Racial injustice and police brutality are issues that affect every community, including Santa Barbara’s. A woman who once led the Santa Barbara High School cheerleading squad and graduated from Peabody Charter School was shot and killed by police in Oxnard in 2015. Meagan Hockaday’s murder was only one of the tragic stories told on Sunday, May 31, as Simone Akila Ruskamp and Krystle Farmer Sieghart from the Santa Barbara Chapter of Black Lives Matter led a protest against police brutality and racial injustice, drawing a crowd of more than 3,000 supporters to the Santa Barbara Courthouse Sunken Gardens. Speakers shared personal stories, statistics, and information as they tried to compel the Santa Barbara community to begin and continue to take action to address structural racism, including police brutality.
Unfortunately, leaders within Santa Barbara have not heeded the call to effectively address racial injustice in Santa Barbara and take a stand against police brutality. While Santa Barbara City Chief of Police Lori Luhnow and Mayor Cathy Murillo both issued statements in response to the murder of George Floyd and subsequent protests, neither of their statements committed to specific actions. Of particular concern is that neither statement was made in consultation with Black Lives Matter, Santa Barbara.
Mayor Cathy Murillo issued a statement that praised many institutions, including the Santa Barbara Police Department, the FBI, and the city library, without acknowledging the action taken by Santa Barbara Black Lives Matter. At the protest, while trying to interject and talk to the demonstration leaders in the middle of the event, our mayor chose not to exercise the deep listening that is being requested of all of us and instead chose to exercise her authority by demanding that she be listened to.
Chief of Police Lori Luhnow claimed in a statement that she is “proud of the officers of the Santa Barbara Police Department” and is “exposed every day to the high moral standards, respect, and empathy they demonstrate.” These values were not demonstrated on Sunday. Instead, peaceful, nonviolent protesters were halted by a barricade at the intersection of East Figueroa and Santa Barbara streets that stopped demonstrators from completing their intended route. They were met by more than a dozen officers in riot gear and bulletproof vests, a stark contrast to the assistance SBPD has provided for other demonstrations in Santa Barbara, where they offered police escorts and traffic control.
When directly invited by the march organizers to take a knee for eight minutes and 46 seconds of silence — to acknowledge symbolically the amount of time that George Floyd suffered unto death, his neck knelt on by the man who brutally murdered him — they refused. Police officers around the country are kneeling in solidarity against police brutality. Why not Santa Barbara police officers?
As members of Showing Up for Racial Justice, we seek to support the Black Lives Matter Global Network and The Movement for Black Lives, and to amplify the demands of the Santa Barbara Black Lives Matter chapter. We implore our city leaders and our fellow citizens to move beyond hollow statements and commit to making the changes we need in this city to protect black lives. The demands from S.B. Black Lives Matter are the following:
• Santa Barbara City Council to adopt a resolution condemning police brutality and declare racism a public health emergency.
• S.B. Police Department to act with transparency and accountability: Too often, “community conversations” and internal investigations of misconduct occur without changes to policy and practices. A civilian review board should be created, with members selected by the community.
• S.B. County Sheriff to act with transparency and accountability: Update use of force policy to center on de-escalation; no isolation/quarantine for inmates attending court or contacting their lawyers. Reduce jail admissions; redirect people to community-based mental-health and substance-abuse treatment services.
• Protect and preserve black landmarks, rather than monuments to white supremacy, such as symbols of black unity and peace like St. Paul AME, Friendship Baptist Church, and Franklin Neighborhood Center.
• Institutional support for an annual Juneteenth celebration, city and county commitment of funds for an annual celebration of emancipation and liberation.
We invite all Santa Barbara community members to join us in working under the leadership of our community members of color to make our town a place that is inclusive and safe for everyone, especially those whose voices have been and continue to be erased and ignored.
Along with the author, Dylan Griffith, Jennifer Lemberger, Miya Barnett, Alexis Slutzky, Jennifer Hale, Jaymie Sawyer, Barbara Parmet, Kym Paszkeicz, Justina Buller, and Cressida Silvers are part of the leadership of Showing Up for Racial Justice, Santa Barbara, the local affiliate of the national SURJ organization, which is part of a multiracial movement for a racially just society.