Protesters Push For San Rafael Police Reforms

Mayor pledges review of policies, increases police budget

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Black Lives Matter protesters march through San Rafael on June 4. By Luca Evans

By Luca Evans

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, both indirectly and directly, by organizers of the June 4 rally. After thousands of protestors assembled in Montecito Plaza and marched to City Hall in downtown San Rafael, 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 expressed he’d make a change if deemed necessary after further review of the San Rafael Police Department’s policies and procedures.

Chief of Police Diana Bishop has stated that her department conducts regular training in racial profiling, and has worn agency-wide body cameras since 2014. In the weeks since the protest, Phillips formed a task force composed of government officials and community members to review existing policies within San Rafael departments.

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 that 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, according to the Marin Independent-Journal.

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.

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