Community
September 21, 2020
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RP holds first listening session

By: Cassandra May Albaugh
July 31, 2020

On July 22, a two-hour on-line listening session was held by the City of Rohnert Park. The session was part of “Step Two” from the “My Brother’s Keeper Mayor’s Pledge.” Mayor Callinan and Vice Mayor Mackenzie signed the pledge last month on behalf of the city. This was one of the actions taken by the city in response to local Black Lives Matter protests after George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis, MN on March 25. 

The pledge has four steps. “Step One” is to review police use of force policies. That will be done, but upon recommendation of City Manager Darrin Jenkins, the city chose to go further than just those policies. They committed to review all policies and procedures in the governance of Rohnert Park. The city council agreed and they plan to have this accomplished by the end of the year.

“Step Two” of the pledge is to “engage communities by including a diverse range of inputs, experiences and stories” in this review. This started on Wednesday with this first session. There were supposed to be five, but the two in-person sessions were cancelled due to Covid-19 concerns. They may be rescheduled later. 

The remaining online sessions are Monday July 27 in Spanish and Wednesday August 12 in English. When in English, a Spanish interpreter will be present. Both will be from 6-8 p.m. and you must RSVP for security purposes. You can do so at the City of Rohnert Park website under the Equality Policy and Practice Review tab.

This first session was facilitated by Clifford Yee who is the Director of Diversity and Inclusion Training for Coro Northern California. Coro is the San Francisco based organization contracted by the city to conduct these sessions. The intent is to ensure the conversations are conducted in a safe place with neutral facilitation. You can find more information about Coro at https://coronorcal.org/. 

Yee used the first thirty minutes to welcome participants. He also discussed the rules and process for the session as he waited for additional folks to join the meeting. He stated RSVPs were necessary to avoid the session being disrupted by “Zoom bombing.”

He stated they anticipated 40 plus participants based on RSVPs; however, in his experience it’s not unusual for 50 percent of participants to be no shows. By my count, the high point of attendance was 35. The actual participation of community members was closer to two dozen. In addition to other CORO employees assisting Yee, two press representatives and multiple city staff were on-line monitoring. They did not participate. These included Jenkins, Director of Public Safety Tim Mattos and other city staff.

Many of the community members that did dial in, were voices often heard at local protests and city council meetings via submission of public comments. Many had their videos off, so the diversity of participation was difficult to ascertain. However, of the folks that commented, approximately a dozen, many identified themselves as Hispanic or persons of color. They shared their perceptions and general concerns of racism from their personal experience in the city. Some related general examples of stares, glares and a sense of uneasiness while others were more specific. Comments will be gathered and posted on the city’s website. Others can also submit their comments and impressions on that website even if they don’t participate in these sessions. 

According to the survey administered by Coro – 28 percent reported they experienced racism. 44 percent reported they have not. 17 percent weren’t sure and 11 percent declined to answer the question. 78 percent said public safety was of greatest concern, while closely behind at 67 percent were administration of city policies and procedures. 

Based on the comments, a continuing push for some form of civilian oversite of the Department of Public Safety and more sharing of data in regard to police stops and activities were the most often recommended actions to take to rebuild trust in our community. Many also pointed out that the city council is unresponsive to the concerns of residents. Some said they were “flat out ignoring” their voices. Other specific recommendations were for council members to distance themselves from the Sonoma County Alliance, provide more transparency regarding the lawsuits and settlements using taxpayer’s money and have more mental health resources available to accompany police calls when needed.

Council members did not listen in on the session because of Brown Act concerns. Coro recorded the session and will provide them a tape for listening. After completion of all sessions and posted remarks, a data analysis will be provided to the city as part of Step 3 of the pledge which is to report the findings to the community and seek feedback. The final step then would be to reform the community’s police use of force policies and/or other city policies that promote unintentional discrimination or racism.