Antioch Council receives over 700 comments from divided city on forming police reform ad hoc committee

Tired Antioch City Council members listed to the reading of public comments by city staff, including Economic Development Director Kwame Reed (bottom right) until almost 11 p.m. Screenshot from city website.

Council will hold continuation meeting Thursday to hear the remaining comments, make decision.

“We want care and community, not cops…a community that polices itself…make police obsolete,” read one form letter that was repeated multiple times having been submitted by a variety of people.

“A committee of grandstanding politicians” is how another form letter in opposition to the ad hoc committee read.

By Allen Payton

A post by Monica Wilson on her Facebook page, last week, supporting the eight proposed police reforms.

During a special meeting on Tuesday night, June 16, 2020 the Antioch City Council listened to a portion of over 700 comments submitted by members of the public via email about the formation of a police reform ad hoc committee. Most of the public comments read by city staff were the same exact form letters, with one in favor of the ad hoc committee making sweeping accusations against the Antioch Police Department and endorsing the eight proposed police reforms being pushed by Councilman Lamar Thorpe and supported by Councilwoman Monica Wilson. She urged her fellow council members to support their effort, writing in a Facebook post last week, We need to stop expecting Black politician’s (sic) to carry the full weight of creating change; I call on my council colleagues to do the same. (See related articles here and here).

Richard King wrote “we need the entire community to solve the problems.”

Sandy Smith wrote, “if there are complaints and concerns give them to Chief Brooks.” She opposed the formation of the ad hoc committee.

Robert Cisneros, opposing to the formation of the ad hoc committee, wrote, “what we need is a community-based forum.”

One of the form letters submitted by a variety of people read, “The city of Antioch has its own long history of police misconduct. Black lives continue to be taken even in cities where the eight reforms have been implemented. Demilitarize the police. I demand the resignation of Officer Michael Mellone.”

Kyla Hawkins, a self-described young, taxpaying citizen in Antioch wrote, “there needs to be systematic reform in all areas of enforcement.” She suggested all police officers take psychology and other college courses.

Michael Meruho opposed the creation of the ad hoc committee writing, “I voted for the sales tax measure for more police.” He instead supported a public forum and to look at other approaches.

Christine King wrote, “I have seen the community relations of our officers improve. Chief Brooks gained my respect immediately by taking responsibility of his department.” She opposed the formation of the ad hoc committee.

Lilly Metcalf, a 2018 graduate of Deer Valley High School (DVHS) repeated the same statement as others, regarding the deaths of George Floyd and Breana Taylor, and about the eight police reforms. “Antioch has some of these reforms already in place and they don’t work,” read the form letter she submitted.

Another writer wrote that forming the ad hoc committee, “only serves to permit politicians to pontificate on racism for their own political ambitions” and supported a community forum instead.

“We need our police not a grandstanding committee of politicians,” wrote Sal Gutierrez.

Brittany Ponce wrote to oppose “the ad hoc committee of politicians on the police.”

Another comment read, “I don’t know why city council is spending time on police reform when the department is not to the level for a city our size. We need to come together and give our suggestions to Chief T.”

Chris Hoyt wrote, “I register my opposition to the ad hoc committee” and repeated the claim that it would be a “committee of grandstanding politicians.”

“This will be uncomfortable,” wrote Joe Columbo in support of forming the ad hoc committee.

Following is one of the form letters submitted for public comment:

“Dear Antioch City Council,

My name is [YOUR NAME] and I am a resident of [YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD/DISTRICT]. I am writing to demand that the Antioch City Council adopt a budget that redirects funding away from the police and prioritizes community wellbeing.

In 2019, the City of Antioch allocated 44 million dollars to our police system, in comparison to 4 million dollars directed towards community development. This disparity is unacceptable. I join the calls of those across the country and demand that the City Council defund the Antioch Police Department and re-allocate those funds towards programs that promote a safer and more equitable community, such as mental health services, affordable housing, and education.

As members of the City Council, it is your duty to represent your constituents. I am urging you to completely revise the budget for the 2020-2021 fiscal year, in favor of a budget that reflects the actual needs of Antioch residents. As history has shown us, “reform” is not enough. We must take a hard look at the ways that the current system in place fails to serve, and in fact actively harms our community, and come together to reimagine the role of police in our city.

Thank you for your time,

[YOUR NAME]

[YOUR ADDRESS]

[YOUR EMAIL]

[YOUR PHONE NUMBER]”

Mayor Wright Tried To Batch the Common Emails

“We talked about batching these,” said Mayor Sean Wright. “We’re hearing the same letter over and over again.”

“We tried to batch them,” said one city staff member.

“At least get the information of the individual who submitted it,” said City Attorney Thomas Smith. “If the body of the content is the same and the only thing different is that they attended Deer Valley High School…they have to be identical in the content. That’s the reason for reading them all.”

“With one minute, if we’re not getting to the part that’s different…I’m not looking to deny anyone their right to be heard,” Wright explained.

“We don’t want to take letters where people are going different ways…and lump them in together,” Smith said.

“Beyond the one minute there are slight differences,” said Parks and Recreation Director Nancy Kaiser, who had been reading the email messages.

“All of these will be part of the record,” Wright stated.

“I still think it’s the identical batch,” Smith said. “If you batch them and they’re identical then you can take the time to read the entire letter. If there are differences…my advice here, Nancy is keep reading. Everyone else try to batch them.”

“I’ve had only two interactions with police…very unprofessional,” wrote another member of the public. “There are too many POC (people of color) being stopped…because they were driving nicer cars.”

Mayor Wright Interrupts Meeting Again to Stop the Repeated Comments

After several more of the form letters were read, Mayor Wright interrupted the reading of the emails for a second time, saying, “We’d like to put those together and we can mention all the different people and where they are from.”

He then called for a 10-minute recess.

“Adding another bureaucratic committee is not the answer” wrote another member of the public. “This cannot be about members whose purpose is to write press releases and Facebook posts.”

Angela Baxter, a business owner wrote, “I’m deeply vested in this community. I can’t believe that suggestions that accountability…is met with such opposition. Accountability doesn’t mean we hate the police or want them to disappear.”

Monica Ambrees wrote, “I 100% believe in Chief Brooks. There is absolutely no need for an ad hoc committee.”

Bill Brulman wrote, “We cannot allow criminals free reign in our society. I support APD 100%.”

Angela Garcia wrote, “I do not want this council to create an ad hoc committee. Antioch is starting to make a dent in crime. We don’t need to eliminate the police military equipment. The police chief’s efforts to address the eight is sufficient.”

Rita Cross wrote, “Our police department and all police departments have my full support. I have complete trust in our police chief Tammany Brooks. To suggest an ad hoc committee undermines the trust. Defunding and hating toward the police is not the solution.”

Curtis Holzer wrote, “I cannot be silent anymore. After living here for 33 years and 25 years in business, I have put my time, money, blood, sweat and tears into this city. What I have received is deterioration. I’ve had to remove my address from my business advertising because people refuse to business in Antioch.” He opposed the formation of the ad hoc committee.

Another effort was made to batch the form letters instead of reading them all.

“I want to say one thing to alert us…if we batch letters that are all of a similar perspective, and we don’t batch letters that are of a different similar perspective, then there will be an equity thing,” Attorney Smith said. “But it’s early.”

“Batching…if it’s the same letter over and over again. We’re going to hear similar concepts on each side. If it’s a form letter…that’s what we’re trying to take out,” said Mayor Wright.

“If someone’s a great writer and is able to write their own individual thing…we don’t want to create differences…and if everyone who is from one perspective is batched, we’re narrowing their voice,” Smith said.

Jennifer Cooper wrote, “I firmly believe the chief of police and the department can handle the recommendations instead of a committee.”

Harvey Brisco opposed the formation of ad hoc committee, writing, “Their idea is the stupidest idea, yet. The Antioch Police Department has improved 100%. I’ve seen more good from T Brooks since he’s been in office than the entire city council since I moved here in 2012.”

A resident named Maury wrote, “I don’t believe improvement comes from closed door discussion”

Lori Curry wrote, “It sounds like a few on the council are trying a power grab.”

Barry Gordon wrote, “There’s always room for improvement. This isn’t a jab at the APD.” He suggested all police officers get trained in martial arts or wrestling to take down a suspect to avoid using their weapons.

Deja Younger, an Antioch High School graduate wrote, that the council should “…not spend 62% of its budget on police…instead spent on improving the schools and affordable housing.”

Former Planning Commission member Martha Parsons wrote, “I oppose item one on the agenda. I believe it’s a political stunt. Anyone who votes for it should not be reelected. We already have a Police Crime Prevention Commission. Antioch is not Oakland or San Francisco and we don’t want to become like them.”

David Retford wrote, “I would like to register my opposition to the formation of an ad hoc committee. We do not have an unrepairable police force. Stop the political gamesmanship of certain members of the council.”

2019 Antioch Citizen of the Year for Lifetime Achievement Ralph Garrow wrote, “you should have some public forum for review of the Antioch Police Department although I’m not aware of any systemic problems.”

Eric and Peggy Wunderly wrote, “We urge you not to form an ad hoc committee on police procedures.”

Joe Davis wrote, “If you Google crime statistics in Antioch, California…being a victim of crime in Antioch is 1 in 27.” He wrote about the passage of both Measures C and W, crime decreasing and complaints against the APD, as well.

A comment submitted by someone with just initials included, “Black or white, both should obey the law. Don’t sacrifice our police”

A resident named Ashika wrote, “I’m standing alongside to defund and reform the police.”

Anthony Duarte wrote, “do away with policies that discriminate against people of color, indigenous people…” and supported the adoption of the eight reforms.

Two ladies named Dee and Nora submitted the same exact comment writing, “Councilmembers Lamar Thorpe and Monica Wilson, please leave our APD out of your political agenda. What experience do you have in policing?” Chief Tammany Brooks “has kept the peace, here.”

The next group of comments were the same as read before opposing the formation of the ad hoc committee.

“We’re tired of your committees and lack of action on a number of fronts,” included one of the comments.

Yet Another Attempt Was Made to Batch the Same Comments

A very large batch, Nancy Kaiser said submitted the same comment. “More than 24 or 25.”

“The problem we face is, to put 25 voices in one read letter, you’re sort of tilting…part of this is for people to understand…we would want something similar on the other side,” reiterated Attorney Smith.

“This batch of comments is similar to individual comments I’ve read earlier this evening,” said Kaiser. “I barely read a quarter of it.”

“This would allow us to read the entirety of it,” Wright said.

“We can read the entire comment, then post all of the comments online,” Smith responded. “If I’m seeing an equity concern, I’m going to raise an equity concern.”

“The balancing we’re dealing with is trying to get to all the comments over three nights dealing with one agenda item,” Wright said.

“Yes, we do,” Smith responded.

Kaiser then read the complete form letter from those supporting the ad hoc committee.

The other part of the letter included suggestions of “a community garden run by youth to bring food justice to Antioch,” and wanting “a community that polices itself: to “make police obsolete” and mentioned “environmental racism,” as well as “We want care and community, not cops.”

One of the comments was from a graduate of Independence High School graduate in Brentwood.

Most of the form letters were submitted by local high school graduates, mainly from the graduating classes of 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019.

Kaiser then read the complete letter submitted by several people who opposed the formation of the ad hoc committee.

Kaiser then turned over the reading of additional letters to City Finance Director Dawn Merchant for another 20 minutes before the council took another break.

“Do you know how many, Nancy you did?” asked Thorpe.

“I do not, my apologies,” Kaiser responded.

Merchant then began reading more emailed comments.

Heredia – I support making the ad hoc committee.”

Another public comment read forming the ad hoc committee “is to say that our chief of police, Tammany Brooks is not doing his job. Before making their jobs any harder, reform our city before reforming our police department.”

The next comment read, “More cops and higher cop budgets are not the answer. If you want people to respect police, then don’t let them get away with breaking the law.”

Marcus Lopez demanded the implementation of the eight reforms.

A variety of comments mentioned the police budget, incorrectly stating it takes up 62% of the city budget. It actually is 62% of the General Fund, which consists of 44% of the entire budget. So, the police budget is 27.3% of the entire city budget.

A resident named Lamont wrote, “As a 47-year-old man, I’ve seen the harassment against black men. By shifting money away from police… to more art programs, more community centers… there will be less reason to rob and steal.”

Maria Hernandez, a 15-year-old, shared the stories of her father’s friend and father. “I’m in fear of the police and how they profile black and brown men in our community,” she wrote.

Darrel Oland wrote, “defund APD and spend the money on schools…get rid of racist police” and that people were “Trying to twist this into a political stunt.”

“Antioch residents want change,” Oland’s comment continued. “For Antioch police to oppose this…that’s a terrible way of leading, Chief Brooks. Don’t deny Antioch residents change.”

Another public comment asked, “How many separate jobs that police officers are asked to perform?”

One public comment read, “I don’t want to meet with the police, I don’t want to kneel with the police, I don’t want to dance with the police. I want to defund the police. The city currently spends over half the annual budget on the police force,” which is incorrect, as explained earlier in this report.

“We need to defund the Antioch police department and…invest in mental health…create a work force of mental health workers…” wrote another member of the public.

Before Kwame Reed, the city’s Economic Development Director, read the next batch of about 150 comments, someone asked how many Merchant had read and she responded, “I don’t know. But we are about half-way through.”

The complete letter of one member of the public was received via email on Wednesday.

Antioch resident Jim Nevins wrote, “and I implore you to defund the police department SIGNIFICANTLY this fiscal year and get on a path to replacing the police force entirely. These millions of dollars could and should go directly to programs that better the lives of your residents. In addition TAX your rich corporations and residents, create jobs with that money to fix up your community, to provide mental health care and substance use harm reduction/ treatment, fix the streets, free food and activity programs for kids, parks, helping the elderly live independantly. Unarmed workers in their own neighborhoods trained in de-escalation, mental healthcare and first aid, more city employed paramedics to respond to medical emergencies and car accidents (that are not employees of a company out to make a profit,) enough jobs with fair wages for your poor residents plus real funded programs for those who dont fit into the job market due to mental or other disability will literally solve all the problems that police respond to. I don’t wanna hear it about gangs. The police are the biggest armed gang in our city, they are costing us lives and tens of millions of dollars each year. They do not have the support or respect of your constituency because they have lost it, or in the case of poor people, black people and people of color —failed to ever earn it. I urge you to defund the Antioch PD effective this quarter. See further information below. Thanks for reading, Jim”

And then included the form letter submitted by others. “In 2019, the City of Antioch allocated 44 million dollars to our police system, in comparison to 4 million dollars directed towards community development. This disparity is unacceptable. I join the calls of those across the country and demand that the City Council defund the Antioch Police Department and re-allocate those funds towards programs that promote a safer and more equitable community, such as mental health services, affordable housing, and education.

As members of the City Council, it is your duty to represent your constituents. I am urging you to completely revise the budget for the 2020-2021 fiscal year, in favor of a budget that reflects the actual needs of Antioch residents. As history has shown us, “reform” is not enough. We must take a hard look at the ways that the current system in place fails to serve, and in fact actively harms our community, and come together to reimagine the role of police in our city.

Thank you for your time.”

The meeting was adjourned about 10:50 p.m.

Additional Form Letters

Thursday, June 18, 2020 UPDATE: Following are three additional form letters either supporting or opposing the formation of a police reform ad hoc committee that were submitted by a variety of people as their public comment on the matter reprinted verbatim. According to City Clerk Arne Simonsen the letters opposing the formation of the ad hoc committee outnumbered those in favor by a margin of eight-to-one (8:1).

OPPOSE

“I am voter in Antioch and I ask that you read into the record my OPPOSITION to creating another AD HOC Committee, this one on Police Reform. I support our Chief and Police Officers and would like you to consider another option that brings OUR WHOLE COMMUNITY TOGETHER to discuss ways to eliminate racial bias in our community. Please consider my viewpoint on this. NO AD HOC, please.”

SUPPORT    

“My name is [Name Here}, I am a resident of Antioch, and Deer Valley Alumni from Class of [Year}.

Over the past three weeks, our nation has been seized by a number of protests calling for an end to police violence following the murders of George Floyd, Tony McDade, Breonna Taylor, and countless others. The City of Antioch also has its own, long history of police misconduct and it is time we held our local law enforcement accountable for their actions. Recently, Councilman Lamar Thorpe endorsed Campaign Zero’s “8 Can’t Wait” policy recommendations for police reform. While I see why this is the path the city of Antioch wants to take, Antioch already has some of these eight policies in place and they do not work. I would instead like to shift towards the focus of 8toAbolition.

I am standing alongside the call to defund and disarm the local police. However, I recognize 8Can’tWait alone is not enough, and it does not fulfill the call towards abolition. Black lives continue to be taken even in cities that already have many of these eight reform policies. We should be working towards preventative actions, actions that decrease criminizalition in communities. For example, when we defund the police – we could take this budget to fund education, housing, community gardens, healthcare, and so much more. We could create a curriculum that has a focus on critical race & ethnic studies in k-12, that teaches the true history of the U.S. and abroad, and create a safe campus environment that doesn’t allow cops to roam around. We could focus on building affordable housing so folks are not left behind, and houseless folks won’t be criminalized by cops for sleeping where they can. We could focus on building and fostering a community garden that is youthled to bring food justice to Antioch, where folks have experienced environmental racism through food deserts. We could fund PPE for our local hospitals so frontline healthcare workers aren’t stressed when clocking into work that they might catch the virus and endanger their loved ones when they get home. We could do so much more and imagine so much more past a community that polices itself. If we create a strong community, we make
policing obsolete.

In light of this, I’d also like to talk about Councilman Thorpe’s proposal to form an ad-hoc committee on Police Reforms. I stand with the call that this committee could be behind the demilitarization of our local police, along with the readjustment of our city budget. However, I believe this community could do so much more for the safety of Antioch residents if we invest in the actions I listed above. Such as cutting police ties with the school district, creating a good k-12 curriculum that includes CRES, and fostering community gardens that tackle food insecurity and environmental racism.

Additionally, as we work towards these adjustments, I demand the resignation of officer Michael Mellone. Mellone was hired to the Antioch Police Department despite fatally shooting a homeless man in San Francisco. He was suspended for 45 days following this incident, but had already quit the San Francisco PD and joined the Antioch Police Department by the time this decision was made. Not only did he escape consequences for his actions in San Francisco, his reckless behavior and ill-judgment was deemed ok for Antioch. At a time when our nation is examining state-sanctioned violence, racism, and police brutality, I hope you all recognize Mellone’s presence threatens the well-being of Antioch’s Black and Brown residents, who are most often the victims of police violence.

I trust that you will open the links to see the resources I have picked for you to read. I urge the City of Antioch to create an ongoing conversation through this planned committee. We want care and community, not cops. I also urge for the immediate resignation of officer Michael Mellone. Public opinion is with me.”

OPPOSE

“I am a longtime resident of the Bay Area and a voter.

I urge you to vote NO on the creation of Lamar Thorpe’s AD HOC committee on police reform. First, it’ll be just another platform for political pontificating. Second, have you read the agenda language? It is a stepping stone to defunding the Antioch Police Department, WHICH ANTIOCH RESIDENTS STRONGLY OPPOSE. We don’t need less police, we need more police. Third, this added government bureaucracy won’t do anything to deal with racism in our community. We need real change – change that only our community as a whole can effectively address.

Please look for other options and VOTE NO on the formation of a shell committee that will do nothing to address African American residents’ needs.”

Publisher’s Note: Thank you to City Clerk Arne Simonsen for providing these last three letters.

The Antioch City Council will hold a follow up meeting to hear the reading of the remaining public comments on Thursday, June 18, 2020 at 7:00 p.m. To watch the meeting via livestream, visit the city’s website, here https://www.antiochca.gov/government/city-council-meetings/live/

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Monica Wilson FB post supporting 8 reforms


ACC Special Meeting 06-16-20


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