Category Archives: #BlackLivesMatter

‘Insulting’: California police reform bills die without vote

State takes small steps toward reform

Vallejo Times-Herald, By Nico Savidge, September 3, 2020
[See also: Associated Press, California bill to strip badges from ‘bad officers’ fails]

Three months ago, with protests against racism and police brutality gripping the state and nation, California lawmakers had plans for new legislation that would make sweeping changes to law enforcement.

But as their session came to a chaotic end at midnight Tuesday, state legislators had only approved a handful of relatively modest changes to police practices, while more controversial proposals — to strip problem officers of their badges, broaden public access to police misconduct records and limit the use of rubber bullets and tear gas at protests — died without the votes they needed to pass.

The defeat of those measures, coming in the Democrat- dominated Legislature of a state that positions itself as a beacon of progressive government, is a stinging disappointment for activists, civil liberties groups and lawmakers, who believed the time had come for major changes meant to bolster police accountability and transparency.

“To ignore the thousands of voices calling for meaningful police reform is insulting,” Sen. Steven Bradford, D-Gardena, said in a statement early Tuesday morning after his bill to “decertify” officers who commit crimes or serious misconduct failed to get a vote in the final hours Monday. “Today, Californians were once again let down by those who were meant to represent them.”

Policing wasn’t the only issue that left advocates and lawmakers unsatisfied — bills that passed for eviction protections and housing also fell short of what many hoped to see in the shortened legislative session that was upended by the coronavirus.

The law enforcement bills lawmakers did approve included a requirement that state authorities investigate certain deadly police shootings, as well as a ban on the carotid “sleeper” restraint a Minneapolis officer used in the deadly arrest of George Floyd on Memorial Day.

But Dennis Cuevas-Romero, a legislative advocate for the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, noted that many police departments have already prohibited officers from using the carotid restraint. Gov. Gavin Newsom also directed the state’s Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training after Floyd’s death to no longer offer training on the tactic.

And while Cuevas-Romero said having state authorities investigate police shootings “could be really significant,” he also noted that the bill only requires the state to investigate fatal police shootings of unarmed civilians, as opposed to all deaths at the hands of police.

“This was our concern from the very beginning, when all the police reform legislation was introduced,” Cuevas-Romero said. “The ones that were less impactful would be the ones that make it to the finish line,” allowing lawmakers to claim victory “without actually doing significant reform.”

The ACLU cosponsored Bradford’s decertification bill. California is one
of only five states that doesn’t have such a process, and an investigation by this news organization found dozens of police officers with criminal records were still working in departments across the state.

Bradford’s bill also would have rolled back some of the legal protection known as “qualified immunity,” which shields officers from liability in many excessive force lawsuits. Activists charge the legal doctrine is a significant barrier to holding police accountable, and the bill got a late lobbying push from a raft of celebrities, including Kim Kardashian West and Los Angeles Laker Kyle Kuzma.

Law enforcement groups say they are open to creating a decertification process, and have called for a special session of the Legislature to create one. But they vehemently opposed the bill’s limits to qualified immunity, which helped make it the most controversial of this year’s police reform proposals.

“We are pleased that the late-session rush to enact a flawed bill that would have had debilitating repercussions for police officers and public safety was not voted upon,” Craig Lally, the president of the union representing Los Angeles police officers, said in a statement after Bradford’s bill failed. “It is more important to get it right and not rushed, and we pledge our cooperation to work collaboratively with likeminded stakeholders and the legislature to get it right.”

Brian Marvel, president of the Peace Officers Research Association of California, said the shortened session made it difficult for his organization representing more than 75,000 police officers to negotiate with lawmakers. In the next session, Marvel said, “We will have a much better opportunity to collaboratively work with the authors on creating legislation.”

Bradford pledged to bring his proposal back next year.

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, said she would do the same with her bill sharply limiting the use of rubber bullets and tear gas, prompted by what critics derided as a heavyhanded police response to racial justice demonstrations. That bill, which also faced opposition from police lobbying groups, similarly never came up for a vote Monday night.

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.