By Michael G. Stogner
Did anybody mention Chinedu V. Okobi’s name that night? He was killed on El Camino Real, in Millbrae in the middle of the afternoon, by six San Mateo County Sheriff Employees on October 3, 2018. San Mateo County Coroner ruled the manner of Death a Homicide on December 31, 2018. Chinedu Okobi had committed No Crime, when Sheriff Deputy Wang became interested in him. Yes Chinedu was a Black man walking on the sidewalk.
Chinedu Okobi and George Floyd were both killed by law enforcement and both deaths ruled a Homicide. The difference is a brave 17 year old girl who videoed the Murder and put it on the internet for the world to see before it could be destroyed or edited.
Police response was at times unnecessarily intimidating,
I knew I wanted to publish this letter as soon as I read it, in my opinion it is addressed to the wrong people, The five Supervisors couldn’t care less what the residents think or feel. It should be addressed to ALL San Mateo County Residents.
Here it is:
Good morning San Mateo City Council Members, San Mateo County Board of Supervisors, Chief Barberini, and Sheriff Bolanos –
On Wednesday evening, June 3, I attended and spoke at the Black Lives Matter Protest in San Mateo. From the moment I walked up to City Hall, witnessed the speeches, and marched from City Hall to the San Mateo Police Department, I was inspired and proud. That is, until SMPD and related police forces showed up unprovoked in masses in riot gear to greet the peaceful protesters.
Shortly after 7pm, when the protest was scheduled to end, a group of Sheriff vehicles – marked and unmarked – sped down Franklin Parkway towards the hundreds of individuals, families, and children still standing peacefully in the street. As had been specifically planned in coordination with SMPD, the protest was scheduled to end at the San Mateo Police Department with a time of silence and reflection. Instead, when the riot forces began rushing to the scene, people were forced to quickly make way while at the same time fearing what these forces had come to do. I personally witnessed an older gentleman literally jump out of the way of a sheriff car backing up into the driveway. Children were running into the arms of their parents in tears. This as multiple law enforcement officers jumped out of their cars, either dressed in or grabbing full riot gear to don, displaying batons, bright-colored zip tie restraints, rubber bullet guns, and other riot paraphernalia. This was nothing more than an unprovoked, blatant show of force which negated the otherwise positive nature of the demonstration.
Three of the people standing on Franklin Parkway were me, my husband Rob, and my daughter Kaiya. Prior to this incident, Kaiya had been jumping up and down on the curb, collecting new rocks, and galloping through the street like a horse without a care in the world. This changed in one moment, when she then dove into my arms in hysterics. There have been very few times where I have been so afraid for my life, and never a time when I have been so afraid for the life of my daughter. There is no way to describe what that moment felt like for me, and my 22 month old daughter doesn’t have the words to describe what it was like for her. I’ll never know how much this first real interaction with law enforcement impacted her.
San Mateo Police Department released a statement indicating there were “additional challenges” and therefore a “supplemental group was deployed.” SMPD further stated, “Fortunately, at no point did these officers, or any other personnel have to employ any use of force and no arrests were made.” That bare statement reflects a generally negative set of expectations for what everyone agreed would be a civil, peaceful demonstration. No mention of the blatant and unnecessary display of force. No recognition of the impact on the peaceful protesters who lined the streets. Could it have been worse? Absolutely. But should we strive to do better? I thought that was the commitment SMPD made in their letter to the community denouncing George Floyd’s death and that was reiterated during the Town Hall earlier this week. Actions speak much louder than words.
This is not a situation in which you need to wait for other people to determine what happened and why in order to determine right and wrong, and understand the right thing to do. In this letter and in my prior discussions with many of you, I am describing the actions of our local law enforcement, which are not in dispute, and explaining how they were received by attendees including my own family. This is an example of our system functioning as intended, and of your collective complicity.
No one on our City Council looks like me. To be honest, not many people in our city look like me. I have shared my perspective, as a black woman in our city, as the ONLY current Black Elected Official in our city, and I have been told – subtly or overtly – what every other black person in our country is told – we don’t believe you, and we need to wait for the white men in power to tell us what really happened.
I can’t remember the last time I’ve been so disappointed. Please know that if you truly stand with Black Lives Matter, actions like these and the insistent failure to acknowledge them directly and seemingly intentionally miss the point. If you believe my life matters, that means you believe me and my experience. You think it is valuable and that my story is ALL you need to denounce these scare tactics, and blatant displays of force.
Councilwoman Lee recently had a rock thrown through her window. She recounted that terrible event from her perspective, she told her story, and action ensued. No one said, we are going to wait until we have all the evidence before we are going to speak out. Why is this experience so different?
I’m asking for two things:
To the San Mateo City Council and San Mateo County Board of Supervisors, I am asking you to take a stand. To publicly address and denounce these scare tactics and blatant displays of force utilized by law enforcement at the end of the evening.
To Chief Barberini and Sheriff Bolanos, I am asking for ownership. A lot went well, and you have repeatedly shared that. Own what didn’t go well and make reparations.
Remember this was a Successful Peaceful Protest in the middle of a Pandemic. Congratulations to all involved.