Community Takes Mayor Murillo to Task for Inaction During Sunday's Protest
Mayor Cathy Murillo kneeling during the virtual City Council meeting while saying the "Pledge of Allegiance"
By Lauren Bray, edhat staff
Nearly sixty community members held Santa Barbara Mayor Cathy Murillo accountable during public comment Tuesday for her refusal to kneel with protestors and listen to Black Lives Matter activists at a recent protest.
The virtual City Council meeting started with Murillo stating she would take a knee in honor of George Floyd during the Pledge of Allegiance before having a moment of silence.
"Mr. Floyd we are thinking of you and I pledge to do everything I can to reject and eliminate institutionalized racism in our society," said Murillo while praising Black Lives Matter and the NAACP.
Floyd, an unarmed 46-year-old Black man, was murdered by four police officers last week in Minneapolis. He was handcuffed lying face down on a city street during an arrest while a white police officer kept his knee on Floyd's neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. He was later pronounced dead.
The murder sparked outrage that has rapidly spread throughout the United States, and eventually overseas, with marches, protests, and rallies.
The local chapter of Black Lives Matter held a peaceful rally on Sunday against police brutality with approximately 3,000 attendees at the Santa Barbara County Courthouse. A march followed where protestors were faced with approximately twenty officers in full riot gear and an armored vehicle behind police tape in the 200 block of E. Figueroa Street, where the department is located.
Murillo stepped out from behind the police line and attempted to engage with protest leaders Simone Ruskamp and Krystle Farmer Sieghart. Murillo was asked to listen but attempted to talk over the two women.
During a peaceful demonstration where members of the Black community laid on the ground for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the same amount of time Floyd was held on the ground, members of the non-black community were asked to kneel in solidarity. The crowd extended this offer to everyone behind the police tape, they all declined.
Following the protest, Black Lives Matter Santa Barbara issued a set of demands asking for the protection and preservation of Black landmarks, transparency and accountability from local law enforcement, recognition of Juneteenth commemorating the Emancipation Proclamation, and the City Council adopts a resolution condemning police brutality and declares racism a public health emergency.
For over two hours of public comment on Tuesday, community members passionately expressed their disappointment with Murillo's lack of solidarity, empathy, and action. Some were high school students who cried while discussing the inequalities they face and how fearful they are of law enforcement.
Others called Murillo "tone-deaf" for issuing a press release following the protest. The statement, released on Murillo's behalf, recognized the death of Floyd and applauded Santa Barbara Police Chief Lori Luhnow for "courageous leadership," but failed to mention the peaceful protest, its leaders, and Black Lives Matter.
"We're going through a pandemic and we [brought] 3,000 of your constituents to stand with black lives, call out corruption and police brutality," said Sieghart. "Do your jobs, hold yourselves accountable for the harm caused in this community, do better."
Ruskamp called for the Mayor's resignation stating she was fine asking Black people to help get her elected but has been absent since her tenure.
"Mayor, I expect you to resign, your actions have already spoken for you. You still have not reached out to either leader of the protest after you yelled in our faces and issued a statement and thanked the chief," said Ruskamp. "You all should be ashamed. The community is watching."
During the course of two hours, Murillo said few words beyond "thank you" and "next caller" between comments.
Frustration and anger were also directed at Chief Luhnow for the presentation of officers in riot gear. Many expressed their fear of such a "militarized presence," while others wondered why the police responded in such a way when in previous protests officers assisted with traffic control and marched alongside protestors.
Several commenters urged the City Council to decrease funding to the police department and reject the proposal for a new police station while instead rerouting those funds to community services.
"Black people have been saying for centuries that the police are not safe, that institutions are not safe... you all saw with your own eyes what happened on Sunday. You saw that even as Black people laid down their bodies in front of the police in Santa Barbara, they continued to stand, and snicker, and intimidate," said Ruskamp in a Facebook video following the protest.
Chief Luhnow jumped into the virtual meeting to answer a question posed by Councilmember Alejandra Gutierrez who asked where she was and why officers were in riot gear.
"We've had officers in [Los Angeles] actively deployed in riots that have been violent. Our training dictates we wear extra gear when we do that. I'm not saying we saw that violence here, but I'm saying we can do better than we did," said Luhnow. "We're at our best when our community partners are with us and we're not trained to be in vulnerable positions but that is the learning that needs to occur."
Chief Luhnow continued to say she has the willingness to participate in acts of solidarity and will use this as an opportunity to listen and grow. She also stated she was returning to Santa Barbara and wasn't present for the protest while Murillo identified herself as the representative to speak with protestors.
"I apologize if I could have done a better job and I certainly want to connect with [Ruskamp and Sieghart] as we go forward," said Murillo.
All city councilmembers expressed support for the protest and agreed to discuss the demands brought forth by the Black Lives Matter leaders.
Councilmember Kristen Sneddon said the protest was justified and didn't come from a singular tragedy, while vowing to listen and take action.
"Racism is a public health crisis, we are a part of the structural inequity... it's time for us to all acknowledge and act now for concrete change," she said.
Councilmember Meagan Harmon stated the demands were a gift the council didn't deserve and they provide a roadmap for how the city can stand with the Black community.
"My job today... as an ally and councilmember is to amplify and elevate the voices of black leaders, black activists," said Harmon.
She specifically called out the creation of a civilian complaint review board stating she's advocated for this for many years and is committed to seeing this through. She additionally put forth an action item to make a change to council agenda reports to include socioeconomic impacts for each item.
City Administrator Paul Casey said his team will be prepared to bring an agenda item to the council next week to discuss the demands.
One point all public commenters seemed to echo was that words are one thing, action is another, and they're watching and waiting.