Solano County Board of Supervisors: …Erin Hannigan: email@example.com …Monica Brown: firstname.lastname@example.org …Jim Spering: email@example.com …John Vazquez: firstname.lastname@example.org …Mitch Mashburn: email@example.com Solano County Sheriff: …Thomas A. Ferrara …530 Union Avenue, Suite 100 …Fairfield, CA 94533
Cc: City of Benicia Mayor & Council: …Steve Young: firstname.lastname@example.org …Tom Campbell: email@example.com …Lionel Largaespada: firstname.lastname@example.org …Trevor Macenski: email@example.com …Christina Strawbridge: firstname.lastname@example.org City of Benicia City Manager: …Eric Upson: email@example.com
Dear Supervisors, Councilmembers and Governmental Leaders of the County of Solano and the City of Benicia:
We, the members of Benicia Black Lives Matter (BBLM), are writing you in response to a terrifying report from Open Vallejo detailing the existence and tacit support of right wing extremism within the leadership of the Solano County Sheriff’s Office, as well as the underwhelming response from the Sheriff himself.
The report explains that Daniel “Cully” Pratt is in a leadership role within the Sheriff’s department carrying the designation of Sergeant. As part of his side business, Sergeant Pratt is also an ardent supporter of the 3%’er movement, making and sharing “wood carvings” with right wing iconography, one of which “resembles a California flag, but instead of a bear, it features hooks for (Solano County Sheriff Sergeant) Stockton’s AR-15 rifle above the words, ‘WILL NOT COMPLY.’ Thirteen shotgun shells, arranged like the stars of the Betsy Ross flag, form a circle around the Roman numeral III.”
From the Brennan Center Report titled Hidden in Plain Sight: Racism, White Supremacy, and Far-Right Militancy in Law Enforcement:
In 2017, the FBI reported that white supremacists posed a “persistent threat of lethal violence” that has produced more fatalities than any other category of domestic terrorists since 2000. Alarmingly, internal FBI policy documents have also warned agents assigned to domestic terrorism cases that the white supremacist and anti-government militia groups they.
… I want to be clear – the employees targeted in this article all serve this agency and this community with passion and dedication. I am not aware of one instance where any of these employees acted in a manner that was portrayed in this article. When we initially got inquiries about this story, I had personal conversations with the employees in question because it is important to me that the women and men who work for Solano County Sheriff’s Office are people of character and uphold the high standards I have set for this Office. The employees told me that their intention was to support the 2nd amendment and the U.S. Constitution. As we have seen with many other symbols, the “Three Percenter” logo has recently been linked to the rioters who broke into the U.S. Capitol. None of these employees were present for, nor do they support extremist organizations. Our office denounces any extremist organization. And if there is ever a time when a member of our office is displaying support to overthrow the government it will be dealt with swiftly. …
Sergeant Pratt has also denied his membership in anti-government organizations saying that, “The picture taken in October 2016, linked to said article depicts symbols, at the time was believed to be strictly in support of the 2nd Amendment and Pro-American – not in any way extremist anti-government views.”
This seems inconceivable, as a quick Google search would reveal to the Sergeant that:
A wing of the militia movement that arose as part of a resurgence of the militia movement in 2009. The term “Three Percenter” refers to the erroneous belief that only 3% of colonists fought against the British during the Revolutionary War—but achieved liberty for everybody. Three Percenters view themselves as modern day versions of those revolutionaries, fighting against a tyrannical U.S. government rather than the British. With anyone able to declare themselves a Three Percenter, the concept allowed many people to join who were not suited, physically or by inclination, to engage in paramilitary activities. The Three Percenter logo—the Roman numeral III—has become very popular among anti-government extremists.
As members of BBLM and residents of Benicia and Solano County, we are writing to you to demand that you as leaders of Solano County and City of Benicia not only visibly and vocally condemn right wing extremism, but also pledge to conduct a full investigation both at the County level and at the City level to ensure that policies and procedures – including those focused on recruitment anddisciplinary actions – are in place to actively expel these extremists from the ranks of law enforcement and to prevent their recruitment in the first place.
We further demand Solano County follow both the City of Benicia and Sonoma County in establishing an Office of Equity to solidify the county’s commitment to equity and the eradication of racist ideallogy.
This report is as ironic as it is offensive given that Black Lives Matter chapters have been labeled as terrorists. Months ago,, in August 2020, we successfully advocated before our City Council to take measures to take the work of equity seriously. We were mostly greeted with support but we also faced some opposition. One council member took umbrage with language in the resolution that highlighted the culpability of the entire Minnesota Police Department in the death of George Floyd, despite elected officials in Minnesota making a similar declaration. Other opposition came via a joint statement from the Benicia Police Officers Association, Benicia Dispatcher’s Association and the Benicia Police Management Association. The relevant part is as follows:
“…we ask that before making a commitment to Black Lives Matter, an organization that at its core is an anti-police organization that promotes the defunding of police departments, you consider a commitment to your community and your employees.”
While this commentary from the police associations was not indicative of the tremendous community support we received, it was reminiscent of a vocal minority of individuals who would prefer to question our lived experiences than to confront the past and current systemic racism that so deeply infects our nation.
We would hope that in these perilous times, where it is beyond dispute that the threat of right wing anti-government violence is far more likely to come from white men confusing their misguided actions and ideology for patriotism, that our government leaders and the associations within them would boldly decry, reject and eliminate these factions from their ranks.
If the Sheriff’s response is any indication, there is much work to be done. We demand and expect better. We await a reply and more importantly – bold and sustained action to be taken.
“You are growing into consciousness, and my wish for you is that you feel no need to constrict yourself to make other people comfortable.”
― Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me
The creation of the Benicia Black Lives Matter (BBLM) community organization was formed after the death of George Floyd, an incident witnessed by millions of people across the United States and world. Floyd’s passing was a tipping point that stirred up past and present negative emotions for many. For some people of color, it was a harsh reminder of a different reality of navigating systems met with dimensions of positionality dealing with race, gender, and socio-economic disparities within communities and the linkage of policy, education, economic opportunities, and access.
The founder of BBLM, Nimat Shakoor-Grantham acted and sparked a community conversation to shed light on her experience as a Black woman in Benicia and to raise awareness about the experiences of other Black community members as well. “We aim to raise the awareness for the citizens of Benicia about the biases that happen in town and how it impacts the Black residents of Benicia,” says Shakoor-Grantham. Shakoor-Grantham goes on to share, “The main objective is to bring Benicia closer together in an authentic way; not by saying I don’t see color and everything is good. Benicia is a beautiful place but has an ugly underside that needs to be addressed.”
The BBLM community organization has core teams: City Government Action Team, Education Action Team, Cultural Arts Action Team, Awareness Team, and the New Member Committee. BBLM members include a diverse group of residents who are parents, retirees, business owners, lawyers, doctors, specialized licensed professionals, and recent Benicia High School graduates now attending college. All are dedicated to working with local Benicia leaders in shaping systems and policies that present every Black person and other marginalized groups, the social, economic, creative, and political power to thrive.
Education Action Team member and Benicia High School graduate, La Paula Parker shared, “Being a Black young woman in Benicia is very difficult and exhaustive at times. BBLM is significant because it requires Benicia to wake up and actually acknowledge the reality of our community and the larger world.” Parker goes on to say “education is one of the best ways for us to grow as a community. Education at its core allows us to understand one another, empathize, and love each other. I hope to better incorporate ethnic studies curriculum into the Benicia school system.”
Benicia High School graduate, Branden Ducharme, was one of the BBLM team members who made a presentation at the Benicia City Council, resulting in the passing of Resolution 20. Ducharme states, “BBLM is responsible, with the help of Benicia’s city council, for the passing of Resolution 20, which included many great things, the most notable being the creation of an Equity and Diversity Manager position within the city. When asked about the connection to the National Black Lives Matter Organization Ducharme shared, “I can assure you that whatever negative assumptions you may have about us or our agenda are probably far from the reality of our work. BBLM is tailored to Benicia in two main ways. The first is that it is a grassroots organization with currently no official affiliation with other BLM organizations, though we do value many of the same principles. The second being that every single member as of right now is either a current Benicia resident or has been one in the past.”
BBLM is providing Professional Development that started in January 2021 and extends through March. The workshop series, Showing up for Racial Justice (SURJ), takes participants on a journey to examine the history of white supremacy and resistance movements. The workshop aims to help build the attendee’s ability to effectively act and advocate on behalf of social justice. This free training series was open to members of the Benicia community. BBLM also partnered with the Benicia Library and has established a Black Lives Matter Collection curated reading list.
You can reach out to Benicia Black Lives Matter social media or email them at the following:
We, the members of Benicia Black Lives Matter, stand in solidarity with those who oppose the campaign to recall school board trustees Zada and Maselli.
A campaign that is calling for students to return their families to in-person learning that fails to center the perspectives and experiences of Black families is one that should not be given weight or consideration. Indeed, both the economic consequences of the pandemic and the physical consequences of the pandemic are disproportionately shouldered by Black families. A recent New York Times article and a CDC study both drew attention to the phenomenon of mostly white parents advocating for reopening of schools even as their families and their children are less at risk. From the New York Times article, “Even as more districts reopen their buildings and President Biden joins the chorus of those saying schools can safely resume in-person education, hundreds of thousands of Black parents say they are not ready to send their children back.”
The data from the CDC study shows that 62.3% of white parents strongly or somewhat agreed that schools should reopen in-person for all students in the fall, compared to 46% of Black parents and 50.2% of Hispanic parents. The New York Times article goes on to say; “That reflects both the disproportionately harsh consequences the virus has visited on nonwhite Americans and the profound lack of trust that Black families have in school districts, a longstanding phenomenon exacerbated by the pandemic”.
The response to the pandemic and the current disparities in Benicia Schools represent two separate instances of government failing to deliver equity to Black Families. The recall of school board trustees Zada and Maselli will cost upwards of $300,000. This money could instead be put towards improving ventilation systems in all schools within BUSD, as well as protective equipment and modifications of classrooms for when it is truly safe for students and staff to return. Not only is the district considering asking students to return, even as the pandemic is raging and the virus is mutating, but money that could otherwise be utilized to shore up the infrastructure is instead being contemplated for a wasteful political grab that does not have the interests or safety of Black Families in mind.
For the first time in its history the City of Benicia will soon have an equity officer and a tangible plan for seeking to achieve equity. The School district is engaged in a similar conversation. This campaign is a stark example of how privilege and political access play out to the detriment of vulnerable communities. It is as divisive as it is thinly veiled. It cannot be allowed to succeed. The members of Benicia Black Lives Matter fully support all of our board trustees and oppose the campaign to recall trustees Zada and Maselli as it is not representative of the interests of our Black Community.
Benicia Black Lives Matter
Benicia Black Lives Matter is a grassroots community group organized to address anti-Black racism in the city of Benicia.There is a lack of Black representation across City leadership, departments, and voluntary boards. The lack of Black representation tells a story of our complacency as a community and more so, the impact on our Black Benicians lived experience. The good news is, we can rebuild the City of Benicia into a better Benicia, one commitment and one change at a time – and we have a strategy to do so. Our Strategy: Actively Commit to Change. The City of Benicia must commit to a specific vision of what a better, more inclusive and equitable future looks like. For additional information see beniciablacklivesmatter.com.