Category Archives: Racism

Latest ‘Our Voices’ – Racism is real in Benicia


BENICIA BLACK LIVES MATTER
…OUR VOICES…

From BeniciaBlackLivesMatter.com
[See also: About BBLM]

“I was horrified to witness such abject racism in my own city…”

July 13, 2021

Chris Kerz
70 year old white man
6 year Benicia resident

I consider myself a good person. I try to treat everyone with respect and compassion. I have friends of different cultures, different races, different socio-economic levels, and different age groups. I generally greet everyone in my path with the same friendliness and warmth. I know that racism exists everywhere, but I never expected to witness such viciousness in my own quiet community.

During the Covid months, like many people, I took at least one brisk walk every day to get my blood flowing and maintain some sense of normalcy. On this particular October 2020 day, I was walking through the Ninth Street Park from the north end around 3pm. As I approached the boat launch I saw a Black gentleman, possibly in his mid-40s, seemingly also out for a walk, heading in my direction. When he was about 20 feet from me and before I was able to greet him, I began to hear a low chanting of what sounded like the word “N****r” coming from the parking lot. I looked around. The parking lot had several cars in it, but from where I was, I couldn’t see any people in the cars. Then the chanting stopped.

At first I thought I was mistaken. That didn’t seem possible, particularly since I couldn’t see the source. We both circled around, going opposite directions, and neared the parking lot a second time. As we again approached each other, I heard it – the same chant, only louder. This time there was no mistaking the content or intent. The voices were men, and there was more than one. I met the eyes of the Black man and mouthed, “I’m sorry!” which, of course, he could not see through my mask. He sent me a furtive glance, but I couldn’t interpret what he was communicating either – Fear? Anger? Suspicion? I only know that I felt a terrible sense of anger and disappointment. And above all, I was shocked. The targeted man picked up his pace and headed towards the downtown area.

In the meantime, I doubled back through the parking lot one more time to see if I could identify the perpetrators. There were several people milling about and about a dozen cars in the lot, so it was hard to tell. A moment later, a vehicle with at least two people in it pulled out of a parking space and headed downtown. The driver exercised the appropriate caution and speed for exiting a parking lot, raising no particular suspicion other than his/her timing. Still, I thought it was likely they were the chanters. By the time they were clear of other cars, they were too far away for me to read the license plate, and even if I could, I knew that I had no evidence that the people in the car were involved in any way. My opportunity to identify anyone was lost.

And so I did the only thing I could. I retold the story of this horrifying event to my family and friends, not only as a witness, but in hopes that other Benicia residents acknowledge that racism does exist here and that we must be proactive in opposing it.

In hindsight, I would have liked to have been more of an active ally. I could have turned around and caught up with the man and asked if he needed any help and/or walked with him. I could have run through the parking lot looking for the sources of the ugliness and excoriated them, or at least obtained a description to call the police. I could have done a lot of things. I just hope for two things by making my story public: the man who was accosted will realize that he was not alone in his pain; and that the people of Benicia will wake up to the fact that these horrible injustices do indeed happen in our community and should NEVER be tolerated.


Previous ‘Our Voices’ stories here on the BenIndy at
Benicia Black Lives Matter – Our Voices
     or on the BBLM website at
beniciablacklivesmatter.weebly.com/ourvoices

Solano County Board of Supes ‘not ready for topics that deal with the ugly underbelly of America’

Danette Mitchell: Is Solano County ready for a serious race discussion?

Vallejo Times-Herald, by Danette Mitchell, June 25, 2021

While many companies understand that discrimination is wrong — both legally and morally — do employers want diversity and inclusion, or do they want comfort and assimilation?

Last week’s lengthy Solano County Board of Supervisors discussion about a specific Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion training became heated, sending a message that they are not ready for topics that deal with the ugly underbelly of America.

While discussing racism is an uncomfortable topic, we can’t talk about diversity, equity, and inclusion and not address race. Supervisor Erin Hannigan and human resource leadership presented a proposal to have Jei Africa, director of Marin County Behavioral Health and Recovery Services, conduct a series of equity training workshops to address race, racism, racialization, White privilege, and implicit bias.

Hannigan attended the training. She believes the education would provide the board with foundational knowledge and an understanding of the terminology from a historical perspective, adding that the topics are uncomfortable. The training would also include the history of slavery, redlining, Jim Crow, and immigration, concluding with becoming an anti-racist/multicultural organization.

Hannigan also stated that the training would help with discussions around policies, equity, and procedures because they would all speak from the same playbook. Hannigan added that city employees should see the board taking the lead on the equity training.

Supervisor Monica Brown feels the training for board members should be voluntary. She also feels the training should be embedded with other training like sexual harassment and ethics. I believe her suggestion would minimize the topics’ seriousness and shorten the training, potentially reducing the effectiveness and impact. We are dealing with a deeply rooted system that legislated and enacted inequalities that persist today. The training should be mandatory for board members.

Supervisor Mitch Mashburn supports the equity training. However, he feels the LGBTQ community and all other ethnic groups, including gender, should be discussed as well. If you support the population, specifically Black people, that has been the most marginalized, others benefit. Race will intersect with the LGBTQ community, Latinos and Asians, but not the opposite. The Black community has many examples of this, like affirmative action, which primarily benefited White women, and the Immigration Act, which pushed Black people, as a collective group, further down the economic and opportunity ladder.

Supervisor Jim Spering stated he is fully committed to equity. He also said he didn’t want one person’s perspective on history and didn’t harbor White guilt, because he has worked hard. Nonetheless, he is still the beneficiary of a system of privilege. Also, the effects of slavery in America are in our DNA, manifesting in behaviors and attitudes.

No doubt, varied emotions often surface when discussing race-related topics. Supervisor Board Chairman John Vasquez was triggered when Hannigan mentioned she lived a life of White privilege, to which he responded, “So you are going to come in and save my life?” He is undecided about the training and would like to wait on responses to the employee survey before committing. His stance appeared to be the consensus of the rest of the board.

Meanwhile, Hannigan commented, “Maybe this is not the right board for equity for this county.” She and Vasquez serve on the Ad Hoc Equity Board Subcommittee formed in 2020 to address employee equity.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion are a 450-year-old set of problems that won’t be solved overnight. We are dealing with generations of ingrained behaviors, attitudes, and fears.

Nonetheless, employers want to hear the lyrics of “We Shall Overcome” — not “Strange Fruit,” describing the lynching of Black people.


Danette Mitchell — The Vacaville author is a social issues advocate. 

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.

Benicia Mayor Steve Young on racism in Benicia: ‘We do, in fact, have a problem’

Steve Young on Facebook, April 18, 2021

On the hate crime last weekend and the arrest

Benicia Mayor Steve Young

I recently received an email from a member of the community asking me to push back against the idea that Benicia has a problem with racism. They argued that Benicia Black Lives Matter is overstating the degree of racism in our town. I responded by saying that there was, in fact, a problem here that needed to be acknowledged. They politely, but firmly, disagreed.

The incident on April 10 in the Raley’s parking lot, where three young Black teenagers were subjected to racial slurs by a white Benicia resident who later threatened them with an airsoft pistol, showed that an idealized version of Benicia is not the reality. It was the most recent and overt example of racism here, but it was not the only one. A white Benicia fisherman was captured on camera berating a group of Asian-Americans on the pier for fishing in “his” spot, and asking where “they” came from.

The young victims at the Raley’s center are understandably traumatized by this act of racist hate and intimidation. The alleged perpetrator was quickly arrested by Benicia police on several counts, including perpetrating a hate crime. He is currently out on bail, and charging decisions will be made by the District Attorney.

There are clearly too many people in Benicia, be they citizens or visitors, who still suffer from racial bias (both conscious and unconscious), and too many people of color who suffer direct and indirect discrimination. Whether the bias comes from blatant hatred, ignorance or lack of education/information, it is real and it needs to be acknowledged before it can be meaningfully addressed.

The City has taken the first steps by hiring a part-time Racial and Equity Manager to help us review our own practices. Benicia is approximately 30% minority, but the makeup of our various Boards and Commissions, as well as our overall city employment, does not reflect that level of representation.

Clearly, there is work that needs to be done to make our community more inclusive and welcoming to all of our residents. But that work must start with acknowledging that we do, in fact, have a problem.
We can do better as a community by opening our mind and listening to each other. Hate and racism have no place in Benicia, and we must do our best to make this a more welcoming and inclusive city.