One Year Ago,Today: How George Floyd’s Murder Galvanized Community Organizing in Shasta County

The June protest was only the beginning. Community organizing mushroomed in Shasta County in the months that followed, even though local progressive organizers were met by a related surge in the activity of self-described “militias” and related groups.

Redding’s June 2nd 2020 Courthouse protest against police brutality. Photo by Annelise Pierce.

One year ago today, Derek Chauvin kneeled on George Floyd’s neck for nine minutes and 29 seconds, murdering him in the streets of Minneapolis. The event, captured on video, was watched around the world. Floyd’s murder closely followed the shooting of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor’s death at the hands of police during a botched raid on her apartment.

Floyd’s death led to protests nationwide, including here in Shasta County, where on June 2nd, 2020, more than 500 people assembled for hours in front of the Shasta County Courthouse, chanting “I can’t breathe” and “no justice, no peace.” In the weeks following, new Facebook groups organized, and other protests and a March for Justice sprang up around the City.

Redding’s June 2nd 2020 Courthouse protest against police brutality. Video by Annelise Pierce.

The June protest was only the beginning. Community organizing mushroomed in Shasta County in the months that followed, even though local progressive organizers were met by a related surge in the activity of self-described “militias” and related groups.

Michelle Weidman, an organizer with Shasta County Mutual Aid, said the George Floyd murder “helped white liberals recognize what people of color have long known . . . that we cannot depend on politics or politicians to protect us from conditions that they have created or at least perpetuated.”

Many community organizers say their work is a direct response to Mr. Floyd’s murder and to the injustice it represents.  Here’s a closer look at how George Floyd’s murder galvanized equity and justice work in Shasta County.

  • Immediately following the murder of George Floyd, the United Way of Northern California (UWNC) collaborated with two local community foundations, the North Valley Community Foundation and the Community Foundation of the North State, to establish the North State Equity Fund (NSEF). The NSEF funds efforts that promote racial justice and social equity throughout California’s North State. Thus far, in what the organization refers to as concrete action for constructive change, NSEF has awarded $91,000 in grants to organizations directly involved in racial equity efforts across the North State. (Disclosure: Shasta Scout has received a small grant from the NSEF.)

    Melody Proebstel, Director of Equity and Advocacy for United Way of Northern California, and the NSEF fund administrator, said they have worked hard to learn from other organizations about best approaches to increasing equity in funding, saying their approach is based around the concept of trust-based philanthropy. Proebstel said the fund recognizes that the grantees they are trying to reach may or may not have the resources for a development committee or a staff that knows how to write excellent grants. That’s why, she said, the fund has used a non-traditional grant funding approach where the funder does more of the work than the grantee.  “We are wanting,” Proebstel said, “to fund not people who write good grants but people who do good work.”

  • A group of concerned individuals led by Larry Olmstead of the United Way of Northern California formed the Shasta Equal Justice Coalition (SEJC) in the weeks and months following Floyd’s murder. The group works closely with equity consultant Dr. Sharon Brisolara of Inquiry that Matters, a local program development organization. The SEJC seeks to engage in a meaningful dialogue that leads to greater trust between law enforcement and the community, especially people of color, and is currently advocating for the release of local law enforcement data related to use-of-force incidents. They are also advancing a proposal to launch a task force to study equal justice in Shasta County. Coalition members include the local branch of the ACLU, the United Way, Shasta Beloved Community, and other organizations and individuals.
  • The organizers of Reinvest Redding started the group just after local protests against police brutality in June of 2020.  Ted Couch, speaking on behalf of the organization, told Shasta Scout “our group was formed in response to the national call to address the unequal application of justice and police brutality that really came to the front in June 2020 as a result of the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and others.”  Reinvest Redding has created a People’s Budget survey and is actively looking at local government budgets with an eye to reforming public safety spending in Shasta County.
  • A small group which coordinated a series of protests outside City Hall and the Redding Police station over the weeks following the June 2nd courthouse protest developed into Shasta County Advocates for Justice.  Social media pages call the group a “grassroots coalition of volunteers working for meaningful change in our community and acquiring justice and equity for all.” Small and consistent protests actions in Redding over the weeks and months following Floyd’s murder were often coordinated by this group, who did not respond to Scout’s request for comment.  They maintain a social media presence but do not appear to have been active in recent months.
  • The local hub of Sunrise Redding, a national youth-led climate change organization, also formed after local protests against police brutality. Dash Waterbury, founder of the group, told Scout, “Sunrise Redding traces its roots to the public outrage that followed Mr. Floyd’s murder by Officer Chauvin. If we can protest for George in the face of local armed white militias, we can find the courage to take action on climate change.”
  • Work towards founding Shasta Scout, a civic news organization focused on increasing access to diverse and inclusive news in California’s North State, also began just after George Floyd’s murder and the Redding courthouse protest. Progress towards development of a new media organization in Shasta County was partially inspired by the numbers of people attending protests and beginning to organize around racial justice, indicating a strong local interest in news sources focused on diverse and inclusive coverage. Inadequate local media coverage of self-described “militias” and related groups as well as law enforcement accountability also encouraged Scout’s development.
  • A group working to connect community needs with community resources, Shasta County Mutual Aid, was also launched in 2020.  They offer free goods and clothing, haircuts, Christmas gifts, learning opportunities and other resources.  The group’s website says that mutual aid is, at its core, about solidarity, community and survival and that “everyone has something to give, just as everyone has something they need.”  Their website calls attention to the Black Panther Party, which ran programs that provided basic necessities to communities in need, with the goal of empowering these communities towards self-determination.

Dr. Lisa Pruitt, a UC Davis Law professor who specializes in rural issues and writes the blog Legal Ruralism, says that the spread of Black Lives Matter (BLM) and related progressive activism throughout lots of small cities and other places usually thought of as rural and conservative is a reflection of the pockets of progressives who already existed in those areas. “They tend to know each other, they’re in contact with each other, but for the most part they tend to lie low for social reasons,” Pruitt said.

Also, she said, police misconduct in the murder of Floyd “was so undeniable that I think it brought a lot more people generally into the BLM fold that might have been on the fence before. It caused people who might have been keeping their politics to themselves to speak out even in places where you might expect them to keep quiet.”

Comments by Dash Waterbury, of Sunrise Redding, reiterated that perspective. Waterbury said he believes new progressive organizations are emerging because Shasta County’s June protest against police brutality showed local progressives that they are part of a larger Shasta County community concerned about social action. “The protests that occurred in the North State in that terrible first week (after George Floyd’s murder) demonstrated two things,” Waterbury said, “ First, that there are many people in the North State who want to see progress in our county, and second, that those people are willing to be vocal and visible. We just need to see that others are also taking action.”

But Weidman of Shasta County Mutual Aid also theorizes that new progressive organizing in Shasta County spurred by Floyd’s murder was in part advanced by the extra time at home many people have had due to COVID-19. “I believe there is a connection with people having more time during the lockdowns to learn, think, and connect with each other and ideas about how to restructure or develop a society that might actually be worth living for,” Weidman says.

Frank Treadway, who has lived in Shasta County since 1945 and has been a local political activist for more than sixty years, says he started the local branch of the ACLU in the 1960’s.  Treadway feels excitement about recent changes in Shasta County activism but also concerned about the deep polarization that has arisen and the “extreme lack of respect seen” at recent Shasta County Board of Supervisors meetings. Treadway says he remembers seeing a shift in the 70’s of local political influence, moving the county from a “deep blue” community towards the conservatism that’s prevalent now. That drove progressives to organize in informal pods or tribes of similar thinkers, he says. Then, as now, Treadway says progressives organized around shared social causes, faith groups, and community events.

New progressive organizations joined an existing local social justice group, The Beloved Community of Shasta County, which has maintained and expanded its current community offerings in 2020.  Eddie McAlister of The Beloved Community says highlights of their 2020 year included hosting a Juneteenth celebration, offering a group zoom session about voter suppression, and participating virtually with the Commitment March on Washington where the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act was introduced. He shared excitement about new collaborations that have developed through The Beloved Community’s work with the Shasta Equal Justice Coalition.

Another existing local organization, Shasta County Citizens Advocating Respect (SCCAR), chaired by Susan Wilson, describes itself as working “to promote social justice and equal opportunity and to increase awareness of the needs and concerns of all Shasta County’s varied communities.” Following George Floyd’s murder, they organized a forum for local law enforcement agencies to express their thoughts regarding his death. They did not respond to requests for comment.

Who did we miss? Do you know of other new or existing organizations committed to racial and social equity in Shasta County whose work merits media coverage? Email us!

5.25.21 – 10:45 pm: This post has been updated to include Shasta Scout’s disclosure of funding by the NSEF.

Do you have a question or comment?  Join the community conversation at Shasta Scout’s Facebook page. Do you have a correction to this story? Email [email protected].

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