Santa Barbara Mayor Cathy Murillo took a knee during the Pledge of Allegiance at Tuesday’s City Council meeting — two days after she refused to take a knee during a Black Lives Matter rally that culminated in a march to the police station.
Murillo’s gesture was not welcomed by dozens of community members who spoke at the the City Council meeting. They said her kneeling inside the council chamber was a token, too-little, too-late gesture solely for the cameras. Public comment alone lasted about three hours.
“Even though I was entertained by your encore performance that you gave today and the words that came out of your mouth, your actions have already spoken for you,” said Simone Ruskamp, one of the Black Lives Matter facilitators and co-founder of Juneteenth SB. “You still as of now have not reached out to any of leaders of the protest even though you have our emails.”
On Sunday, about 3,000 people gathered at the Santa Barbara County Superior Courthouse and then marched down State Street, and to the intersection of Santa Barbara and Figueroa streets, near the police station.
Murillo did not march with the protesters.
Toward the end of the rally, Murillo, who was standing with City Hall public information officer Anthony Wagner on the sidewalk near a dozen police officers in riot gear, approached the female organizers of the event, Ruskamp and Krystle Farmer Sieghart, and tried to speak.
The organizers did not allow her to talk. Many members of the crowd asked her to take a knee and she did not. She eventually scuttled away from the scene with Wagner.
Later that evening, Murillo issued a general statement through Wagner, which praised Police Chief Lori Luhnow for her earlier statement condemning the death of George Floyd, the man who died after a police officer in Minneapolis placed his knee on his neck and head for almost nine minutes. Floyd died shortly after paramedics arrived on the scene.
On Tuesday, Ruskamp criticized Murillo’s statement and actions on Sunday.
“You issued a statement erasing the black people that you had just talked to and you thanked the chief,” Ruskamp told the mayor. “It is so obviously insincere and how dare you mention the names of black people who have died violently in vain.”
Ruskamp told Murillo, “I expect you to resign,” and put Luhnow under the bright lights.
“To the chief, you have had my email for years,” Ruskamp said. “I got an email from you minutes before this meeting, again showing that your commitment to this is not sincere. I guess you wanted to do that to make sure I couldn’t say in public that you still didn’t reach out to the black people, but your efforts are paper-thin. Why would you issue a statement without speaking to black people if you were trying to support them? Why would you tell your officers to refuse to kneel?”
Nearly three hours into Tuesday’s meeting, Luhnow addressed some of the criticisms, at the request of Santa Barbara City Councilwoman Alejandra Gutierrez.
Gutierrez asked Luhnow where she was during the protest.
“I was returning to Santa Barbara, so no, my command staff handled the protest,” Luhnow said.
Luhnow explained why some of the officers were carrying shields and wearing mask guards while they stood near the police station.
“We’ve had officers in LA actively deployed in riots that have been violent and our training dictates we wear extra gear when we do that,” Luhnow said. “I am not at all saying that we saw that violence here. But I am saying that we can do better than we did.”
Luhonow said the Police Department works best when it partners with the community.
“We’re not trained to be in vulnerable positions,” Luhnow said. “But that’s the learning that needs to occur. We pride ourselves on being a learning organization and this whole day of listening to this in the last week is highlighting the opportunity for our profession to grow in partnership with our community.”
Murillo said she chose to be the representative from the city to speak with the protesters.
Since the protest and march Sunday, City Council members received about 500 emails each from citizens, they said.
City Hall locked its doors at 1 p.m. Tuesday, an hour before the council meeting officially began.
Krystle Farmer Sieghart, one of Sunday’s organizers, was not impressed with the mayor’s decision to take a knee at the meeting.
“Cathy, Cathy, Cathy,” Farmer Sieghart said. “You should absolutely be ashamed of yourself.”
She said that she and Ruskamp led a peaceful protest and “brought beautiful energy into this community.
“We are literally going through a pandemic and we were able to collect over 3,000 of your constituents together to gather to condemn police brutality, to stand in solidarity with black lives and to call out a lot of corruption in this community,” Farmer Sieghart said.
She said Murillo works for the people and the community.
“We are here, we are loud, we are proud and we will not be silenced,” she said.
Farmer Sieghart said the mayor and the City Council need to do their jobs.
“Don’t ever, in your life again, try to silence or speak over black women,” Farmer Sieghart said. “We are the most marginalized group in the world and we will be heard. We are tired. We built social justice movements on our backs and the SB community saw an example of that. We won’t be silenced and we will keep going. I hope you reach out so we can teach you how to do your job.”
The organizers have issued a list of demands they want from the city of Santa Barbara, including the protection and preservation of black landmarks rather than monuments to white supremacy; a City Council resolution condeming police brutality and declaring racism a public health emergency; and transparency and accountability from the Police Department, including creating a civilian review board. Here’s a full list of the demands.
Councilwoman Meagan Harmon said the Black Lives Matter activists gave the city a gift and a road map with its list of demands. She highlighted the civilian review board, saying it’s something that she has supported for years.
“My voice is not the voice we need today,” Harmon said. “My sadness, my righteous anger, my feelings are not the feelings that need to be expressed today. My job today, my responsibility first and foremost as an ally but also as a councilmember, is to amplify and elevate the voices of black leaders, of black activists, of black faith leaders, black moms, black dads, to elevate and amplify the voices of our black neighbors.”
The council is planning to consider the demands at its meeting next week.
Murillo on Tuesday also made a statement to start the meeting.
“Mr. Floyd we are thinking of you, and I pledge to do everything I can to reject and eliminate institutionalized racism in our society,” she said. “I honor the work of our local Black Lives Matter group and the Regional NAACP and I look forward to connecting with you all and anyone committed to social and racial justice work.”