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Related Categories: Santa Cruz Indymedia | Racial Justice
SCPD to Cosponsor MLK Event - Questions for Chief Mills
by Steve Schnaar
Thursday Dec 21st, 2017 10:21 AM
An open letter to Chief Mills regarding the upcoming event on January 15th, "March for the Dream: Honoring the Past - Impacting the Future," which is co-sponsored by the NAACP and the Santa Cruz Police Department.

Martin Luther King called for a revolution of values, challenging the racism, militarism, and poverty central to American society. This letter asks how the SCPD might contribute to this struggle for justice, in light of its history which often has run counter to these goals.
Dear Chief Mills,

I saw that the SCPD is sponsoring an event called “March for the Dream” in honor of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. As someone who takes great inspiration from King's life and words, I am glad to see that so many others want to honor him. At the same time, I have some questions about if the SCPD's dream for a better society is really in line with the dream of King.

When I was in school in the 80's and 90's, we used to have Black History Month every February. The overall history curriculum downplayed racism as a central feature of US society, and presented the US as the greatest country in the world. But once a year, we would talk about the Underground Railroad, Jim Crow, Rosa Parks, and Martin Luther King.

Later I realized how misleading this version of “black history” was. Rosa Parks was not, as I learned in school, a woman who one day decided she'd had enough; rather, she was a long-time organizer and leader in a mass movement fighting for racial and economic justice. Likewise, Martin Luther King was far more than the orator who dreamed of racial harmony and integration. King was a radical, a nonviolent revolutionary who challenged the entire social order, focusing on what he called the giant triplets of racism, militarism, and poverty. For this radical outspoken vision, King was spied on by the FBI, and was ultimately assassinated.

Therefore Mr. Mills, I am wondering how exactly are you going to help further this dream, from your particular position as the chief of police?

King fought against poverty, calling for a “revolution of values” which would no longer accept the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. “True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar,” he declared; “it comes to see that an edifice which creates beggars needs restructuring.”

While the police are not responsible for building this edifice of inequality and poverty, they play a huge role in enforcing and maintaining it. From the debtors prisons and vagrancy laws of centuries ago, and attacks on striking workers, to the current harassment of unsheltered people across the US for sitting, lying, or sleeping in public, the police have often acted as enemies of the poor.

In Santa Cruz, I have watched for years as the police harass homeless people and push them around without any obvious purpose. Although many people seem to think that such actions will make homeless people go away, in practice these tactics have failed to address the negative impacts on public space, while increasing the stress and suffering of those living on the streets. I am extremely impressed and grateful that under your leadership, the SCPD has worked with the City Manager to pursue a different approach that includes as part of the solution offering a designated area for people to camp, with increased sanitation and safety.

At the same time, the department has a long way to go to be a champion of King's dream. For example, just a few years ago a SCPD officer was filmed slamming Richard Hardy, a homeless man who was already hand-cuffed, face first into a curb, opening a gash in his face. Although the public was promised an investigation, the City sealed the results from public view. From what I could gather, it seems the officer involved was neither charged with a crime nor removed from the force, and Mr. Hardy received no compensation.

In a society where property rights are more valued than human rights in the legal code, how do you envision law enforcement acting as agents of social change against poverty and inequality, rather than enforcers of injustice?

King also challenged US militarism, opposing not only the Vietnam War but US intervention in Guatemala, Peru, Mozambique and around the world. If King were alive today he would certainly be concerned about the militarization of local police forces, as documented in the book, “Rise of the Warrior Cop” by journalist Radley Balko.

As a police chief who wants to march for King's dream, will you commit to a policy of civilian policing divorced from military methods and equipment? Including will you reject gifts of weapons and vehicles from the military, and return war machines already accepted?

Even apart from military equipment, handguns of course are also deadly weapons. Just last year, a SCPD officer shot and killed Sean Arlt, a man experiencing a mental health crisis who was wielding a garden rake. King dreamed of a society where conflicts could be resolved without violence, or with as little violence and loss of life as possible. Will you commit to enacting policies that help officers in these difficult and chaotic situations to have more options that feel appropriate and safe to them, instead of defaulting to the use of deadly force?

The third element of King's focus was of course racism, which did not disappear with the end of Jim Crow, but persists today primarily through social institutions like the criminal justice system. On every level from stops and arrests to convictions and sentencing, there are massive racial disparities. Like his successors in the movement for racial justice, surely King would have been appalled by the racialized War on Drugs and the associated Prison Industrial Complex, which Michelle Alexander has called the new Jim Crow.

To make King's dream a reality in Santa Cruz, is the SCPD prepared to stop enforcing drug laws, which were created to target racial minorities, and which contribute to increased violence and crime, while failing to reduce addiction? Will you join Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and advocate for addressing drug addiction as a public health problem?

Another intersection of racism with law enforcement is racial profiling in police stops. I've lived in Santa Cruz for sixteen years, and during that time there has only been one person of color that I remember serving on our City Council, Tony Madrigal. During his term in office, some young Latino men confided in Tony their perception of having been racially profiled at a public event. When Tony tried to have a public conversation about it, the SCPD attacked him, as did other Council members.

Chief Mills, are you prepared to take seriously the reality of racial bias, including implicit bias, and to take steps to reduce and eventually eliminate it?

A final consideration I want to raise is that for decades, the SCPD had a Deputy Chief and spokesperson who routinely attacked people for their political beliefs and activism. For example, Mr. Clark investigated and intimidated a young man who'd advocated successfully for the creation of a citizen police review board, and made threatening statements to the Council members who approved it. More recently in 2014, he went on television two weeks ahead of an election to attack a City Council candidate, calling her a dangerous anarchist for having participated in trainings for nonviolent protests against the WTO in 1999. SCPD officials also spread false rumors about disease outbreaks at the Occupy Santa Cruz camp in 2011.

Martin Luther King spent his whole life resisting, agitating, and protesting, often facing great repression from the police, as well as widespread criticism from mainstream society. Yet for King, tension and struggle were necessary to achieve justice. As he noted in his famous letter from a Birmingham County jail,

“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to 'order' than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice...”

As a champion of this event in honor of King, I am wondering can I expect a new era of policing in Santa Cruz where the SCPD focuses on defending public safety, and refrains from using its power to smear, criticize, and undermine those advocating for social change? And beyond simply avoiding the excesses and abuses of power by Mr. Clark, will the SCPD honor King's position that sometimes protest and disruption are necessary and valuable, and that it is immoral to impose an unjust peace?

Throughout my life I have participated in many marches and demonstrations in which the protesters were overwhelmingly peaceful and orderly, yet police responded with extreme violence, and/or mass arrests. This of course is nothing new, but has been true throughout US history, including the Civil Rights movement for which King is famous. As Chief of Police, will you commit to defending the right of peaceful assembly?

On this topic of allowing demonstrations and protests, I noticed that the City is asking people to register for this event, including the signing of a waiver. I find this idea of registering with the government to march in honor of Martin Luther King so absurd, I can only appeal to Gil Scott Heron by saying that the revolution will not be indemnified. There will be no one held harmless, no release of liability, and no lawyers' fees because, brothers and sisters, the revolution will not be indemnified!

Putting satire aside, the fact is that myself and many others feel the First Amendment provides sufficient permission to assemble peacefully in public. Will you as the head of the SCPD defend the constitutional protection for peacable assembly, or will you send SCPD officers to issue citations or perform arrests?

Thanks for your time,

Steve Schnaar
Santa Cruz resident
§Flyer with Related Concerns
by Robert Norse (rnorse3 [at] hotmail.com) Saturday Dec 23rd, 2017 12:52 PM
scpd_abuses_flyer_december_revision.pdf_600_.jpg
I appreciate Steve's public letter raising obvious but undiscussed issues. In the wake of Chief Mills temporary suspension of the nighttime Sleeping Ban and tolerance policy at San Lorenzo Park, folks may be tampted to overlook broader issues which must not be forgotten. They remain real, persistent, pressing, and unaddressed.

I sent out an earlier version of this flyer to Steve in hopes of getting his reaction to the additional issues raised. I also invite indybay readers to comment.
§Chief Mills' response
by Steve Schnaar Monday Jan 1st, 2018 2:02 PM
Chief Mills' response. My original writing I'll put in brackets, his responses unbracketed.

[Therefore Mr. Mills, I am wondering how exactly are you going to help further this dream, from your particular position as the chief of police?]

It begins here. The first step is to acknowledge the injustices of the past and work with communities who have been the target of these policies to change and overcome them. Is it shallow, yes. We have to start somewhere and this is where I have chosen to stick my stake in the ground. I hope that people of color, the poor, the marginalized come, join arms and speak their minds. When marchers crossed the bridge in Selma, Alabama in 1965 they were met by the police in riot gear. When slaves ran away they were hunted by the police. When Jim Crow laws were enacted it was the police who enforced them. Isn’t it a good idea to have the weapon of very political machinery demonstrate exactly the opposite? That they side with the people in a visual and demonstrative way? I believe so. We have a long, long way to go. This is my effort to push policing in the right direction. Name another police agency who is willing and capable of taking a step such as this.

[A few years ago a SCPD officer was filmed slamming Richard Hardy, a homeless man who was already hand-cuffed, face first into a curb, opening a gash in his face. Although the public was promised an investigation, the City sealed the results from public view. From what I could gather, it seems the officer involved was neither charged with a crime nor removed from the force, and Mr. Hardy received no compensation.]

I am not familiar with this incident as it was before my tenure here.

[In a society where property rights are more valued than human rights in the legal code, how do you envision law enforcement acting as agents of social change against poverty and inequality, rather than enforcers of injustice?]

One Professor described policing as the trash pickers of humanity. That is citizens don’t want to see the problems, poverty-drug addiction-abuse, they just want someone to take out the trash. To them it stinks. That is too often how the community sees us and we see ourselves. Policing is controlled by 911. You pick up a phone and you become the Chief of Police. No strategy, just I want a cop and I want him/her now. My priority is the highest. I am trying to change that. We need an overall crime control strategy that is approved by the community, sound in science and effective in solutions. This I believe will allow the police to agents of social change. It is also my responsibility to call out those who are not helping. For example, the County has $282 million, yes, almost 1/3 of a billion dollars to aide those who need help, financially, mentally or physically. How effective are they in helping the homeless? I can and have spoken out using my bully pulpit as police chief

[King also challenged US militarism, opposing not only the Vietnam War but US intervention in Guatemala, Peru, Mozambique and around the world. If King were alive today he would certainly be concerned about the militarization of local police forces, as documented in the book, “Rise of the Warrior Cop” by journalist Radley Balko.]

I read his book. It was overall very good, but one has to segment police agencies regionally which Radley did not do.

[As a police chief who wants to march for King's dream, will you commit to a policy of civilian policing divorced from military methods and equipment? Including will you reject gifts of weapons and vehicles from the military, and return war machines already accepted?]

I am generally against the civilian police force using military equipment. There are exceptions. For example, CS gas is to flush people out of barricaded positions, it was a military device initially. Most firearms were military in origin. I would use any military device that is defensive and could save lives. We are not as sophisticated as you might think. We don’t have trigger fish (portable cell towers), drones, M-Raps, etc. There is a need for up armored vehicles. It can save lives in terms of rescue, but also in terms of not having to use lethal force on suspects trying to get the police to kill them. My son-in-law is a cop in SD. He was driving their armored vehicle when a guy detonated an explosive vest. He is the father of my name sake and I want Kelly to go home at the end of the night, each and every time. He is willing to take risk, but not reckless chances. The policy concerning how and when the metal is used is much more important than the actual presence of it.

[Even apart from military equipment, handguns of course are also deadly weapons. Just last year, a SCPD officer shot and killed Sean Arlt, a man experiencing a mental health crisis who was wielding a garden rake. King dreamed of a society where conflicts could be resolved without violence, or with as little violence and loss of life as possible. Will you commit to enacting policies that help officers in these difficult and chaotic situations to have more options that feel appropriate and safe to them, instead of defaulting to the use of deadly force?]

There was as recent article in the Sentential about our advanced de-escalation training. We are one of the only departments in California, if not the Country who have created advanced de-escalation training.

[To make King's dream a reality in Santa Cruz, is the SCPD prepared to stop enforcing drug laws, which were created to target racial minorities, and which contribute to increased violence and crime, while failing to reduce addiction? Will you join Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and advocate for addressing drug addiction as a public health problem?]

No, we will not stop enforcing the law. I have consistently pointed out to legislators that 1/10 of a gram of meth (white drug) was worth probation, while 1/10 of a gram of rock cocaine (primarily a black drug) was prison time. This was unjust. It has since changed, but there are many more that exist. This is why a march is important. To bring attention to these unjust laws and let legislators know the police stand with the community. I have always found it amazing a kid with a fake gun robs a liquor store for $30 gets prison time while a guy embezzling millions gets re-hab.

[Another intersection of racism with law enforcement is racial profiling in police stops. I've lived in Santa Cruz for sixteen years, and during that time there has only been one person of color that I remember serving on our City Council, Tony Madrigal. During his term in office, some young Latino men confided in Tony their perception of having been racially profiled at a public event. When Tony tried to have a public conversation about it, the SCPD attacked him, as did other Council members.]

I am not familiar with this but not surprised. Of course what you mean by attacked is relevant and who in SCPD. It is not what I see here. I am new to the organization and truly do not see this type of behavior.

[Chief Mills, are you prepared to take seriously the reality of racial bias, including implicit bias, and to take steps to reduce and eventually eliminate it?]

Yes. You think sending a message from the COP that we take seriously race by hosting with the NAACP the MLK march is important. I do. It is not lost on the officers and civilian personnel. But we must go beyond that. It matters how we investigate allegations of racism, crimes that involve racism, create policy that pursues justice (immigration, U-visa, profiling stops, DACA) is critical. You will note that since I have been here we have been forward in these areas.

[A final consideration I want to raise is that for decades, the SCPD had a Deputy Chief and spokesperson who routinely attacked people for their political beliefs and activism. For example, Mr. Clark investigated and intimidated a young man who'd advocated successfully for the creation of a citizen police review board, and made threatening statements to the Council members who approved it. More recently in 2014, he went on television two weeks ahead of an election to attack a City Council candidate, calling her a dangerous anarchist for having participated in trainings for nonviolent protests against the WTO in 1999. SCPD officials also spread false rumors about disease outbreaks at the Occupy Santa Cruz camp in 2011.]

I don’t know Mr. Clark and he no longer works here. These allegations should have been investigated if they were not shame on those responsible. As far as disease outbreak, this is a relevant problem. My understanding was there were serious health concerns. You’ll note under CM Bernal’s leadership our response was to provide washing stations and toilets and disposal locations for syringes.

[As a champion of this event in honor of King, I am wondering can I expect a new era of policing in Santa Cruz where the SCPD focuses on defending public safety, and refrains from using its power to smear, criticize, and undermine those advocating for social change?]

I think the answers are above in this email.

[And beyond simply avoiding the excesses and abuses of power by Mr. Clark, will the SCPD honor King's position that sometimes protest and disruption are necessary and valuable, and that it is immoral to impose an unjust peace?]

I do agree with civil protests. We have changed our philosophy of handing peaceful protests in a manner worth of this community. Now, having said that, violence is unacceptable by any person or faction. Dr. King would agree with this proposition.

[Throughout my life I have participated in many marches and demonstrations in which the protesters were overwhelmingly peaceful and orderly, yet police responded with extreme violence, and/or mass arrests. This of course is nothing new, but has been true throughout US history, including the Civil Rights movement for which King is famous. As Chief of Police, will you commit to defending the right of peaceful assembly?]

See above. I just met with the Chief’s Advisor Group and gave them a detailed and exact briefing on how we handle protests, marches, demonstrations, etc. I am willing to help those who wish to get arrested as part of their protest through an orderly and safe process that honors their cause and saves the community. This again takes communication, staffing and training.

[On this topic of allowing demonstrations and protests, I noticed that the City is asking people to register for this event, including the signing of a waiver. I find this idea of registering with the government to march in honor of Martin Luther King so absurd, I can only appeal to Gil Scott Heron by saying that the revolution will not be indemnified. There will be no one held harmless, no release of liability, and no lawyers' fees because, brothers and sisters, the revolution will not be indemnified!]

I agree but we have to live by the same rules as all groups seeking to march. The city is liable and I need to do what I can to help in this manner. It is for groups, not individuals. You are welcomed to march, sing, dance, protest without a waive.

[Putting satire aside, the fact is that myself and many others feel the First Amendment provides sufficient permission to assemble peacefully in public. Will you as the head of the SCPD defend the constitutional protection for peacable assembly, or will you send SCPD officers to issue citations or perform arrests?]

Steve I have taken a lot of time to respond to you. I do so because I believe in communication and you seem sincere and earnest in your quest for knowledge. We may ultimately see things differently on some matters, but in the long run, I believe we want the same thing-honesty, liberty, transparency, justice and hope that we can rise as a society to the high ideals of Dr. King.

All the best,

Andy
§Letter's Author Disagrees With Front Page Story
by Steve Schnaar Wednesday Jan 10th, 2018 12:13 PM
I appreciate people sharing my letter, although I want to be clear I did not write the front page story and don't agree with the tone which seems to criticize any conversation or collaboration with the police.

I obviously think police should be asked tough questions and not given a pass just because they are police. But I don't agree with the implication that any conversation with police is problematic or counter to social justice.

I also think the cover article seems to imply criticism of the local NAACP chapter, which I find inappropriate. The current NAACP chapter president Brenda Griffin I think is an amazing person in our community, serving also on the board of the local ACLU chapter and the steering committee of the RCNV. Brenda is tireless in her championing of social justice, including holding police to account for violent actions, but also working positively to promote policy changes.

Another long-time member and former chapter president of the NAACP, Simba Kenyatta, is a proud former Black Panther and never hesitates to criticize police violence, yet also works collaboratively with the Sheriff's department to help implement racial bias trainings.

It's easy to fantasize about overthrowing the whole system and creating a utopian society, but much harder to successfully organize people to make changes in the world we actually live in now.
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