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What We Learned This Week

Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman addresses a town hall meeting at Cherokee Point Elementary. / Photo by Sam Hodgson

I am so, so sick of community forums.

They sound great, right? No, they sound important. Any good leader listens to the community and provides a forum for them to offer feedback.

When it comes to San Diego and community forums on policing, though, the forums are the end, not the means to any meaningful change.

Here’s what happens: People tell officials that police racial profiling is rampant, and they spell out in painstaking detail the ways it has impacted them. Police listen to those complaints and consider their job done for having done so. The next batch of numbers inevitably shows more disparate treatment for Black residents by police, triggering a new round of forums. The police listen. Nothing changes. And the cycle chugs along in a continuous loop.

I first observed it in 2014.

That’s the year Shelley Zimmerman, then an assistant SDPD chief, made the literally unbelievable claim that she’d never heard anyone in the community complain about racial profiling [1] before.

Soon after, Zimmerman was named chief and embarked on a community listening tour. At those meetings, community members consistently voiced concerns about police racial profiling [2].

The following year, the department held a series of open house events designed to offer a window into how it trains officers against racial profiling. How did that go?

One community member told us that the forum felt designed to persuade residents that their concerns about racial profiling were wrong [3], and to convince them that racial profiling doesn’t actually exist.

After I wrote about the Aaron Harvey case [4] and the ensuing community outrage, I attended a public meeting of the city’s gang commission. The group was created to address gang crimes, but the community members who addressed the meeting were concerned about another group: the gang police officers who they said consistently threatened and profiled them for simply living life in their neighborhood.

The city held more community forums in 2016 after a member of the City Council at the time suggested racial profiling was acceptable [5]. Community members made their position clear: It’s not.

When the city held a series of community forums [6] in the run-up to naming David Nisleit chief in 2017, the facilitator of those forums told KPBS that residents had been consistent in demanding that the new police leader “focus on reducing bias and profiling.”

More recently, residents in 2020 spent hours imploring the City Council at a public meeting to decrease police spending – many of them citing racial profiling. The Council instead approved a budget that increased police funding. Then residents flooded a City Council meeting again in late 2020 to persuade a majority of Council members to make Councilwoman Monica Montgomery Steppe the Council president – many of them citing her efforts to tackle police racial profiling among them. The Council instead voted in Montgomery Steppe’s competitor.

So, forgive me for my frustration when Mayor Todd Gloria announced this week that the city would be holding community forums in response to yet another analysis showing SDPD officers stop, search and use force against Black residents [7] at wildly disproportionate rates.

The city heard from residents during community forums in 2015 that racial profiling was happening, and they wanted it addressed. The city heard from residents during community forums in 2016 that racial profiling was happening, and they wanted it addressed. The city heard from residents during community forums in 2017 that racial profiling was happening, and they wanted it addressed. The city heard from residents during community forums in 2019 and 2020 that racial profiling was happening, and they wanted it addressed.

City and police officials never translated that feedback into meaningful action, and more importantly – results that show [7] the gaps between how Black and White residents are treated is closing.

What VOSD Learned

Downtown homelessness is at a crisis point [8].

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Southwestern College has for years grappled with accusations of anti-Black racism. Newly revealed emails show members of the school’s hiring committee raised numerous concerns about the process [9] that resulted in the recent hiring of a new Latino president of the school, over a Black woman candidate.

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A battle between the city of Oceanside and the state about the construction of seawalls could be a sign of the fights to come as seas continue rising [10] closer to coastal homes.

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Enrollment at local Catholic schools, many of which returned to in-person learning far more quickly than public schools, has surged [11]. But not all students are eager to resume in-person learning. Who will decide to return in the fall is one of the big questions about the post-reopening world that we tackled on the latest VOSD Podcast [12].

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The city recently signed a new franchise agreement with SDG&E – and in doing so, volunteered for a lot of watchdog work in the future [13].

What I’m Reading

Line of the Week

“You are getting paid large sums of money to do interesting things — star in movies, play concerts for tens of thousands of people — and also, basically, to just exist. Why are you tweeting? What are you doing here? As someone who has a professional obligation to marinate in the ocean of awful, it instills in me a cocktail of mad and sad to watch others do it willingly.” – A pretty compelling case for celebs to stay off Twitter [19]