Swankie told the newsroom that “a group which may espouse domestic extremist ideology is not illegal in and of itself, no matter how offensive their views may be, and membership in any group is neither tracked nor is sufficient basis for an FBI investigation.”

Former special agent for the FBI in San Francisco John Bennett told Open Vallejo that it is possible that the FBI would inform the head of an agency that there was an inquiry into their organization, and that “a disciplined and honorable leader of an agency would not make a public statement contrary to what they know is the truth about the status of an FBI inquiry.” He also added that “if the Bureau comes out later with contrary statements, that department and its leadership will lose credibility.”

Supervisor Monica Brown made a motion at a previous meeting to agendize discussion of oversight of the sheriff’s department but no one seconded it. Brown could not be reached for comment at press time.

BBLM members dispute the idea that they are “Marxists” or far left radicals. One caller from the organization said that she is “not a Marxist, I am a mother of two” and said she called in because of her children.

“I’m confused why we are not having a conversation (about this),” she said, adding that they are just asking for a discussion to be raised about oversight.

BBLM member Brandon Greene, a civil rights attorney, told the Times-Herald that he too is concerned about public safety and security for residents and he is not an “out-of-town Marxist.”

“My property tax bill says otherwise,” he said.

Anti-racism letters in the Benicia Herald

Collecting our thoughts here on the BenIndy…

By Roger Straw, May 12, 2021

Check out the growing number of letters sent in to our local print newspaper, the Benicia Herald: strong calls for racial justice, offers of praise where deserved, decrying of local incidents of racism, and opposition to racial bias and expressions of white supremacy.

Below are today’s listing of collected letters.  Check back regularly for new letters at the BenIndy Anti-Racism Letters page.

ANTI-RACISM LETTERS IN THE BENICIA HERALD

Benicia is definitely NOT the happy little totally progressive, inclusive community many of us have long thought it was.  Racism is real in Benicia.  See the following letters which appeared in the print edition of the Benicia Herald.  (See also Benicia Black Lives Matter: Our Voices, also published in the Benicia Herald.)

Benicia Herald letters on racism
Date Author Link to letter
Wednesday, May 12, 2021 Mark Christian Silence is Complicity – America not a place of liberty & justice for all, Sheriff and Solano supervisors complicit.
Sunday, May 2, 2021 C. Bart Sullivan, Esq. A World Without Prejudice Requires Vigilance – Early childhood innocence, BLM, Local writer with head in sand.
Friday, April 30, 2021 Vicki Byrum Dennis SURJ / BBLM Study & Action Course – How can whites become allies? History, racial injustice is systemic. SURJ invitation.
Wednesday, April 28, 2021 Susan Street Off the Mark As Usual – Local writer missing the mark, praising City leadership, racism is real.
Sunday, April 25, 2021 Jean Walker What Can I Do to Make Racism Go Away in Benicia? – Racism is systemic, white privilege, pleased with City Resolution 20, critical of appointments, SURJ.
Friday, April 23, 2021 Nathalie Christian White Supremacy Is Not a Cancer, It Is a Choice – Jan. 6 in D.C., Sheriff’s deputies, call to action.
Wednesday, April 21, 2021 Benicia Mayor Steve Young On the Hate-Crime & Arrest Last Weekend – Racism in Benicia, Raley’s incident, racial bias conscious and unconscious, City took first steps Equity Mgr, we can do better.
Sunday, April 18, 2021 Ralph Dennis Two Peas in a Pod – Raley’s incident, Sheriff investigation 2 peas in a pod.  Be an ally, don’t blame BLM or City hiring of Equity Mgr.
Contact the Benicia Herald – write your own letter!

To add your voice, write to Benicia Herald editor Galen Kusic at beniciaherald@gmail.com.  Note that the Benicia Herald’s online edition is not currently being maintained.  To subscribe to the print edition, email beniciacirculation@gmail.com or phone 707-745-6838.  Main phone line is 707-745-0733; fax is 707-745-8583.  Mail or stop by in person at 820 First St., Benicia, 94510.  (Not sure of days and hours.)

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.”

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.