Where the battle will be fought

All praise to the protesters. I didn’t go to any anti-racism protests myself, because I’m in a higher risk group for COVID-19, but the world-wide protests have brought anti-black racism and unjust policing practices to world consciousness.

But now comes the hard part: working at the local level to end unjust policing practices. This is going to be hard because we’re all going to have to dig into the messy details of local politics.

For example:

Last night, I received an emergency email from the San Mateo branch of the NAACP. Someone discocvered an unpleasant surprise in the agenda of today’s meeting of the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors. Rev. Lorrie Owens, president of the San Mateo branch, writes:

“The Board will be voting on a resolution to approve the Fiscal Year 2020-2021 budget, which includes an item we are vehemently against. Last month, at the 05/05/2020 Board of Supervisors Meeting, the supervisors vote to waive the Request for Proposal process to allow for an expenditure of not to exceed $922,110.83 to purchase 310 new Tasers for Axon Enterprise, Inc.”

In other words, the Board of Supervisors is going to budget nearly a million dollars to buy a weapon that has been used disproportionately on people of color, and is linked to unjust policing practices. And the Board is doing this in the face of an impending budget crisis brought on by the massive economic crisis we’re facing.

Well, I submitted a comment to the Board, although I read the NAACP email too late and missed the deadline for public comments. Yet I’m sure there will be plenty of NAACP members who submitted timely comments, and whowill be able to attend the online meeting, and speak against this unjust and fiscally irresponsible budget item.

But my real point is this: the policies that result in unjust policing are rooted in this kind of obscure local politics. The decisions to militarize the police, to authorize the police to use disproportionate force, don’t get made by police chiefs or police officers. These decisions get made by local officials, often in the form of budget priorities. Most of these local officials mean well, but their actions receive little scrutiny by us voters.

In other words, the responsibility of us voters goes beyond voting once a year in general elections. We also have to watch over local officials throughout the year. And if you don’t have the time or expertise to dig into county budget details (I know I don’t), then you join an organization that you trust to do that digging for you.

If you’re healthy enough to go to protests, by all means go. But anyone who cares about anti-racism and unjust policing also has to commit to being involved in local politics. And, based on my experience, joining your local branch of the NAACP is a good place to start influencing local politics.

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