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North County Report: Congressional Candidates Debate Police Reform

Rep. Mike Levin and San Juan Capistrano City Councilman Brian Maryott are competing in the 49th Congressional District. / Photos by Adriana Heldiz and courtesy of Maryott’s campaign

Police reform discussions are alive and well among young voters across North County and political candidates ahead of the upcoming election.

At a forum last week, Voice of San Diego associate editor Jesse Marx and students from Pacific Ridge School in Carlsbad surveyed 49th Congressional District [1] Rep. Mike Levin, a Democrat, and his Republican challenger, Brian Maryott, on several topics, including police accountability.

Levin said he doesn’t believe police should be defunded and he’s honored to have the support of many in the law enforcement community, including the Carlsbad Police Officers Association, but acknowledged that law enforcement agencies need significant reforms. He said he supports the idea of community policing and believes there’s need to improve relations between law enforcement and communities of color and to diversify police departments. “I think that peaceful protest is about as American as it gets,” he said.

Levin supported the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act [2], legislation that aims to curb police misconduct, excessive force and racial bias by lowering the criminal intent standard — from willful to knowing or reckless — to convict a police officer for misconduct. It also authorizes the Department of Justice to issue subpoenas in local discrimination investigations.

The bill was part of a series of proposals offered this summer by the Congressional Black Caucus, but negotiations fell apart. Those same leaders in D.C. are now promising to have something both parties can agree to by the end of year. Levin told the Union-Tribune [3] that he hopes “both sides iron out a compromise to ensure that men and women like Breonna Taylor and George Floyd did not die in vain.”

Maryott, on the other hand, said he does not support legislation addressing police reform because he does not believe in a uniform federal policing bill. He said he is against efforts to eliminate qualified immunity for police officials, so long as other public employees are still protected, and that California has made progress on recruitment, training and accountability.

He told the Union-Tribune, though, that he’d support a national registry for records and complaints against officers, which the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act would have established.

“It’s recruiting and hiring the right people with the right temperament so hopefully no racial bias in their heart; hopefully no issues in the anger area that would not make them good police officers,” Maryott said at the forum. Again, he focused on training as important and said at least 100 candidates should be screened for every opening.

Maryott said police need to be held accountable, but his idea of accountability is different from Levin’s because it begins at the hiring process and is then mostly internal.

“Mike wants to strip them of their immunity for their families, for financial damages. That’s immunity that Mike and I both share, but somehow he doesn’t think our police officers – 20 percent of whom are veterans that are serving and taking risks for our country a second time – are worthy of those same considerations,” he said.

North County voters in the 49th Congressional District, which stretches from Oceanside, Vista and Encinitas, will decide between Levin and Maryott next month. In a new poll released Tuesday by the Union-Tribune and 10 News, Levin appears poised to keep his seat [4].

Speaking of the Youth Vote …

Many of the young people who organized police brutality protests [5] said they were motivated not just by the injustice of Floyd’s death in Minneapolis but by their communities’ long histories of silence on racial justice issues. Now they are taking to social media and the streets to call for an end to racial injustice, defunding of local police departments, changes in local school curriculum and handling of racism at their schools and more.

At Politifest, I led a discussion with Leyel Joy Malavé, a founder of the We the People Escondido Instagram page, and Simran Jain, a young activist who went to high school in Poway, and other young people in San Diego County about their efforts ahead of the election.

Panelists said they do not feel represented by the candidates running for president nor candidates who currently hold seats on their local city councils, particularly when it comes to police reform.

We the People Escondido is currently working to ensure more transparency over local police department budgets and wants more of those dollars to go to youth services and services for drug addition, mental health and crime prevention. Malavé, 22, said the major political parties in Escondido do not actually represent her group or the young people who live there.

“We had 300 public comments at one of the City Council meetings rejecting the city budget and it didn’t work. … It’s a very conservative climate here so it’s definitely a lot harder to get things pushed,” she said.

Jain, an activist who attends San Diego State University and went to high school in Poway, is voting for the first time in November. She said young protestors have priorities that aren’t reflected in the Republican or Democratic platforms. She and her group are pushing for defunding of the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, which polices Poway.

She said even though San Diego has a lot of Democratic leaders, young people still are not seeing the kind of change they desire. “I think it’s important because we have to kind of fight against the system for the system to listen to us. And by us, I mean the people that are on the streets that are seeing this stuff happen.”

Listen to more [6] from young organizers across San Diego County about their local activism ahead of the November election.

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