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Following Hacking, ARMs Movement Vows to Move Forward in Manhattan Beach

Aug 26, 2020 08:42AM ● By Jeanne Fratello
The ARMs Around the South Bay (LA)'s Zoom forum on racial justice in Manhattan Beach had barely just begun on Friday night when a hacker broke in and scrawled an obscenity across the screen. 

Organizers quickly shut down the hacker - and the slides, just to be sure - but kept the presentation moving forward.

"I’m just really hating that someone is trying to sabotage this movement… but that’s how you know it’s important," said presenter Janelle Scales as the slide presentation came down. "The people who are attacked in this country are the ones who are making a difference."

More than 80 people joined in for the "Public Safety and Policing in Manhattan Beach" Zoom presentation, sponsored by the Criminal Justice Committee of the ARMs (Anti-Racist Movements) Around the South Bay (L.A.) organization.

The presentation covered the history of policing, statistics and arrest records for the city of Manhattan Beach, as well as changes in the educational system.

Presenters also discussed efforts to channel more funding into preventive, community-based efforts such as early intervention, therapy, drug counseling, and more, sometimes promoted under the "Defund the Police" slogan.

"We need to address public safety with a proactive response," said Scales, who is a social justice educator and co-chair of ARMs' criminal justice committee. "We need to give care and support to community members, [and we need to] stop focusing so much of our energy and effort and funding on punishments."

Yet the activists are operating in a difficult environment given that Manhattan Beach, like many communities across the country, has sharply divided opinions over crime and policing as it relates to racial justice.

While "Thank You MBPD and MBFD" signs have cropped up around town - and as the city recently added two new downtown foot patrol officers due to demand from local businesses and residents - the activists have faced skepticism, and outright opposition, from some who question whether race and policing raise the same issues locally as they do elsewhere. The Bruce's Beach debate has added to the tension over racial justice issues.

But following Friday night's forum, Scales said she was trying to remain philosophical about the fact that these local activist groups face community opposition and interference. 

"I'm just trying to take the opposition one day at a time," she said. "I draw strength and inspiration from my ancestors. I draw inspiration from my own mother-in-law who was subjected to racist slurs, who practiced rolling over and protecting her vital organs as a young teen when she participated in the civil rights movement. I think of my dad who picked cotton as a sharecropper with my grandmother when he was just a child. I think of the rich legacy that I have been left with, and the future of my children and all children. I hope to make this world better for them, in the ways my ancestors and activists have made it better for me."

Committees Formed in Wake of George Floyd Death

The ARMs Around the South Bay organization, which was formed in the wake of George Floyd's death and as the Black Lives Matter protests were taking place around the world, aims to mobilize families to raise anti-racist children and enact change in the community through organized action. Along with MB for Justice and the MB/HB Community Panel for Equity, it has been working with community partners to spread the message throughout the beach cities.

At Friday night's forum, presenters discussed the history of policing in America, which can be traced back to police forces being used for runaway slave patrols. Currently, the U.S. spends $115 billion on policing, and the NYPD spends $11 billion on police - a number larger than the budget of 54 countries, according to the ARMs presentation. 

"If people can run whole countries on the budgets we use for policing, then I believe we can reinvest that money into programs and into infrastructure that is actually helping to prevent crime," said Scales.

Additionally, the ARMs presentation displayed a pie chart from the city of Manhattan Beach's budget document (page 138) showing that only 2% of the Manhattan Beach Police Department budget is dedicated to "crime prevention."

There is room within the budget to increase spending on crime prevention programs, added Scales: "We have just been choosing not to use [the funding] in the way that benefits all of us. I hope you all can see that there are different ways to address safety - that is through providing care and resources, not through reactively responding with punishment."

Responding to that assertion, Christopher Ineguez, community affairs office at the Manhattan Beach Police Department, told DigMB that crime prevention crossed many budget categories. "Crime prevention here at MBPD encompasses multiple things such as events like Coffee with a Cop, Tip-A-Cop, National Night Out, Citizens Police Academy, etc. During these events, community members are able to converse with officers from our organization. This allows us to build lasting relationships with our community, as well as answer questions, and educate on issues or topics that may not be completely understood," he said.  

Ineguez added that further crime prevention efforts included neighborhood block meetings to discuss crime trends and safety tips, the town's Neighborhood Watch program with over 500 members, the Explorer Post youth program, meetings with local businesses to address concerns and develop strategies to prevent crime, school resource officers who work with children and teens, education for the elderly on fraud and scams, Volunteers on Patrol, and the Victim Assistance Team.

Dispute Over Arrest Data; No 'Implicit Bias,' Says Chief 

The Friday night Zoom presentation also focused on crime statistics in Manhattan Beach. Jamie Danis of MB for Justice said that her organization was formed when there was no information publicly available about arrests and encounters with MBPD, and when the City Council and community appeared to be making decisions about the police force without facts.

After receiving information through a Public Records Act request, she laid out data revealing  a disproportionately high rate of arrests of Black individuals in relation to their share of the population. According to MB for Justice's calculations, a Black person in Manhattan Beach is 120 times more likely to be arrested than a white person in Manhattan Beach.

Even when she recalculated the numbers to take into account the entire Black population of L.A. County - the "most generous possible scenario," she said, to assume that people were coming into town from elsewhere in the county - she found that Black people are five times more likely to get arrested in Manhattan Beach than whites.

However, Manhattan Beach Police Chief Derrick Abell said at the July 9 citywide policing forum that he believed that similar figures presented in a study done by a local TV station were not calculated or presented correctly.

Also at the July 9 forum, Abell defended his department for what he called its culture of respect and integrity.

"If I thought there [were] a problem within [MBPD], as a professional and a Black man working in this community, I would be the first to say something and do something about it," he said. "Is there a problem across the country? Yes. Should we have these discussions? Yes. This time is better than any to have the discussion and not let it go by the wayside. [We need] to listen and learn, and do better in terms of being inclusive."

Abell continued: "Do we have instances where we made mistakes and haven't done the rights thing in terms of how we communicated with people? Absolutely. Can we do better? You better believe we can. It doesn't mean this demonstrates we act in a racist way or implicit bias. As much as I get passionate about it, I hate to see our city viewed in that respect."

Abell noted that his department gets about 35,000 calls per year, and in the past 10 years had only received 35 complaints.

Defund the Police?

During the presentation, one attendee asked about the use of the polarizing "Defund the Police" phrase, with the suggestion of using the term "Refund Public Safety" or another alternative.

Scales said that the provocative terminology was significant.

"If people say 'Let’s refund public safety'...[city officials could say] 'We managed to scrape up $50,000 for you to have fewer potholes, and people would say, 'We did it!'" said Scales.

"What we really need to do is defund some of the funding that comes from policing. Programs are underfunded. What is not underfunded is the police," Scales continued. "The money needs to be taken from a source that is obtuse in its use, and put into resources that are to be used in the community. 'Black Lives Matter' was very polarizing at first; now you see the words displayed everywhere. Progressive people and visionaries come up with these [phrases] to push people beyond their comfort zone. A comfort zone is a comfortable place, but hardly anything ever grows there."

Added Scales, "The words 'Defund the Police' are very powerful and have the ability to start conversations and dialogue that we would not otherwise be having. Many of you would not be on this [Zoom] call if it was just about refunding public safety."

Equity Sought in Schools

Aside from issues specific to the police force, the activist groups are focusing on eliminating racism and bias through early education, which begins with the schools.

Ronald Clinton, a senior at Stanford majoring in human biology and a Mira Costa alumnus, is the leader of the MB/HB Community Panel for Equity. (Clinton is also a member of the family whose Manhattan Beach home was firebombed in 2015.) That panel is made up of 18 different committees targeting different aspects of the education system.

The group is currently working with the Manhattan Beach Unified School District's administration, teachers, and students to address how its platform can benefit all students, especially BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) students.

During Friday night's presentation, Clinton shared statistics about how Black students make up only 1.08 percent of the MBUSD student population, and there is only one Black teacher out of 308 at MBUSD. He also shared several anecdotes from BIPOC students about incidents where they felt marginalized or belittled in class.

He explained how the group was calling on MBUSD to reinvest in a more just education system by creating an "equity officer" position on the MBUSD education team. That officer would oversee district-wide efforts for anti-bias education; selective hiring to include more BIPOC faculty and staff; curriculum reform, including ethnic studies; and inter-district collaborations.

"We need to institutionalize our efforts and figure out how to make schools more equitable and inclusive for everyone," said Clinton. "This cannot stop. This cannot be [written off as] 'a 2020 crazy year.' This has to be a continuous push to make our schools equitable."

(Asked about the position of "equity officer," MBUSD Superintendent Mike Matthews told DigMB that the position is one of many ideas that will be discussed as the district pursues its goals this year, but the specific topic has not been formally discussed yet.)

Clinton also told DigMB that the time is ripe for activism and change. 

"Considering that the City Council election, school board election, and presidential election are all happening this year, this is a perfect time to create meaningful changes in the Manhattan Beach community. It’s very exciting," said Clinton. "In addition, with the protests earlier this year and the pandemic that has kept many of us online more than usual, it is easier to spread information about certain causes and garner public support."

Clinton continued: "It is important for the MBUSD Community Panel for Equity, as well as any other advocacy organizations, to realize that we are not going to change everyone’s mind. The best thing we can do is share our platform with as many people as possible and stay dedicated towards our initiatives."

Moving Forward Despite Hacker's Intrusion

Looking back at the moment when the presentation was hacked, Scales told DigMB, "Honestly I was shocked, but I shouldn't have been to some degree. Activists are constantly receiving backlash for our attempts to make our community and world safer and equitable. Black activists are constantly bombarded with derogatory slurs that attempt to frighten and dehumanize us."

She added: "It took a team of dedicated volunteers to put on the forum. All of us are learning how to navigate the virtual world during this pandemic and we learned from that experience. Many people have offered us resources and strategies to help secure our platforms and forums in the future and for that I am grateful."

Clinton said that it was the importance of the message that motivated him to move forward despite the attack.

"At first, I was confused as to what was happening with the slides as we had gone over the entire presentation beforehand and had worked out all of the technical difficulties, said Clinton. "Then, when I saw the n-word written on the screen, I immediately knew we had been hacked. I remember texting my sister and telling her that I no longer wanted to speak because seeing something like that is upsetting and shocking, but I decided to carry on because I knew what we were presenting was important and needed to be shared."

As for a final takeaway, Clinton said: "I hope that people who attended the forum had the chance to truly learn what 'defund the police' means and understand how the policing system was formed, how the money is being allocated today, and how we could utilize some of those funds to improve many other aspects of Manhattan Beach without worrying about increasing crime levels in our community."

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