In May 2020, the world watched in horror as George Floyd died under the knee of a Minnesota police officer outside a supermarket.
The waves reached as far as Santa Fe, where the city council announced plans to investigate whether police brutality against black Americans had crept elsewhere in City Different.
Mayor Alan Webber and Councilors Renee Villarreal and Chris Rivera endorsed a resolution to create a task force to deal with the sensitive issues of race, police and public safety as a whole – a move in similar efforts across cities Country, which was easily supported by the entire governing body.
It has been sixteen months and the city’s community health and safety task force has struggled to make progress. A mandatory review of police policies and procedures is pending and the Council is expected to extend the Task Force’s original expiry date to December 31st.
Meanwhile, the group tasked with determining whether the city’s public safety authorities were harming color communities saw the departures of the task force’s only three black members, including its moderator, in the first year.
Naja Druva, a psychotherapist, signed up shortly after the group was founded. She cites a recent commitment to social justice as the reason for her application.
Druva, who is black, resigned in January, expressing a loss of confidence in the government-run structure and what she calls a toxic environment. During her time at the Task Force, she discovered “how harmful it is to hear one’s experience, one’s lived experience, debated”.
“When I left, they were still wondering how to find out whether or not there was a problem with the police in Santa Fe,” says Druva SFR of the six months she spent in the task force. Based on her experience as a black woman and mother, she argues that the question shouldn’t be whether there is a problem, but how the city can work on it.
“We know that there is a problem with the police around the world – absolutely in our country, absolutely in our state and in our city,” says Druva. She adds that “the change will not take place in a space designed to maintain the status quo.”
Task force leaders, Villarreal and Rivera, say the group is taking the time to ensure they are doing the hard, necessary work. Both city councilors are asking the board of directors to extend the group’s term of office until December 2022.
The stated goal of the task force is to investigate how the health and safety services of the Santa Fe community can better work together to serve residents. In the resolution establishing the group, the task force’s responsibilities include evaluating the internal policies and procedures of the Santa Fe Police and Fire Department and hearing the Santa Feans’ experiences of public safety.
The group was originally closed until December 2021 and only presented itself to the governing body last week; It is clear that the work is progressing more slowly than expected.
“What happened to police-sanctioned violence that took place across the country, in my opinion, not only activated people’s perceptions, but also local experiences,” says Villarreal about the impetus behind the creation of the task force.
Rivera admits hearing from his Task Force colleagues was an eye-opening experience.
“As a Hispanic man in this community, I feel pretty safe,” says Rivera. He added that many of the city’s police officers were also Hispanic, “but other people in the community are different.”
Rivera says Black Santa Feans’ departure from the task force underscores the need to hear a range of voices: from immigrants and young people to police officers and inmates.
“And I think some of that transparency and feeling,” Rivera told SFR, explaining what he expects from his fellow citizens, “is going to be a bit shocking for the community, as it is for me.”
Villarreal admits that the task force’s socially strained mission and its pandemic-enforced forum for meetings – Zoom – has posed challenges.
“We try to build trust with members of the community who have never met in person,” she says.
Villarreal explains that the group was prevented from moving forward until January because it lacked a moderator. The city hired Sunshine Muse, a black health justice adviser; According to Rivera, she resigned earlier this year for personal reasons.
The public format of the meetings also slowed the group’s progress. Villarreal says changing the resolution to allow closed meetings for the group, which took place in March, took time.
“We work in a very tough structure. It’s run by the government, it’s a little government-sanctioned, it’s currently partially funded by the city, “she says. Villarreal explains that other cities that have made government-led efforts to consider public security reform have faced similar challenges. Alternatively, she adds, community-led approaches face other challenges.
Talking about her strenuous work in the task force that led to her resignation, Druva asks, “Why I resigned is a less important question to me than why all the blacks who were on this task force resigned?”
Druva says she is not speaking on behalf of the other former members when she points out this important fact. She explains that three of the first twelve members of the task force, including Muse, were black. Neither Raashan Ahmad nor Muse were available for comment.
The city councils confirm that none of the current members are black. Villarreal notes that some of the former members have agreed to participate in focus groups.
Druva eventually angered the task force when it discovered that police reform attempts were not initiated by the group. As she says, “We ask the fox how we can make the hen house safer.”