‘People’s town hall’

Chico activist groups meet downtown to work on policing and racial injustice solutions

Cory Hunt speaks during "people's town hall" in Chico's City Plaza. (photo by Ken Smith)

Following a week of passionate, near-nightly protests in the wake of the killing of George Floyd that drew hundreds of people to downtown Chico, Tuesday (June 10) evening’s gathering at Chico City Plaza showed a markedly different side of the ongoing fight for social justice, racial equity and police reform.

The event was a “people’s town hall” geared toward gathering community input and formulating workable solutions to problems in policing and racial injustice. By design, it was held at 6 p.m., as the Chico City Council met across the street to discuss its 2020-21 budget. In recent days, the council has been bombarded with hundreds of messages calling for defunding the city’s police department, which accounts for nearly 50 percent of the city’s entire operating costs.

The event—which drew more than 100 people and was organized by Mechoopda tribe member Ali Meders-Knight as well as members of local chapters of the Sunrise Movement, Students for Quality Education and Democratic Socialists of America—began much as other protests, with participants holding signs and shouting out slogans and callbacks. In addition to the usual rallying cries, the crowd at one point chanted “Cut that budget! You’re not worth it!”

Fliers featuring a pie chart breaking down the city’s budget and urging people to “Reinvest in the Chico Community” were handed out to rally participants and passersby driving down Main Street. Meanwhile, volunteers at a table in the plaza helped people draft and send letters demanding funding and policy changes to city council members.

One of the event’s facilitators, Cory “Himp C” Hunt, read a list of 10 demands outlined by organizers of the Justice for Desmond Phillips effort, which include the removal of Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey, re-allocation of police funding, officer accountability, and bringing the Chico Police Department’s Use of Force policy into compliance with Assembly Bill 392. The law, which took effect Jan. 1, requires that language in all policies that state that deadly use of force is justified when “reasonable” or “objectively reasonable” be changed to “necessary.” CPD has yet to make the changes.

After Hunt spoke, anyone who wanted to focus on specific policing or racial issues was invited to share their thoughts, with speakers encouraged to offer potential solutions.

Defunding was among the most frequently addressed topics. Many speakers explained it doesn’t necessarily mean shuttering police departments entirely, but rather redirecting some of the money spent on policing toward social workers and other resources meant to substantively address and solve issues like homelessness, drug addiction and mental health, which account for the majority of current police contacts.

While the protests that continue across the nation initially focused on immediate justice for Floyd and other victims of police violence, Anatta Okonkwo, a rally participant, explained that the fight to change policing in America is more wide-ranging and ongoing.

“Police accountability only punishes officers after a young black man has lost his life,” she said, “Police reform is needed to stop them from being killed in the first place.”

While many people spoke about the need for better police training when it comes engaging with those suffering from mental health issues, Okonkwo said that many police officers themselves struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder and often are discouraged from seeking help due to the stoic nature of police culture.

“Some of them are deeply traumatized people, and traumatized people tend to inflict more trauma on others,” Okonkwo said.

After dozens of people addressed the crowd from the stage, the remaining participants broke into two large groups, each tasked with coming up with talking points, strategies, demands and solutions. The resulting discussions were wide-ranging, with input including the importance of educating people regarding history, racial issues, mass-incarceration and their rights, as well as the immediate demilitarization and de-arming of police officers.

The event’s organizers and other local activist groups intend to hold similar community forums focused on open discussion and developing actionable goals each Tuesday night at City Plaza for the indefinite future.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story incorrectly suggested that the Mechoopda tribe was an organizer of the event.

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3 Comments

  1. I
    Am a veteran and fully believe in the first amendment right to peacefully protest anything you desire.Yet nowhere in the Constitution does it give anyone the right to destroy property or injure anyone while protesting.I think that defunding the Police is the most insane idea I have ever heard of.You honestly believe that without police that we would have a civil society than you do not read history.Y ou people think by throwing money at liberal agencies like county health and other agencies will protect our citizens from lawbreakers are wrong. You need to go back to school because you do not have what mental facilities are needed as a contributing member of society.

  2. The full demands are as follows because for some reason you did not publish them…
    Citizens supporting the Justice for Desmond Phillips Campaign demand the following from the City of Chico and Butte County with regard to compliance with State law, creation of City or County policy, City or County employees (law enforcement), and allocation of City or County Budget funds.

    1.The City of Chico must immediately fire all of the officers involved in the murder of Desmond Phillips.
    Sergeant Mike Williams, Officers Alex Fliehr, Jared Cumber, Jeremy Gagnebin, Derek Ament, & David Martin

    2.The Chico Police Department must arrest, and the District Attorney must charge, and convict, officers involved in the murder of Desmond Phillips:
    Sergeant Mike Williams, Officers Alex Fliehr, Jared Cumber, Jeremy Gagnebin, Derek Ament, & David Martin

    3.Fire District Attorney Mike Ramsey for his lack of oversight in the improper investigation of the murder of Desmond Phillips and his failure to fulfill his duty to prosecute officers who kill civilians including Desmond and many others murdered by law enforcement in the jurisdiction of Butte County. As Butte County District Attorney for over 32 years, his reign as an arbiter of injustice should come to a close.

    4.Three-year term limits should be set for all future District Attorneys in Butte County, so that polarizing power-mongering is not allowed to fester.

    5.The City of Chico and Butte County must redirect and redistribute funding that police currently receive to instead be invested in the needs of marginalized communities.

    6.Response for ALL 911 calls for mental health situations must include mental health professionals. Expand the hours of the Butte County Mobile Crisis Team to provide care 24 hours per day for 7 days a week to provide protection for citizens in mental duress as they experience the added trauma of dealing with a police force that they can not trust.

    7.City and County law enforcement departments must have explicit policies that prevent them from hiring officers with any history of use of force complaints.

    8.Individual Officers should be legally liable for their own misconduct, particularly for excessive use of force. This will create an individualized incentive to comply with the requirement that deadly force only be used when absolutely necessary.

    9.Departments must have clear and publicly available policies that ensure transparency and accountability for the use of officer body cameras. These policies must also address discipline for officers who fail to wear or utilize these cameras in the performance of their duties.

    10.Chico police department and Butte County Sheriff department must comply with all CA State laws without allocation of new funding:

    AB392: Use of Force policy must be updated to remove any language that includes “objectively reasonable” or “reasonable” from the policy and replaces it with language that declares the deadly force “necessary” and includes that the officer has “evaluated” the situation. This must be accomplished without any new funding.

    SB 1421 and AB 748: Law Enforcement Agencies must release records relating to officer use-of-force incidents, sexual assault, and acts of dishonesty. This includes officers’ records of past complaints and misconduct. This must be accomplished without any new funding.

    SB 230: All Law enforcement Agencies must increase officer training on implicit racial bias, de-escalation and non-deadly force to disarm or subdue. This must be accomplished without any new funding.

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