My social security check paid for the gas to drive to downtown Sonoma on June 6 to be in the Walk for Justice rally and march, organized by a local high school student group, Sonoma Black Lives Matter, welcomed by the Mayor and the endorsed by the Human Rights Commission, in cooperation with the Chief of Police.
My righteous anger at the constant stream of images and news reports on the appalling police-state crackdown on the unparalleled national uprising for Black Lives Matter drew me out of my quarantine zone at home to attend my first public event since the pandemic struck. We were all masked-up, so the activists took that memo.
The impressive young organizers who spoke at the rally and led the march made my old activist’s heart happy. The reinforcements have arrived! The kids were articulate, informed, and passionate in their collective demand to an end to systemic punitive police repression of communities of poor Americans, especially our black and brown brothers and sisters. They are not patient with this unacceptable status quo; they’re not going to take it any more. The Zoomers are fierce and focused. They will get the job done.
Props to the city of Sonoma, for their wise tolerance of the local tradition and culture of constitutional civic protest; the Mayor, Logan Harvey, for his supportive relationship with the young advocates and his skillful handling of the city protocols for large-scale public protests at The Plaza; the Sonoma Chief of Police, who managed security for the event very professionally; the Sheriff’s deputies under the Chief’s direction who were exemplary in their conduct that day, staying out of sight for the duration of the event, around the corner, ready to respond to any disturbance; and most of all, the excellent full-spectrum leadership group of the hundreds of young high school students in attendance, along with all the usual old school activist suspects, and a lot of great parents.
The root of the nation-wide insurrection against militarized and racialized policing is the anger and frustration at the dawning realization that the cavalry is not coming, that nothing was done by the Trump Administration during the months of quarantine besides shovel buckets of public money into no-bid contracts for Treasury Secretary Mnuchin’s cronies. We live in a failed state.
One useful outcome of the national Uprising is a new slogan to try to capture the historical moment. ‘Defund the Police’ is the new pop tag for the prison and law enforcement movement’s decades of committed work and advocacy. What has been lacking is political will, until now.
This extensive body of academic study has provided us with a mass of data showing that limiting the scope of what we ask the police to do can reduce violence and crime rates, and build community stability.
We currently use cops as the one-stop-shop social services provider: one call makes homeless people, crazy people, thieves, vagrants, suspicious people of color not from this neighborhood disappear (into a vast carceral black hole). This is a socially unsustainable strategy.
Here’s what ‘Defund the Police’ means, in the real world:
Enact community review boards who have the power to initiate an independent investigation of police; reduce the number of armed officers by ending stops for typical traffic violations; reinvent police departments into three tiers, each with distinct duties and pay grades; Tier 1 lower-paid traffic and code enforcement officers, whose work tools are a citation pad, a radar gun and a camera to issue mail citations; Tier 2 armed officers serving warrants and arresting suspects; Tier 3 veteran detectives fully funded to solve serious crimes to person or property rapidly.
The divest/invest agenda will disband SWAT units; end no-knock drug raids; end cash bail; return the military gear to the National Guard; increase funding to field operations social workers as first responders to the homeless; invest in highly trained mental health crisis units as first response to mental health episodes.
Essentially, there will be fewer poorly trained armed officers in contact with the public, fewer contacts overall with law enforcement, and an end to using armed cops to enforce minor infractions and quality of life issues.
Fundamentally, this moment is another inflection point in the moral arc of the American people. We have to make a deep and consequential social decision: are the police there to maintain civic order or merely to protect the property and privileges of the dominant economic class?
Here’s an action you can take right here in Sonoma County to do your part to end policing as we know it: vote for the Evelyn Cheatham Ordinance in November 2020 to establish a civilian police review board with the power to refer cases for prosecution.
We can’t all be running rhymes on a bullhorn for a BLM march, but we can do that which is in our power. There is the political will for police reform here in Sonoma, for sure. Contact your supervisor to put the Evelyn Cheatham Ordinance on the ballot for the November election.
We can do this!