City, county, state and federal leaders gathered Friday at Redding’s Martin Luther King Jr. Center to consider a pair of questions: 1) What would a safe Shasta County look like and 2) What will you do to promote a community that respects the rights and safety of everyone.
The novel gathering was sponsored by Shasta County Citizens Advocating Respect to delve deeper into the anger and unrest associated with the May 25 death of George Floyd, an unarmed 46-year-old black man, at the hands of a white Minneapolis police officer.
“It’s time to go beyond what we feel like,” said Marilyn Traugott, a SSCAR member and the moderator of Friday’s gathering. “Inner peace is not enough. We need systemic change, and if it’s done from peace, it will be effective.”
Billed as a press conference, the morning session featured a fairly thorough cross-section of the north state community. Law enforcement was represented by Shasta County District Attorney Stephanie Bridgett, Shasta County Sheriff Eric Magrini, Redding Police Chief Bill Schueller and Anderson Police Chief Michael Johnson.
Representing local government were city council members Baron Browning (Anderson), Janice Powell (Shasta Lake) and Julie Winter (Redding). Joe Chimenti represented the Shasta County Board of Supervisors; Bruce Ross stood in for state Sen. Brian Dahle; and the federal level was represented by Cong. Doug LaMalfa, whose sprawling 1st District includes Redding, Chico, Susanville and Truckee.
Shasta Union High School District Superintendent Jim Cloney also participated, as well as Lynn Fritz with Shasta Interfaith; Abu Bakr Salahuddin, the Imam at the Islamic Center of Redding; Jesica Rhone, director of international programs at the McConnell Foundation; and Larry Olmstead, CEO of United Way Northern California.
A safe community is one where all feel safe and are free to succeed based on merit, said Cloney, an administrator overseeing 5,000 high school students. Cloney said he was heartened to see so many young people at the forefront of protests being staged across the country. The reaction to Floyd’s death is an opportunity to engage the youth, he added.
Olmstead described a safe community as one where “all residents know issues of equality are issues for all of us, not just African-Americans or Native Americans” or any other racial or ethnic group. Promoting such a community going forward is a matter of creating greater economic prosperity, he said.
Bridgett defined a safe Shasta County as one where people are free to enjoy everything the county has to offer, “free from hate and where everybody feels heard.” Additionally, people would have trust in the criminal justice system.
“We hear you and we stand with you,” she said. “I condemn the unnecessary, tragic death of George Floyd.” Bridgett vowed to continue working for fairness while promoting diversity, noting that half her prosecutors are women and people of color. “As district attorney, I will continue to protect everybody’s right to protest,” but when actions turn to criminal behavior “we will not tolerate that.”
Being inclusive is a choice, Magrini said, and working to eliminate division and discrimination will help create a safer Shasta County. The sheriff said he felt his agency was on the right track “but there are always things we can do better. Communication is the key.”
Michael Johnson, Anderson’s police chief, said there are times when people blur that revered “thin blue line” of officers lining up to protect everybody, “equally and unbiasedly, and we can’t have that.”
Peace, equality, unity and solutions-oriented policing are the keys for law enforcement, he said. “If we’re not progressive and unified, we will not move forward as a community,” Johnson said.
Anderson City Councilman Browning said a safe community is one with a lot of local involvement. There are challenges, though. “There is so much banging going on on social media during a time when we should be coming together,” he said.
Communication, including social media, is a key to community strength, said Janice Powell, Shasta Lake’s mayor. “Social injustice begins when people can’t speak. Equality begins when everybody has the same voice. You can talk the talk, but let’s be sure to walk the walk.”
Chimenti said he found it sad that it’s 2020 “and we’re still talking about things like basic respect. We all want to be heard but we don’t want to listen.” The path to more equality and justice lies in accepting “the reality that people don’t always think like we do. We have to embrace the human condition. This is very doable. We have to and we can change the culture.”
Looking backward will help us move forward, said Ross, state Sen. Brian Dahle’s district director. For example, Ross said he has a friend who owns a home visible from the MLK Center. The deed to that home, drafted in the 1950s, prohibits blacks from ownership or occupancy “except for a maid.”
While clearly illegal today, that discriminatory language was a fact of life for African-Americans and others need to be aware of and sensitive to that history, Ross said. Looking toward the future, Ross said finding non-law enforcement options for community problems may lead to greater equality.
LaMalfa, the final speaker, said his mind was “boggled” by what he saw in the video depicting Floyd’s death outside a Minneapolis convenience store, but he reminded the participants that there are more than 800,000 well-intentioned law enforcement officers in the country. “All the training in the world can’t change that one bad apple,” he said.
LaMalfa said the federal government can’t, and shouldn’t, be expected to correct every instance of injustice or discrimination. “We all have an obligation,” he said, adding that one answer is more neighborhood activity and more one-on-one communication. “We have to speak the truth, and listen for it, too.”
Following the press conference, Eddie McAllister announced a rally and the Redding March for Justice from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday in Caldwell Park. The event will feature music and booths, speakers from 1 to 2 p.m. followed by a silent march. Participants are encouraged to wear masks and dress in black in support of Black Lives Matter.