Martinez City Council and city staff members addressed the Contra Costa County curfew and civil activities that have arisen in the wake of the death of George Floyd of Minneapolis, Minn. Floyd’s death came during his arrest after Minneapolis police believed he was trying to pass a counterfeit $20.
A widely circulated video shows Floyd on the ground with one officer’s knee behind his head. Three other officers were present but did not intervene.
The four are facing charges: Derek Chauvin, whose knee was on Floyd’s neck, is facing a charge of second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter; Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao are charged with aiding and abetting second degree murder and aiding and abetting second degree manslaughter.
The conversation began under public comment by Gregory Trevor Rice, who said he’s heard the outrage and frustration of fellow residents, but that he hadn’t heard a statement condemning racial inequity from the Council or how Martinez police addresses similar matters.
He urged the police department to follow guidelines issued by the NAACP, which among several points urge the end of use of knee holds and choke holds, that police misconduct is not shielded from the public and that officers are held accountable.
Other residents asked for historic research and General Plan recognition of a man named Jones, a black man who may have built the second hotel room in Martinez, and that the police department could be relabeled the “peace department.”
During his own portion of the meeting, Martinez Police Chief Manjit Sappal said, “We support free speech and expression.”
He said that the Bay area has been impacted by those upset by Floyd’s death. He has issued his own department statement on social media addressing the Contra Costa County temporary curfew that was lifted Thursday.
“We realize people are hurting and want to grieve, and we support that” he said, but it needed to be balanced with keeping the community safe. He said peaceful demonstrations are a constitutional right, but looting and vandalism are crimes and “a safety concern.”
He asked those who were having issues to call his department’s nonemergency number. He praised Martinez residents for their “high level of empathy,” for those who live here as well as for city and police employees.
City Manager Eric Figueroa echoed Sappal’s comments. He noted both he and Sappal come from immigrant backgrounds, which made them sensitive to some community concerns that might escape others’ notice. He praised those who have called peacefully for action and forward movement, and said he was saddened that others capitalized on those protests to loot and commit other violent acts that drown out the message of Floyd’s tragic death.
Councilmember Debbie McKillop said she had spent her entire career holding people accountable for violent crimes and that she’s seen some “horrific things” in her life. She expressed sympathy for Floyd’s family and condemned the accused Minneapolis officers, saying, “There is no place for this type of violence on any human being.”
Vice Mayor Mark Ross called the recent weeks “one of the seminal moments in history.” He called Floyd’s murder “reprehensible.” In contrast, he cited the eloquence of both Sappal’s and other officers’ observations on Floyd’s death.
“What do we do as a predominantly white community?” Ross asked, acknowledging that Martinez had a responsibility to address the situation, but that he was conflicted about what response is appropriate. “I don’t want us to step in the trap of telling the black community what to do about it.”
He cited a broadcast he had seen that related how abolitionists and freedom fighters hadn’t taken the lead, but were supporters. “I think we can listen. I think that’s our role. I think that’s our calling,” he said, although he sought a greater response. “What can we do that’s more than thoughts and prayers?”
Ross suggested a workshop or forum, although under pandemic restrictions, that would be challenging. “I’m open to listening,” he said, to see if there were unaddressed problems in Martinez. And he expressed hope that the public forum would result in something productive.
“This is déjà vu, and it’s got to stop,” he said. “I’m open to suggestions.”
Mayor Rob Schroder said he was in a similar quandary. “I don’t know what to do as mayor. I need people to help me get there,” he said. “’Thoughts and prayers’ – that’s a hollow kind of message.”
He noted the police department has diversity in its makeup and has a culture of service, not oppression. “The chief is doing a fantastic job,” he said, adding that the department takes its time to hire new officers, making sure they are a good fit for the community.
“We want the best of the best,” Schroder said, officers who are “friends of the community”
The mayor agreed with Ross that the Council should ask the public to weigh in on the cause, which he said is global, not limited to Martinez.
Concerning the ongoing health orders regarding the pandemic, McKillop told the panel she has learned that a colleague’s relative had died of the COVID-19 virus.
She said it was a reminder for people to alter their lifestyles according to the county health order to reduce the spread of the pandemic – wearing masks, educating children and keeping a six-foot distance from others. She cited a quote that resonated with her, “It’s six feet apart or six feet under,” she said.
Council approved assessments for eight landscape and lighting districts.
In a 4-0 vote, with Councilmember Lara DeLaney excused, the Council set assessments of $3,420 for the nine parcels in Village Oaks Terrace, $7,750 for the eight parcels in Muir Station Park, $6,470 for the 15 parcels in Creekside, $60,180 for the 205 parcels in Brittany Hills, $14,570 for the seven parcels in Vista Oaks, $5,650 for the five parcels in The Center, $6,762 for the 23 parcels in Terra Vista and $19,959 for the 26 parcels in Alhambra Estates.
The city’s contract with the current vendor, McNamara, ends next year, and while the company has provided satisfactory work for years, Figueroa and interim City Engineer Randy Leptien said city staff would be developing a scope of work and likely seek bids on the next contract.
In other matter, Schroder said the Council’s baseball subcommittee met with Pecos League owner Andrew Dunn. The Martinez Sturgeon tentatively expect to have a shortened season starting in September, with league games played in San Rafael and Martinez.
License agreements will be modified to reflect how the pandemic has impacted the season. That should prepare the city and the team for regular play in 2021, Schroder said.