Anti-police message at Richmond event alarms residents

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Anti-police messaging at a community event in Richmond Thursday night has concerned some residents.

The Love & Rage in Action Series event at the Catholic Charities of the East Bay, organized by the Richmond RYSE youth center, was billed as a community forum “to support RYSE youth and young adult members, their families, adult staff and our network of community partners in organizing to care for and defend ourselves and each other.”

Said to have included workshops and clinics, the event was in large part a response to Donald Trump’s presidency and immigration policies. Parts of it were live-streamed on social media. While some of the advice given was deemed useful by local residents, anti-police sentiments came as a shock.

In the video we’ve edited above, we tuned into specific spots we believed included controversial advice. To view the full posted video, go here.

At the youth-organized event, Jess Heaney of Critical Resistance repeated a slogan declaring policing a “health hazard” and a “public health issue.”

“Cops are actually obstructing people’s access to health care,” she said.

Heaney advised people in need of emergency services to call their neighbor or a medical professional instead of police or 911. She described an effort launched in Oakland in 2015 to recruit healthcare professionals — including emergency room doctors, behavioral specialists and even herbalists — to respond to emergencies so that police don’t need to be called.

The group is “empowering them to become anti-policing organizers,” Heany said.

She advised calling the Fire Department instead of 911 with the aim of not involving police. Sheriff’s deputies inside hospitals are a health hazard, she said.

And if “you’re bleeding out” and there’s no medical professional available to help on short notice, Heany says you should call 911 but prepare yourself for the arrival of police.

“If cops are going to come…then you can say, hey, do you need me to take your wallet?” she said.

The overall message of distrust for police concerned community members and Richmond police officers.

Ben Therriault, president of the Richmond Police Officer’s Association, released a statement Friday stating “the 160-plus men and women” in the association “reject this divisive messaging put forward by this event.”

“Police officers in our city are the very first responders to public safety issues ranging from elderly members of our community in a broken-down vehicle, to gang members shooting and robbing citizens,”  Therriault said. “The statement, ‘Cops are actually obstructing people’s access to health care’ is an outrageous, baseless and disgraceful statement from an organization that is supposed to to be helping people. Our members coordinate responses during emergencies everyday saving countless lives in the Richmond community. Instead of building community growth and unity, certain groups continue to attempt to use the police as some boogeyman to push forward their backward agenda.”

Richmond resident and police commissioner Oscar Garcia warned of legal ramifications from some of the advice offered at the event.

“Advising people to not immediately call 911 is both dangerous and possibly grounds for legal action should someone get hurt from this poor advice,” he said. “I know you mean well but a lot of what I heard on this forum is counter to what I have heard at many Know your rights events held in Richmond. Please consider working with local legal experts to ensure you are not exposing people to unknown harm.”

A similar sentiment was shared in the Facebook forum Everybody’s Richmond, where police commissioner Felix Hunziker chimed in.

I will say that I agreed with some or even much of the immigration defense speech,” Hunziker added. “But the perspective that the men and women who put their lives on the line for all of us, regardless of race or creed, are somehow a threat just killed it for me. Especially right here in Richmond where we’ve received national recognition for advancing community policing.”

During a brief discussion with the Richmond Standard Tuesday that was unrelated to this event, Richmond police Lt. Felix Tan, a spokesman for the department, said the police department abides by the direction of Richmond City Council, which has declared the city is a sanctuary city where undocumented people are protected from prosecution from violating federal immigration laws.

Groups credited for making the event a reality included Healthy Richmond, Catholic Charities Richmond, Communities for a Better Environment (CBE), Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN), Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organization (CCISCO) and the Richmond Progressive Alliance.

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