Frustration, confusion and animosity were the headliners at Tuesday night’s city council meeting, at which the council heard from a mourning family, passed all items on the consent calendar, unanimously elected a new vice mayor and passed a proclamation in support for the Muslim community in Richmond.
The meeting unofficially began a half hour before the pledge when some three dozen protesters gathered outside Richmond City Hall to remember Richard “Pedie” Perez, a young unarmed man who was shot and killed by Richmond police officer Wallace Jensen in 2014. Police say Perez was shot after reaching for the officer’s gun during a scuffle that happened outside of Uncle Sam’s Liquor Store in Richmond. But after reviewing the store’s surveillance video, family and supporters say Perez had surrendered before the officer had pulled out his gun.
Though Perez’s case wasn’t on the agenda, 19 people signed up to speak about him during the meeting’s open forum. Family members and close friends shared memories of Perez, and spoke against the lack of acknowledgement the city has given to his case. They criticized the Richmond Police Department for not firing the officer, and scorned the council for not doing more to help their cause. Jensen has not been charged with a crime.
This was not the first time the Oscar Grant Committee Against Police Brutality & State Repression—an organization that formed after the 2009 officer-involved shooting of Oscar Grant III in Oakland—and the Perez family organized people to speak at a council meeting and they said it won’t be the last. “If he was just a piece of garbage who deserved what he got, we wouldn’t be here,” said Rhonda Perez, Perez’s aunt.
His mother, Julie Perez, said her and her husband’s lives have not been the same since they lost their son. “Our days are cold, dark, empty and meaningless,” she said, asking the council to order an independent investigation into Perez’s death.
Councilmembers made no comment on the case and shifted focus to official agenda items. Members of Perez’s family and the Oscar Grant Committee left the meeting shortly after the public comment forum, disrupting the council by collectively leaving the meeting mid-discussion.
Councilmember Eduardo Martinez was unanimously elected as vice mayor of Richmond for the 2016 council year, replacing Jael Myrick. Martinez, who was voted onto the city council in 2014 after two former defeats, is a 22-year Richmond resident and an active Richmond Progressive Alliance member.
Councilmembers Gayle McLaughlin and Nathaniel Bates, who had nominated himself for the position, disagreed on the conditions for election.
McLaughlin said it should be a person on the council with the most seniority and who has never been vice mayor. Excluding herself, she said that would leave Martinez and Vinay Pimplé as the only candidates for the position.
“If there were no councilmembers who had ever been vice mayor, it would be the one with most seniority,” McLaughlin said.
Bates, who has served on the council three decades and could not recall how many times he was vice mayor, argued that Martinez will serve three more years on the council and could be vice mayor in 2017 or 2018. He also alluded to an agreement he said he and Myrick made outside of city hall last year when they were both interested in the position; he said he stepped back for Myrick to take office.
“Myrick said he would support me this time,” Bates said. But Myrick’s support in the second motion to add Bates as a candidate was not enough.
Pimplé abstained from voting in both motions related to the election.
After Martinez was elected, councilmembers adopted a resolution opposing hate crimes based on Islamophobic views. Though one Richmond resident used the forum to spew hateful comments about the Nation of Islam and immigration, other speakers shared positive remarks about the Love Splash event held on Christmas Eve. The event was held to demonstrate support, solidarity and appreciation for the Muslim community in Richmond after a man was arrested earlier that month for making threats to members leaving the Islamic Society of West Contra Costa County after a service.
Richmond resident William Celli was taken into custody after Richmond police officers searched his home for explosives and detonated a suspicious device.
Mohamed Alaoui, a member of the mosque, expressed his gratitude to the city council for the proclamation and the Love Splash event, but asked that Celli be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. “If the house of worship would have been of another denomination,” Alaoui said, “it would have been an act of racism.”
Despite the meeting being over inside, Perez and Grant Committee protesters were still outside of city hall after 9 p.m. They had re-gathered in the lobby to pass out pens and Perez buttons to people who exited the building.
In the midst of the crowd, Oscar Grant Committee member Frank Runninghorse said, “We want to keep the heat on these politicians and let them know we are not going to go away, and we are going to continue to organize.”