Protesters standing with the Black Lives Matter movement are demanding change in Claremont.
After the death of George Floyd, the Claremont Police Department released a statement condemning racism and outlining the policies and training procedures in place to counteract racial bias within the department.
In an interview, Sergeant David DeMetz said that CPD requires “unbiased policing.”
“Officers cannot consider things like race or ethnicity, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, those types of things, to direct their law enforcement actions,” DeMetz said. He added that all officers review that policy every six months and attend additional training workshops, such as “Tools for Tolerance” through the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles.
But multiple local activist groups have argued that further action is necessary, and have collaborated to organize calls for reform within CPD and the city as a whole.
According to statistics released by the Claremont Police Department in a Campaign Zero scorecard, 65.5 percent of those arrested by Claremont police between 2013 and 2019 were Black or Hispanic. These groups comprise 49.4 percent of the population for Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties. Of those arrested, 47.7 percent were Hispanic and 17.8 percent were Black, while each group makes up 42.4 percent and 7 percent of the population, respectively.
The scorecard also reports that there were, on average, 14 instances of “less lethal force” per year during the six-year period. Last year, there were 23 such instances, which can include physical force with injury, pepper spray, TASER, K9 and physical strikes.
Claremont protesters insist that reform within CPD and the city as a whole is necessary based on these statistics and are calling for race-conscious changes within the school district, reallocation of the city’s budget and a restructured policing system.
Claremont Disarm Hate is a high school club with branches throughout the Claremont Unified School District. It was founded after the El Paso shooting last summer, with a group of students coming together to protest gun violence.
“Initially, we were just focused on gun violence, and throughout the year, we covered police brutality and we registered voters,” said Claremont High School rising senior Maya Garcia, a co-president and founding member of the club.
After Floyd’s death, the group decided they needed to shift their focus to the Black Lives Matter movement.
Jayla Sheffield, a CHS rising junior who is both a co-vice-president of Claremont Disarm Hate and the incoming president of CHS’s Black Student Union, was one leader of the club’s decision to protest for BLM. She “was feeling really emotional about [Floyd’s death], really angry, just kind of enraged,” she said, and decided that “we need to do something . . . we need to just do something.”
The group organized a protest for May 30, and proceeded to protest every day of that week. The first protest consisted of only a few people, but the second had “hundreds” of attendees, with a wide range of demographics, according to Sheffield.
“It was just super powerful to see the unity of Claremont,” Garcia said. She thinks it’s equally important to “support the Black community, not just advocate for active change, but also be there for them in this time of absolute anger and fear.”
Sheffield agreed with Garcia that recognition and support of the Black community is crucial.
“There’s not a lot of Black people who live in Claremont, but they’re there, and they don’t feel heard; they don’t feel seen,” she said.
Black Claremonters make up about five percent of the city, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Lily Miller, a rising senior at the Webb Schools and a co-president and founding member of the club, believes that another one of the group’s key goals is education.
“These are really hard topics to delve into, and a lot of people don’t want to have those conversations, so we want to open up those conversations and give that forum for education,” she said.
Sheffield recognizes this goal as an important objective for the club as well, believing that the community needs to “be able to have uncomfortable conversations” before any other steps can be taken.
On June 5, the BSU held an open mic for people to speak about their various experiences with racism, and Claremont Disarm Hate hopes to organize similar events in the future in order to facilitate those “uncomfortable conversations,” according to Garcia.
The club also has also proposed policy changes for the Claremont Unified School District, including the hiring of more people of color, the implementation of a mandatory racial bias training for all students and teachers and the addition of an African-American studies class as a graduation requirement.
“We want to make policies in our schools, in the city of Claremont and in the town hall. We want that change to happen and we want it to happen on all levels,” Miller said. She believes that the reforms in the school district are an important step in changing the community overall.
A large group of CUSD students, alumni and incoming students have also been pressuring the district to end their contract with the police department. Sheffield said she’s especially passionate about that issue.
“For me, it’s primarily because I don’t feel safe with the police on campus, and I never have,” she said.
Many of the club’s members believe that the police should be defunded, and Sheffield hopes that some of that money could be used within the CUSD to implement these policy reforms.
According to Garcia, there are different opinions within the club about how to deal with police reform. But there’s a general consensus that the Police Department needs to be restructured.
“I think that it’s essential that we pull the weed out from the root, and not necessarily have it gone for good, but essentially turn off the police force, and if we do bring it back, keep it in different sections,” Garcia said. She added that “a fraction of the police officers who do have guns now should actually have guns” and that there should be “psychologist ‘police’” that focus on de-escalation.
The efforts of Claremont Disarm Hate inspired another group, Claremont Change, to take action. Josue Barnes and Noah Winnick, both residents of the city, founded the organization after attending one of Claremont Disarm Hate’s first protests.
“I saw them out there and I immediately started crying because I recognized at that point if these kids can be out here making their voices heard, then maybe there is hope for some change,” Barnes said.
On June 6, Barnes and Winnick organized their first protest, a march that culminated in an open mic at Memorial Park with about 1,500 attendees.
For Barnes, the most significant part of the event was “offering the mic up to the Black folks in the community, right, and allowing them to share their thoughts and their experiences so that all the white community members, all the white people in the community, could ‘walk a mile in our shoes.’” He also emphasized the importance of recognizing that “our normal is not your normal.”
“One of the things I think that’s important about that petition is we were in the very early stages of our own thoughts and our own growth in terms of what we wanted,” Winnick said.
Since the petition went active, Claremont Change has centralized their goals around three main points: closing loopholes in policing policy, creating a system of accountability with a civilian review board holding more power than the current police commission and adjusting the city’s budget in terms of police funding.
“Year after year, the human services budget is cut, and those are services to the youth, seniors, LGTBQ+ and the homeless communities that are greatly affected, so our main goal is to take away funding from the police, of which they already have so much, giving it back to the community whose tax dollars it is anyways, to benefit the most vulnerable in our community,” Winnick said.
In Claremont’s 2019-2020 general fund, public safety was allocated $12.2 million and human services was allocated $2.5 million dollars — 48 percent and 10 percent of the fund, respectively.
DeMetz addressed Winnick’s point about the city’s current police commission.
“We communicate with them, and they’re presented with information from us, but they don’t necessarily make decisions about policy and procedure of the department. But they do have input in the sense that they make recommendations,” he said.
Claremont Change also believes that CPD needs to be restructured. Winnick spoke about the need to “reimagine” it, saying “there are things that they might need to be there for, violent things,” but when it comes to mental health, there need to be “social workers that are in a much better trained position.”
Police Chief Shelly Vander Veen addressed the #8cantwait policies during a June 23 city council meeting.
“The Police Department believes that its existing policies and training are largely aligned with #8cantwait principles,” Vander Veen said.
Since protests in Claremont began, the department took further action on addressing chokeholds and strangleholds. While both chokehold and strangleholds were already banned by the CPD, officers were still allowed to use “carotid compression,” which involves pressuring a certain artery until the target loses consciousness. As of June 4, CPD no longer allows the technique.
“I heard the community’s concerns in regard to this technique. Although our officers have used this technique safely, it’s clearly something that is detrimental to our relationship with the community that we are sworn to protect,” she said.
But Vander Veen took issue with #8cantwait’s requirement to exhaust all other alternatives before shooting. She said the policy isn’t feasible because it causes “second-guessing of split-second decisions” by officers in heated situations. She proposed instead that “the focus should be on training alternatives to deadly force, de-escalation and proportional force.”
CPD policies also vary from #8cantwait by allowing officers to shoot at moving vehicles, which Vander Veen said is essential in certain circumstances. She described a situation in which a van is driving through the Claremont farmer’s market, targeting pedestrians, asking “What would you want a police officer to do?”.
Barnes and Winnick spoke during the public comment section of the June 23 meeting. They emphasized the need for objective review boards, both internal and external, with the power to make important decisions about civilian complaints.
Winnick also criticized the department’s move to contract with Lexipol, a private company that writes policies for police departments. He said they “warned against changes meant to reduce excessive force and hold officers accountable,” which he called unacceptable. He urged the city council to either bring the policy creation “back in-house” or to use a non-profit organization.
Vander Veen said Lexipol is only a “template” of “best practices” that can be changed by the department to fit their needs accordingly. She also said that any policy changes are reviewed by the police commission before implementation. But she acknowledged that it’s a community concern of and promised to address it more directly at a future meeting, most likely the police commission meeting on July 9.
The chief also responded to calls to defund the police, saying a lower budget means fewer officers deployed, which leads to a less-proactive patrol, and therefore longer response times.
Claremont Change believes that these conversations between the public and the city need to be the start of the process, not the end.
“I think the biggest thing right now is making sure that we don’t lose steam on this movement,” Barnes said. “We want to keep people engaged by continuously having these kinds of discussions. Whether it be via Zoom or at protests, we’re hoping that people will continue with the movement, that they’ll continue wanting to help us change the community.”
Claremont Disarm Hate is also in for the long haul.
“It’s going to take a long time, and that’s the reality of it. We just need to keep people talking, and keep people aware of it, and not have them go back and retreat from addressing the problem,” Miller said.
The two organizations are planning on collaborating in the future, alongside the BSU. They’re hoping to hold another open mic and protest soon, but have not yet set a date, according to Garcia.