Our country continues to contend with the horrific killing of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery. Across the country, people are exercising their right to protest against these injustices. As a country and a city, we must face the reality that we have systemic issues that disproportionately affect black people and that need to be addressed now.
As a black man, a resident of Palo Alto, a pastor and a community leader, I have been a victim. I have seen and I have heard of incidents right here. Now is the time for the city to take an honest look in the mirror and realize that we have a lot of work to do to address the systemic disparities in Palo Alto. Below are the tangible steps that can be taken immediately:
Foothills Park: The current restrictions that limit access to Foothills Park is a black eye to our community. How can we say we are for equality and diversity when we limit access to our public spaces? This policy is a clear vestige of our community's desire to keep people out.
Police reform: We need to focus on strategies that prevent police violence against minorities.
Hiring: The city of Palo Alto's Police Department needs to implement a hiring policy that explicitly states it will not hire officers with prior disciplinary actions on their record.
Practices: The Palo Alto Police Department needs to adopt Campaign Zero's #8cantwait required policies, which can lead to a 72% decrease in police violence.
Here are the 8 required actions:
• Ban chokeholds and strangleholds
• Require de-escalation.
• Require warning before shooting.
• Exhaust all alternatives before shooting.
• Establish a duty to intervene.
• Ban shooting at moving vehicles.
• Establish use of force continuum.
• Require comprehensive reporting
Training: Require implicit bias training for all city staff.
Diversity in workforce: Implement data-driven diversity and inclusion initiatives in hiring and promotion to increase the number of minorities in the city workforce.
Diversity in leadership: Increase diversity at different levels of leadership. If we do not have representation and a voice in the process, then we are not a diverse community.
Many have asked me what they can do and how can they effect change in our community. The answer is simple: Support and advocate for real and significant systemic change in Palo Alto. Communicate the importance of these needed changes to the mayor, City Council, city manager and other leaders.
Rev. Kaloma A. Smith is a community leader, pastor of the University A.M.E. Zion Church and the chair of the Human Relations Commission. He is writing this letter as black man who wants to live in a world that doesn't have a system stacked against him.