, May 23, 2022

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Benicia moves forward with racial equity committee

  •   3 min reads
Benicia moves forward with racial equity committee
Benicia City Hall

BENICIA – The Benicia City Council moved forward with appointing five community members to a racial equity committee Tuesday, part of a slate of efforts started last year to combat racism in the city following the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

The community group Benicia Black Lives Matter, which formed as the country erupted in protests in the wake of Floyd’s death, was the driving force in the reforms.

In August 2020, the city council moved forward with a resolution to establish the committee as well as create a new equity and diversity manager position and commission a report about equity indicators, similar to one completed in Oakland in 2018.

The council made some changes to the resolution at the time, including reducing the equity and diversity manager position from a three-quarters-time position to half-time to reduce costs. Earlier this year, Benicia hired Maliika Chambers for the role.

The resolution called for a city council subcommittee that would include two councilmembers, the police chief, city manager, other city staff and two members of Benicia Black Lives Matter. But the city later decided to create a permanent committee that would require people to apply for those seats.

Members of Benicia Black Lives Matter were unhappy with the change, particularly after only one current member, Amira Barger, was nominated. However, two former members, including co-founder Nimat Shakoor-Grantham, were also added to the committee.

Specifically, Benicia Black Lives Matter co-founder Brandon Greene was not appointed. BBLM issued a statement on Tuesday objecting to Greene’s exclusion. Several members, including Greene, called into Tuesday’s meeting.

Greene, director of the racial and economic justice of the ACLU of Northern California and an adjunct professor at the UC Hastings law school, said he had written the resolution.

“We are having this conversation because of my personal professional experience, so the question of whether or not there are current or former Benicia Black Lives Matter members is not really the issue,” Greene said. “The issue is what feels like a very much whitewashing not only of history, but the driving forces of what got us here today.”

But councilmembers were confused by the objection, pointing out that three out of five members of the committee were current or former members of BBLM and that all five were members of a racial minority.

“As it’s now constituted we have three current or former Black Lives Matter members,” Vice Mayor Tom Campbell said. “How is this somehow diluting the power of Black Lives Matter?”

Mayor Steve Young acknowledged, “We would not be having this conversation if not for the efforts of Benicia Black Lives Matter.”

Shakoor-Grantham, who was nominated to the committee, publicly split with Benicia Black Lives Matter in September. BBLM issued a statement announcing her departure, saying she would “maintain status as a general member-at-large” and that she left the leadership team “in good standing and supported by a group of committed Benicia residents.”

Shakoor-Grantham issued her own statement at the time, saying that she disagreed with some changing positions of the group and its leadership structure.

Challenged about the exclusion of Greene, Campbell said that he had doubts that Greene would be a long-term participant in the committee. “He was a member of the open government committee and he resigned,” Campbell said. “That’s a point against him because I want people staying there for several years.”

Members of the committee will serve until June 30, 2023, unless extended by the city council.

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