On June 4, two hours into a Black Lives Matter rally in San Rafael, Mayor Gary Phillips stood at the top of City Hall steps. Below him, thousands of masked, sign-carrying citizens standing on Fifth Avenue fell momentarily silent as organizers handed Phillips a megaphone.
As Philips spoke, the crowd began to boo, a sound likely not too familiar to the 75-year-old man who has served as mayor of Marin County’s largest city for the past nine years.
Despite a progressive reputation, the Advancement Project California, a racial justice organization based in Los Angeles, currently ranks Marin County as the most racially disparate county in California. According to 2010–2014 Census data, 5.5 percent of Marin County’s white residents, who account for 62.1 percent of the county’s population, were living in poverty. By comparison, 28.1 percent of Black residents, who make up 5.9 percent of the county’s population, were living below the poverty line.
Those disparities were touched upon by organizers of the June 4 rally. After thousands of protestors assembled in Montecito Plaza and marched to City Hall, Black and Hispanic organizers and advocates passed a megaphone to deliver personalized messages relating to the movement.
Phillips’ suggestions, which skewed towards police reform rather than systemic change, were not popular with the crowd. Protestors shouted “No justice, no peace!” in response to the mayor’s expressed support of his police department, and after about five minutes in the face of a mixture of cheers and boos, Phillips passed off the megaphone.
In an interview after the speech, Phillips defended the police department’s track record, and said he’d make changes if necessary after further review of the department’s policies and procedures.
In the weeks since, Phillips formed a task force composed of government officials and community members to review existing policies.
However, Phillips and the city have seemingly not taken tangible steps towards the most prevalent theme of the June 4 protest: closer connections between different parts of the community and more support for public programs to support the city’s historically-marginalized residents.
During budget discussions, Phillips and Bishop voiced support for studying ways to remove some of the police departments’ responsibility.
For now, though, not much has changed. In a budget adopted June 15, SPRD funds are set to be slightly higher than in the previous year. Meanwhile, library hours and recreational programs will be reduced.
By Luca Evans