At an event sparked by dissatisfaction with the George Zimmerman trial verdict and described by participants as powerful and sobering, community members and elected officials gathered Tuesday night to talk freely about race relations in Santa Barbara. The Martin Luther King, Jr. Committee of Santa Barbara teamed up with the UCSB Center for Black Studies Research to host the public forum at the Louise Lowry Davis Center a few weeks after the Florida man was acquitted of murdering Trayvon Martin.
Those who spoke — many exceeded the two-minute time cap — included an organizer of UCSB’s Coalition for Justice, opponents of the proposed gang injunction, a self-pronounced “gang kid,” a self-identified “white-skinned, privileged” woman, a black police chaplain and community pastor, several black women concerned about the safety of their sons, and many others who sought to answer an important question asked at the beginning of the night by a 13-year-old member of the Santa Barbara Youth Council, Ciara Gullap-Moore: “What do we hope to achieve by hosting this rally?”
“What we have to do is take personal responsibility,” said one woman. She talked about offensive jokes, often dismissed as funny or harmless. “I decided long ago that I would not let those things go by,” she said. “We all have to say we aren’t going to condone it.” After listening to the public speakers, city councilmembers Cathy Murillo and Frank Hotchkiss, SBPD media spokesperson Sgt. Riley Harwood, County Sheriff Bill Brown, Goleta Mayor Roger Aceves, and County Supervisor Janet Wolf discussed potential improvements for race relations such as the “golden rule of good law enforcement” and community outreach efforts. Acknowledging that he was at odds with a few people in the room, Brown advocated for the city’s proposed gang injunction, claiming he witnessed a fairly successful one in Lompoc.
One of the final public commentators, UCSB Chicana and Chicano Studies Professor Ralph Armbruster-Sandoval, said, “My all-time favorite band says anger is a gift. There will be something that comes from this. Our hearts are broken, and we start moving.”