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There is an excitement in the air about San Diego having a majority of Democrats on the County Board of Supervisors and a supermajority on the City Council, as well as a Democratic mayor. Despite this news, however, I can’t help but feel that we are celebrating too soon. The condition of Black people in San Diego doesn’t automatically change with this supermajority in power, nor does it guarantee that progressive policies will prevail.
When the world saw a White police officer slowly kill George Floyd as he smugly kneeled on his neck for over eight minutes, politicians were quick to take the knee dawned with kente cloths, or stand arm in arm with Black legislators in protest against racial injustice. But when it came time to pass landmark legislation, like the statewide police decertification bill, that political will to address racial injustices was all but absent. Instead, we got performative allyship and token gestures.
This past summer Mayor Kevin Faulconer, Chief of Police David Nisleit and Sheriff Bill Gore came forward to make policy changes on the use of force one after another. However, the SDPD ban on carotid restraints, and the changes to their use-of-force policies, are far from sufficient compared to what really needs to happen in order to address one of our most pressing issues with police: overpolicing of Black and Brown communities.
To meaningfully address racist police practices, the newly elected Dem supermajority on the San Diego City Council must support and pass into law the Coalition for Police Accountability and Transparency’s proposed city ordinance “PrOTECT” (Preventing Over-Policing Through Equitable Community Treatment). This supermajority can demonstrate early on that it can be a vanguard for racial justice and equity by passing the PrOTECT ordinance.
PrOTECT will require San Diego police to have probable cause in order to stop, ask for identification, question and/or search an individual.
As a Black person growing up in San Diego, I have many first-hand experiences of being stopped and interrogated by the police. At the early age of 17, I was stopped and detained by the police as I was walking to the grocery store. The police didn’t like my response to their questions (they said I was sassing them), so they lied and said I had a warrant for my arrest. Instead of transporting me to juvenile hall, they drove me to 30th and Commercial. They took off their badges and name tags, snatched me out of the back seat of the patrol car and assaulted me with their nightsticks while I was still handcuffed. I filed a police report, but nothing came of my complaint.
Not only are these traffic stops and searches invasive, they are traumatizing. The American Journal of Public Health conducted a survey and reported traffic stops can be traumatizing to young Black and Brown men. And we know that in San Diego, they happen to Black and Brown residents more, and result in searches more though those populations are found with contraband less.
I call on the Dem-supermajority City Council to pass the PrOTECT ordinance. We are long overdue for policy that addresses the over-policing of our communities. The five newly elected city council members must help us realize real community safety in a way this nation has not seen. After all, during their campaigns they did call for police reform.
Here is what they said:
Sean Elo-Rivera: “But it also helps me understand why so many are saying yet another round of generic reform is not good enough.”
Joe LaCava: “Year after year across the country, Black Americans are disproportionately subject to excessive use of force or killed by police officers. Whether these injustices comprise a small percentage of the total encounters or not, there can be no mistake — change is needed.”
Stephen Whitburn: “It is time for San Diego to address systemic racism. The killing of George Floyd and the subsequent protests have led to a movement to reform a system that for centuries has been fixed against Black people and other people of color.”
Marni Avon Wilpert: “Now, America is confronting that reality in a national conversation about systemic racism that’s long overdue. And we all have a responsibility to turn this pain into meaningful change in our community — not only to reform policing practices, but to root out injustice everywhere we can.”
Raul Campillo: “We — all of us — must dedicate ourselves to ending the unfair, outdated practices and mindset that have led to repeated killings of unarmed people of color by law enforcement.”
To our new City Council and mayor: If Black lives truly matter to you, you will stand in support of this ordinance and fight for it to be passed with the same passion and fervor with which you speak generally about racial justice. The moment has arrived for this Council and city to take decisive action. If this supermajority Council can’t get the PrOTECT ordinance through their legislative body, then a supermajority really doesn’t matter.
Cornelius Bowser is pastor of Charity Apostolic Church.