When it comes to keeping the peace in our community, we are all responsible, and we all play a role. How we treat one another, how we speak about one another on social media like Nextdoor, how we conduct ourselves in civic discourse — all these dynamics shape the culture of inclusion, freedom and safety that most of us desire in a community. It is not news, however, that some of us feel more comfortable and safer than others. After the public murder of George Floyd, one of our daughters (16) wrote an essay about how unsafe she felt as a young black woman in the “bubble” of San Mateo.
Many law enforcement officers do an incredible job at helping to create a safe and inclusive San Mateo County, and Sheriff Christina Corpus is making many needed changes as are some police departments. For instance, San Mateo Police Chief Ed Barberini has launched Project Guardian, a registry for vulnerable persons. Families can identify their loved ones who have mental wellness issues or other issues that may make them more vulnerable. They get a sticker for their door and their name added to the database so, when a call is made, SMPD will know the situation before they arrive on scene. The Sheriff’s Office recently launched a similar program.
While these are huge steps forward in the right direction, we have a long way to go. For instance, statistics show that a Black person is 17 times more likely to be killed by law enforcement in San Mateo County than a white person and a Latino person is nearly two times more likely to be killed by law enforcement in San Mateo County than a white person. And statistically, Black people are nine times more likely to be arrested in San Mateo County than white people and Latino people are twice as likely to be arrested as compared to white people, and 77% of all arrests in San Mateo County were for low-level, non-violent offense, according to policescorecard.org/ca/sheriff/san-mateo-county.
And the most heartbreaking of all, in 2018 alone, law enforcement officers in San Mateo County killed three unarmed people with Tasers, all of whom were people of color who struggled with mental health issues.
As a group of 30 faith leaders in San Mateo County who have come together to form the Peninsula Solidarity Cohort, we are deeply troubled by these statistics showing that systemic racism, injustice, inequality and violence are occurring right in our own backyard. Drawing on our diverse spiritual traditions, we strive to create communities of compassion, justice and belonging on the Peninsula. We seek to reflect the rich diversity of the San Mateo County community, where nearly half of the population speaks a language other than English at home. And yet the statistics above indicate that people of color are less safe in our community than white people. Our deepest spiritual values demand justice for all and equal protection under the law because we believe that is the heart and soul of democracy.
In that spirit, the Peninsula Solidarity Cohort endorses Fixin’ San Mateo County’s efforts to establish independent civilian oversight of the San Mateo County sheriff, and we support the Board of Supervisors’ decision to explore creating oversight with a model that includes a civilian board and an inspector general. We hope that the supervisors will continue to work closely with Fixin’ San Mateo County, the new Sheriff Corpus and the community to ensure strong, independent and effective oversight that can be a model for other counties.
Oversight of the Sheriff’s Office through a community board shows a commitment to lifting up the leadership of those most affected by systemic racism and building unity across divisions. Creating oversight is an opportunity to dismantle unjust criminalization systems that target people of color and exploit poor communities to transform those systems into ones that value all humanity. Empowering people to participate in and engage with local systems and structures in our community can lead to meaningful and long-lasting change. We believe effective independent oversight of the sheriff is one in which law enforcement is accountable to and transparent with the community it serves. This, in turn, will build trust and understanding between the community and law enforcement. These are meaningful steps on the path toward justice and equality in San Mateo County.
We all play a role, and it takes a community to make real change.
The reverends Penny Nixon, Marlyn Bussey and Tovis Page are members of the Peninsula Solidarity Cohort.
This idea undermines the entire integrity and fundamental - and LEGAL might i say - identity of the Sheriff's office nation wide. in my honest opinion, these writers would not pass a stats101 class with these deductions.
Thank you Reverends for your thoughts on Civilian Oversight of the Sheriff department. It is an important measure for local government to take, and one that has been and is being taken in many other counties. The Sheriff reports to no one, and is not accountable to anyone. We need civilian oversight, and the committee needs to have subpoena power.
When Chinedu Okobi died after being tased by San Mateo Sheriff deputies, we did not get the results of the investigation. Guidance by experts says don't tase someone more than 3 times, Okobi was tased 7 times. Was there any such guidance in place and were the deputies trained on proper procedures? Is there training on place for recognizing and de-escalating a mental health crisis? We never found out, Sheriff Bolanos was not required to release any information on the investigation and he didn't. We do not know if the problem was fixed, which was the least that his family should have been able to expect.
Now that we have a Sheriff, Christina Corpus, who is committed to transparency, the situation is much better. However, we still need Civilian Oversight on the office.
Good morning, Reverends
Thanks for writing on behalf of the Peninsula Solidarity Cohort.
I feel some context would help promote a productive conversation about all people feeling safe in our county. Everyone deserves that peace of mind. As I read your op-ed piece, I started wondering about the victims of crime in our county. Are they disproportionately persons of color? If crime statistics show that to be the case, how can we work together to create a community of "compassion, justice and belonging on the Peninsula"? Getting everybody to feel safe at home, work, school and everywhere else in our county will require real change.
Have a great Sunday!
This opinion piece reports stats on blacks and Hispanics but not on Asians and there is no gender breakdown. this is exactly why a review board will never be independent - just another political tool. Widen and improve the grand jury is a better move.
Perhaps feasible, reverends, but the devil is in the details… What are the qualifications of folks who will serve on the oversight board? Will they go through police academy training/simulations? Will they take ride-along on a regular basis to experience what law enforcement experiences? Will they need to have a minimum of years working in a law enforcement field? Earlier you wrote that law enforcement officers do an incredible job, so why the push for an oversight committee? I’d say a case might be made for an oversight committee to oversee the oversight committee.
You toss out a number of statistics to justify an oversight committee but I’d say we need more context. You say data shows Blacks/Latinos face higher death and arrest rates than White people. Of the people who were killed, were they in the process of committing a crime? Fleeing from a crime? Shooting at law enforcement? Are Blacks/Latinos committing more crimes than White people, resulting in higher arrests? Maybe there isn’t bias at all, just the appearance of bias. Regardless of who is being arrested, are these arrests resulting in less crime and more safety? If so, it sounds like policing methods are effective.
Sorry, but if taxpayer funds are needed to pay for this oversight committee, I’d say that based on this letter, the answer is a definite No. I’d much prefer we use taxpayer funds to return the bike lanes in North Central to their original configuration, cleaning up the previous San Mateo council’s mess and keeping the peace in our community.
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