Antioch Council holds first community forum on police reform, will hire facilitator for future forums

By Allen Payton

During their first community forum on police reform, entitled Bridging the Gap, Tuesday night, June 30, 2020, the Antioch City Council heard more comments from members of the public on both sides of the issue. Then the council decided what topics to include in future forums and agreed to hire a facilitator to moderate them.

To open the meeting, Mayor Sean Wright said, “Thank you for coming, tonight for those who are joining us. This is an opportunity for us…at the end of the last meeting we had five or ten minutes to decide where to go with this. Tonight, is an opportunity to get input from all council members and the public…to decide where we want this to go…to drive this conversation forward in a positive way for our community.”

Councilwoman Monica Wilson then said, “I am looking forward to what the community says. To make sure this is not just a one and done and that we continue the conversation.”

Mayor Pro Tem Joy Motts read some prepared comments saying, “I’m happy to have lived in Antioch my entire life. I’ve watched my family grow up, here. Let’s be clear in saying I always do what is best for our community.”

She spoke of wanting an “all hands on deck meeting.”

“I am seeking to find opportunities where we can improve as a city,” Motts added.

There were video and audio challenges that caused the meeting to not be visible for most of the first half hour, so not all the opening comments from the council members could be heard.

A variety of people submitted comments or spoke through the Zoom meeting connection, mostly reiterating the over 850 comments made during the two special council meetings on whether to form a council ad hoc committee on police reform two weeks ago, that led to Tuesday night’s forum.

Council Members Respond to Public Comments

Mayor Wright was the first to respond to the public comments.

“I’ll be honest, after the last meeting…I was pushing in discussions with our city manager, having an hour with our chief of police come forward give us a report on the reforms within the department, then an hour to hear from members of the African American community,” he said.

“People have already spoken. We’ve heard. We had a lot of comments at the other meetings. I appreciate the city manager saying…let’s not jump into a discussion of what you think we’ve heard…so we can have a discussion among council members of where we want to go.”

He then provided a list of the things he heard from the public comments.

“I thought you summarized it fairly well,” said Councilman Lamar Thorpe. “I don’t think you mentioned mental health. I have a concern of stretching our police force. I don’t think they should deal with that.”

“The five areas I outlined…are overarching,” he continued. “We can populate with the things you talked about.”

The five reforms Thorpe is seeking, which he mentioned in his press release, earlier this month are 1. Demilitarize our local police, 2. Increase police accountability, 3. Improve police hiring practices, 4. Excessive use of force and 5. Budget appropriations.

“If we’re going to talk about body worn cameras, about mental health, we have to talk about the budget,” Thorpe added.

“Community programs is a huge one,” Councilwoman Lori Ogorchock also mentioned. “What does systemic racism look like in Antioch? The Police Crime Commission going into their districts finding out that information. Work together…we all need to work together. This is a priority for this council. We’re here tonight trying to work on these issues.”

“I too thought the meeting was a little vague coming into it,” Wilson. “We really owe it to the community to really have an outcome…that we really are listening. We’re all not going to agree. None of us are here to attack.”

“We’ve all said one time, or another Chief Brooks is doing a wonderful job. But we can always do better,” she continued. “We must constantly be looking at how we can improve ourselves.”

“Accountability, de-militarization, hiring practices, police oversight, body cameras…how we’re going to maintain all of that, the use of force,” Wilson continued. “We have to come to the reality that not all of us are going to agree. Like most families…we have to respect our differences. I’m hoping we’ll be able to start attacking some of these and have some good outcomes and start making our community better and let everyone in our community know they’re being heard…and they’re not being left out.”

Motts then shared her thoughts stating, “I had doubts without having the chief speak to some of the comments we’ve heard over the past few weeks. But, after hearing from the community, tonight I’m glad we went this way.”

“I heard ‘do no harm’, she continued. “I do think the APD is really getting out there…and trying to work with the community. The mental health issue…this is something that’s been going on for decades, now. East County, we do not have a (homeless) shelter. We do not have homeless services. It is incumbent upon us to do something about them.”

Councilwoman Lori Ogorchock spoke about “What we should do with Measure W money. They want to spend some on police services, but also on youth services. I’m looking forward to these conversations. I would like to have the chief come back and speak on some of the investigations going on. I want to see us all work together. We love this community…we want our community to feel embraced and feel safe. So, I’m looking forward to the conversation.”

Discuss Future Agenda Items, Agree to Hire Outside Facilitator

“This can’t be done in a meeting,” Wright explained. “I need to look at how this fits in. I’m OK looking at the five headings Councilmember Thorpe put in. There might be six or seven other headings.”

“I think we all want to hear from the chief,” Thorpe stated. “The actually leading of this conversation shouldn’t be led by the chief. The chief is a participant in all of this. I think for many people I think there’s a curiosity of policing in American and the relationship with African Americans and why policing even started in this country. They can’t pinpoint why in this country that things blow up following interactions between police and African Americans.”

“I was going to suggest we hire an outside facilitator…helping us through the process,” Wright added.

Ogorchock added, “I think it’s great we have an outside moderator. Where in the budget would that come from?”

“We would have to approve the expenditure,” Wright said.

“It would come out of the General Fund,” said City Manager Ron Bernal.

“I agree someone from outside…to help moderate this conversation,” said Motts.

“I would like to hear from the council…some of the things you’re wanting this person do in the processs,” Wright said.

“Someone with a background in social justice, race relations with police,” Wilson said.

“I would say someone with experience with police reform and that may not be someone with a social justice background,” Thorpe said.

“It has to be a well-rounded person,” Ogorchock said. “We need to have someone coming in who is neutral, who is going to ask the right directions and get us in the direction this council wants to go. What is the cost of this person? I would ask the City Attorney is this part of the agenda, tonight? A moderator?”

“What you’re talking about is future agendas, so yes, your discussing a future agenda item,” City Attorney Thomas Smith responded.

Wright then said he wanted, “someone who is respected on both sides, the police department and someone trying to create police reform.”

“We’re not looking for specifics in what they think on police reform…but understanding the lay of the land when cities decide to do police reform,” Thorpe said. “I’m not pretending we’re not discussing police reform. That’s what the point of having the ad hoc is.”

“This is a bigger conversation that we will all participate in,” Wright said. “I think the next steps…is to find that person and have that person to work together with a few members of council and the chief, to categorize and move forward.”

“I would be happy to participate in that,” Thorpe said.

“So, would I,” Wright responded.

“I would, too so here we go,” said Ogorchock. Regarding the hiring of a moderator she added, “Make sure they understand Antioch. We’re a diverse city.”

“Yes, we are a majority people of color community,” Thorpe said. “You’re absolutely right.”

“That’s not what I said. I said we’re a diverse community,” Ogorchock responded.

“We are doing some things well…and I want the chief to report on that,” Wright said. “As I’ve gone out the past few weeks and talked to different people there are people in the black community who aren’t aware that there is a citizens police academy and a youth police academy. So, there’s more outreach that needs to be done.”

“I’ve been doing some research…and people of color are being killed at a higher percentage, at a higher rate,” Wright stated. “I would like to see elicit bias training for our police and the council. To be able to put ourselves in the shoes of other people. I would hope as a community…that we better understand one another…as we go through this.”

“If there are regular mental health checkups to deal with law enforcement stresses,” said Motts. “I would like to see that as part of the discussion, here.”

“I will work with you and Councilmember Thorpe in hiring someone to facilitate…someone familiar with police reform, and other areas, and familiar with police departments,” Bernal said in response to Mayor Wright.

The council then adjourned the meeting.

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