State Sen. Bill Dodd (D-Napa) hosts a virtual town hall meeting on the challenges facing community policing and ways to improve it. (Image courtesy of California Senate Democrats/YouTube)

State Sen. Bill Dodd (D-Napa) hosted a virtual town hall this week that touched on issues including legislative responses to police violence, as well as police reform, white supremacy, and the psychological and public health issues in poor communities.

Guests joining Dodd at the town hall were the Rev. Dante Quick of Friendship Missionary Baptist Church in Vallejo; Bay Area psychologist Terri L. Thompson; Michael Gennaco, an expert on law enforcement reform and accountability systems; and Gabriel “Jack” Chin, professor at University of California at Davis Law School.

At the heart of Tuesday’s discussion was an urgency to see the big picture, and how many elements converge and contribute to issues that are now deeply ingrained in policing. Speakers addressed the way attitudes, biases and policies influence police behavior, which then impact — and in some cases terrorize — communities. Police accountability emerged as a common theme.

“There are no George Floyds, no Tamir Rices, no Michael Browns among affluent white people. It’s not a part of their experience…”

Jack Chin, UC Davis Law School

While communities have been galvanized by the death of unarmed black man George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody on Memorial Day this year, the issue goes way beyond one case, Dodd said.

Dodd spoke about his involvement with legislation that includes Assembly Bill 1196, which seeks to abolish police use of carotid holds and choke holds, and Assembly Bill 1185 that would authorize counties to establish sheriff oversight boards.

“We also need a process to de-certify unfit police officers, provide investigation of police shootings, improve training, and reassign resources to provide non-police responses,” Dodd said.

Gennaco encouraged a dialogue about the appropriate role of police officers. For example, police are first responders to calls for mentally ill individuals, homeless people and for other social issues. This doesn’t mean communities can’t have other providers working 24/7 and answering those dispatch calls for help, he said.

Quick addressed white supremacy, saying it has been part of the policing conversation for years. Until we understand white supremacy in all of its manifestations, he said, communities will keep fighting and reforming laws, but there won’t be systemic change.

“A knee on the neck starts far before a police incident,” Quick said.

Educational, housing and health disparities that span generations create a path that leads to negative interaction with police, Quick said.

YouTube video

Thompson spoke from a public health perspective about the trauma, toxic stress and resulting health issues that people in poor communities can experience. She also discussed the militarization of police departments, and the biases that are allowed to fester in some departments, which can lead to profiling, she said.

Chin spoke about how voters have not set high expectations of police in California and other parts of the country to follow the law and not discriminate.

He also spoke about the wide range of experiences people can have with police. For example, affluent people tend to have positive experiences with the police, he said.

“There are no George Floyds, no Tamir Rices, no Michael Browns among affluent white people,” Chin said. “It’s not a part of their experience…”

Through cell phone video and police body cameras, society has been confronted with indisputable evidence that one person’s experience is not necessarily the experience of people in other groups, he said.

Speakers at Tuesday’s town hall also responded to calls and emails from the public that ranged from comments about how the police appear ready for battle to a call to defund departments.

The town hall was recorded and is available for viewing online.