Last week, I wrote about young activists in North County motivated to protest not only George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis but their own communities’ history of silence on racial justice issues and police brutality. It led me to a conversation with Yusef Miller, a member of the Racial Justice Coalition of San Diego and an Escondido resident, who has long organized for religious and racial equality in North County.
I talked to Miller on June 15 about the advice he’s giving to young activists and what changes he and his group are seeking amid national outcry for police reform. Miller and the North County Civil Liberties Coalition are calling for a community review board and more in the wake of a video showing a Carlsbad police officer tackling a 27-year-old Black man on June 11.
When we spoke, he referenced 8 Can’t Wait, a national police reform agenda that includes, among other things, a ban on chokeholds, a requirement officers give a warning before shooting and using de-escalation techniques before deploying force. Carlsbad has said it adopted all eight principles.
Here’s more from our conversation, which has been edited slightly for clarity.
What issues have you seen with local law enforcement agencies in North County in recent years?
Miller: In Carlsbad last week, a gentleman was Tased and no de-escalation was used. … Carlsbad said they adopted the 8 Can’t Wait but there was an unnecessary hard use of force on this man, one that required de-escalation. The officer showed up and grabbed him by the wrist and didn’t announce himself. The man didn’t even see he was grabbing him from behind. This is not de-escalation. You don’t approach anyone that way, let alone grabbing them from behind.
In Escondido, there’s a new chief and I was going to a monthly meeting with the old chief. The Police Department was pretty interactive with its community diversion program. … That has since dropped, but I’m planning on having a meeting with the new chief to restart community and leadership meetings. It was very positive, before, to voice complaints and concerns. The relationship needs to be re-established. In Oceanside, I met with the internal affairs [division] with a gentleman who made a complaint to law enforcement and he said he had so much fear with law enforcement in Oceanside that he had to move out of Oceanside.
Every city needs improvement on being transparent. They need to be held accountable for data, interaction with the community and transparency on stops and arrest frequency of stopping people of color versus everyone else. We don’t have access to that, and if we don’t have access we can only draw from anecdotal information.
What are your thoughts on increased youth activism and participation in North County now?
Miller: Youth have been getting involved a lot especially since March for our Lives [a national gun violence prevention movement]. I wouldn’t say they just started getting involved. But they have a lot of opportunity now that they’re not in school and with COVID. I do want to give credit to youth for doing what they’re doing and they’re doing a great job. They could use some guidance from those who are seasoned. Nobody just hits the ground running. Youth have been reaching out and I’m lending advice where I can in a way that doesn’t get them into harm and unnecessarily gets youth hurt and killed. I do applaud the youth for getting involved. But a lot of people are getting involved who never have before. A lot of them are White. I think COVID has a lot to do with it. People don’t have a choice to turn away from George Floyd … not because he was so special, but because he was forced into people’s reality. They couldn’t watch a baseball or football game or go to the beach.
All people need guidance. Everybody jumped up at the same time and many aren’t ready. They don’t fully understand the issue. They know George Floyd and are chanting, “Black Lives Matter” and “No Justice, No Peace,” but they don’t understand local government. They’re marching and asking questions about why it’s happening now. There needs to be legislative change. They need to know that screaming, marching and signs are not the whole pie. No, we’ve been marching for years, decades, and some of them are new to this and some are only riled up for the popularity of it. The Racial Justice Coalition could hardly get 12 people out there before. Now George Floyd happened and everyone’s a superhero now. They’re simply rallying. There’s youth, new protesters, new White people and new Black people.
What work is the Racial Justice Coalition doing to progress police reform?
Now that there’s power behind us and with all our relationships with Council members and mayors we have a bill coming out at state level, Assembly Bill 1196, to ban neck restraints at the state level. And then once we finish at the state level we’re going national. Seasoned veterans are trying to prevent the law from going back. We’re moving speech from street to Capitol to make it effective. We’re working on additional reform, police accountability, a civilian oversight board … with other social groups like Women Occupy San Diego for a ballot item in November [in San Diego]. We’ve been yelling and screaming now … for years saying no chokeholds and no carotid restraints. There’s a political expediency now; they’re trying to save their own necks across the globe about neck restraints. A few months before George Floyd, the police chief and governor would’ve said, “Absolutely, no.” The only reason, the only thing that changed is the political expediency. It’s not to save us; it’s to save their own career. Three years ago it was a “No,’” but they did it in six days.
Homeless Shelter Could Be Coming to North County
Amid the pandemic and declining economy comes heightened concerns from local officials and homeless service providers that homelessness could rise across the San Diego region. Now, more shelter beds for homeless residents could be coming to North County.
Homelessness has been rising in Oceanside for years, and the lack of shelter for the city’s homeless became a more prominent concern during the pandemic. Lots of organizations and local activists for the homeless, including the Oceanside Kitchen Collaborative and the Oceanside Homeless Resource Fair, have stepped up to try to help the city’s homeless residents, Coast News reports.
Oceanside accepted state funding for 50 shelter beds for the city’s homeless population, the Union-Tribune reported. The $649,151 grant will be used to operate the year-round shelter in Oceanside. The U-T reports that officials haven’t picked out a site yet, but they’re looking at the former Ocean Shores High School campus.
The grant funds are from the California Department of Housing and Community Development under the Permanent Local Housing Allocation, Oceanside spokeswoman Terry Gorman Brown told Voice of San Diego. In total, Oceanside could be receive up to $3.9 million in total grant money from the state for the program over the next five years, Angie Hanifin, a housing administrator for the city, said at a recent City Council meeting.
Since March, the county has put about 1,300 vulnerable homeless people and others who have or are suspected of having coronavirus in hotel rooms to combat the spread of the disease. County officials are uncertain, however, how the hotel program will play out in the upcoming weeks as hotels reopen to tourists. Lisa Halverstadt and I wrote about how homeless residents around the county have been confronting a lack of shelter and resources.
When I talked to Greg Anglea, chief executive officer of Interfaith Community Services, a homeless service provider, about the pandemic’s impact on shelter beds in May, he said Interfaith had been forced to reduce the number of people at its shelter and had to move everyone they could no longer service into hotels. Still, there’s never been enough shelter beds available for all of the homeless population in North County. Anglea said the pandemic is bringing the long-running issue of a lack of shelter beds to light and there’s only going to be an increased need for them as coronavirus-related layoffs and job losses hit individuals and families.
Also on the homelessness front, Del Mar Fairground officials are moving forward with a plan to install temporary housing for homeless veterans on site.
It could be a possible replacement for the temporary housing shelter at the San Diego Convention Center, Don Mossier, a board member on the 22nd District Agricultural Association Board of Directors, said at a board meeting.
What We’re Working On
- Fertility clinics across the nation put time-sensitive treatments for fertility patients on hold during the pandemic. Some patients paying for costly treatments out of pocket lost jobs or insurance coverage during the crisis, heightening their anxieties. Others suffered worsening ovarian health conditions. I talked to fertility patients and physicians in the San Diego region about the impacts.
- For Voice of San Diego at Home, I interviewed two young activists from Poway and Vista who are calling for new curriculum that includes Black history and marginalized populations in their local schools and more. They and other young activists are bringing attention to racial discrimination in their schools through social media.
- Meanwhile, Adriana Heldiz rounded up her most compelling photos from police protests across the county in recent weeks, including some in Escondido and Encinitas.
- Maya Srikrishnan wrote about the seemingly everlasting land use debate on the Lilac Hills project. Fire safety concerns weren’t enough to kill Lilac Hills Ranch, a proposed development near Valley Center, the last time the county weighed the project. But a series of catastrophic wildfires has put the issue front and center as the proposal came back up Wednesday. The County Board of Supervisors rejected it.
- Scott Lewis captured how even the most firm school reopening plans across the 42 school districts in the region are up in the air.
In Other News
- A report has found that a large influx from the potable water system into the sewage treatment plant on the grounds of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station is the likely reason that as much as 7,000 gallons of non-radiological wastewater were released into the ocean in late March. (Union-Tribune)
- SANDAG committed $200,000 for regional planning on transportation, energy, environment and economy issues with tribal nations. (Coast News Group)
- Vista began layoffs in its recreation and community services department as the result of coronavirus-related revenue losses. (Union-Tribune)
- Stone Brewing, the largest brewery in Southern California, has been criticized for mismanaging COVID-19 layoffs. (Coast News Group)
- The Balboa Art Conservation Center in San Diego and the San Luis Rey Mission Indian Foundation in Vista are among 317 recipients of CARES Act economic stabilization grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities to support cultural institutions that have taken a financial hit due to the coronavirus pandemic. (City News Service)
- Escondido City Manager Jeff Epp will retire in July after working in city government for 35 years. (Union-Tribune)
Maya Srikrishnan contributed to this report.