Livermore, CA – Livermore residents are fired up after a city council committee subgroup posted notes from a meeting that said the city was creating a database of private citizens who displayed racist symbols and put the Thin Blue Line flag on the list.
“Time to stand up for your rights Livermore residents,” Melody Aranguren posted on Facebook in response to a letter from the newly-elected mayor and city councilmember on the subcommittee.
“I cannot believe that the city council is trying to control what we put in our yards,” Aranguren wrote. “If I want to put up a flag that honors fallen police officers it’s my god given right to do so. How is a thin blue line flag that honors fallen police officers racist??”
The controversy surrounded the Community-Wide Assessment and Action Project that falls under the Livermore City Council’s Subcommittee on Equity and Inclusion.
Livermore City Councilmember Trish Munro told The Police Tribune the working group was created in response to a call from community members in the wake of protests following the death of George Floyd in the custody of the Minneapolis police on May 25.
Munro said the subcommittee is made up of mostly community members and was split up into four subgroups based on topic – Community Culture and Representation, Policing and Human Services, Reaching and Inspiring the Younger Generation, and Housing, Workplace, Economic and Transportation Environments.
The meeting notes that set off a firestorm of outrage on social media came out of the Community Culture and Representation subgroup meeting on Nov. 17 that was posted to the city council’s website.
The notes, which have since been updated on the website, said the project would identify symbols of systemic racism in the community, assess them, and then take action to address them.
The subgroup also decided that their research project should include symbols that group members found objectionable on private property in their own neighborhood and communities, according to the notes.
“Expand the scope of the properties, symbols, etc. to be inventoried to the
entire City, not just those that are City owned (Examples of City Property: e.g. Pride flag, cowboy, field/vineyard worker, murals, Livermore seal (cowboy), sculptures of families/children with Eurocentric features, ranch brands, totem pole). Examples of Private Property: confederate flag, Thin Blue Line flag, inclusive signs.”
But it was the next section of the meeting notes – Action Steps to Move the Project Forward – that really freaked people out.
“HAVE YOU SEEN THIS LIVERMORE RESIDENTS??” Jeannette Petrilli posted to Facebook. “WE NEED TO START ATTENDING CITY COUNCIL MEETINGS ! THIS IS INSANE!!!”
“Livermore’s Council Subcommittee on Equity and Inclusion discusses creating an inventory of hateful symbols on private property such as the Thin Blue Line Flag so they can reach out and will ‘educate’ people,” Petrilli continued. “They plan on creating an online a photo library of people’s property by mid January to register and assess hate symbols.”
“I don’t think they have thought this through. If they defund the police, who will force people into re-education camps?” she joked sarcastically.
But she didn’t largely misinterpret what the meeting notes said.
“Subgroup members take photos of symbols in their neighborhoods and across the City. Create a Shared Google Doc for subgroup members to upload the photos,” the notes read.
“Insert photos along with information and assessment: Indicate when and where was the photo taken,” the notes instructed. “Be sure to capture areas and pockets in Livermore that have not been welcoming (Example: farmworkers have historically resided in the North Side. There were camps on this side where people of color/workers lived and gathered.).”
“Make a qualitative assessment of the meaning of the symbols based on history, placement, personal perspective, etc. of the symbol,” the notes continued. “When the inventory is collected, the subgroup will develop the actions to take in response, such as education, policy changes or persuasion to address symbols that reflect and perpetuate systemic racism, while promoting symbols that reflect and perpetuate equity and inclusion.”
The notes included a January target date.
After the controversy erupted, the meeting notes were amended online and Munro and the newly-elected mayor sent out a letter on Sunday that explained the misunderstanding, the councilmember told The Police Tribune.
“This has so been misconstrued,” Munro said.
She said the intention was to collect the data – to have all the pictures stripped of their identifying information, and create the database of symbols out of that.
Munro said she is a sociologist who does qualitative research and that she planned to handle the research professionally and be very careful with confidentiality.
She told The Police Tribune that all of the pictures would be cropped so there are no identifying marks “precisely because it is not okay to have this be a ‘hey they’ve got a flag’ situation because that’s not my job as a city councilmember or a researcher to say that.”
Munro said the idea to include private property in the project came from a community member who was in the subgroup.
She said the Thin Blue Line flag was one of many symbols that was discussed during the meeting during a brainstorm session and that the notes that were posted on the website were very incomplete.
“It wasn’t supposed to be on the list as such,” Munro told The Police Tribune. “Those were just notes. And if you go in and look now, we have fixed it because those notes have been misconstrued. It doesn’t mean we as a city are saying [the Thin Blue Line flag] is a symbol of hate – it’s just on the list because it makes some people feel bad. The Black Lives Matter flag was mentioned during the meeting, too.”
But Black Lives Matter wasn’t mentioned in the meeting notes shared on the website.
“It was notes of a brainstorming session and not everything said in that brainstorming session was captured,” Munro explained. “We screwed up. We should have vetted that more carefully. Trust me, there were other things on that list. The goal here was not to dox somebody or collect data on them.”
She told The Police Tribune that she has received a lot of feedback from upset community members but she said the letter they sent out explaining had calmed some nerves.
“I understand the concern but I’m a little flummoxed by it because this is a project of the community group – the goal was to include everyone in the conversation,” the councilmember explained.
She said it was never her intention to gather the personal data despite the fact the “action” portion of the notes said they would try to influence people displaying offensive symbols, which implied some records would be kept.
Munro wouldn’t say that the blowback from the community indicated the data-gathering project was a bad idea and should be cancelled, but she said that she and newly-elected Livermore Mayor Bob Woerner would discuss the feedback they’ve received.
Woerner is due to be sworn into office at the city council meeting on Monday night.
“I am certainly hearing what people are saying and if this is going to do the opposite, that’s not going to work real well,” the councilmember told The Police Tribune.
“We’re thinking about things more deeply,” she conceded. “I think this thing has taken on a life of its own. It may at this point be in a place that it’s so counter-productive, we may need to find another way to have this conversation.”
Munro said the whole mess was the result of the committee trying to be too transparent by sharing incomplete notes.
“It would go a long way if community members would realize that the intention was good even if the execution wasn’t,” she told The Police Tribune.