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October 24, 2020
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Another listening session in RP

By: Cassandra May Albaugh
August 21, 2020

On August 12, Rohnert Park held their third on-line session. As previously reported, the first was held on July 22. The next was a Spanish session on July 27. Originally scheduled for five sessions, two in-person events were cancelled due to the resurgence of COVID-19. Whether this is to be the final session is yet to be determined. These sessions are part of the “My Brother’s Keeper Mayor’s Pledge” adopted by the City Council in June.

This session was again facilitated by Clifford Yee, the Director of Diversity and Inclusion Training for Coro Northern California. This is the San Francisco based organization contracted by the city to conduct the sessions. The intent was to ensure these conversations were conducted in a safe place with neutral facilitation. That goal may not have been obtained. Folks expressed concern that others didn’t trust or feel safe sharing their stories in this format with the city. 

While Yee played an apparent neutral role, he appeared to exercise a more controlling function this time in comparison to the first session. For some reason, he took away the choice of participants to turn on their video or not. So, a large part of communications, body language, was unavailable at this session. The conversation was also controlled. He set, not facilitated, the ebb and flow. Setting up a topic to be discussed, he “called out” participants to discuss that topic. After they provided their input, he rephrased their input into key points “he heard” them say. 

The actual participation level at this session was limited. Evaluating the diversity of speakers was also difficult. You had to rely on self-identification, prior acquaintance with the speaker, or vocal characteristics. Yee said that 60 RSVPs were received for this event, but he acknowledged that about 40 percent of those were from city staff and contracted session employees. That reflects my observation also. By actual count there were 35 attendees. Removing Coro personnel, city staff and media (me) the count drops to about two dozen. Also, many of the remaining participants were repeats from previous sessions. A handful of FAIR-RP folks were present, as were two candidates for the upcoming city council election. Many of the new participants didn’t speak, they just listened.

Yee started this session off with a two-question poll. The first was “Have you experienced unequal treatment in Rohnert Park based on your race?” Only 13 responses were given. Of those, 4 or 31 percent said yes, seven or 54 percent said no, while two responses were either not sure or declined to state. The narrowness of the question may have also played a role in the responses. The focus only on race, meant any experienced unequal treatment based on gender, gender identity, sexual orientation or other diversity factors in our community were excluded. The second question was “What city services do you have the most concerns with?” Multiple choices were allowed so more responses were received. Clearly, however, most concerns continue to revolve around the police and city council meetings.

The discussion and examples were somewhat general in nature. Two specific inputs did stand out. One was an observation on traffic stops. When the stop involves a person of color, it seems multiple patrol cars respond. If the stop involved a white driver, only a single patrol car was involved. The other example was a concerned white mother who reported her children are treated differently when they hang out with their friends of color than when they’re by themselves. 

Also, this time, voices pushed back on the narrative of “a problem” in Rohnert Park. One urged caution to not take away the tools our police needed to deal with the bad guys and keep us safe. The tensest moment of the session was between a pastor and woman of color. The pastor, working with a group of six churches, reported they had interviewed many of their congregations which included persons of color. He said they reported “they’re just not seeing it (racism) in Rohnert Park.” This led to push back from the woman of color. She said we should not mix faith and social justice because it was a dangerous path to follow. She also said, “A lot of people need to learn how to be sensitive to something they don’t go through personally every day.”

It remains to be seen if anything useful comes out of these sessions or if they’ll help identify changes that need to be made in policies and procedures. The input was certainly limited and mostly general. Community Oversight of the police department and more transparency in reports and actions thereof, remain the most recommended action.