Black Lives Matter in El Cerrito

There is so much to say about the death by police of George Floyd. Problem is…it has all been said many times before. You just have to say the names to understand.

In the middle of a pandemic, the worst economic catastrophe since the great depression and a racist President that, his military generals agree, tries to divide the country, our El Cerrito City Council said George Floyd mattered all the more.

In response to the incidents in Minneapolis, former-President Barack Obama said it is up to mayors, city councils and city managers to review change and implement better protections against police violence. And while congress and our governor are moving proposals to address police violence and tie reforms to funding, our city must be the center point for assuring that our police officers will be problem solvers and not aggressors.

Police kneeling

We are lucky in El Cerrito because we have a department of officers led by a smart and sensitive chief –Paul Keith — who demands training in de-escalation, mental health options, proper use of force techniques and demilitarization of equipment. After the week of protests in response to Mr Floyd’s death, Chief Keith took a knee at an El Cerrito protest and banned the use of the carotid control hold as an authorized tactic of police force.

But no matter how good a police department, there must be rules to abide by that protect all residents— especially those of color who have most often been at the dangerous end of bad police actions. Now is the time for a review of the tactics in the El Cerrito Police manual. It is time, as we are doing with all departments during our fiscal problems, to more closely examine our Police Department’s budget.

When I worked at BART as the Manager of State & Federal Legislation, I directed efforts to pass state legislation allowing the transit agency to establish a Police Citizen Review Board In response to the horrible killing of Oscar Grant in Oakland. I have usually thought that such review boards should be a last resort after demonstrated police abuse in specific departments. Now, at this time, I am supportive of exploring the possibility for El Cerrito if resources and staff allow.

I attended the Mira Vista grammar school in El Cerrito many years ago where we had only one black student in my classes. Over the past few years he and I reconnected and we have been having breakfast once a month at Fat Apples in El Cerrito. One morning he told a story about a dinner he was invited to at a country club and how he entered the club. He wasn’t trying to make a point but said, “you know how when we (African Americans) walk into a restaurant or event and everyone has to check us out and wonder what we’re doing there?”

I did know what he was talking about. But I was taken aback because I realized I had never felt that — never felt that ongoing burden — that everywhere is a conscious act of being scrutinized for the color of your skin.

We are at a point where it is the white culture that must change. It is time for us to look through the eyes of African Americans to see how day to day white attitudes detrimentally impact the lives of people of color.

We all need to stay aware of what happens with the three officers who were complicit in George Floyd’s death by not responding to his pleas for help. We need to see that they are justly punished — because they are like those of us in the white culture that don’t want to see harm or hurt to people of color — and who don’t assist when necessary.

If this moment in time resulting from George Floyd’s death is to truly bring about more equity and justice, it must be a movement in time. Black lives matter.

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