Photo by Tito Texidor III//Unsplash

In a statement released this week regarding the verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial, the Shasta Equal Justice Coalition (SEJC) called on the Shasta County community to use this moment for sober reflection and a recommitment to equal justice.  

The SEJC also called on local law enforcement to transparently release data on police use-of-force incidents and complaints.

The SEJC is a community project coordinated by the United Way of Northern California (UWNC) that formed in the weeks and months following George Floyd’s murder last May. It’s united by its commitment to “meaningful dialogue that increases trust between law enforcement and the community, especially people of color.”

Larry Olmstead, President and CEO of the UWNC and a coordinator for the SEJC, said the local Northern California branch of the United Way, which serves nine counties, collaborated with others to help form the SEJC because it “wanted to take an even more up-front, public and intense position on the issues of racial justice and equity.”

Coalition members include concerned private citizens and several organizations, including the Shasta-Tehama-Trinity Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union; Reinvest Redding; Shasta Beloved Community; Shasta County Citizens Advocating Respect; and the United Way of Northern California (UWNC).

Olmstead says the group represents a good cross section of ethnicities and interests across fields including education, medicine, law enforcement, and local government.  Core group members have met biweekly since July, he says, to research and converse over law enforcement equity issues.

Asked about the SEJC’s call this week for local law enforcement to transparently release data around use-of-force incidents and complaints, Olmstead says it’s important for the community to have as accurate a picture as possible of the activities of local law enforcement to help create needed change.

The Shasta County Sheriff’s Department and Redding Police Department did not respond to Shasta Scout’s request for comment on SEJC’s call for increased transparency around use-of-force data. But Olmstead says thus far local law enforcement has been “open and willing to sit down and engage” with the SEJC.

SEJC’s statement also includes a proposal to launch a task force to study equal justice in Shasta County. The task force would work on researching and advising specific policy changes intended to move the community towards trust, safety and security for all. Olmstead says there’s a range of opinions on police policy and room in the SEJC for many different perspectives.

Shasta Interfaith, a local coalition of 23 diverse faith organizations, also issued a statement prior to the verdict.  In contrast to the SEJC’s call for specific justice-related reforms, Shasta Interfaith petitioned all Shasta County residents to remain peaceful pending the results of the trial and more broadly denounced  “any actions that are hurtful, harmful, hateful, or violent.”

The statement did not call  for police reforms or denounce police brutality. In appealing for all Shasta County residents to treat each other with humanity, Shasta Interfaith quoted Martin Luther King Jr. as saying, “Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”

In response to the Shasta Interfaith statement, Morning Star Gali, a member of the Ajumawi band of the Pit River Tribe, Project Director for Indigenous Justice and the Healing Justice Lead for the Anti-Police Terror Project in Sacramento, expressed concern about the use of these particular Martin Luther King Jr. words in the statement, saying that the #reclaimMLK movement has developed to confront those who “cherry pick” and “sugar-coat”  the words of a man known for active civil disobedience that often resulted in police violence. “White people need to stop quoting MLK to police how black people protest,” she said.

Gali says statements that call for community peace without also standing against police brutality could be interpreted as attempts to point fingers at active and vocal organizers for social justice.  She emphasized that calls for peace should be directed towards those making active threats, such as local militia members.

Lynn Fritz of Shasta Interfaith told Shasta Scout that the group’s statement about remaining peaceful following the Chauvin verdict was not directed specifically towards advocates for Black lives but more broadly towards all citizens. “Our intention is to promote continued respect,” she said, “and respect should be across the board for all people.”  

Gali said statements like the Shasta Interfaith’s press release should more clearly denounce police brutality. “It’s a form of violence to be complacent at a time that we need to stand in unity.  There’s clearly a lack of police accountability,” Gali said. “This isn’t about being anti-police. It’s about being anti-police terrorism.”

Olmstead also said the SEJC is not “anti-police,” calling them “pro-community.” But, he said members are “serious about doing what we can to make sure incidents like George Floyd’s death do not happen here.”  

The SEJC has been vocal about the need for improved responses to individuals struggling with substance abuse or having a mental health crisis, Olmstead said.  And he says the approval of a pilot project that will create a mental health crisis response team by pairing two Redding police with a mental health expert, is a step towards needed changes.

“We don’t need a headline or a march to know that our message has been heard,” Olmstead said, “and we will keep pushing in ways that are effective . . . . because it’s good for police and good for the community.”

You can read the full SEJC’s statement here and the Shasta Interfaith statement here.

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