Truckee’s ‘Say Their Name’ vigil took proactive approach to peaceful demonstration
United States citizens took to the streets across the country this week to express grief and frustration over the death of another unarmed black man at the hand of law enforcement.
Although demonstrations spanning from Oakland to Reno destroyed public buildings, Truckee’s Say Their Name Vigil memorialized George Floyd and other victims of police brutality in a peaceful gathering Tuesday evening.
The Vigil was police-sanctioned, approved and attended, said community organizer and mother Christina Temple. Temple said she and nine other community organizers from overlapping realms of Truckee’s activism community included the police department in the event’s orchestration to allay burgeoning concerns from the community.
“The amount of fear was so tremendous — unimaginable pre-Covid,” said Janet Dickinson, Truckee resident and climate activist. Dickinson, one of the event’s orchestrators, said town officials, business owners and community members were concerned the gathering would not only spread the virus but inspire violence.
“There was a great amount of concern from business owners, out of fear that there would be rioting and looting, that their stores would be taken apart,” Dickinson said.
Temple, immunocompromised amidst a flareup of fibromyalgia, corresponded with police from her home prior to and during the event to keep authorities abreast of any physical threats to the community.
“People thought we were ANTIFA left-wings nuts meant to cause violence and people were concerned that an event would bring attention from neighboring areas,” Temple said.
The vigil’s organizers shared business owners’ apprehension given Reno’s riot Saturday which resulted in a vandalized city police station and a burnt city hall. Reno’s ABC News Channel 4 reported that a Truckee resident was arrested on the scene. The Sierra Sun was unable to verify the identity of that arrestee with Washoe County’s Sheriff Office.
Temple and Dickinson expressed appreciation for the event’s attendees — including Truckee’s police.
A transparency report on Truckee police posted at the TownOfTruckee.com website shows the department made 489 arrests in 2018. According to the same report, 16 arrests required use of force. Of the 15,262 calls for police service made in 2018, there were two civilian complaints.
Truckee’s 2019 census predictions show 78% of the town identifies as white. Approximately 17% of the population identifies as Hispanic, 2% bi- or multi-racial, 1% as Asian. Less than 1% of Truckee’s 16,000 residents identify as black, the race most at-risk — in proportion with population — of losing their lives to police brutality.
In an email to the Sierra Sun prior to the vigil, Chief Robert Leftwich said he has not witnessed police brutality or systemic racism firsthand in decades of public service. Leftwich said he takes care to recruit mature officers that possess a “true connection and desire to be around the people and community they serve.”
According to Leftwich, legislation like Senate Bill 230, which promotes clarity around police’s use of deadly force, offer a starting point for transparency between officers and community members but fall short when fleshing out a healthy relationship between the overlapping entities.
“Being a police officer or Chief is my profession but it is not my identity,” Leftwich said. “One of my personal pet peeves is ‘Blue Lives Matter.’ … Although I appreciate the sentiment, the focus should be on my life as a person.”
Leftwich said connecting with residents is in his office’s best interest as neighbors and as law enforcers.
“Something that is less obvious but is one of the most critical components of our strategy is relationships,” Leftwich said. “By having our community know our officers and trust our officers before a tragic event unfolds, the start of the communication is often from a healthier place.”
Temple and Dickinson both said they trust Truckee’s police department, which is why, as the community began to vocalize concerns pre-vigil, organizers turned to officers to provide security as participants said the names of victims of police violence aloud.
“It comes to a point in planning a demonstration — are you gonna be so fearful that you think our community doesn’t want to approach this or will you stand with us to support our community?” Dickinson said.
SHOW OF SUPPORT
Hundreds of people gathered along Donner Pass Road in Truckee for Tuesday’s vigil. Raised fists and signs bearing the names of victims of police brutality were held high while dozens of car horns blared in solidarity during the hour-long Say Their Names Vigil.
The vigil stretched from the intersection of Spring Street and Donner Pass Road, past the Interstate 80 overpass, and to the Safeway grocery story.
“We saw the same news footage as everyone else and felt terrible about what’s happening all over the country,” said one of the vigil’s organizers, Janet Atkinson. “Truckee has people that care about this issue too — we care about it, our kids care about it.”
The protest started being organized on Sunday, according to Atkinson, and along with an invite extended toward Truckee Police, Town Council, and the mayor, marked a stark contrast to the violence being seen in cities across the country, including nearby in Reno where rioters broke into city hall.
“A big part of our strategy was to hold a vigil, not a protest,” said Atkinson. “We had to keep this subdued and I think it’s very powerful. People are showing what they feel with their presence. We showed up. It doesn’t always have to be yelling.”
West Shore resident Lindsay Kaufmann turned up to the event, and said it’s the first time she’s ever participated in a form of protest.
“I feel like we need change in our world,” said Kaufmann. “This is peaceful … we hurt ourselves when we hurt one another. When one suffers we all suffer. This protest, you’re speaking your truth, you’re speaking your mind, but you’re doing it at a healthy, conscious level.”
Kaufmann said she was born in Southern California and witnessed the Los Angeles riots as a child.
“I’ve seen it,” she said on protests turned violent. “But here we’re standing as a community and being one.”
Dickinson said the organizing team discouraged destruction by relocating the public gathering across the street from shops and after the community began to vocalize its concerns about the vigil. They marked the sidewalk itself with X’s to not only encourage social distancing, but stress that the event was not a march and ease tensions already felt at glass-paned storefronts.
According to Dickinson, organizers intentionally avoided identifying the gathering as a “protest” to avoid outside exacerbators.
Public Information Officer Pete Mann at Truckee’s California Highway Patrol’s office said officers take part in de-escalation trainings throughout their careers. Leftwich echoed that claim, but added de-escalation techniques are not limited to exploring the uses of different firearms or physical control tactics.
“Crisis Intervention Training deals with all aspects of human emotion during crisis: trauma and confrontation,” Leftwich said.
Mann said racial profiling is against the law.
According to Leftwich, race sensitivity training is offered to supervisors, mid-managers and above, but not specifically to officers.
“I’ve always assumed that our officers don’t see color, it’s the incident we want people to focus on, regardless of age, color or sexuality,” Leftwich said. “That’s a valid point that something needs to come out of this. There’s no state-certified curriculum for law enforcement that reckons with inherent bias.”
The nation’s expression of grief at the loss of Floyd’s life and many others in the black community has not looked so calm elsewhere.
In an email sent to Town of Truckee’s employees, Leftwich identified escalating types of public gatherings, beginning with demonstrations and protests and ending in unlawful assemblies and riots.
“Over the last five days, (CHP has) had officers deployed 24 hours a day to Sacramento to protect state assets and state infrastructure, including freeways, state buildings and the Capitol,” Mann said.
Leftwich remains “cautiously optimistic” that Truckee will not face the same sort of destruction as neighboring municipalities.
“Our Police Department’s role is complicated,” Leftwich said in an email. “Our job is actually to protect people’s right to demonstrate and protest.”
The police tactics used by Derek Chauvin, the first officer with charged in Floyd’s death were “professionally negligent and unnecessary,” Leftwich said. Even so, Chauvin’s unlawful actions do not justify riots, he said.
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