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.
From an email by 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:
establish a commission for equity and inclusiveness
initiate through a consultant an “Equity Indicators” analysis in Benicia, and
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Craig Melvin interviews Ta-Nehisi Coates on his book and the new HBO film
[Editor: Ta-Nehisi Coates offers profound insight on race in America and the far-reaching effect of Trumpism. The first two minutes of the interview are mostly about his important book and the new film. Tune in after 2 minutes for his commentary on racism. – R.S.]
THE BOOK (See also THE FILM, below)
Between the World and Me is available at Bookshop Benicia (or Amazon, of course).
#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • NATIONAL BOOK AWARD WINNER • NAMED ONE OF TIME’S TEN BEST NONFICTION BOOKS OF THE DECADE • PULITZER PRIZE FINALIST • ONE OF OPRAH’S “BOOKS THAT HELP ME THROUGH”
Hailed by Toni Morrison as “required reading,” a bold and personal literary exploration of America’s racial history by “the most important essayist in a generation and a writer who changed the national political conversation about race” (Rolling Stone)
Reviewed by Dani Lacey This is a book black people need to read. This is a book white people need to read. This is a book that anyone who calls themselves “American” needs to read….This is a book that describes the history of our nation and — in a way — the history of the world. This is a book that tells one man’s story of how he achieved his social consciousness the impact that had on how he viewed himself….The book is crafted as a letter to his son, making it a more intimate and personal journey. That intimacy and humanization extends beyond Coates to the victims and survivors of racism….He is not optimistic, but he’s not a cynic, either. I was worried that this book would leave me feeling sad, angry, hurt. Instead, I feel strangely proud. He sees where we fail as a nation, but points out how black people have and will continue to survive as a people. And he calls on those who have benefited from America’s systemic racism to do better or face their own future downfall.
THE FILM – on HBO Saturday, November 21
Between The World And Me, 1 EPISODE|1 HR 20 MIN
AVAILABLE SAT, NOV 21 AT 5:00PM PT ON HBO AND HBO MAX SEE THE TRAILER, far below…
Between The World And Me, based on Ta-Nehisi Coates’ #1 New York Times bestselling account, is coming to HBO as a special event.
First published in 2015, Between The World And Me was written as a letter to Coates’ teenage son, and recounts the author’s experiences growing up in Baltimore’s inner city and his growing fear of daily violence against the Black community. The narrative explores Coates’ bold notion that American society structurally supports white supremacy.
Based on the 2018 adaptation and staging of the book at the Apollo Theater, the HBO Special will combine elements of the Apollo’s production, including powerful readings from Coates’ book, and incorporate documentary footage from the actors’ home life, archival footage, and animation. It will include appearances by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Mahershala Ali, Angela Bassett, Angela Davis, Alicia Garza, Tip “T.I.” Harris, Jharrel Jerome, Mimi Jones, Marc Bamuthi Joseph, Ledisi, Janet Mock, Jason Moran, Joe Morton, Wendell Pierce, Phylicia Rashad, Greg Alverez Reid, Mj Rodriguez, Kendrick Sampson, Yara Shahidi, Nate Smith, Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter, Courtney B. Vance, Olivia Washington, Pauletta Washington, Susan Kelechi Watson, Michelle Wilson and Oprah Winfrey.
Between The World And Me will be directed by award-winning director and Apollo Theater Executive Producer Kamilah Forbes, who also serves as an executive producer alongside Coates and Susan Kelechi Watson. Roger Ross Williams and his production company One Story Up will produce.
“A seminal piece of literature that has pushed crucial conversations around our country and racism to the forefront of our cultural conversation.” — ROGER ROSS WILLIAMS