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Are these our community values?

Sometimes people ask how systemic oppression works and how it is perpetuated. Today in Contra Costa County, we saw a stunning example so if you have the patience, read along, please. I am grateful for how many religious leaders, community activists, and congregational members were there. Citizen participation was strong and yet the will of the people was studiously ignored.

First, the Board of Supervisors approved giving AB 109 money towards the Sheriff’s budget. This was necessitated by the fact that the Sheriff decided to cancel his contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The ICE contract was the means by which he funded a significant number of his patrol officers. ICE is the agency set up after 9/11/01 which has been identified by people of color as being biased. Citing, with insensitivity which defies common decency, the killing of Nia Wilson, the Chair explained why it was ok to make this allocation for community safety. So from a system’s perspective, you have a department which has historically made money on the incarceration of human beings rewarded for undoing what they should never have done in the first place. Two wrongs most definitely not making a right.

And the AB 109 money is money specifically set aside to help with community reentry for those formerly incarcerated. Without that money, which is in very short supply in our County, recidivism is likely. And hence the mass incarceration system moves on.

Then the work of the Racial Justice Task Force was taken up. This two-year study, of which I was part of a very small group of community representatives was highly praised–and then eviscerated, once again by the two representatives who represent the predominantly white and affluent parts of the County. What did they take out? The call for oversight of the Sheriff, thus completing the reinforcement of the status quo. As was noted in the rally before the afternoon hearing, “We cannot have justice for immigrants until we have justice for black people.”

In the afternoon, the same chair tried to take away the rights of individual members of a group to speak because one of their representatives was making a presentation. One of the findings of the Racial Justice Task Force was the high level of mistrust among people of color in our Sheriff’s department. Today we had all the evidence of why this is so.

So this is how it works. You talk about community safety and mean just white safety. You take away the limited resources which could help people break out of the prison industrial complex. You continue to channel resources to the people whose very jobs depend upon having bodies in the system. You ignore the impacts on families and children. And the majority of people let you keep doing it because it doesn’t really affect them. Except it does. We all live with the consequences of dehumanization, disparate treatment, and inequity. With the children who lose their parents, the parents who are then struggling with raising children without a deported or incarcerated partner. With the education, drug treatment, and housing we do not fund because we fund a new prison instead.

Not proud to live in a county that showed just how much it is not a sanctuary today. Shame on them and shame on us for allowing it.

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