Newsmakers with JR
Oscar: BLM Has Caused Santa Barbara Council to "Do a 180" on Funding for Police Department
SB Councilmember Oscar Gutierrez is "a little shocked" by efforts of Black Lives Matter to "defund" the police department, he said on Wednesday, offering a glimpse of the intense political pressures at City Hall amid the group's anti-racism campaign.
Ever since his 2017 election, District Three representative Gutierrez told Newsmakers, he has worked at the behest of constituents to find ways to increase police patrols and presence on the Westside and citywide; in the wake of the local, national, global protests that have followed the May 25 killing of George Floyd by a white police officer in Minneapolis, he said he now is hearing a very different message, however:
"It’s a little bit of a 180 for us, since (running) for office over two years ago," Gutierrez said. "It’s something that people kept saying - 'we want more police, we want more police.'"
"Before last week...it was 'oh, we need more cops, I'm tired of having my car broken into,' or 'I'm tired of people stealing things from my porch, I'm tired of not feeling safe walking around at night, I want more police patrols in my neighborhood.'"
"So the last two years, I've been in this mindset of, 'okay, where are we going to find this money to support our police officers?' And then this last week, everyone’s like 'no, no, no, no more money for police, now we want to defund them,' and we’re all kind of like, we’re a little shocked because we just spent two years…trying to figure out how we’re going to support the police more.
"That’s what people were asking us for at the time, but now...a lot of people are asking us for the opposite, so we’re going to just have to work with all sides and see what kind of compromise we can come up," he said. "So we’re all a little jarred, and we just need a little time to figure out, all right, how are we going to defund them while keeping our residents safe?"
His comments reflect a policy and political dilemma faced by elected officials across the country. The BLM's "defund the police" slogan is viewed differently in various cities, in ways that range from shifting funding, by relieving officers of duty dealing with issues perhaps better handled by social workers, mental health professionals or addiction therapists -- to entirely dismantling existing departments and "revinventing" law enforcement.
In the interview Gutierrez also:
Apologized for comments he made at the June 2 council meeting, when he criticized some BLM allies for "jumping on the bandwagon" of anti-racism while he had been on that "bandwagon" his entire life: "A lot of these emails (received before the meeting) were very disrespectful, and some of them were straight out racist. Some of them didn’t seem to know I was a person of color and they were assuming I'd never done anything to combat racism and it was kind of offensive," he said. "And I realized after I got the criticism that some of these people don’t look at me as a person of color, they look at me as the authority. They look at me as the problem, they look at me as The Man."
Argued that the city should "completely revamp what policing is." Citing data dug out by the Independent, Gutierrez said the SBPD is "not as discriminatory as other police departments, for whatever that’s worth...but obviously there’s a problem, there's a big discrepancy on how people of color are being policed here…(W)e're training officers for enforcement, to keep people in control, as opposed to helping them. People want a more compassionate response...and we don't get it."
Discussed multiple aspects of the current turmoil at City Hall, including embattled City Administrator Paul Casey ("he needs to work harder"); besieged Community Development Director George Buell ("there's gonna be some changes") and Mayor Cathy Murillo's recent performance ("publicly shamed").
You can watch our entire interview with Oscar Gutierrez by clicking below. The podcast version is here.