by Victor Carlos Espinosa, FNAC/805 CA
Originally published in the June 1 print edition of the Santa Paula Times
Allow me to suggest a more sophisticated analysis of “public safety” than the popular (mis)conception that there exists an inverse relationship between the size of one’s police force and the rate of violent crime.
How will the problem of police abuse, as it has disproportionately affected low income communities of color be addressed? Or are we to assume that Santa Paula is exempt from this national problem? The high-powered weaponry so impressively displayed at Cruise Nights and during active shooter drills at SPHS (done of course, for the students’ own protection) suggests a militarized police force. Such a phenomenon has had explosive consequences and contributed to mistrust of police – let alone loss of innocent life – which, without the eradication of poverty, no amount of “coffee with the chief” community relations events or prayer vigils will remedy.
Racial undertones of words like “gangs,” “thugs,” “criminals,” conjure a certain image in the public imagination, though subtle enough to go unrecognized and unintended by those who use such language. Such ominous imagery has been successfully deployed by the SPPD in order to mobilize the public in service of Chief McLean’s agenda.
Santa Paula is 80 percent Hispanic/Latino with a per-capita income of $19,000. How would that compare to the make-up of Citizens for a Safer Santa Paula? My experience in social research suggests that those in favor of more policing represent a minority demographic: upper-middleclass, property and business-owners. The preoccupation with “economic development,” and the creation of a safe tourist climate (based on a whitewashed and celebrated telling of colonial history) reveals as much.
My hope is that the public would direct its collective energy into holding accountable those who have polluted soil and groundwater with dangerous pesticides and placed our field workers, to whom we build monuments, at serious health risks. I envision a Santa Paula that organizes around prosecuting those who have left our nearby beaches polluted with millions of gallons of oil, and, in closer proximity to Santa Paula homes and schools, those who have cut corners in their pursuit of dollars and sacrificed our fresh air and the health and safety of our first responders (I’m talking about Anterra).
But alas, the bourgeois mindset is quite pervasive here, as is an uncritical perspective of policing in communities of color, despite surface differences between liberals and social conservatives – neither of which would see material resources for the lower class go unmediated by social services, elected officials, or the non-profit industry. The ramping up of police, the piecemeal allocation of social resources, and the fashionable practice of “community engagement” and manufactured consent are each components in maintaining a centuries-long social stratification in Santa Paula.