By JEFF CLEMETSON
It has been over a year since protests erupted across the nation following the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, people of all races and ages took to the streets to demand justice and to bring to the collective conscience of the country a mantra and a movement: “Black Lives Matter.”
Locally, support for the Black Lives Matter movement comes from a group formed last year named Del Cerro for Black Lives Matter (DC4BLM). Although not an official chapter of the national BLM organization, DC4BLM works toward the same goals of racial justice on a local level.
“At the core, this is about community first,” said Ellis Clay, a member of DC4BLM. “It’s Del Cerro for Black Lives Matter, not something else. So it’s grassrootsy in the fact that we’re all supporters and in the community itself and we want it to be community outward. The thing that we are trying to do is start from within our community.”
DC4BLM member Russell Dehnel sees the group as “helping the community be a safe space for Black residents.”
Dehnel said his family have lived in the Navajo area since the early 1960s, but only recently has he noticed Black neighbors comfortable enough with the community to walk around openly and engage with neighbors. He said groups like DC4BLM, which is multi-racial and multi-generational, are a big part of that change. “Particularly for white people to say, ‘we are in solidarity with you and believe that you need to be here, believe that you need to be safe and we’ll support you in whatever way you need to be safe and included in this community,” he added.
Although no member holds traditional positions like president or chair, Clay said in the past year DC4BLM formed a leadership council that sets agendas for larger group activities and makes connections with other organizations, including Racial Justice Coalition of San Diego and Stand Up for Racial Justice.
“In a small setting, we’ve been supporting Black-owned businesses and just trying to be putting out information about things that are happening either in the larger San Diego community on racial and social justice issues and sometimes we share information on national issues and chime in on things that are of concern” he said.
Withing the group, smaller committees work on different projects. There’s an education committee that works within the school systems in the community to bring racial equity projects and offer student mentoring; a social justice reform committee; an awareness committee concerned with outreach; and a criminal justice reform committee that follows policing issues like the newly-created Commission on Police Practices.
“So we’ve been tracking the progress of that,” said DC4BLM member Donte Wyatt, adding that the current stage of that program is negotiating with police unions. “We’ve been tracking that to make sure that what comes out of the ordinance is actually reflective of what was intended by the original bill that was passed by the people — and that’s of high concern.”
Another item of concern is progress on the Preventing Overpolicing Through Equitable Community Treatment (PrOTECT) ordinance, which would limit pretext stops and require probable cause for searches, among other reforms. Recent studies show that traffic stops and use of force are used disproportionately against Black and Hispanic communities.
“The PrOTECT ordinance is one attempt by the city to try and mitigate some of those things,” Wyatt said. “So we want to see where our City Council member in particular and then the City Council as a whole ultimately falls in regard to that ordinance. We want to make sure we are constantly applying — I don’t want to say pressure — but constantly applying input on the desires of the community to further the issues and goals around social justice, and that’s primarily what we’ve been doing.”
In addition to tracking and applying input to Councilmember Raul Campillo’s office, DC4BLM also recently reached out to Rep. Sarah Jacobs’ office about legislation regarding law enforcement in school environments.
Progress on racial justice issues, Wyatt said, is slowing some with “the usual roadblocks” now that there’s more time between now and the protests following George Floyd’s murder. Initially, elected officials showed verbal support on the campaign trail, “but now it’s time to see if they’re gonna actually have that verbal support translate into actual, tangible action and change.”
One area of progress, Wyatt said, was a change to SDPD’s chokehold policy. Another is a recent vote by City Council to not expand the Shot Spotter program — a controversial program that involves putting listening devices in mostly urban neighborhoods to monitor gunshot noises — without more oversight.
“But one of the things we want to make sure we’re always looking out for is that things are not being done in a performative fashion versus things actually being done that creates substantive change in the situations we’re concerned about,” Wyatt said.
DC4BLM member Julie Wood summed up the group’s path to achieving that substantive change this way: “The bottom line is you want as many people to get out there and put pressure on your legislators, spread awareness about [social justice] and organize. I think that’s one thing we really learned in this group through the speakers we’ve had — organizing is really important, that and sticking with it.”
— Reach editor Jeff Clemetson at email@example.com.