I came of age and lent my youthful passionate voice during the turbulent era of civil rights, War on Poverty, equality for women and gays/ lesbians, environmental awakening and protests against the Vietnam War. Our rallies, protests and marches ebb and flow about issues that arouse our collective furies and outrage. And yet…use of force by law enforcement has yet to be thoughtfully considered and embraced by law enforcement and community.
Photo: A protest rally on Sonoma Plaza, June 3, by Diane Askew.
The most recent deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmad Arbery have sparked another round of protests across our nation and the world. June 2 would have been Andy Lopez’s 20th birthday, and our community is still mourning his death. Families across this country are missing fathers and mothers, daughters and sons, people who could have done great things for their communities but were snuffed out before they had an opportunity. In their place is a vacancy, the lack of a person and their hopes, dreams and future.
I share the anger and frustration at this vacancy, the multitude of people lost. I am not the messenger for this moment of unrest in our country, our state, and our community. I have at times felt invisible or powerless because of my gender, but I will never know what it is like to live in a black or brown body. I am not an authority on this, but because I am an elected official, I need to speak to it. I encourage you to reach out to, and read, what people of color are saying about this moment in time.
An incredible diversity of people is taking to the streets to say that enough is enough, that black and brown bodies should not continue to die at the hands of authority figures, or those who see themselves as empowered to punish someone for merely existing. We have been here before, and if things don’t change, we will continue to be here, again and again.
The sad fact is that we have (at least) two different realities in our country, with different rules of conduct, different expectations, and different consequences for even the slightest transgression. One’s slap on the wrist is another’s blood spilled, and this is unjust. I don’t have answers for this. I can’t solve the fact that this country was founded on the broken backs of people of color and the genocide of those who were here before, and that this set the stage for where we are today.
My thoughts are with everyone who is out in the streets, whether in Sonoma, Santa Rosa, the Bay Area, or Minneapolis. There are children, older folks, young people, those with disabilities. These demonstrators are not a threat to us, they are all of us.
I urge everyone who is exercising their rights to free speech to refrain from damaging property. This is by no means the majority of demonstrators, but it does happen. Property is less important than the lives that have been lost, but our small businesses and municipalities are all struggling with the economic impacts of Coronavirus, and broken windows and graffiti are another hit to their already lean budgets. I also urge officers who are responding to these demonstrations to use restraint. I have seen some very disturbing images from around the country of uniformed officers taking actions that only escalate tensions, and cause more fear, anger and distrust and, in some cases, severe injury to protesters.
“White Fragility: Why it’s so Hard for White People to Talk about Racism” by Robin DiAngelo has been recommended to me as a way to continue the conversation we so desperately need. We must acknowledge the divide in our nation, our world, and unite to overcome the racial and social injustices in our community.
While all of this is going on, we still have the Coronavirus to grapple with, emotionally and physically. We know that this virus impacts communities of color disproportionately in general, because a virus like this is bound to magnify the existing inequalities in our society. In our community, this means that our Latinx neighbors are overrepresented in the positive cases. Sadly, the vast majority of our cases in those under 18 are our Latinx youth, for example.
There have been a lot of reasons posited for this disparity—lack of access to health care, high housing costs leading to families living together, low wage essential jobs with high proportions of Latinx workers—but these are just best guesses at this point. Our Department of Health Services has convened a task force with Latinx leaders in community health and health care to dive deeper into the data, brainstorm mitigation strategies and draft communications to reach out to the communities being affected. We have also brought free testing closer to Latinx neighborhoods, like the sites at Altimira Middle School and Sonoma Valley Hospital. Please get tested, and retested, to help us track and contain this virus. Sign up for the antibody testing available soon in the community to help us understand how it has already spread through our community.
Finally, our Health Officer is moving towards opening up more sectors of our economy, as our data indicate it is safe to do so. I hear from people every day asking for more lifting of restrictions, and others asking to please keep restrictions in place to protect public health. We are committed to an evidence-based approach, and in alignment with the Governor’s orders; we know that we can’t keep everything closed forever. Our small local businesses are hurting, and we all need to work together to balance economic strife with public health, and mental health.
We all need to make decisions about what feels safe for us, and take responsibility for our own safety and the safety of our families. Please adhere to the facial covering order—wear a facial covering in public spaces, whether parks, outdoor dining (when you’re not eating), beaches or protests. Remember, this is not to protect you, but to protect others, including other patrons, park visitors, and essential workers. When shopping at a grocery store, for example, your risk is relatively low; you are only in the space for a short time while you shop. In contrast, the employees stocking shelves and ringing up your groceries are there for a whole shift. We need to protect our workers, and our vulnerable community members.
We have a Coronavirus Update at most Board Meetings; starting June 11, we are moving our COVID-19 briefings to special board meetings every other week. You can check the calendar to see what time it is set to take place. I encourage everyone to watch this update when it happens—there is no substitute for watching the conversation take place in real time. There is no roadmap for a situation like this, and we are all doing the best we can.
In closing, I want to acknowledge that tensions are high and anger is palpable. Everything that is going on can exacerbate mental health struggles, or create new ones. Sonoma County has a Warmline for Emotional and Mental Health Support that folks can call to speak to a professional counselor. Services are available in both English and Spanish. You can reach the warmline by calling 707-565-2652 between 10am and 7pm seven days per week.
Right now, kindness is a revolutionary act, and I encourage everyone, whatever else you are doing with your time, to be kind to your neighbors and everyone in your communities. Be safe while you enjoy our County as we reopen more activities in the next few weeks.
For information about Coronavirus testing in Sonoma Valley, visit https://svchc.org/free-covid-drive-through-testing/
To see agendas for upcoming Board of Supervisors meetings, visit: https://sonoma-county.legistar.com/Calendar.aspx