Three Bay Area leaders reflect on a movement, change and reform since George Floyd's death

As the nation marks the somber occasion of one year since George Floyd’s murder, we asked three Bay Area leaders to reflect on the movement that followed, what’s changed and the long road ahead.

In the wake of another high profile death of a Black person at the hands of a police officer, protests and rallies spilled into Bay Area streets. One of the largest: a student-led demonstration at Oakland Tech organized in part by Xavier Brown. Brown has continued his activism and doesn’t see ex-police officer Derek Chauvin’s recent conviction as justice—rather, accountability.

"We are surprised when things actually go the way they’re supposed to: where the murderer is convicted," said Brown.

Brown said there’s been lots of talk about reform, but not enough action. He’s disheartened by new cases and reports of alleged police brutality, particularly against people of color. Brown wants the momentum towards true change to continue, including efforts to "defund the police."

"I feel like if we invest in those communities for the future generations, there will be a decrease in crime, because there’ll be a general better environment," said Brown.

"I was tired of the talk and reading the data," said San Francisco Mayor London Breed. "I wanted to put into action something I knew would be helpful. And what I realized is money has always been a barrier to opportunity." 

Accelerated by the calls, Breed and Supervisor Shamann Walton announced the "Dream Keeper Initiative." The plan redirects $120 million from law enforcement over two years into the Black community. 

SFPD Chief Bill Scott supported the cuts, but the police union opposed them, saying it would lead to a continued rise in crime.

"It doesn’t have to be an either or," said Breed. "When you think about it, as I said earlier, why are people committing crimes?"

Mayor Breed believes investing in neglected communities goes hand-in-hand with reducing crime. Breed also believes not every call requires a badge and a gun. The city launched street crisis response teams, an alternative to non-violent calls.

"How do we get to people who are struggling in that way who don’t necessarily require a police response?" said Breed.

"When you ask people not to be engaged in violence, you have to have an alternative for them," said Oakland police chief LeRonne Armstrong. "And sometimes that means they need services and support, so they make a different decision."

They’re following suit in Oakland with the approval of the "Mobile Assistance Community Responders of Oakland" or MACRO program. Chief Armstrong supports it as well as other alternative programs. Armstrong, a 22-year OPD veteran was sworn in back in February.He’s been outspoken about the need for reform and says this is a moment to start doing things differently.

"This thing with law enforcement and African-American communities, is not a secret,’ said Armstrong. "But it’s something that now we can finally begin to recognize as a problem. Something we as law enforcement need to address."

Oakland mayor Libby Schaaf came under fire after proposing a budget that increase police spending.  Chief Armstrong said he understands the call to defund, but amidst a rise in violence crime, contends you can’t reallocate at the risk of leaving the public unsafe.

"This department has been underfunded for many years. You’re talking about a department that has less than 800 officers, in a city that’s 430,000 people," said Armstrong.

Armstrong points to his officers’ de-escalation training and cutting down on discretionary car to stops to curb racial bias—as progress. But he acknowledges there’s still work to do and wants to have conversations with the community about how to improve. He says he’s committed to accountability, implementing court-mandated reforms and more and building trust.

As these three Bay Area leaders look ahead, they are hopeful for a more just and equitable future.

"Don’t give up hope," said Chief Armstrong. "Continue to believe. Know that everyday we’re going to come in everyday and give it our best effort."

"There’s a better future possible if we work together, and if we’re not afraid to make the hard decisions and we’re not afraid to be uncomfortable in the process," said Mayor Breed.

"It’s all of our jobs to really ensure that the prosperity of human civilization keeps on advancing towards love and respect," said Brown.