Category Archives: Benicia Black Lives Matter (BBLM)

Open letter to City and County officials – Benicia Black Lives Matter, on right-wing extremism in Sheriff Dept.

Solano County Board of Supervisors:
Erin Hannigan: ehannigan@solanocounty.com
Monica Brown: mebrown@solanocounty.com
Jim Spering: jpspering@solanocounty.com
John Vazquez: jmvasquez@solanocounty.com
Mitch Mashburn: mhbashburn@solanocounty.com
Solano County Sheriff:
Thomas A. Ferrara
530 Union Avenue, Suite 100
Fairfield, CA 94533

Cc:
City of Benicia Mayor & Council:
Steve Young: syoung@ci.benicia.ca.us
Tom Campbell: tcampbell@ci.benicia.ca.us
Lionel Largaespada: llargaespada@ci.benicia.ca.us
Trevor Macenski: tmacenski@ci.benicia.ca.us
Christina Strawbridge: cstrawbridge@ci.benicia.ca.us
City of Benicia City Manager:
Eric Upson: eupson@ci.benicia.ca.us

Dear Supervisors, Councilmembers and Governmental Leaders of the County of Solano and the City of Benicia:

We, the members of Benicia Black Lives Matter (BBLM), are writing you in response to a terrifying report from Open Vallejo detailing the existence and tacit support of right wing extremism within the leadership of the Solano County Sheriff’s Office, as well as the underwhelming response from the Sheriff himself.

The report explains that Daniel “Cully” Pratt is in a leadership role within the Sheriff’s department carrying the designation of Sergeant. As part of his side business, Sergeant Pratt is also an ardent supporter of the 3%’er movement, making and sharing “wood carvings” with right wing iconography, one of which “resembles a California flag, but instead of a bear, it features hooks for (Solano County Sheriff Sergeant) Stockton’s AR-15 rifle above the words, ‘WILL NOT COMPLY.’ Thirteen shotgun shells, arranged like the stars of the Betsy Ross flag, form a circle around the Roman numeral III.”

In itself, this is incredibly troubling. Just weeks ago, on January 6, 2021, right wing extremists, approximately a quarter of whom had law enforcement and/or military backgrounds, attacked the United States Capitol. In October 2020, an anti-government group and others plotted to attack the Governor of Michigan. The 7 suspects were arrested for plotting to storm Michigan’s State Capitol and abducting the governor, prior to the presidential election, in a seeming practice run for the US Capitol attack. The parallel between these attacks is not inconsequential. It has been widely reported for some time that right wing and white supremacist groups have actively recruited from the ranks of the military and law enforcement.

From the Brennan Center Report titled Hidden in Plain Sight: Racism, White Supremacy, and Far-Right Militancy in Law Enforcement:

In 2017, the FBI reported that white supremacists posed a “persistent threat of lethal violence” that has produced more fatalities than any other category of domestic terrorists since 2000. Alarmingly, internal FBI policy documents have also warned agents assigned to domestic terrorism cases that the white supremacist and anti-government militia groups they[1].

More stark than the Open Vallejo report, is the response from the Solano County Sheriff[2]:

… I want to be clear – the employees targeted in this article all serve this agency and this community with passion and dedication. I am not aware of one instance where any of these employees acted in a manner that was portrayed in this article. When we initially got inquiries about this story, I had personal conversations with the employees in question because it is important to me that the women and men who work for Solano County Sheriff’s Office are people of character and uphold the high standards I have set for this Office. The employees told me that their intention was to support the 2nd amendment and the U.S. Constitution. As we have seen with many other symbols, the “Three Percenter” logo has recently been linked to the rioters who broke into the U.S. Capitol. None of these employees were present for, nor do they support extremist organizations. Our office denounces any extremist organization.  And if there is ever a time when a member of our office is displaying support to overthrow the government it will be dealt with swiftly. …

Sergeant Pratt has also denied his membership in anti-government organizations saying that, “The picture taken in October 2016, linked to said article depicts symbols, at the time was believed to be strictly in support of the 2nd Amendment and Pro-American – not in any way extremist anti-government views.”

This seems inconceivable, as a quick Google search would reveal to the Sergeant that:

A wing of the militia movement that arose as part of a resurgence of the militia movement in 2009. The term “Three Percenter” refers to the erroneous belief that only 3% of colonists fought against the British during the Revolutionary War—but achieved liberty for everybody. Three Percenters view themselves as modern day versions of those revolutionaries, fighting against a tyrannical U.S. government rather than the British. With anyone able to declare themselves a Three Percenter, the concept allowed many people to join who were not suited, physically or by inclination, to engage in paramilitary activities. The Three Percenter logo—the Roman numeral III—has become very popular among anti-government extremists[3].

As members of BBLM and residents of Benicia and Solano County, we are writing to you to demand that you as leaders of Solano County and City of Benicia not only visibly and vocally condemn right wing extremism, but also pledge to conduct a full investigation both at the County level and at the City level to ensure that policies and procedures – including those focused on recruitment anddisciplinary actions – are in place to actively expel these extremists from the ranks of law enforcement and to prevent their recruitment in the first place.

We further demand Solano County follow both the City of Benicia and Sonoma County in establishing an Office of Equity to solidify the county’s commitment to equity and the eradication of racist ideallogy.

This report is as ironic as it is offensive given that Black Lives Matter chapters have been labeled as terrorists. Months ago,, in August 2020,  we successfully advocated before our City Council to take measures to take the work of equity seriously. We were mostly greeted with support but we also faced some opposition. One council member took umbrage with language in the resolution that highlighted the culpability of the entire Minnesota Police Department in the death of George Floyd, despite elected officials in Minnesota making a similar declaration. Other opposition came via a joint statement from the Benicia Police Officers Association, Benicia Dispatcher’s Association and the Benicia Police Management Association. The relevant part is as follows:

“…we ask that before making a commitment to Black Lives Matter, an organization that at its core is an anti-police organization that promotes the defunding of police departments, you consider a commitment to your community and your employees.”

While this commentary from the police associations was not indicative of the tremendous community support we received, it was reminiscent of a vocal minority of individuals who would prefer to question our lived experiences than to confront the past and current systemic racism that so deeply infects our nation.

We would hope that in these perilous times, where it is beyond dispute that the threat of right wing anti-government violence is far more likely to come from white men confusing their misguided actions and ideology for patriotism, that our government leaders and the associations within them would boldly decry, reject and eliminate these factions from their ranks.

If the Sheriff’s response is any indication, there is much work to be done. We demand and expect better. We await a reply and more importantly – bold and sustained action to be taken.

 

Thank you,

Benicia Black Lives Matter


[1] Id.
[2]https://fox40.com/news/local-news/report-claims-members-of-solano-county-sheriffs-office-openly-supported-extremist-group/
[3] https://www.adl.org/resources/glossary-terms/three-percenters

Benicia Black Lives Matter letter opposes School Board recall effort

From Benicia Independent See also beniciablacklivesmatter.weebly.com

Benicia Black Lives Matter Statement on the Board of Trustees Recall Effort

February 2021   [Download PDF or jpg version of this letter]

We, the members of Benicia Black Lives Matter, stand in solidarity with those who oppose the campaign to recall school board trustees Zada and Maselli.

A campaign that is calling for students to return their families to in-person learning that fails to center the perspectives and experiences of Black families is one that should not be given weight or consideration. Indeed, both the economic consequences of the pandemic and the physical consequences of the pandemic are disproportionately shouldered by Black families. A recent New York Times article[1] and a CDC study[2] both drew attention to the phenomenon of mostly white parents advocating for reopening of schools even as their families and their children are less at risk. From the New York Times article, “Even as more districts reopen their buildings and President Biden joins the chorus of those saying schools can safely resume in-person education, hundreds of thousands of Black parents say they are not ready to send their children back.”

The data from the CDC study shows that 62.3% of white parents strongly or somewhat agreed that schools should reopen in-person for all students in the fall, compared to 46% of Black parents and 50.2% of Hispanic parents. The New York Times article goes on to say; “That reflects both the disproportionately harsh consequences the virus has visited on nonwhite Americans and the profound lack of trust that Black families have in school districts, a longstanding phenomenon exacerbated by the pandemic”.

The response to the pandemic and the current disparities in Benicia Schools represent two separate instances of government failing to deliver equity to Black Families. The recall of school board trustees Zada and Maselli will cost upwards of $300,000. This money could instead be put towards improving ventilation systems in all schools within BUSD, as well as protective equipment and modifications of classrooms for when it is truly safe for students and staff to return. Not only is the district considering asking students to return, even as the pandemic is raging and the virus is mutating, but money that could otherwise be utilized to shore up the infrastructure is instead being contemplated for a wasteful political grab that does not have the interests or safety of Black Families in mind.

For the first time in its history the City of Benicia will soon have an equity officer and a tangible plan for seeking to achieve equity. The School district is engaged in a similar conversation. This campaign is a stark example of how privilege and political access play out to the detriment of vulnerable communities. It is as divisive as it is thinly veiled. It cannot be allowed to succeed. The members of Benicia Black Lives Matter fully support all of our board trustees and oppose the campaign to recall trustees Zada and Maselli as it is not representative of the interests of our Black Community.

In Partnership,
Benicia Black Lives Matter

###

About

Benicia Black Lives Matter is a grassroots community group organized to address anti-Black racism in the city of Benicia. There is a lack of Black representation across City leadership, departments, and voluntary boards. The lack of Black representation tells a story of our complacency as a community and more so, the impact on our Black Benicians lived experience. The good news is, we can rebuild the City of Benicia into a better Benicia, one commitment and one change at a time – and we have a strategy to do so. Our Strategy: Actively Commit to Change. The City of Benicia must commit to a specific vision of what a better, more inclusive and equitable future looks like. For additional information see beniciablacklivesmatter.com.


[1]  nytimes.com/2021/02/01/world/one-thing-thats-missing-in-the-reopening-plans-of-us-schools-the-trust-of-black-families.html 
[2] cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6949a2.htm

Making ‘good trouble’ in Benicia

Shakoor-Grantham starts city’s version of Black Lives Matter

Nimat Shakoor-Grantham founded the Benicia Chapter of the Black Lives Matter movement. (Chris Riley—Times-Herald)

From the Benicia Independent, originally in the Vallejo Times-Herald, by Katy St. Clair, January 13, 2021

BENICIA — “What are you doing here, shouldn’t you be in Vallejo?”

This was a question Benicia resident Nimat Shakoor-Grantham says her Black son was asked as he walked down a street in town. He had also been pulled over before and asked, again, what he was doing in Benicia, she said.

A Black woman sitting in a Benicia restaurant told Shakoor-Grantham that she was pelted with ice cubes by white males at a nearby table. The message she got was, “You don’t belong here in our space.”

As for Shakoor-Grantham, an African-American woman who has lived in Benicia since 2002, the disrespect she has seen has ranged from a man at Safeway calling her “gal” and telling her to go fetch him a cart, to threatening letters left on her doorstep — again asking, “What are you trying to do here?”

She thinks that last threat was because she founded the Benicia group of Black Lives Matter. She has had anonymous people taunting her with, “You are poking the bear, and when the bear gets poked, the bear gets mad,” or “Why are you creating trouble in Benicia?”

The “trouble” she and her BBLM colleagues are getting into is what the late Senator John Lewis would call “good trouble,” or raising awareness of inequality, bias, and prejudice among citizens in town.

“We specifically address issues with the government, city, and county,” she said. “We address issues of education and Black arts and culture. We also promote the awareness of systemic racism and bias.”

This last aspect of their work — promoting awareness of systemic racism — was highlighted by former Mayor Elizabeth Patterson on her blog “El Pat’s Forum” at the end of December.

Patterson described a council meeting where BBLM members addressed the body about a need for an equity and diversity manager, something that many cities have. The job of the manager will be to become a liaison between citizens, government and businesses to promote awareness and movement toward a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable place to live for people of color in Benicia. The hire will reach out to the school district as well as art and cultural organizations and spaces as well.

“When the recommendation was presented to council by staff and BBLM members, many council members were quick to offer ideas about what they thought BBLM needed,” wrote Patterson. “One could almost feel the insult that a white city council was telling the panel of four BBLM members what they needed.”

Shakoor-Grantham was at the meeting and agreed with this assessment, but told the Times-Herald that what struck her more was that they seemed more interested in how much it was going to cost to hire a person to do this rather than discussing the importance of having one.

“I said, these are my experiences here, what can be done about it? And I got crickets,” Shakoor-Grantham said.

Patterson agreed that discussion became money, writing “there was a lot of haggling over the cost.” She then pointed out what she described as “structural racism.”

The cost of hiring a part-time equity expert (30 hours a week) was put at $133,000, which council members said the city could not afford. However, Patterson points out, some of the same council members had recently estimated the value to the city that fees from developers bring in and they came up with $230,000.

One councilmember, she wrote, described this amount as “nothing” to the general fund, meaning in the town’s large budget they could “almost forgo” even collecting the fees.

The mayor then juxtaposed this with the proposed equity hire.

“The structural racism is clear. A council will say the city cannot afford programs that might have been beneficial to Black and Brown people, but can afford to subsidize market rate housing and businesses.”

For Shakoor-Grantham and BBLM, the mayor’s message was exactly what they have hoped to hear from government.

“I am very happy that Elizabeth had the insight, awareness, and courage to write this,” Shakoor-Grantham said. “She saw the apparent disparity and refused to remain silent as many people who shouldn’t remain silent choose to do,” she wrote in an op-ed in this paper.”

BBLM has about 30 members, she says, and everyone is committed to moving Benicia “in the right direction.” She estimates that 80 percent of the group is made up of white allies. She is quick to point out the many stereotypes that some people might have about Black Lives Matter.

“We want to work together with people, to learn and evolve together,” she said. “We aren’t trying to guilt trip white people.”

Shakoor-Grantham acknowledges that everyone, even herself, holds biases that they need to be aware of. However she says if your bias impacts the peace of another member of this community or makes them feel like they don’t belong here, it is important to address it. She feels she also has a big ally in Police Chief Erik Upson, who she says has been incredibly responsive.

“I have faith in him,” she said.

Overall, she is pleased at progress that has been made and she is looking forward to the city hiring the equity manager.

“There’s some good stuff happening, I’m really happy,” she says. “The good stuff out-shadows any of the negative.”