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.