East Bay elected officials held a town hall meeting Wednesday night to discuss police accountability, giving community members the opportunity to voice concerns about the disconnect that many think exists between law enforcement officials and minority communities.
The meeting began with a statement by Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson and an opening prayer. The microphone was then handed to community members. Speakers included students, teachers, activists from the NAACP and BART and AC Transit workers.
Elected officials spoke last and discussed the need to build a better relationship between police and citizens. Oakland Mayor Jean Quan and state Assemblymembers Rob Bonta and Tony Thurmond all spoke about body cameras worn by police as a way to increase accountability.
“Law enforcement and elected officials left more educated about the community’s feelings,” said Nathan Rapp, spokesperson for State Senator Loni Hancock. “It’s obvious that there still exists a huge gap in regards to trust, communication and understanding between our communities and law enforcement.”
Other proposed solutions included redirecting money toward programs to provide jobs and reduce crime, improving media representations of black individuals and implementing programs where police officers interact with schoolchildren in order to get to know their communities better, according to Idris Hassan, a spokesperson for Carson.
“I thought it was a necessary first step towards making sure citizens feel heard,” Hassan said. “(The elected officials) were taking a back seat and listening to what people were saying.”
In addition to broader police-civilian relations, attendees also discussed the police force used during recent protests in Berkeley and Oakland.
Thurmond said rulings after the recent killings of black citizens by police triggered emotions, which people have a right to voice through protest. He said that police seem to have used excessive force during crowd control and that citizens want to be able to protest without being struck by rubber bullets.
“How do we change the paradigm (such) that law enforcement can do their job to keep the community safe but do so without deadly force?” Thurmond said. “From my perspective, this is just the beginning.”