January 19, 2021

Activists continue to demand answers at Antioch council meeting and mayor’s office

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While dozens of residents called for the removal of a police officer who dodged discipline and was later hired in Antioch, Mayor Sean Wright said he was being held “hostage” by activists who yelled at him outside his office during Tuesday’s virtual council meeting.

“I am being harassed right now in the building where I work,” the mayor wrote on Facebook shortly after the City Council meeting began. “Protesters are banging at my door and yelling at the top of their lungs….I am afraid.”

“If you want to change a policy, you don’t threaten and intimidate people. Nor do you hold them hostage,” he added. “This is wrong.”

A handful of youths had come to Wright’s business about 30 minutes before the 7 p.m. meeting to ask him to address several policing issues, which this week led to six youths launching a hunger strike. Wright went inside and locked the doors. Police were called to the scene and the youths left.

Among their demands was that Antioch fire Officer Michael Mellone who left San Francisco Police Department in 2019, resigning just before he was to be disciplined for a confrontation that led to the fatal shooting of a homeless man, Luís Góngora-Pat, in 2016.

The hunger strikers, who call themselves the #6Forced2Strike, also called for the removal of Corporal Steve Aiello as president of the Antioch Police Officers Association for his remarks on social media suggesting the slapping of protesters would be justified if they had made disparaging gestures at police.

Moreover, they have asked for a seat at a community “Bridging the Gap” roundtable on police reform that the council had promised to set up in June as soon as they hired a moderator.

The hunger strikers and dozens of supporters have said that Wright and other city officials have remained silent, not responding to their emails or calls for his comment and not updating them on the investigations into the two Antioch police officers or the progress on the promised police reform roundtables.

Wright called the visit to his office an “intimidation” tactic, and said there are other ways to be heard.

“I sat there in my office as they banged on my door; I just don’t think this is politics,” he said during the meeting. “Obviously, it is what it is, and this is what we are getting in Antioch and I just don’t think it is right.”

But Lacey Brown, a hunger striker who watched the confrontation live on social media, said no one held the mayor hostage.

“Individuals went down to talk to you because you are famously impossible to get a hold of you and don’t you know it because we have been calling you and emailing you and you have not responded,” she told Wright. “They went down to ask you how you feel about people starving in front of the Antioch Police Department.”

Brown, who said she and others have already been harassed and threatened while peacefully protesting, added that after Wright’s “hostage” post, people had come by in his name to harass them.

Sarah Blanco also cautioned the mayor that extreme words can lead to violence.

“Even if you were afraid, you resort to the extreme and those words can cause violence against protesters and people of color,” she said.

“If you sent the social media call out of fear, I get that, but take back the term ‘hostage,’ or the violent, the racists or ignorant will heed your call and cause harm to the (hunger) strikers.”

Other public commenters called for a special meeting to discuss the issues.

“The racial tension is heightened now more than ever and with the brave hunger strikers receiving death threats from local white supremacists,” Kyra Hinton wrote in an email to the council. “The time is now to act and meet their demands before further violence erupts.”

Patricia Granados, meanwhile, said she couldn’t believe “we went through a whole summer without addressing issues that continue to plague the city.”

Though the issues could not be discussed as they were not agendized, several council members offered some answers.

Councilman Lamar Thorpe explained that the council has no authority over the police union, so it could not remove Aiello as president.

Mayor Wright, meanwhile, said that it takes time to put together a “Bridging the Gap” roundtable, noting the contract moderator position was just posted, but the city would set up the community meetings as soon possible.

“We’re following through with our commitment on that,” Mayor Pro Tem Joy Motts said, while adding that she like others is anxiously awaiting completion of the Mellone investigation.

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Author: Judith Prieve

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