An Instrument of Reform - or Just a Tool?
A recent glossy political mailer exhorts Vallejo voters to “End Vallejo’s Violence. Elect Hakeem Brown Mayor.” The candidate declares “As Mayor, I’ll end this intolerable suffering and violence.” If only it were that simple. Anyone else hear echoes of our narcissist-in-chief: “I alone can fix it?”
Things have changed dramatically since Mr. Brown ran for City Council in 2018 against an exceptionally weak field of candidates. Back then he was trumpeting his support from the Vallejo Firefighters and Police Officers Association. Vallejo is a microcosm of the worst of the nation’s policing problems, and public safety unions stand squarely in the way of structural reform. A review of his public pronouncements and his involvement with the unions calls into question Mr. Brown’s claim to the mantle of police reformer.
In Vallejo the public safety unions belong to a political coalition that has maintained a stranglehold on city government, and their lack of accountability has cost the city dearly - both financially and in terms of human suffering. Whether it’s putting limits on drug testing, additional pay raises, or an expensive new waterfront police headquarters, the department gets what they want from City Council. Where is the incentive for meaningful reform and a change in the department culture? And where has Mr. Brown been in his new role as Councilmember? He’s been making himself useful as a conduit for the messaging the police association wants to get out to the public.
The police are underpaid, and if they only had a new waterfront headquarters (to the tune of 40 plus million dollars) they would treat our young African men better. Following the George Floyd case he hosted a zoom meeting with lieutenant Mike Nichelini, the president of the Vallejo police union -subsequently placed on administrative leave for destruction of evidence in one more fatal police shooting. Mr. Brown gave his tacit support to Mr. Nichelini’s contention that policing in Vallejo is race-blind, and that accountability for the pattern of misconduct should lie with the City Council instead.
In a baffling muddying of the waters, candidate Brown characterized police reform as a symptom of systemic racism, and expressed a desire to focus on education, housing, and creating opportunity instead. Those things are not mutually exclusive, and it might actually be possible to fund some of those other city services if the budget was not being eaten by employee pension obligations and millions annually in police misconduct settlements. Now candidate Brown is pushing Measure G, an additional sales tax that would hit low income residents the hardest and further reduce incentive for meaningful reform.
Hakeem Brown is definitely not the change we need.