Applications are now being accepted for Martinez’s new Anti-Racism and Discrimination and Pro Inclusion and Equity Task Force, established in response to a recent series of racially charged incidents and subsequent public discussions about them.
The nine-member task force will review city policies, procedures and programs, and advise the Martinez City Council on how they could be tweaked, adjusted or otherwise changed to help eliminate systemic racism and other biases, including anti-LGBTQ attitudes, from city government.
The creation of the task force is in response to a series of events in Martinez, starting with the June 28 discovery of two “white power” fliers on a residential sidewalk. Soon after, the city issued a permit for the painting of a “Black Lives Matter” mural on a downtown street on July 4.
The mural’s paint wasn’t dry when a man and a woman defaced it with black paint. The next day, at the same spot next to the mural, a man was arrested for waving a loaded handgun at a mural defender during an argument.
Two days after that, someone painted “White Lives Matter” on another Martinez street. And again, a few days later, a man was seen on security video apparently photographing a car parked downtown exhibiting messages of equality for Black people and women — and then slashing its tires.
Council heeds calls for committee
At subsequent public hearings, the City Council heard from people with wildly diverse viewpoints on whether Martinez is a welcoming town for a diverse population. Many of those commenters said they favor a task force charged specifically with taking on issues related to racism; some said they had been victims of racism themselves.
The City Council voted July 22 to create the task force.
Councilman Mark Ross said it is important for civic leaders to be made aware of these kinds of problems, and that he expects to learn from the task force once it gets rolling.
The problems, he said, can present themselves in unexpected ways; an example, he said, is how a Black-owned business — a gym and physical therapy business — faces getting squeezed out of its space by several existing and planned cannabis-related businesses. When Ross pointed that out at a recent City Council meeting, no one responded.
“There are blind spots in any organization that its leaders don’t see,” said Ross, who is Jewish and said he has experienced occasional prejudice based on that. “When the problems are pointed out, you try to eliminate them.”
Ross grew up in Martinez, and acknowledged the city has had its share of racial intolerance. He also said Martinez has evolved into a progressive city, and that he expects the task force to help make it more so.
Seeking diverse makeup
City Manager Eric Figueroa said this week that task force members will be chosen to reflect a variety of ethnicities and ages, with diverse issues or causes for which they advocate.
Also wanted is for task force members to be from all parts of Martinez. Those nine people will be selected through an interview process that will involve both the City Council and a community panel. Final task force member selections will be made by Mayor Rob Schroder, with the concurrence of the City Council. Interviews are expected to begin in mid-September.
Applicants must be residents of Martinez or have substantial involvement in a community organization or local business. Applications may be downloaded and must be submitted by 5 p.m. Sept. 1 by mail to the Deputy City Clerk, 525 Henrietta Street, Martinez, CA 94553, or electronically to firstname.lastname@example.org.