THE PUBLIC FUROR that followed the murder of George Floyd and other police killings has abated in the last year.
Calls to defund the police are heard less often, and support for police seems to have grown, or at least grown more vocal.
Noting an increase in some types of crime, especially since the pandemic, some community members and organizations, even some traditionally progressive civil rights organizations, have joined the chorus. The NAACP is a case in point.
In a recent statement, the Oakland branch’s president, Cynthia Adams, said:
“Failed leadership, including the movement to defund the police, our District Attorney’s unwillingness to charge and prosecute people who commit life threatening serious crimes, and the proliferation of anti-police rhetoric have created a hey-day for Oakland criminals.”
But for advocates of police reform and police abolition alike, the need to change how our society views law enforcement and how we hold it accountable is as great as ever.
In Alameda County, support for dramatically changing policing standards remains very much present, whether it comes from former San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin, family members of people who died at the hands of police, or such abolition proponent organizations as the Anti-Police Terror Project.
For many, the use of unwarranted force by police is one of the biggest reasons for their calls for police abolition or reform.
“Excessive use of force and the history of racial bias in policing and use of force by police contribute to distrust in communities that are overpoliced,” said Boudin, who now serves as founding executive director of the Criminal Law and Justice Center at the U.C. Berkeley School of Law.
“Certainly, use of force and racial bias in use of force are a major factor in why so many high crime communities are unwilling to work with police.”
In Alameda County, the number of use of force incidents that resulted in death, serious bodily injury, or discharge of a firearm has fluctuated in recent years, rising in some and falling in others.
From 2016 to 2022, the number of use of force incidents ranged from as few as 16 to as many as 34 incidents per year with a peak in 2017. The number of incidents fell to 16 in 2019, only to rise in 2020 and again in 2021.
In Dublin, there were a total of 41 use of force incidents that took place over the same six years, which is the highest among all Alameda County cities. This number includes incidents at the Santa Rita jail.
These numbers do not, however, represent all instances in which officers used force. Other instances of use of force, like striking a civilian, take-downs, or the use of a “firm grip” by officers when placing handcuffs in Dublin brings the average to more than 50 cases per year between 2019 and 2022.
Discrepancies in numbers
In general, when the less severe uses of force are included, the total use-of-force numbers rise significantly. In 2022 alone, for example, there were 50 of these less severe incidents in Dublin that were not reflected in the California Department of Justice’s Open Justice website because the DOJ data only includes serious bodily injury, death, or cases involving the discharge of a firearm.
Cat Brooks, co-founder and executive director of the Anti-Police Terror Project (APTP), notes that these seemingly less serious instances are nonetheless often traumatic to the civilians who experience them, even though the result isn’t major injury or death.
She argues that events like these frequently take place during traffic stops and aren’t always fully accounted for in the data.
“We are not getting a full account of how many traffic stops result in a Black woman getting groped or someone getting yanked out of their car and the emotional, mental impact of that,” Brooks said.
Enguang Teng, the Criminal Investigation Division commander at the San Leandro Police Department, said there are other, more benign reasons for discrepancies in the data.
“There are a lot of factors that are unaccounted for in DOJ’s data, such as total calls for service, the number of violent incidents responded to, the level of proactivity engaged by employees, and also the number of use of force incidents that did not result in serious bodily injury or death or involved the discharge of a firearm,” Teng said in a statement.
But for reformers, the factors Teng cites don’t mitigate the need for major changes in policing.
Police response in mental health crises
Boudin is among the most prominent local proponents of overhauling the ways in which police are instructed and deployed. He argues that police officers are not trained to aid and support those struggling with mental health.
“There are lots of calls for service to 911 for which the police are neither the most effective nor the most appropriate response,” he said.
“When we send police to do a job that would be better done by someone trained in mental health or social work, we not only waste resources, but also create the kinds of conditions that can lead to escalation and violence.”
“The reality is that a lot of people struggle with mental health. We as a society do not offer resources. We wait until those people end up in crisis until we intervene and all too often that intervention looks like police handcuffs and jail cells.”Chesa Boudin, former San Francisco district attorney
“The reality,” Boudin continued, “is that a lot of people struggle with mental health. We as a society do not offer resources. We wait until those people end up in crisis until we intervene and all too often that intervention looks like police handcuffs and jail cells. Our jails are the number one providers of mental health services across this country, and they’re not effective or cost-effective ways to treat mental health.”
Although Boudin strongly advocates for holding police officers accountable for their actions, he is not unsympathetic to the challenges they face on the job.
“Being a law enforcement officer is a very dangerous and difficult job,” he said. “The fact that we have such easy access to firearms in this country makes it more dangerous and more difficult for law enforcement officers. It means that they’re always imagining and fearing the worst when they go out on the job, and I think that that’s part of what contributes to use of force.”
Eradicating police terror through police abolition
If Boudin is a supporter of substantive reform, others go further, arguing that the structure and role of police departments need to be radically altered or abolished completely.
Among the people calling for complete abolition of police is Brooks, who started the Anti-Police Terror Project in 2010.
“We don’t believe that policing can be fixed,” Brooks said flatly.
Instead, APTP focuses on policies and community-based organizing efforts that it believes will eventually dismantle the structures of policing.
“We only engage in policy that chips away at the behemoth of the carceral state,” said Brooks.
One of the policies APTP has cosponsored is the SB2, the 2021 Decertification Act, which created a system to suspend or decertify officers who engage in serious misconduct in California.
APTP was also a cosponsor of the C.R.I.S.E.S Act, which sought to provide community-based alternatives to traditional policing and incarceration. After its approval by the legislature in 2021, the Act was vetoed by Gov. Newsom.
This, however, has not stopped proponents from continuing to push for some of its content.
“We don’t believe that policing can be fixed.”Cat Brooks, ATPT co-founder and executive director
For example, APTP currently runs a program called Mental Health First, the only non-police response center for people struggling with mental health crises, substance abuse, and intimate partner violence in Oakland and Sacramento.
Mental Health First responds to 15 to 100 calls for police-free help every weekend across both sites, according to Brooks.
Like Boudin, Brooks believes that police are incapable of helping those who are struggling with mental health when called.
“They end up treating the person that is in crisis like they’re a subject to be subdued,” Brooks said.
Having to face police officers when struggling with mental health is not a faraway matter for some Alameda County residents.
Agustin Gonzalez, the father of Augie Gonzalez, said this is the reality that his son faced when he was shot 13 times by Hayward police in 2019. At a block party this summer called Justice in July, Gonzalez said his son was confronting mental health issues when he was killed. Police said they were responding to reports of someone with a knife and that Augie was holding a razor blade.
“He wasn’t threatening to hurt anybody but himself,” said Gonzalez.
“The cops showed up, ran up to him, and in seven seconds they shot him 13 times. They assassinated him and they handcuffed him as he was bleeding out there on the ground,” he said.
Amanda Majail-Blanco is the sister of Erik Salgado, who was killed by California Highway Patrol officers during a traffic stop in Oakland in June of 2020. She has been on the front lines of several community-led organizing efforts, including the Justice in July Block party held in Oakland that called for all officers responsible for killings in Alameda County to be charged with murder.
Salgado was allegedly driving a stolen car that he used to ram police vehicles when he was shot and killed. His pregnant girlfriend was also in the vehicle and was shot. She survived but lost the baby due to the shooting.
“Just because the police shot them doesn’t mean that it’s justified.”Amanda Majail-Blanco, sister of Erik Salgado
Officers involved in the killing faced no criminal charges.
“Just because the police shot them doesn’t mean that it’s justified,” said Majail-Blanco.
She is among those who believe her community already has the tools to ensure safety for itself without police.
Advocates for abolishing police forces as they currently exist typically argue for law enforcement to be created and controlled by local communities.
“We have so many other alternatives that are coming out of young people, out of communities. We have the solutions; we know what it would look like to have an alternative to police,” Majail-Blanco said.