Local News Matters weekly newsletter
Start your week with a little inspiration. Sign up for our informative, community-based newsletter, delivered on Mondays with news about the Bay Area.
Some noted the bitter irony that the one-year anniversary of the death of Miles Hall came as protests over the killing of another black man — George Floyd, at the hand of a Minnesota police officer — were gripping the nation. Walnut Creek had experienced its own protests and destruction over the previous two days.
And on Tuesday night, friends, family and supporters presented a 90-minute-long Zoom “webinar” program in conjunction with the Miles Hall Foundation to honor Hall, a 23-year-old black man who suffered from mental illness and was killed by Walnut Creek police on June 2, 2019.
One guest on that webinar presentation was Cephus X Johnson, “Uncle Bobby” to Oscar Grant III, a black man killed by a BART police officer at the Fruitvale station in Oakland on Jan. 1, 2009. He had a positive message.
“Walnut Creek — in essence our ‘white allies’ — has the ability to help put this in such a way that no one can (any) longer turn a blind eye to these types of murders,” Johnson said. “Let’s stay optimistic — the opportunity for real changes is here.”
Police were called a year ago to the Hall family’s home in a quiet neighborhood south of downtown. The family told police Miles was having a mental health-related episode.
“We want to make sure this isn’t experienced by anyone else.”Kevin Wilk, Walnut Creek City Council
Hall had a steel rod in his hands, variously described as a garden tool and a crowbar, and wouldn’t drop it. Beanbag rounds were fired at Hall, but had little effect. Two officers then fired their handguns at him and he died later that day.
Hall’s family, including his parents Scott and Taun Hall, sued the city in September 2019, alleging police did not have to use lethal force, especially knowing Miles suffered from mental illness, and didn’t properly de-escalate the situation. The family is being represented by civil rights attorney John Burris.
The Hall family, joined and supported by many others, took part in the Zoom webinar Tuesday night that featured a wide range of stories about Miles, photos, poetry, musical performances and calls to action to improve police response to mental-health-related calls.
‘We miss him so much’
Hall, a graduate of Las Lomas High School in Walnut Creek, was described during the program as a curious young man, funny, at times a “rascal,” well-known and loved in this tight-knit neighborhood where residents share progressive dinners and karaoke nights, and where they gathered to hold hands and pray after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Longtime neighbor Barbara Pennington said she had taken a long walk with Miles the day before he died, during which he talked about, among other things, how he was proud of his family.
“We miss him so much,” Pennington said, choking up a little. “You all are truly incredible. Miles is smiling.”
The webinar was moderated by KTVU-TV morning anchor Dave Clark. He said he didn’t know Miles personally, but that he has a 27-year-old autistic son.
“What happened to Miles Hall could have easily happened to my son, who could not understand an order to raise his hands,” Clark said.
Among others who appeared in segments of or sent messages for the webinar were Burris, U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, and Dr. Suzanne Tavano, Contra Costa County’s director of behavioral health services.
“What happened to Miles is a sign of systemic failure in a number of ways,” Tavano said during the program.
She also said she was encouraged by the response of Walnut Creek police and other officials, as well as with police chiefs from nearby Pleasant Hill and Martinez, with whom she consulted about how to better respond to situations like Miles’.
‘We’re asking you to do what is hard’
Tuesday’s webinar was timed to end when Tuesday night’s City Council meeting began. The council — which was scheduled to discuss the Halls’ lawsuit against the city in closed session before the open meeting started — sat through almost two hours of public requests for police policy changes and training, to better handle situations like Miles’ to be added to an upcoming council agenda.
“We’re here to ask you not to do what is easy, we’re asking you to do what is hard,” up to and including firing police officers and changing policy, said Hannah Edgar of Walnut Creek, one of more than 30 people who either phoned in or emailed comments to the council about Hall’s death.
All five council members responded to the commenters, saying the city is making progress toward the policy changes the group Friends of Scott, Alexis and Taun Hall and others seek.
Councilman Kevin Wilk said, “We want to make sure this isn’t experienced by anyone else,” and Councilman Matt Francois commended Taun Hall specifically as a fierce advocate for her son, and said he hopes for a more positive and productive dialogue going forward.
When Scott, Taun and Alexis Hall called in with their own comments, council members greeted them warmly.
“I feel like we’re going to be turning a new leaf,” Taun Hall told the council.
Added Scott Hall, “Hopefully, the voices of the people will cause additional changes to happen.”
A few hours earlier, during the webinar, Cephus X Johnson had said, “The wheels of justice turn slow, but they do turn.”