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Matthew Leslie

What, if anything, do members of the Fullerton City Council plan to do to respond to the demands of Black Lives Matter? Not much to nothing, I would venture to guess. After all, the police union openly backed a majority of their campaigns, and they got the return of Jan Flory last year as a bonus gift. The FPD are in no serious jeopardy of being defunded, reorganized, or overseen by a Civilian Police Oversight Commission as long as their endorsed candidates keep winning elections. But that doesn’t stop some of them from appearing before BLM demonstrations and talking about inequality, voting, racism—everything except police reform.

On June 6, Councilmembers  Ahmad Zahra and Jesus Silva both appeared at a Black Lives Matter protest on the lawn of Fullerton’s City Hall, along with Rep. Gil Cisneros and Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva. Following comments by Cisneros and Quirk-Silva, Ahmad Zahra spoke to the hundreds of gathered to demand police reform in the wake of the appalling killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis.”We are all angry!,” he said, reading from a prepared text on his smart phone.  “Protest against injustice and racism is not only our right, it is our duty!,” he continued. “I am no stranger to hate, discrimination, and racism,” he proclaimed, recalling his background as a gay, Muslim Syrian immigrant. He stridently proclaimed the need to respect diversity and celebrated the flying of the Pride Flag above City Hall behind him, drawing wild cheers from the sign-waving young protesters.

Things got suddenly quiet, however, when he tried to assure the energized crowd that the Fullerton Police Department just across Highland Ave. to the east was committed to “accountability, transparency, and the highest safety standards.” Confusion followed, and then a bit of derisive laughter. “There’s always room for improvement….” “We are going to continue to re-examine our policies…” and then, like clockwork, the old chestnut “community policing,” whatever that is supposed to mean, which is the whole point of that term, because it can mean anything a noncommittal politician wants it to mean, which is usually nothing at all.

I was going to edit the video (used without permission from the Fullerton College Hornet)

down to just the part about police accountability, but I’m sure Mr. Zahra would want you to hear the whole of his inspiring speech…

 

Quirk-Silva BLM

Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva speaking to a Black Lives Matter demonstration, June 6, 2020.

Matthew Leslie

Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;…

From The Second Coming, W. B. Yeats, 1919*

Perhaps it is both banal, because it is done so often, and inappropriate because the author was white, to reference the Irish poem The Second Coming to comment on the words of a Latinx lawmaker about Black Lives Matter protests, but the poem was good enough for the Nigerian author Chinua Achebe to borrow a line for his landmark novel Things Fall Apart and, to the occupying English, the Irish weren’t exactly white, not like them, anyway.

Yesterday 65th Assembly District Representative Sharon Quirk-Silva (D, Fullerton)  posted a short essay to her official website Entitled Black Lives Matter and Police Officers?

Quirk-Silva BLM Essay

Quirk-Silva opens by asking “can you support #BLM and Police Officers at the same time?” and follows with her immediate answer “Some say no, but I say you can.” She qualifies her thanks to the “noble and honorable” “majority” of police officers with the observation that black men and women face “issues with enforcement or blatant, long-term oppression,” but then veers completely off the subject for most of the rest of the piece to address systemic racism in every other area of society than policing itself. “…activities such as jogging, going to the market, going to school, can all be everyday activities for most, but if you are a person of color, these activities are risky, depending on who you might encounter,” like the police, we might ask?

She continues, writing of her appearance at a June 6 demonstration on the lawn in front of Fullerton’s City Hall, where she herself had served two full terms on the city council. Speaking to a crowd estimated to be around 1,500 that day, she held a handmade sign reading “Protest and accountability = Policy Shift “ (the sign appears in an image accompanying her June 8 post). On that day, she recalled “Right here, twelve years ago (sic)** there was a death, how many of you remember Kelly Thomas?,” stating that there were similarities between that case and that of George Floyd, murdered in the streets by Minneapolis police this year.

Kelly Thomas was white. He was marginalized by society for his mental illness, but like George Floyd, he was suffocated in a street by police officers. In the aftermath of his killing, officials tried to shift attention from the brutality of police to the generally abysmal condition of homeless and mentally ill people. Similarly, Quirk-Silva’s essay shifts focus from police killings to other forms of intolerable institutional and societal racism.

There was a death…yes, there was, a brutal, prolonged, and unnecessary one at the hands of Fullerton police, but Quirk-Silva chose to speak of that killing in the passive voice, and not once during her brief comments that day did she utter the word “police,” even though she was addressing a demonstration against police brutality across the street from the headquarters of the Fullerton Police Department.

Tellingly, she recalled then-OC Human Relations Director Rusty Kennedy advising her twenty years ago when she was a teacher that standing by while people were being demeaned or bullied, or tolerating racism, made us all part of it. Wise words, but Rusty Kennedy later opposed efforts to institute a civilian police board in Fullerton in the wake of the killing of Kelly Thomas.

“We need to stop brutality, we need to stop looking the other way,” she said, not looking at the police station a couple of hundred feet to her left. She anticipated state bills within the next few weeks and promised to make the right vote on behalf of all of us, but declined to specify exactly what these bills would address. One can only hope they are substantial attempts to address the killings of people of color. Generalizing about institutional racism does little good when one refuses to take on the institutions that perpetuate it.

Two days later, she concluded her post about police and BLM by declaring “In no way do I want to defund police.” Her declaration flies squarely in the face of a central demand of the Black Lives Matter organization, who have been the driving force of nationwide protests: “We call for a national defunding of police. We demand investment in our communities and the resources to ensure Black people not only survive, but thrive.”

Sharon Quirk-Silva has described herself as someone who legislates from the center, avoiding extreme positions, but there comes a time when that center will not hold. There is no use in trying to occupy a middle ground that no longer exists. Either one stands for stopping unfettered brutality by police toward people of color—or anyone, or one stands by and becomes part of it.

 

 

* Written during the Irish rebellion and the great influenza pandemic.

** Kelly Thomas was killed on July 5, 2011

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Go ahead, figure it out for yourself.

Matthew Leslie

On Friday, May 22, with virtually no warning, the City of Fullerton closed a short block of West Wilshire Avenue to vehicular traffic, including bicycles, to facilitate a new outdoor dining area in the middle of a public street. Signs and barricades close the street to cars, and, specifically, bicycles, even though the area of the closed street is a segment of the city’s official Wilshire Bicycle Boulevard. According to City Manager Ken Domer, the closure is “tentatively scheduled through November 2nd.”

The closure was attributed by city staff to a desire by the Fullerton City Council for amended outdoor dining plans that would allow restaurants to utilize additional city property for expanded seating areas large enough to accommodate social distancing guidelines. But, according to City Manager Domer, “No specific street or public right of way locations were designated by the City Council.“ Domer himself authorized the closure, “not specifically to close it to bicycles,” but for outdoor dining because of the area’s high concentration of restaurants.

The COVID-19 pandemic has led the state to issue strict guidelines for how restaurants may open, including social distancing requirements that make it difficult to seat enough patrons in side their establishments to make opening worthwhile financially. The city’s solution is to allow restaurants to utilized public spaces like sidewalks and parking lots for outdoor dining.

Orange directional detour signs posted on either side of Harbor Blvd. direct  bicyclists north or south on Harbor, not the safest route for many cyclists. Asked if the city recommended that riders use Harbor Blvd. as a detour route, Domer responded “All bicyclists should always use caution on any street they choose to use.”

In response to concerns about the closure, Public Works Director Meg McWade wrote “The intent of the closure is not to hurt the bicycling community.  We are trying to work as quickly as possible to help save the downtown businesses due to Covid impacts – and closing Wilshire quickly is an attempt to do so.” After consulting a map, another city staff member suggested that cyclists use Pomona Ave. east of Harbor, but that isn’t where the detour signs are located.

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Your tax dollars at work creating confusion.

Domer confirmed that the city’s Active Transportation Committee (formerly the Bicycle Users Subcommittee), which has not met since February, was not consulted about the street closure. At least one of its members, Prof. Vince Buck, has expressed concerns with the closure, writing to Domer that he learned about it only from reading it in the Fullerton Observer.

The Wilshire Bicycle Boulevard begins at the 600 block of West Wilshire, at Woods Ave., east of Euclid Ave., and extends east over two miles to Annin Ave., just west of Acacia, and is a central feature of Fullerton’s Bicycle Master Plan. It connects to other streets officially designated and signed as bike routes, providing safer bicycle passage laterally across most of the city without riders having to use major traffic thoroughfares.

The $ 3.2 million boulevard project was years in planning, and funded primarily with a federal grant through the Orange County Transportation Agency (OCTA), with just $ 300,000 from the City of Fullerton for street paving along the route. Fullerton’s closure of even a small portion of the street calls into question whether the city could be accused of misusing the funds awarded to it by OCTA. The grant funded planning for the boulevard, as well as replacing intersection stop signs with permanent traffic roundabouts, adding directional bicycle “sharrow” markings to the street pavement, and posting permanent signs advising that bicycles may use full traffic lanes on the two lane street.

Under ordinary circumstances, the entire block of East Wilshire between Harbor Blvd. and Pomona Ave. is closed to traffic nearly all Thursday evenings between the months of April and November for the Downtown Fullerton Market, but even then cyclists can walk their bikes through the market, and there is frequently bicycle parking provided near the Fullerton Museum’s beer garden, along with permanent bike racks in the area.

In response to questions raised about the Bicycle Boulevard closure days after it went into effect, Domer indicated that he would have the “no bikes” signs removed, and that bicyclists would be allowed to walk their bicycles through the closed area. Nearly two weeks later, the “no bikes” signs remain.

IMG_3605

Cyclists now just ride on the sidewalk, posing a danger to pedestrians.

Although removing the signs might accommodate causal cyclists, it runs counter to the boulevard’s purpose of providing an uninterrupted route for commuters and other riders. A center lane for bicycling, which would restore continuity to the route, is not provided, according to Domer for the safety of pedestrians and diners. Absurdly, what could easily be a center lane, is now a space filled with potted trees in what appears to be a feeble effort to beautify a dining area located in the middle of a street. Cyclists encountering the barricades can easily be observed simply riding their bikes around the closure signs and on the sidewalk instead of in the street, making redundant the city’s excuse that a bicycle lane would endanger pedestrians.

The city needs to rectify the confusing and dangerous situation it created by opening the street back up to cycling now. While other cities are opening their streets up to cycling and pedestrians, Fullerton has closed one off with ugly orange barricades and metal signs. Restore the Bicycle Boulevard with a central travel lane now, or get rid of the tables and potted trees and make turn it back into a public street again.

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