Photo by Joe Livernois
By Tyller Williamson
I’m appalled by another unnecessary murder by the hands of a police officer. This situation makes me feel uncomfortable going out in public, and I don’t even live in a black community!
I’m usually all about marginal change, but when people continue to die due to their race for generations now, enough is enough. Let’s get to it! Let’s make the investments that we need to make, regardless of the immediate cost, because the investment will pay dividends.
This issue is a personal challenge for me because I didn’t grow up in a black community. My mom served in the Navy and moved to various military bases around the world during my childhood. These moves put me in diverse, but mostly white, communities. Point being, my experience was different from most blacks, and so it is hard for me to completely relate in that regard. Where there is a shared experience, regardless of the communities in which we come from, is the fact our skin is the same color. That simple fact makes people uncomfortable, particularly white people.
I’m encouraged and inspired by the responses we’re seeing from our local police chiefs. It’s a good step in the process towards acknowledging the inequities seen in the black community. It would be most helpful, though, to see them rolling up their sleeves and actively working with community-led groups to determine how our communities appropriately respond to various issues that police traditionally respond to.
There seems to be a huge appetite to go beyond a simple participation in a demonstration and finding ways to really affect change.
I’m proud of our community’s response to the reaction we’re seeing across the country. From all accounts the demonstrations, including the one I hosted with Seaside Councilmember Jon Wizard, have been peaceful. It’s wonderful to see allies coming out from what we know to be a predominantly white community. There seems to be a huge appetite to go beyond a simple participation in a demonstration and finding ways to really affect change.
Our “Call to Action” was for folks to get involved in local government and ensure we take a deep look at police programs to ensure our communities are responding appropriately to the needs within our communities. We don’t need a uniformed officer to show up to every 911 call received, so let’s evaluate those calls and see if we can have an alternative response like a peace officer. We need the data from these calls so our community can make the appropriate budgetary decision.
Monterey is different in that we don’t have a predominantly black community. The reason we’re not seeing that diversity, though, is the problem we need to prioritize: affordable housing. The cost of living is too damn high, and we need to ensure we are prioritizing what this current council has already identified to be a priority in our community. We must, and need, to do more!
The Monterey community needs to think creatively about how the city can continue to advance policies that respond to crisis in nonviolent ways, where guns and violence don’t continue and/or become part of the problem.
Things identified as non-solutions include body cams and de-escalation training. As these have been implemented over the last several years, the U.S. has seen an increase in violence.
We don’t need incremental change, though. It doesn’t allow us to approach justice in the way our residents and visitors deserve, because it would be unfortunate if an incident did happen here.
The city should take a deep look at the common types of calls police get from 911. Which of those calls don’t require an officer but need a response? Why not put that funding into an area with unarmed nonviolent responders? I credit our police department for having Community Service Officers, though I wonder if this is enough. This effort should be done in collaboration with community stakeholders. We need the data to make appropriate budget decisions.
Things identified as non-solutions include body cams and de-escalation training. As these have been implemented over the last several years, the U.S. has seen an increase in violence. We need to make those public safety investments that don’t start with an authoritative approach. These resources should be shifted over to programs such as community-led health and safety strategies and/or transitioning to restorative justice as opposed to our current criminal justice system.
Other initiatives: harm reduction strategies, like safe injection facilities and needle exchanges, as well as high-quality medically based drug treatment on demand.
This conversation is happening because being black is still widely seen as confrontational or a threat to long-established institutional norms. All I’m asking is for us to help de-escalate conflicts before they become a problem, and not be reactionary.
As a Monterey councilman, my colleagues and I have been asked to consider some severe budget cuts due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Very little of those cuts are coming out of the police budget.
This conversation is happening because being black is still widely seen as confrontational or a threat to long-established institutional norms
The proposed reductions are shocking, not only to me but to many of our community members who are calling in. These are services that focus on proactive approaches to problems within our society, as opposed to the reactive nature of policing. I know Chief Dave Hober spoke in opposition to this statement earlier; I’d just propose that, with regard to those proactive measures, that we look at data to determine if armed officers are needed in those situations. Things we can consider now in regards to our current budgetary issues:
- Can we look at removing some of the current vacant positions that we’ve struggled to fill over the last year? Especially if the plan is to amend the budget again as we’re able to open the library and recreation facilities.
- Do we need to be funding MPUSD’s School Resource Officers? This seems to me that this should be left in the realm of the school district even though it may be the feeling of the majority of the council. Even still, a restorative justice program and counseling services are great alternatives to the previous council’s decision to fund SROs.
- We should combine forces with other cities for a more centralized approach to these types of programs.
I respect our police chief, all of our police officers, and the sacrifices they make to protect our community. I appreciate their response to our protest at Window on the Bay on May 30, particularly in how they brought out a box full of bottled water and hand sanitizer. Also, the Community Action Team and the Multi-Disciplinary Outreach Team are top-notch programs that I see as amongst the best in the country. Programs like this should be expanded to ensure we’re providing those essential services in collaboration with our community partners. But should those programs be led by the police department?
Again, recognizing the national issues between the black community and police, we’re not seeing those same issues here in Monterey. We’ve created this environment based on a separate but related issue. The cost of living is too high for minorities to live here. We need to focus greater priority on our council’s identified priority of affordable housing. We’re doing a lot, but just like policing, we need to make sure we’re staying at the forefront of these issues.
Tyller Williamson is a Monterey city councilmember.
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