Will Hoadley-Brill is looking for change in the South Pasadena Police Department.
As protests over the death of George Floyd have persisted, police officers around the country have increasingly found themselves the target of the public.
While nationwide demonstrations against police brutality have been mostly peaceful, with an eruption of turmoil between citizens and police in some major cities following Floyd’s death on May 25, which galvanized the nation, protesters have taken their anger and frustration out on the criminal justice system.
Among those expressing concern is young Hoadley-Brill, a South Pasadena High graduate and current college student, who joined six other community members who sent messages that were read aloud by South Pasadena’s deputy city clerk as part of a special virtual City Council meeting last week that addressed the city’s budget as the key issue but near the end focused on a establishing sub-committee on the future of policing in the city, initially raised by Councilmember Dr. Marina Khubesrian at a previous meeting. In a unanimous 5-0 vote, it gained council approval.
In his letter to the council, read during public comment, Hoadley-Brill expressed his concerns, saying: “The policing system in our city must change. It is not designed to provide the services and resources that are necessary in our community specifically. The limited capacity of police officers in their current form is not sufficient to provide the mental health services, social services, and housing services that are often required when SPPD is called.”
In light of this insufficiency, Hoadley-Brill urged the council to pass Dr. Khubesrian’s motion to form a subcommittee to examine policing in South Pasadena. “I would like to recognize the council for taking swift action for banning the lateral neck hold, and unequivocally state that this single change is not enough,” he noted in his correspondence. “In order to move forward on this subcommittee in a meaningful way, I also urge the council to pass the proposed budget before the end of the fiscal year and revisit the possibility of a Community Care Budget Amendment which will seek to make necessary changes in the light of the challenges that our community now faces due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We must ensure that our city can function before we are able to direct the energy necessary to reassess policing.”
He insists the City Council must not only stand with the Black Lives Matter movement, “but also make substantive change to demonstrate that support,” continued Hoadley. “When this sub-committee is formed, I would like to extend my time to serve as community input and I hope that there will be an accessible manner for all community members to contribute their thoughts.”
Prior to the council authorizing the formation of a sub committee, residents, through a series of messages, raised their concerns about systemic racism and police cultures that have led to the Black Lives Matter protests.
“We will work with a subcommittee of the Public Safety Commission and our SPPD leadership to foster listening and dialogue forums with the community,” said Khubesrian in outlining next steps. “Councilmembers have received many emails especially calling for an evaluation of use of force policies, to rethink police budgets and staffing of certain roles and duties.”
The councilmember has taken part in several conversations in community Zoom forums with SPHS and college students “who want us to confront racist relics from the past and commit to being anti-racist,” explained Khubesrian. “They have called on us to study alternative systems of justice such as Transformative and Restorative Justice that advocate for social investing over social control to reverse the decades of systemic racism in the U.S. that has resulted in vast economic and social disparities causing harm to communities of color. I’ve spoken with artists and educators of the recently formed Anti Racism Committee (ARC) who have offered to assist, advise, organize, and provide resources to the community especially the youth spearheading this important cultural shift.”
ARC’s co-chair, Elana Mann, noted: “While South Pasadena may not have some of the cases of extreme racial injustice as we are seeing in other parts of the country, self-examination, improvement and pro-active policy is needed here as much as anywhere. We love this community and we want to make sure that every single person living, visiting and working here recognizes this city as one that values racial equity and justice.”
Messages that typically are read by members of the public within three minutes during live council meetings are now conveyed to council members through South Pasadena’s city clerk, reading them during the Zoom teleconferencing format that has been the norm over the past three months due to COVID-19.
Sophie Dreskin, the daughter of Khubesrian, in her thoughts expressed to the council, said she is calling for police change at all levels of government to end systems of policing built on prejudice. “I am asking that the South Pasadena community and City Council address the future of policing in SP moving away from punitive and inhumane measures,” wrote the 18-year-old SPHS grad. “My community is protesting peacefully on the streets, organizing outreach, building coalitions, demanding justice reform and more community care resources for vulnerable populations. I urge you to support the motion by Councilmember Khubesrian to form a City Council Subcommittee to address the public’s need to be heard by their councilmembers on the impacts of systemic racism on the lives of people of color in South Pasadena past and present.”
Dreskin is advocating for creating alternatives to policing and punitive systems in the form Transformative Justice and asking for reconsideration of who and what makes the public truly safe. “Many are advocating for a Community Care Budget Amendment to the current budget,” she wrote. “In order to truly make Black Lives Matter, we as a community need to take action. This needs to start by listening to the people of South Pasadena. We offer our partnership to the Council Sub-Committee on the Future of Policing in South Pasadena and are eager to serve in an advisory capacity.”
The South Pasadena Youth for Police Reform also voiced its support for a subcommittee, noting: “We are glad to see our elected representatives move to create a dialogue about changing a city culture that for too long has ignored our history of segregation and thought of public safety as getting rid of the silhouette on the sidewalk. We can do better. As conversations get started, we want to make clear that SPY4PR will be asking for a reduced police budget, with priorities placed in community and social services. We will also be asking our elected officials to create an independent citizen appointed body to act as a police review commission, whether this is in the form of amending the charter of the public safety commission or the creation of a new body. The conversations will be difficult, but we will know they are the right ones if that is the case. For now, we are glad to know they will even happen.”
As a resident of South Pasadena Ashley Steimer-King is also among those in strong support of forming a committee and looking at the future of policing in South Pasadena. In her message, she said: “I hope that you will not only support this subcommittee but dedicate yourself to ensuring it is a meaningful process: all public comment should be recorded, public hearings should be announced well ahead of time and advertised well, and the subcommittee must understand that budget reallocation is at the heart of the issue and be willing to take those recommendations seriously.”
A group of South Pasadena citizens is participating in and witnessing the global Movement for Black Lives Matter. “We are professionals, artists, educators and mothers who recognize effective global change begins at home,” they wrote in their letter to the council. “While South Pasadena does not have some of the cases of extreme racial injustice as we are seeing in other parts of the country, self-examination, improvement and pro-active policy is needed here as much as anywhere. We love this community and we want to make sure that every single person living, visiting and working here recognizes this city as one that values racial equity and justice.”
Among its members are Phung Huynh, Elana Mann, and Stefani Williams, who say “as we walk through the streets of South Pasadena we know that we are not alone—our community is crying out for this work. Our kids in local schools, the young people protesting on the corner of Fair Oaks, the yard signs popping on all over our neighborhoods all pleading for racial justice in our city. The urgency is here and the time to act is now. Let’s be on the right side of history.”
Prompting it all, the last straw for many, was the horror witnessed of Floyd gasping for breath, pinned down by the force of a Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin’s knee as the handcuffed man pleaded “I can’t breathe” before dying of suffocation. Chauvin was charged with second-degree murder while three other officers were arrested for aiding and abetting and also face second-degree murder.
During the June 24 council meeting, Khubesrian said there are “some interesting conversations going around town, and my hope in creating a committee is basically to act as an organizing agency, a force to bring these conversations together. My only agenda at this point is to start off with a listening session.”
She would like to see a virtual town hall meeting on the issue, while encouraging her fellow councilmembers to “hear some of the conversations and comments I heard around these types of forums. There’s a lot of great inspiration and caring types of attitudes from art educators, our youth – students. At this point I think we just need to hear from the community and be on the right side of history and create a forum as leaders to hear the community.”