Once again, our hearts break after the murder of a black person killed by systemic racism and police brutality in our nation. We agonize over the loss of George Floyd, just weeks after the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and too many other black Americans.
In response to this latest murder, activists have taken to the streets, campaigns have been created to support the people of Minneapolis, and calls have been made for systemic change. At the same time, the President of the United States has threatened to use deadly force against protesters. Non-violent demonstrators have been injured by police officers, journalists have been arrested while covering the uprisings, and people have been more outraged by property damage than the destruction of black lives.
We cannot look at this tragedy as a one-off event. Systemic racism has oppressed black and brown people throughout every segment of our society, and especially in the criminal justice system.
From the beatings of civil rights protesters on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma and Rodney King in the streets of Los Angeles, to the murders of Mike Brown in Ferguson and Eric Garner in New York, there is a well-documented history of incidents of police officers acting outside of the law to harm black people in this country. In addition to violent encounters on the streets, black and brown people have been disproportionately harmed by our country’s over-reliance on incarceration.
Isla Vista has had a complicated relationship with policing. During the ’60s and ’70s, law enforcement officers used excessive force against students who were protesting for civil rights and against the Vietnam War. Kevin Moran, an unarmed UCSB student-activist, was shot and killed by a police officer. More than four decades later, the 2014 Deltopia riot occurred in large part because of concerns about aggressive policing and a lack of trust between the police and community members. More recently, tensions have been high as local police officers have made allegations about systemic racism within the University of California Police Department.
Today, we know that some of our neighbors are scared to walk alone outside at night. We have neighbors whose hearts race when they are pulled over by the police while driving, or even while walking.
We can only make Isla Vista safer if serious progress is made to address systemic racism and white supremacy.
Don’t get us wrong, we know that there are many good people who work in law enforcement. We collaborate with many excellent law enforcement officers to make Isla Vista a better place. We have been able to engage in meaningful discussions about improving community/police relations. We’ve been impressed by efforts to make some changes for the benefit of the community. We are grateful for the relationships that we have with these officers, and for their dedication to selflessly serving our community.
Nevertheless, members of our community must continue to advocate for systemic change. We need to call for better accountability mechanisms that will prevent incidents of police violence and improve trust with marginalized communities. We need to call for public safety policies that address the root causes of issues in communities like ours, while reducing the overuse of incarceration. Black Lives Matter S.B. has compiled a list of actions for community members to take.
Additionally, we must confront racism in our daily lives. We need to have difficult conversations with loved ones about our shared responsibilities of combating systemic racism. We need to have the courage to call out racism when we see it in public, in our classrooms, and in our workplaces. We also need to support each other as we fight for a more just society.
As your local elected officials, we are committed to promoting equity in our public spaces, schools, and public services. We also promise to be there for community members in need during this challenging time, and to be good listeners when engaging in honest conversations about systemic racism in our community. Above all, we are committed to following the lead and demands of those closest to the pain. In this moment we must center black voices and confront anti-blackness in our community, including among people of color.
It’s okay to be angry and sad. We’re all allowed to grieve. It is too easy to be pressured into acting tough and pretending that everything is okay. As people of color who are hurting in the aftermath of systemic racist violence, it is okay for us all to take time to process our emotions.
If you need someone to talk to during this time, please reach out to our local mental wellness organizations. If you would like to get involved as an ally to black people right now, Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) is a great resource. If you don’t know where to start, email us and we’ll be happy to help point you in the right direction.
As Dr. King taught us, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” We are with you today and every day of this struggle for a more just society.
Jonathan Abboud is the Santa Barbara City College trustee for Isla Vista and Hope Ranch, Ethan Bertrand and Kristie Nguyen are directors for the Isla Vista Community Services District, and Carlos López is a director of the Isla Vista Recreation and Park District.