Townhall Discusses Gonzalez’s Death
Townhall Discusses Gonzalez’s Death
Members of the Youth Activists of Alameda (YAOA) discussed police reform with Alameda Mayor Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft and other Alameda officials at the mayor’s virtual town hall meeting Friday, April 30.
The special youth-centered town hall was sparked by the death of 26-year-old Mario Gonzalez, of Oakland, while in Alameda police custody Monday, April 19. Ashcraft said members of the YAOA requested a forum to speak about police policies and accountability in Alameda. Ashcraft began the meeting by saying the city is “heartsick” over the death of Gonzalez.
The meeting was moderated by YAOA member and Alameda High School (AHS) senior Raquel Williams. Williams peppered the four-member panel comprising of Ashcraft, City Manager Eric Levitt, Alameda Police Department (APD) Capt. Matt McMullen and YAOA member Vinny Camarillo with questions about policing and the Gonzalez situation.
Williams began the Q-and-A session by asking Levitt “Is the city working on any police alternatives to prevent similar circumstances to Mario Gonzalez?”
“The council is talking about an alternative mental health approach and we are actively working on it as a staff, not only as a long-term plan, but an interim plan,” Levitt replied.
Williams later asked McMullen how the community can trust APD after Gonzalez’s death and the Mali Watkins incident less than a year ago.
“Trust is the cornerstone of police,” McMullen answered. “I think trust is built through relationship building and relationship building is primarily built through time. We need to create more space for dialogue and situations that are nonenforcement interactions not traffic stops, but times like this when we can listen and hear each other and talk about the things that are concerning each other.”
Williams responded by asking McMullen if Gonzalez’s death questions overall police culture and leadership and how do we change the culture of Alameda police department.
“We acknowledge and accept that we need to change,” McMullen replied. “The Alameda Police Department stands ready and willing to suggestions and new ideas. We need to look deep into our souls to find out what we can do to better serve the community.”
Williams asked the panel if the actions of the three officers who confronted Gonzalez went against APD protocol, but Levitt declined to answer due to the criminal investigations underway by the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office and District Attorney’s Office (“Gonzalez Investigations,” April 27).
Lastly, Williams asked Camarillo about steps community members can take to support Gonzalez’s family. Camarillo said he supports all the demands expressed by the Gonzalez family including charging and prosecuting the three officers involved in Gonzalez’s death. He also said community members can donate to his family’s gofundme at gofundme.com/f/justice-mario-gonzalez-family.
The panel also answered questions submitted from the public.
McMullen was asked what steps can APD use to avoid unnecessary use of lethal force. McMullen said teaching police officers proportionality as it relates to uses of force is key.
“We do training with an emphasis on de-escalation and an emphasis on crisis intervention coupled with time and distance and getting the right resources to the scene,” he said.
The 40-minute town hall took place during the AHS lunch time break. YAOA is composed of high school students from across the Island. The group took part in a peaceful protest Monday at the APD headquarters.