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June 19, 2020

Response: June 9th City Council Meeting

I may not have been able to read it in its entirety last night, but Palo Alto voters should know in my statement that I am in full support of #BLM and am joining my community in calls to #DefundThePolice. Anything less than this does not meet the moment, and fails to deliver justice for the thousands of Black Americans whose lives are endangered by the police force every day.

Regarding the Palo Alto Curfew and the June 8th Palo Alto City Council Meeting: We Must Do Better

Palo Alto City Council owes the community an apology. Instead of joining last week’s peaceful protests, it shut them down in the name of property protection. Instead of offering solace and safety to our Black residents who had reason to fear the police, the City Council empowered the police, imposing a draconian curfew that everyone from the ACLU to our neighboring city mayors acknowledged almost certainly was racially charged.

The silencing continues. In last night’s City Council Meeting, Mayor Fine scolded community members for mentioning by name individuals in Palo Alto’s police force and city government who had committed acts of racial violence. The Mayor needs to recognize that both perpetrators and victims have names, and it is our right and obligation to speak out against wrongdoing when we see it. As we have been told repeatedly, we have witnessed, and we understand: white silence is white violence. We must speak out.

The trivialization of Black Lives Matter by our Council furthers the harm experienced by the Black members in our community. Casual misstatements like the one made by the mayor on Saturday, promising that Council would “debate” BLM at the next meeting was both an offensive slur, and sadly, an accurate prediction of reality. A City Council that has listened to its community does not continue to laud the irresponsible, divisive, racially-biased, and likely unconstitutional curfew on the grounds that the curfew “made them feel safe.” I renounce that sentiment and urge the Council to recognize that it is strong communities, not strong police forces, that make our residents feel safe.

Although I recognize the City Council’s attempt to support the BLM movement, I insist that true support of Black Lives Matter goes beyond fancy font and lip service. To be true allies, we need to recognize that our opinions may make other people uncomfortable. To enact real change, we need to be willing to rock the boat. An ally does not concern herself with pleasing the Establishment. Our job is to replace the establishment with representation, transparency, and justice. We owe this to ourselves, to our community, to our neighbors, and to our next generation.

I wholeheartedly support the reforms advocated by our community leaders at Saturday’s protest: Julie Lythcott-Haims, Judge LaDoris Cordell, Mayor Regina Wallace-Jones, and Mayor Cecilia Taylor in calling for real change to end racial violence. In particular, I support Reverend Kaloma Smith’s proposals that he outlines articulately in his recent Palo Alto Online article, to reform our police system.

When on the City Council, I plan to fight for - and win - the following changes:

* The City Council needs to put forth a plan to defund, disarm, and disband the police department. Strong police forces do not provide safety. Strong communities provide safety. The City Council’s disempowerment of the community while over-powering the police through the curfew makes clear our Council’s profound lack of understanding that it is poorly run police forces that endanger communities, not presumed looters.

* The City must commit to a more representative city government. The leadership positions in our city government and leadership must reflect our diverse population, including representation by communities of color, women, and in particular, women of color. We also need socio-economic diversity in our leadership. With campaigns requiring financial sacrifice, and elected officials paid less than minimum wage, we exclude a majority of our most qualified, capable, prepared potential candidates. It is no wonder that our elected leadership are often out of touch with the lived reality of most residents. In Palo Alto, we can afford to have publicly financed elections, and we can pay our elected officials a living wage - while also prohibiting all conflicts of interest. We must stand in solidarity with our residents and stop the practice of selling our government roles to the highest bidder.

* The City Council needs to recognize that financial injustice is one of the many ways that we perpetuate the unjust and racially biased status quo. Palo Alto needs to put a permanent stop to our system of corporate welfare at the hands of our residents. For too long we have subsidized our wealthiest landlords and biggest employers with tax exemptions, variances from zoning, and outsized control on the Planning Commission. Time to put the 2% business tax back on the ballot, exempting all small and mid sized businesses.

* Palo Alto needs to support and encourage all state initiatives that promote fairness and that level the playing field on behalf of our residents and communities. In particular, the City Council must wholly, unequivocally endorse the split roll initiative, Families and Communities First. We need to require our wealthiest commercial developers and largest landlords to pay their fare share. The unjust enrichment of the wealthiest few is siphoning money from our communities and public schools. We must remember that economic issues are inextricably intertwined with racism and oppression of minorities.

* We must share all our resources with our neighbors and end our racist tradition of closing Palo Alto communities services to those beyond our city limits. At very least, to start, we must open Foothill Park to non-residents. We must share with our neighbors not just because it is the right thing to do, but also because we become better when we do so.

Real change in Palo Alto is long overdue. Let’s come together to make this happen. Now more than ever, our city government must take a stand that Black Lives Matter. We cannot be complicit any longer.