From an early age, Shagoofa Khan felt propelled to make her neighborhood a greater place. Rising up in Antioch – a small metropolis one hour north-east of San Francisco, the place the economic panorama of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta meets the rolling pastures of Contra Costa county – the now-22-year-old activist witnessed the consequences of racial and socioeconomic inequality every day.
At 15, after seeing friends succumb to gang violence, she educated and labored as a teen battle supervisor. As soon as she graduated from highschool, Khan – who’s the kid of immigrants from Pakistan and Afghanistan – ran for native workplace as a college board trustee, and later grew to become a pupil senator at Los Medanos Neighborhood Faculty.
After transferring to UC Berkeley, Khan grew energetic within the racial justice protests that got here after the 2020 homicide of George Floyd. Seeing “the identical tradition because the Minneapolis police division within the Antioch police division, the place there was a scarcity of transparency and accountability”, she felt compelled to assist manage Black Lives Matter demonstrations in her house city that summer season, she mentioned.
Khan’s prominence as an outspoken police critic through the 2020 protests elevated her on the radar of Antioch legislation enforcement, she mentioned. Khan claims that legislation enforcement positioned a tracker on her automotive and adopted her actions within the months after the protests. In 2021, she was arrested on arson expenses for allegedly setting hearth to a “Blue Lives Matter” flag, which had been positioned outdoors the town’s police headquarters by the mom of a fallen officer. “They wished to make an instance out of me,” she mentioned.
Two weeks in the past, Khan discovered that the division’s disdain for her ran even deeper than she beforehand knew.
On 11 April, Khan found that she was among the many quite a few Antioch neighborhood members named in violently racist, misogynistic, and anti-gay textual content messages exchanged by metropolis legislation enforcement officers between 2019 and 2022. These texts, first reported by the East Bay Occasions, surfaced out of a year-long investigation into police misconduct in Antioch and neighboring Pittsburg performed by the FBI and the Contra Costa county district legal professional’s workplace. The investigation was spurred by a litany of civil rights violations, assault incidents and dishonest accusations towards the departments.
Within the texting teams, a few of which included supervisors, officers bragged about beating up native residents, and debased Black individuals as “gorillas” and “water buffalo”. By Tuesday, greater than 45 officers – almost half of the town’s 99-person squad – had been implicated within the racist habits. On 18 April, the town council voted unanimously to audit the division, which has did not conduct inside critiques since 2017.
When Khan noticed that officers with whom she had interacted described her in Islamophobic and sexualizing phrases, she was horrified. “I simply wished to cover in a bubble and be away from all this,” she mentioned. However she quickly felt compelled to talk out.
“I remembered the entire purpose I acquired concerned was due to the victims and the individuals who have been brutalized and finally ended up getting killed by this division,” mentioned Khan. “This can be a level of justice.”
Like Khan, many Antioch locals have been shocked by the revelations. However few are stunned. For the reason that early 2000s, the traditionally white metropolis has grown in dimension and variety. For Black and brown residents, in addition to metropolis leaders, the scandal is a reminder of the town’s illiberal previous, an indicator of the systemic undercurrent of racism in a few of its essential departments, and a sign to the work that is still to be completed to realize fairness in Antioch.
The Antioch police division didn’t reply to a request for touch upon the racist texts or Shagoofa Khan’s allegations.
A shift in demographics
Within the late Nineteen Fifties, Tina Path’s mother and father moved their younger household out of close by Pittsburg – a Bay Space metropolis famous for its variety on the time – to Antioch. “They didn’t need us to go to highschool with Black youngsters,” mentioned Path, whose mom was half American Indian and father recognized as Mexican. Antioch, in contrast to Pittsburg, was virtually completely white.
In lots of respects, Antioch was designed that means. In the course of the California Gold Rush, Chinese language residents have been barred from the town’s streets after sundown, and banned completely beginning in 1876, a trauma for which present mayor Lamar Thorpe apologized in 2021. Informally, particularly amongst Black individuals, Antioch continued to be considered a “sunset city” for a lot of the twentieth century, which means that it was identified to be unsafe for individuals of shade after darkish.
Path remembers that there was not a single Black pupil in her highschool graduating class. When Debbie Joseph, a neighborhood retailer clerk who has lived in Antioch her complete life, graduated three years later, simply two of her classmates have been Black.
Individuals of shade continued to come across racism and hostility because the a long time handed. One barber within the metropolis’s Rivertown district, who requested to stay nameless for concern of backlash, described experiencing racial harassment as a younger little one whereas visiting Eighties Antioch. “My mother and father and I went to the films, and as quickly as we acquired out of the automotive, a truckload of white dudes pulled up and mentioned, ‘You higher be out of right here by sundown’,” he mentioned.
In 1996, a Black pupil at Antioch Excessive College was punished for ripping down a swastika described because the “flag of a fallen authorities” in a second world struggle exhibit. His actions have been later acknowledged with an award from the Holocaust Oral Historical past Mission.
Antioch’s demographics have since shifted dramatically. In line with the Census Bureau, its inhabitants grew from 90,000 in 2000 to greater than 115,000 in 2020 – a rise of greater than 25%. And whereas Antioch’s residents have been over 65% white 20 years in the past, at present, white residents make up about 35% of the town’s inhabitants. In 2020, 20% of the town recognized as Black or African American, and 35% of the town recognized as Hispanic or Latino (up from 9% and 22% in 2000, respectively).
The developments are symptomatic of widespread micro-migrations which have reshaped the San Francisco Bay Space in latest a long time: as the price of dwelling in traditionally numerous cities equivalent to Oakland and San Francisco has grow to be more and more prohibitive, lower-income households – lots of them Black and brown – have moved to extra reasonably priced locations like Antioch.
The adjustments are evident in each stratum of the town, from faculties to legislation enforcement – Antioch’s present chief of police, Dr. Steven A. Ford, is Black – to native authorities. When Monica Wilson moved to Antioch from Los Angeles in 2006, she mentioned, the town council was made up completely of “older white males”. In 2012, she grew to become the primary Black lady to serve on it.
At present, the five-member metropolis council is majority feminine and majority Black – together with a Black mayor. However to Wilson, the revelations about widespread racism within the police division “counsel that this majority council means nothing”.
“[It] jogs my memory of Black Wall Road,” mentioned Wilson, referring to the post-civil struggle bastions of Black prosperity that, through the twentieth century, have been destroyed by redlining, the razing of total neighborhoods, or, within the case of Tulsa Oklahoma’s Greenwood district in 1921, deliberate incineration throughout a lethal race bloodbath.
“They have been burned down by white people who have been like, ‘Hey, we don’t need to see you thrive,’” Wilson continued. However whereas a sure contingent of the town desires to return in time, Wilson is evident that “Antioch is shifting ahead”.
‘Heartbreak and disappointment’
Antioch can be a metropolis that takes satisfaction in its legislation enforcement. Within the downtown hall, blue flags honoring officers and veterans dangle from lamp-posts, making that tradition clear to guests.
Sara, a neighborhood insurance coverage skilled, believes that Antioch wants a police presence to assist resolve crime and questions of safety. However she believes the division must be fully restructured to be able to make that occur – and that begins with terminating the implicated officers. “You’ll be able to’t be a prison and a cop,” she mentioned.
Path remembers being informed as a toddler that if she ever felt unsafe, she ought to strategy a police officer. Now, she fears for the wellbeing of her brown grandchildren. “I completely misplaced respect for the police power,” Path mentioned. “How will my grandkids develop up? Who will they ask for assist?”
“Finally, these are the individuals we belief to maintain us secure,” echoed Wilson. Now, she mentioned, if somebody in Antioch calls the police hoping for help, they may have considerations about who’s going to point out up and whether or not that officer will act of their finest pursuits, particularly if they’re a lady, particular person of shade, or member of the LGBTQ+ neighborhood.
For the barber in Rivertown, the scandal solely confirmed what he already knew. “It didn’t shock me. What stunned me is what number of officers have been concerned,” he mentioned.
“California is likely one of the most liberal locations within the nation,” he continued, earlier than noting that “all it’s important to do is go to sure cities” to search out racism and bigotry.
Antioch’s mayor, Lamar Thorpe, says he thinks that the latest revelations will flooring even police champions. “For many who are spiritual supporters of the police division, I believe there may be numerous heartbreak and disappointment,” he mentioned. “I believe they really feel considerably betrayed.”
For Thorpe and Wilson, the scandal additionally carries with it a private heaviness. As two of the town’s three Black lawmakers, lots of the colleagues they encounter on a day-to-day foundation are in legislation enforcement. Thorpe was named immediately within the textual content messages when one officer provided to purchase dinner for a colleague in trade for them capturing the mayor with a rubber bullet.
“You assume to your self, was this particular person pondering this about me?” mentioned Wilson, alluding to the vile phrases the officers utilized in reference to each girls and Black individuals. “It’s very private.”
For Thorpe, occasions like this amplify the intergenerational trauma skilled by Black individuals within the US. “Issues like this … take us to locations that we will envision, however have by no means been,” he mentioned. “We don’t know what the chains appeared like, however now we have a transparent understanding of what it felt like.”
Exposing ingrained biases
To re-establish a trusting relationship between legislation enforcement and the individuals of Antioch, neighborhood leaders are adamant that systemic adjustments should be made. Eradicating the implicated officers from the power, whereas vital, isn’t sufficient, mentioned Thorpe. (At current, a number of officers have been positioned on administrative go away, however no firings have been introduced.)
“[There is still a] sense that police are there to guard white individuals from Black individuals,” mentioned Thorpe, explaining how racism within the police division perpetuates present social biases.
Wilson, too, says she thinks that the FBI probe has pulled again the curtain to reveal one thing greater. “This can be a signal of one thing that’s cultural and ingrained,” she mentioned.
Shifting ahead would require individuals in positions of energy, together with legislation enforcement officers, to acknowledge their biases, mentioned Mark DeSaulnier, who represents Antioch and California’s tenth congressional district. “If we will’t acknowledge this within the Bay Space, then it makes it more durable for the remainder of the nation,” he mentioned. Within the coming months, that course of will unfold in federal courtrooms. John Burris, an acclaimed civil rights legal professional, has filed a federal lawsuit towards the town and members of its police division on behalf of 5 individuals who declare victimization from native legislation enforcement. He sees a attainable “golden alternative” to create significant change in what he characterised as a “throwback to outdated southern plantation justice” during which the police confirmed “no regard for [the victims] as human beings”.
“The time has come for this case,” mentioned Burris, who represented Rodney King towards the Los Angeles police division in 1993 and has spent his profession combating police misconduct.
As one of many plaintiffs in Burris’ case, Shagoofa Khan is hopeful that the lawsuit will result in change within the division.
“I’m not anti-police. I don’t hate all officers,” mentioned Khan. “I consider in accountability.”
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