Antioch Council delays discussion of forming Human Rights and Racial Equity Commission

Will discuss during this weekend’s Vision and Strategic Planning Workshop; Thorpe won’t commit to placing police tasers, bodycams, dashcams on future agenda; Torres-Walker shares thoughts, refuses to apologize for video comments against Antioch police

By Allen Payton

During the Antioch City Council’s regular meeting on Tuesday night, Feb. 9, 2021, they discussed Councilwoman Tamisha Torres-Walker’s proposal to establish a city Human Rights and Racial Equity Commission.

“Ms. Walker if you have anything you’d like to talk about. At this point we’re just talking about this conceptually,” Mayor Lamar Thorpe said to introduce the matter.

“I brought this forward when I first came to the council because there seems to be a great disparity in how many people are treated in the community, the BIPOC community, which is Black, indigenous and people of color” Torres-Walker said. “There doesn’t seem to be any place to go to have your complaints heard.”

“I’m grateful that this is brought forward today,” she said, then read from a prepared statement.

“We should all be able to envision a society…where everyone’s human rights are protected. I would think about this…Commission mission to be…to create a culture of human rights and equity in our city…by exposing structures of discrimination of education…and litigation,” Torres-Walker read.

“I really think a commission like this can really help our community,” she continued. “Housing is a human rights issue. Racial justice is a human rights issue.”

She spoke of “green space and quality education. I’m hoping we can take the lead in Antioch, all of us to establish this commission. To that end I’m asking that the council direct city staff to research and bring back a proposal…. covering the potential mission…in the next 60 days.”

(A request to Torres-Walker was made for her entire prepared remarks. If and when those are received they will be added to this report).

During public comments on the item, Antioch resident Sal Sbranti wrote in opposition to the formation of the commission but then volunteered to serve on the commission to ensure accurate data be used.

Mayor Pro Tem Monica Wilson then said, “I understand the City of Martinez has already moved forward on this kind of commission. I think all of our commissions should have, and that’s a youth member part of it.”

“A lot of good points,” she continued. “I would like to see what staff brings back to us.”

Councilwoman Lori Ogorchock then spoke of the council’s Vision and Strategic Planning sessions scheduled for this Friday and Saturday.

“Would it not be more productive to have this be part of that?” she asked. “Maybe this is something that comes from the districts. We have staff working on the CNA, on the Visions and Strategy. How do we direct staff to work on this?”

“This is where I wanted to interject,” Thorpe then said. “This is a conceptual idea. If we want to talk about this, that’s fine. Who composes it? That’s fine and dandy. But giving staff more work to do. Discussing goals and outcomes is important. So, if we do give direction to staff, we need that before we come back.”

Another member of the public, Pittsburg resident Victoria Adams, President of the NAACP East County Branch said, “I do concur with Councilwoman Torres-Walker. I would like to see you placing this type of commission, here in Antioch. I believe it’s sorely needed. I would love to be a part of it. The idea is for all to work together to ensure equity across the board.”

Torres-Walker then said, “I could see this being a part of the Vision and Strategic Planning process. Our Mission, Vision and Values doesn’t mention racial equity, racial justice.”

“This planning process could take longer than just an update,” she continued. “This is very meaningful to the community. We have to take it seriously and I do. I get that staff can be overworked. But I trust they could bring us back some information and we could all participate in the gathering of this information.”

Councilmember Mike Barbanica then said, “We don’t know what this really looks like. We can then start talking about what does this look like in other communities.”

“I was thinking about some of the great new staff that we have. On homelessness we have a new Unhoused Resident Coordinator,” Thorpe said. “I think we have the quality staff to put something like this together. This is my pet peeve about ad hocs…which is where we got things ready to bring back from staff. I will say that April is dedicated to some of these types of issues, related to homelessness, human rights. I think we can talk about this in strategic planning. But I see bringing this back in April. But we need to talk about outcomes and not just set up another commission.”

“So, are you good with that, that we have more discussion about this at strategic planning then bring back something in April,” he asked Torres-Walker.

“Yes,” she replied.

“Is everyone else good with that?” Thorpe asked. “I see everyone nodding their head.”

“I think it’s important council members do their own homework…so staff doesn’t start from scratch,” he added.

Approve New Park Maintenance Contract

In other action, the council approved on a 5-0 vote a new parks maintenance contract replacing the current contractor, with whom city staff cancelled the current contract effective Wednesday, Feb. 10th, for lack of performance. The contractor disputed that in comments before the council made their decision.

Future Agenda Items

“Tasers and community cameras, will that be part of the conversation in March?” Councilwoman Lori Ogorchock asked during the Future Agenda Items portion of the meeting. “Do you have a date for when that will be on the agenda?”

“No. Not for those items. I will speak to (City Manager) Ron (Bernal),” Thorpe responded. “That’s if I decide to bring it back.”

“I asked for a Code of Conduct from the council. That was about the League (of Cities),” Ogorchock explained, responding to something Thorpe had mentioned during his Mayor’s comments, earlier in the meeting, “But I asked about the other action, what is the new norm for this council, what’s acceptable. We can discuss that at the Feb. 16 meeting.”

“I agree with you. I don’t think we need to bring it back as a separate item,” Thorpe said in response

Regarding Torres-Walker’s video, during the council’s Jan. 12 meeting, Ogorchock said, “I believe there should be accountability and consequences for these actions, and I will be asking that council add an agenda item to discuss any course of action deemed appropriate.” (See related article)

“I know we’re bringing bodycams back in March…it’s an all-inclusive package,” Barbanica said.

“My request is that when that comes, all of those items are included in one conversation, one agenda item…bodycams, dashcams, incarceration cams, tasers.”

“I will take that under consideration for March and then I’ll let you know what I decide,” Thorpe responded.

Torres-Walker Speaks Out, Refuses to Apologize

“I would like to say to the community, I’m very well educated,” Torres-Walker said during Council Communications at the end of the meeting. “I’m the head of a countywide organization. I’m a homeowner. I have traveled…even out of this country.”

“I am a great mother. My sons are amazing. Sometimes kids make mistakes. I represent youth. That is what I bring to the table,” she continued. “I have been silent because I’m very thoughtful. I’ve no intention of apologizing. I deserve quality policing.”

“I think it’s unfortunate to be called a nig**r, bi**h, hood rat,” Torres-Walker shared. “I’ve had people come to my house. You have to reflect on your own behavior and consider a higher standard.”

“We all have to get out from behind our keyboards…instead of making assumptions of who we are and what we have to bring to the table,” she concluded.

The council then voted 5-0 to adjourn the meeting.

Please check back later for any updates to this report.

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HR & REC ACC agenda 2-9-21


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