By Mia Machado
CALIFORNIA – In honor of seeking justice for their son, the family of Angelo Quinto joined California elected leaders and other families of police violence victims to discuss the reimagination of policing and accountability last week.
After an opening speech by Judge Thelton Henderson, Senator Nancy Skinner moderated a discussion with the families of police violence victims, including Cassandra Quinto Collins, the mother of Angelo Quinto, was joined by Taun Hall, the mother of Miles Hall, Darlene Ruiz, the mother of Trevor Seever, Rev. Wanda Johnson, the mother of Oscar Grant, and finally, Addie Kitchen, grandmother of Steven Taylor.
They all shared their experiences with police violence, exposing how the current system fails victims, and discussed some of the projects they are working on to reimagine the system of policing.
Following this was a panel moderated by Robert Collins, the father of Angelo Quinto. Robert guided the panelists through a discussion about how each of them are reimagining policing, and what steps they are proposing to get there.
Panelists included Assemblymember Mike Gibson, sponsor of the Angelo Quinto Act (AB 490), Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan who is carrying the Miles Hall Lifeline Act (AB 988), Antioch Mayor Lamar Thorpe who has been driving positive change on police reform since Angelo’s death, and Chief Abdul Pridgen, President of the California Police Chiefs Association and Chief of the Seaside Police Department.
Judge Thelton Henderson, who once worked in the Justice Department with Dr. Martin Luther King, opened the symposium by sharing his own vision for reimagining policing and accountability.
Judge Henderson spoke to the recent verdict of former officer Derek Chauvin, and the renewed pressure for fundamental reform of both how our police departments operate, as well as their underlying philosophy.
But Judge Henderson believes that needed reforms go well beyond simply changing the way police officers are allowed to use deadly force.
Reform requires “switching the role of police from law enforcement to law safety,” he explained. A complete “180 degree change of direction” in policing is necessary, “to completely reform the relationship between police and the communities that they serve.”
He asserted that police need to “completely reeducate and change the attitude” that many of them have with the community members they interact with, and “establish clear and firm standards of accountability.”
Doing these things, he believes, will create a type of policing that is almost unrecognizable. It would be a kind of “holistic” and “comprehensive strategy” with an emphasis on safety instead of reinforcement, and a focus on the entire system instead of “a few so-called bad apples.”
After a few words from the younger sister of Angelo Quinto Collins, she passed the stage over to moderator Senator Skinner to lead a discussion with the families of police violence victims. Each of the mothers and grandmother took the stage to share how police violence has altered their lives and that of their family.
Cassandra Quinto Collins shared that on the night of December 23, Angelo was experiencing a mental health crisis. When police arrived, Cassandra had him restrained in a bear hug on the floor, and he had calmed down.
The police took Angelo away from her, put him on his stomach, handcuffed him, and put a knee on the back of his neck for four and a half minutes. She explained that Angelo made no move to escape their hold, had no weapons, and was nonviolent.
Angelo was unresponsive, but the officers continued to fail to check on his condition. When they flipped him over, “he looked dead,” Cassandra explained. Angelo was taken to the hospital, but they were denied access to see him for two days. He died three days later.
“What happened to Angelo and what conspired afterwards is unacceptable,” Cassandra said, “I will never forget what happened that night, and I’m sure the officers won’t either.”
Taun Hall, reflecting on Cassandra’s story, lamented that “we all have a heartbreaking story and we never thought we would be here.” Taun explained that she knew her son Miles had mental health issues when he was 18 years old, but that “the system is so broken it’s hard to get help.”
To be able to get help for her son, they needed to resort to using the police. The family established a relationship with the police, after living in the community for 18 years. They knew who her son was, and they were even successful a year before in getting him into a non-voluntary hospitalization.
She expected that he would be treated if they were in a situation where he was having a mental health emergency. But when her son was having a mental health crisis and experiencing a hallucination, the police arrived and shot and killed Miles.
Taun said Miles was running around the garden with a gardening tool, but he was not running at the officers, or brandishing it. Since her son’s death, Taun is pushing for non-police responses to mental health challenges, and providing other ways for families to deal with loved ones having mental health emergencies
Rev. Wanda Johnson, the mother of Oscar Grant who was shot and killed by officer Johannes Mehserle who allegedly claimed to have intended to reach for his taser instead of his gun, shared the flaws she identifies with the current policing system.
She cited the failure of officers in deescalating encounters that they experience on the job. Rev. Johnson explained that in many of the cases that the families of victims were discussing, the tragedy was in part due to the way the officers failed to deescalate the situation. She cited the death of her own son Oscar, which she asserts the officer instead escalated.
Rev. Johnson also pointed to the failure of officers to accept ownership of what happened. Instead of taking ownership for the pain the officers have put on the families by taking their loved ones, Rev. Johnson explained that ownership and blame is placed on the individuals.
“The families have to endure the police going to search their homes, and blaming the victims, such as they did with Oscar,” she said.
Rev. Johnson emphasized the need to further train officers in tactics like de-escalation, so they can be more successful at their jobs. She said the community “does a disservice” by not equipping them with this proper training.
Darlene Ruiz, the mother of Trevor Seever, shared that on December 29, her son was experiencing a mental health crisis and went for a walk to cool down.
The family went to a local church and called 911, who assured them an officer would come by to talk to them. But when the officers arrived, they did not stop to talk to the family, but pursued her son.
Darlene explained that Trevor was walking by a church when Officer Lamantia saw Trevor, “got out running and within three seconds said, ‘get down’ and shot [him] four times.”
“He never identified my son,” Darlene explained , “my son dropped to the ground and the officer said put your hands up. My son put his hands up, was on his knees with his hands up and my son said he can’t breathe because he had already been shot.”
Trevor put his hand down because he was bleeding, and was shot three more times. She emphasized that Trevor wasn’t resisting arrest or breaking the law. “My son was just upset and we called 911 to get him some help, and we got a murder,” she said.
Trevor is the fifth person that Officer Lamantia had killed. Had Lamantia been stopped after the first, second, third, or fourth time, Darlene said, Trevor would be still alive.
She emphasized the need for the passage of AB 118. “There needs to be a kind of resource, instead of people coming out with guns when someone is having a mental health crisis,” she explained.
Addie Kitchen, the grandmother of Steven Taylor, explained that her son was shot and killed inside a Walmart after being suspected of shoplifting. Officer Fletcher tried to take a bat Steven was holding, but then tased him twice and shot him.
She explained that Officer Fletcher did not attempt any de-escalation. He didn’t wait for backup, he went by himself, he didn’t turn on his body cam, and only 40 seconds had passed when Fletcher had murdered Taylor, she said.
Reflecting on the tragedy, Addie explained that “when there’s no one to call in a crisis you dial 911, and if you’re a person of color, the only thing that’s going to happen is you’re going to be murdered and that’s a sad situation,” she said.
A bill like AB 118 needs to pass, because “we need to be able to call someone other than law enforcement when our children are in a crisis,” Addie maintained.
After recognizing the failure of police to hold themselves accountable, Senator Skinner reiterated the point of Judge Henderson, that policing needs to move away from enforcement and toward policing for safety instead.
Skinner expressed hope for legislation like AB 988 by Assemblymember Bauer-Kahan, that is trying to create an alternative to sending police out when there is a mental health crisis, and AB 490 that will ban the knee to neck hold. She also mentioned her own bill, SB 16, which is an expansion of the “police records” that would help unseal police records.
Robert Collins, father of Angelo Quinto, moderated the second panel to discuss the image panelists have for a new or different system, along with the solutions that they propose to get there.
Assemblymember Mike Gipson, author of AB 490, the Justice for Angelo Quinto Act of 2021, spoke to the Derek Chauvin verdict “that gave us solace in some kind of system that has been so unfair for so many years.”
But like many others, Gipson maintained that “we still have a long way to go in order to make sure we reimagine what law enforcement should look like.”
As a lawmaker in California, Gipson has sponsored the George Floyd Bill, AB 1196, that banned carotid artery restraints and choke holds. The same hold, he said, was used for nine minutes and 28 seconds on George Floyd, and four and a half minutes on Angelo.
He has since authored and named the AB 490 the Justice for Angelo Quinto Act of 2021, and promised to “say his name.”
“We want to make sure that no family has to go through what the Quinto family has gone through ever again in this state,” he said.
Late last week, the Appropriations Committee approved AB 490, so it will soon see the assembly floor.
“We’re not going to stop until this bill is on the governor’s desk and signed into law,” Gipson said.
Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan, author of the Miles Hall Lifeline Act, made a point to acknowledge Angelo in his life “and the lives lost by so many.” She explained that she has the privilege of carrying the Miles Hall Lifeline Act and remembering Miles every day in the work she’s doing.
She said a lot of the work she does is driven by the fact that she’s a mother. She expressed the impact of being “alongside a mother who has experienced the ultimate loss, and that “if we can prevent more parents from experiencing that, that is the job that we should be doing.”
She spends most time now on the Miles Hall lifeline Act that is inspired by “the lives of these incredible men who were suffering from mental illness.”
“They had a healthcare crisis, and instead of a healthcare response, they got a law enforcement response,” she said. The goal of AB 899 is to make sure that when one is in crisis, they can pick up the phone, and they don’t have to get a law enforcement response, “they can call 988 and get a response from a person on the phone trained for a mental health crisis.”
“When someone has a heart attack, we send someone who is trained to receive CPR to your home, and the same should be true for if you’re going through a mental health crisis,” she asserted.
Mayor Lamar Thorpe of Antioch was elected in November 2020 on a platform of police reform. He recognized that as many have said, it takes time to see reform, but “for some of us, from the beginning of the first slave patrols in 1705, we’ve literally been for 317 years for change.”
“We’ve been waiting for people and states to do the right thing for quite some time, with the same rhetoric we see every year and every year and every year,” he added.
While California is a progressive state, he explained, it has more people killed by police than any other state in the country and “that’s one of the biggest hypocrisies of California.”
“We proclaim to be so progressive and yet we still see these injustices continue throughout our state,” Thorpe said.
He explained that in the city of Antioch, with a historically very racist background, he’s “had the opportunity to get a lot of things right, including how our police department and how the community overall interacts.”
In the first 90 days of the new council and him being mayor, they passed the only and largest police reform package in the city’s history.
“We prioritize mental health, we are going to be a city that has a mental health crisis response team,” he confirmed. They are also demilitarizing their police force and mandating body worn cameras and dashcams.
“Did he really just say the Antioch Police department does not have body worn cameras? Yes I did just say that,” he emphasized. He said this fact speaks to the resistance of police reform in his city.
“Everything I just described is a choice, and it takes political will, and anybody can do this. Any city in the Bay Area, any city in California has the capacity to do everything I’ve just described, but it’s by choice that they choose not to,” he said.
Chef Abdul Pridgen, President of the California Police Chiefs Association and Chief of the Seaside Police Department, thanked all of the families who shared their stories, and expressed that what they have to share is “important, it’s impactful, and it’s making a difference.”
The Chief explained that he’s proud that the association not only authored but “championed” SB 230, which requires peer intervention, supervisory oversight, use of force review and analysis, and a number of other requirements around how officers use force, how it’s reported, and how they are held accountable.
With respect to SB 16, Chief Pridgen said he’s working with Senator Skinner to ensure that police records are open to the public view.
To Chief Pridgen, having every police record accessible to the public “is the clearest way to ensure that there is a high level of transparency which we all know leads to greater trust and ultimately being perceived as legitimate.”
In the Seaside police department, Chief Pridgen asserted that police arrests are never seen as a barometer of success. When he arrived at the department, he noted that in their yearly budget introductions where they talked about what they achieved that prior year, arrests were listed as a success.
“The first thing I did was say ‘get rid of that,’” he said, adding, “success is about how we are making the community safer. Are residents trusting us more? Are the perceptions of safety higher now than they were before?
Those are clear indications of whether we are successful, with how we are integrating community policing in the way we serve our community.”
Lastly, he said an important way to build trust within the community is to get to know the community in non-enforcement settings. He said that he’s proud of the department’s “SNACK” van, or the “Seaside, Nutrition, Academics, and Athletics for Cops and Kids.”
The officers drive around in a van and give our free healthy snacks, school supplies, and sports equipment to the youth in the community.
“That’s where relationships begin, and that’s where we want to foster a long-term, positive relationship, not just with our overall community members, but particularly our youth,” he explained.
Mia Machado is a junior at UC Davis, currently majoring in Political Science-Public Service and minoring in Luso-Brazilian studies. She is originally from Berkeley, California
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