Participants gather for the 4th annual Women's March in Washington, DC. - CNN
Vallejo Women Speak Out About Candidate Hakeem Brown
"...my bigger fear is that this completely unhinged, violent man will end up in the mayor’s office. So I swallow my fears and I write."
In explaining our refusal to endorse Hakeem Brown in the Mayor’s race we have expressed our concerns with a criminal record he dismissed without discussion, and what it might reveal about his temperament and fitness for office. We called for a detailed accounting from the candidate of the criminal record his mailer declares is no secret. The campaign instead put out a disingenuous statement that grossly mischaracterized the relevant part of the record as a “domestic scuffle.” The bombshell article from Open Vallejo confirmed our worst fears - and then some.
Read the full article here and consider contributing to their organization to support local independent journalism.
Those were not idle questions for candidate Brown, but informed by the experiences of many women across Vallejo. These are recent interactions, not from decades ago, and they reveal a pattern of behavior now given context by the Open Vallejo investigation. It takes courage to speak out as these women do here, when you know that doing so will likely trigger an angry and hostile reaction. The candidate’s story of redemption rings hollow when he consistently hides and minimizes his transgressions instead of talking openly about what he has learned from them. The following stories from local women who have interacted with Mr. Brown over the past several years confirm that he has learned very little from his history of domestic violence and incarceration, and he is not fit to serve in public office.
In our own words...
My Hakeem Brown story:
I have had a very hard time with writing this. I am sharing a part of me that I have rarely told outside of my family. But I know that Hakeem is not being honest. People who haven’t seen the ugly side of him are willing to believe anything he says.
I met Hakeem in 2016 during the medical marijuana / dispensary fight with the City, hearing him speak about the need for a City ordinance. He showed a lot of passion toward becoming a legitimate business. A few of us met with him and some of the other dispensary owners over the course of several months. Hakeem seemed to be a caring person. He had spent his childhood in Vallejo and returned here: wanted to help with our economic development.
He asked me if I minded having a conversation over coffee or lunch a few times a month so that he could “pick my brain” on varies issues, since I had been involved in the community for many years. I agreed and we focused on some of the biggest issues facing the city. He was always courteous and respectful and had taken to calling me “auntie”.
This seemed to change in group settings when others were brought into the conversations. As time went on, I found him becoming short tempered when I we would talk. As long as I didn’t ask him to consider another side of an issue, or to be a little more open-minded, he was okay. But he would become agitated quickly, so I became hesitant to have open and honest conversations with him and instead simply offered encouragement.
When he decided to run for office, I was very supportive of him at first. He seemed truly concerned about the City and drew people to him. A lot of people wanted to support him as we had not had much true diversity on our City Council. He seemed like a good pick.
Then the stories started. People began saying he was rude and short-tempered with them and was calling them racist or enablers. He had met with one of the other City Council candidates to try and discuss their concerns and immediately took to social media after the meeting to degrade that candidate. I started thinking that maybe it was the pressures of running for office but found that this wasn’t the case.
The more I was around him, the more I started seeing these stories were true. He became very angry very quickly. There was no talking him down once he had lost his temper. I still felt he could be a good representative if he could work on his temper, so I continued to talk with him and had what I thought was a good relationship. During one conversation, I told him about my experiences working with a wide variety of people with different views and finding a way to common ground so that we could get a project done. I tried to get him to see the value of consensus building with people even if you didn’t see eye to eye on every issue. He immediately became agitated and started raising his voice, mocking me, telling me I must be crazy to ask him to work with someone he considered racist. I told him I thought he was wrong, and he began to scream at me (by phone) at the top of his lungs, to berate me and tell me that “this was why the black community didn’t trust you.” That I had “worked around too many white people” and that “I was brainwashed and could not see racism anymore.”
I told him that I didn’t appreciate the way he was talking to me and reminded him that it was he that had asked me for advice and not the other way around. That if he didn’t like my opinions and views that he was free to stop talking to me. I wasn’t going to tolerate his disrespect. He continued screaming and yelling at me and saying that the years of work I had put into the community was useless and that I was ineffective and blind to the “true” needs of the black community. I told him that I was proud of the work I had done, that he needed to try and listen to others who tried to advise him through their experiences. He yelled that he was “not my boy” and that I could not tell him what to do. I hung up on him because of his disrespect and tone.
I later posted a comment on social media regarding endorsements by Jumpstart and how that organization put out lies and misinformation on candidates they opposed, that anyone talking their endorsements should insist that Jumpstart not use their names to perpetuate those lies. Hakeem contacted me immediately and accused me of “throwing him under the bus”. I told him I hadn’t named him or anyone, and the comment went towards everyone who accepted Jumpstart’s endorsement. If they would all stand up to Jumpstart and tell them to stop using lies and simply state their disagreements on issues, they might stop that kind of tactic. He told me he could care less whether Jumpstart lied about another candidate because as far as he was concerned, that person was racist and had harassed his team. I tried to get him to see that the people he continued to attack could be serving on council with him and that he would need to build consensus with everyone to get what he wanted done. He started laughing and said, “yeah I can play that game” and once again started berating me.
I asked him what he thought the people in the community would think about him accepting the endorsement of the VPOA, especially the young people in the Crest that he had told he would straighten the police department out to. He said that they (the young people) were proud of the endorsement. He then said that some of the people I was working with (Fresh Air Vallejo) were racists and useless, that I needed to take action to kick them out of our group. If I didn’t then we were all complicit. I told him that that was his opinion and that I didn’t share his views, which enraged him even more. Once again, I ended the conversation.
I knew then that I could not continue to support his candidacy because he lacked needed leadership skills. It would always be his way or no way. I stopped taking his calls or returning his text messages because it was clear his intent was not to have a conversation but to further disrespect me and tear me down. He was intent on telling me that I wasn’t about anything, that I wasn’t worth anything, that I wasn’t black enough and didn’t work on issues that were important to the black community.
I laughed at his insults, but I could not shake the fact that what he had done was still bothering me. I couldn’t put my finger on exactly why, since he didn't mean that much to me and wouldn’t stop me from doing what I thought mattered. He had only returned to Vallejo a short time ago and only recently gotten involved in the community. I had been volunteering, devoting my time, speaking out and working in the community for twenty plus years by the time he came around. I didn’t need his approval.
A few days later I finally figured out why his treatment of me bothered me, other than the fact that he was a rude and disrespectful. In my late teens, I had been involved in a short but painful relationship that involved domestic violence. That man was intent on destroying my self-worth, humiliating me and making me feel meaningless, to control me. His constant demeaning treatment and hair-trigger rage kept me in fear so I learned not to disagree with his opinions or argue with him as that meant he could become physical. He always told me that he was sorry, that if I would just stop provoking him, he wouldn’t get angry. Which was a lie because I didn’t have to do or say anything before, he flew into his rages. I stopped seeing my friends and family because that would make him mad. The only other people I was ever around were his friends. I stopped going anywhere other than the grocery store, since he would accuse me of talking to another man. Even if he was with me, he would later accuse me of flirting with someone. I learned to keep my head down and my eyes avoided contact with anyone so that he wouldn’t have an excuse to fight with me.
I was blessed because my best friend started to suspect what was going on and continued to insist that I get out of the house and talk to her. She would come by and pick me up while he was at work and we would go shopping or just for a drive. She told me that I had to get away from that man and I told her that he had threatened harm to my family if I told anyone what was going on. She came up with a plan to move out of town and we would find work and our own place. She saved my life. I moved back home long enough to pack my things and left. I was still fearful that he might find me. I was always looking over my shoulder and never tried to go anywhere alone even though I was living miles away. I would think I saw him in a crowd or felt like someone was following me. It took a long time to get over. I eventually buried the shame and pain deep down and moved on with my life. I rarely revealed my experiences because of the shame I felt from it. I was lucky because I had supportive family and friends who helped me get through that part of my life. But domestic violence scars your soul for life. Even while involved with good healthy relationships and not being abused, you still carry that anguish in your heart.
Now Hakeem brought all those feelings back to me. Even after being buried for almost 45 years, it came back to the surface and haunted me again.
In the following months I started hearing about and witnessing Hakeem’s bullying and temper. More and more people how had supported Hakeem were pulling away from him. He was intimidating and some expressed fear of his angry tirades. I tired reaching out to his friends to see if they could talk with him about helping him to control his anger and outbursts. It fell on deaf ears. If they liked him, they made excuses for him, even tried to blame others for his actions.
When Open Vallejo’s story hit and I read the court documents, I couldn’t sleep. It triggered feelings I had buried deep inside. It all became raw again. I now understand why his verbal abuse toward me had made me feel so bad. It was the same I had experienced with domestic violence. I saw it in his face when he was berating other people in the community. It was in his voice, in his demeanor. Hakeem claims to have learned his lesson and is a changed man but that isn’t my experience. I know the man in that story. He still disrespects women (and men). He still uses his words to intimidate and silence others who have a different opinion or position than his. He is unwilling or unable to try to see where others are coming from, and quick to dismiss them by devaluing them and their work. He has tried to turn people against other people in the community and berates their work for the community. It’s not enough that he dismisses people, he needs to make others turn against them as well. Any and everybody who disagrees with him becomes his enemy is called a racist, a lynch mob.
I cannot support anyone so divisive and hateful. He has not learned from his past. He still has anger problems. Most people see his charming and appealing side. Until you cross him. This is not the person I want representing me and my City. I have never felt fearful about approaching any of my elected representatives, even those I disagree with the most. I feel I can still sit down with them to talk about issues that concern me and the community. Not Hakeem. I don’t feel safe being honest with him. I don’t feel safe being in a room with him alone or with others. This is not the kind of person who should be in a position of power and authority.
I am all about redemption and forgiveness. I have written letters of support for young men who have had problems in the past with the law in hopes that they could move toward a more productive life. But we need to see that the person has truly reformed, changed their behavior, and can apologize and accept the wrong they have done. I have never seen that from Hakeem. He has provided carefully crafted statements from his advisors but has fallen short of showing true accountability. He still confuses passion with disrespect. He still shows disrespect toward the many women he has abused and still has no problem demonstrating it toward the community. One who has caused this much pain and harm to so many people rarely changes their stripes. While I feel that Hakeem genuinely wants to help the community, he is not suited to do so from a position of authority. There are other ways for him to contribute to the community besides serving on City Council or as Mayor. And there is time for him to learn to control his destructive behavior, to become the leader he’d like to be, but isn’t now.
I was one of the organizers of the 2019 Women’s March in Vallejo. Prior to the January event, we met several times and put together an entire day that focused on how the women of Vallejo wanted to move the city forward. Several elected officials, including Hakeem, had donated money that went to pay for the space, boxed lunches, and some peripheral costs. After a morning and afternoon of marching, lunch, speakers, breakout sessions, and information tables, the evening was to be singing and dancing at the newly refurbished Hub.
However, while most were eating lunch, Hakeem entered and, as one of the financial sponsors and a newly elected city council member, he was given the mic to make a few comments. Instead of talking about what the day was supposed to be about, he denigrated almost all of the people in attendance.
Environmentalists were simply concerned about their property values and didn’t give a hoot about South Vallejo. Many of us had supported his run for city council. We were still fighting Orcem/VMT in January 2019 and this was a huge slap in the face.
He said that some of the Black women in the room were not really black enough and in any event they were not leaders. He picked a fight with another of the organizers of the event and it devolved into a screaming match that literally sucked the air out of the room. Even though it was only early afternoon and events had been planned into the evening, people just quietly left after Hakeem’s rant was done. It was ugly, and from my perspective, he intended it to be ugly.
Many women I asked about writing a short piece about their interactions with Hakeem told me they were too afraid to do so. They had been verbally assaulted by him and they were afraid, even anonymously, to write anything here. After the Open Vallejo story, we all now know about his criminal history of violent domestic violence. The fears are not unfounded. I have some concern myself, but my bigger fear is that this completely unhinged, violent man will end up in the mayor’s office. So I swallow my fears and I write.
I was one of the organizers of a 2019 Women’s March event held in downtown Vallejo. It was a day for women from all different backgrounds to come together in solidarity, to march, to schmooze, and to plan concerning issues of importance to us—maternal child healthcare, economic and racial justice, immigration, art and activism, environmental racism, and more. It was the most diverse local Women’s March we’d ever held. This article in Vallejo’s paper describes it well.
And then Hakeem Brown entered the room. He had been invited to speak by women, and many were looking forward to hearing from him. As he spoke it became clear that Brown had decided in advance it was more important to lecture and hate on the women organizers and activists, than to treat us as the concerned human beings we were. He told the Black women in attendance that they didn’t matter because they weren’t the “right” Black women. It didn’t matter to Mr. Brown that our keynote speakers were Black and Brown women leaders in Vallejo. He then chose to personally, verbally attack me.
Inciting division is Mr. Brown’s modus operandi. It is all he knows to do. Many of us have experienced it again and again. For months my partner and I tried to organize a conversation with Mr. Brown about the Women’s March incident and other issues of concern and he refused every opportunity; until he was running for Mayor. Then he decided it was important to initiate a conversation.
It’s clear that Mr. Brown doesn’t care about me unless it benefits him. I will not be voting for him. He is not a leader and not what Vallejo needs. He will tear our city and its people apart. I will be casting my vote for Robert McConnell and I hope that you will too.
I’ve been volunteering in Vallejo for years in the arts and environment. I have many friends and family here and deeply value our community. Summer of 2018, early Saturday morning setting up at the Farmers’ Market: The Hub wanted to set out more artists’ tables and so asked all the nonprofits and politicians to squish up on the opposite corner.
Later in the morning, Hakeem Brown shows up and says, “That's my spot. You need to move.” The Farmers’ Market manager tries to calm him down saying there are no assigned spots, but I offered to move over and make room for him to join us. Instead he asks his men to move my tent and table to the opposite side behind vendors. Everyone was shocked. No one dared challenge him. I didn't know what to do.
I have never felt safe in his company again. That summer he started spreading lies about me, saying I was a racist and didn’t care about Vallejo. Why is he lying? Why is he attacking people like me? Is it because I’m a woman? Or is it because he wants to discredit my actions making people aware of corporate polluters? Since it’s not just me and so many others are being hurt, I am adding my voice to theirs about Hakeem Brown’s past actions. Maybe if we stand together, he won’t retaliate.
In 2015 I got involved in the fight to save Vallejo's dispensaries. My family formed the Vallejo Patient's Coalition (VPC), and our group of patient activists were instrumental in bringing about the legislation which gave legal status to Vallejo's current dispensaries. We worked closely with some of the dispensaries and that is how I met Hakeem Brown. Following our successful campaign to legalize the dispensaries, we were approached by one of the dispensary owners who asked if we would bring our activism to defending Hakeem, who was being prosecuted in Napa for an alleged illegal cannabis grow. We agreed and spent countless hours over the next 6 months campaigning for his acquittal - successfully.
During the process of Hakeem's defense, we spent a lot of time with him. I grew to love him. I considered him family. You don't battle for a person's literal survival & freedom without developing a bond. He called me Mom on occasion. My daughter asked him to be one of her child's god-parents. I want you to understand this: I loved this young man. Which makes this all the more difficult.
About a year after Hakeem's acquittal, a series of events too long to discuss here culminated in a huge disagreement between our family, the VPC & Hakeem. Part of the dispute involved him threatening to withdraw his support of the VPC unless we fired a board member with whom he'd had a personal conflict. When we tried to discuss the issues with him, it devolved into him talking over us, our concerns ridiculed, and personal attacks on our character, motivations and integrity. When I hung up & refused to answer the phone, I was then subjected to a 3-hour texting tirade. These are a few of his comments: "or maybe it was because a black man wasn't taking the bs being thrown at me caused her to get so upset?" "(my daughter) ...reminded me of a whole lot of racist people who think they can talk to black people any old way they want." "I gave and gave and gave. And I got spoken to like she thought she owned me." "Trailer behavior." There were more nasty personal attacks, though the above comments are typical of the types of remarks others have reported hearing when they disagree with him.
In 2 years of working with Hakeem in the fight for legalization and to keep him out of jail, I'd never seen this aspect of him. There was no recovering the relationships at that point, my heart was broken. But we moved away from Vallejo shortly after this and tried to move on. I thought what happened was a one-off, an aberration of who I thought him to be.
Despite this, in 2018 when he was running for city council, I spoke out in support of his candidacy. I told people they didn't have to like Mr. Brown, but I had no doubt of his love for Vallejo and his desire to do what is best for his hometown. We had a reconciliation following this and I celebrated his election to the council. However, I've kept my distance because I have an aversion to giving people second opportunities to break my heart.
But I've watched his progress on the city council and some of his votes have been troubling to me. Even more troubling is learning of encounters Hakeem has had with others, primarily women, that play out in ways that are nearly identical to the dispute that ended our friendship. I've seen his comments on social media that are similar to what he said to me, that get deleted almost as quickly as they are posted. I'm not going to speculate on the reasons for all of this, but I will say that a pattern of behavior has become apparent.
And then, of course, we now have the Open Vallejo report of Hakeem's history of domestic violence. This, more than anything, is what prompted me to speak. His defenders will tell you his offenses were decades ago and he's paid his debt to society and he's a changed man and what about redemption... I believe in redemption when it encompasses change and amends. We've seen none of that. And still Mr. Brown has recent troubling, intimidating encounters, especially with women, who've been telling their stories all along. So few of you believed them. Will you believe them now?
This story has been hard to tell. It will likely cost me. I don't care. Hakeem does not have the temperament to lead a troubled city like Valllejo. I hope you see that now.
Mr. Brown was friendly and supportive of issues that mattered to me in the community when we first met. He came across as humble and eager to hear my opinions. The minute my opinion differed from his, however, he became another person. He was quick to anger, his insults were deeply personal and offensive, and he was dismissive of my thoughts and feelings. I realized this was who he really was the whole time.
I attended several meetings with Hakeem Brown in 2017 to discuss progressive policies and how to implement them in Vallejo.
He seemed to be an exciting newcomer to the political scene in Vallejo. He was enthusiastic, appeared open to ideas and was inclusive. Given this and excited that a progressive leader would emerge from the underrepresented AA community, I supported wholeheartedly Hakeem’s bid for city council in 2018.
So it was surprising that once elected to council, Hakeem began to change his tune. Once supportive of progressive policies, he now supported projects that aligned with the police union, a 180 degree turn around from his previous positions on policing. At the heart of this was the vote on whether or not the police should relocate to the Waterfront.
Afterwards, I asked Hakeem about this vote and why, before making such an important vote, the council hadn’t studied effective community policing models (usually with substations) especially given the majority of people had expressed they didn’t want the police station on the waterfront.
An extraordinary transformation then took place. The same man who had given me a warm hug a half an hour earlier told me in no uncertain terms that “his people” supported the building and that I was a fake progressive and part of the Klan.
To say this was upsetting was an understatement. It felt surreal, this sudden abusive change in a person who I had liked and worked with. Though I was glad there were people around I was also struck by how Hakeem felt free to abuse and harass a woman in public as if there were no consequences.
That day I learned: don’t disagree with Hakeem Brown because if he no longer needs you, you will be crushed. What a disappointment. And what a danger.
I supported Hakeem Brown’s run for city council in 2018. He seemed like a bright, ambitious, energetic person with a successful business he had built. He looked like a good addition to the council. Additionally, I spent time speaking with him about the ORCEM issue and he led me to believe he would not support it, giving a balance on the council to shut that particular pollution nightmare down.
Since then, I’ve been involved directly with Hakeem Brown only in relation to his actions toward the Mare Island Preserve. He visited once and concluded that only old white people went there. He mentioned this during the city council meeting about the Preserve after the city took management away from the nonprofit headed up by Myrna Hayes and staffed by volunteers. In my experience of volunteering there since late 2014, Hakeem’s comment is simply not true since the Preserve served the entire community. All kinds of people enjoyed its amenities, from solitary hikers, dog walkers, and bird watchers to family groups hiking, picnicking and using the fleet of Preserve bicycles. What the mayor and council (with the exception of Robert McConnell) did in railroading the Preserve away from Myrna and her army of volunteers, at the behest of city manager Greg Nyhoff, was disgraceful. Physically, the Preserve has been ecologically trashed since the city took over. When a group of us tried to discuss this after the council meeting, Mr. Brown was dismissive and disrespectful.
My most recent experience of Hakeem Brown was watching his video dissing older people, people involved in the arts, people who recently arrived in town, etc. Being that I fall into several of these groups, I did not find his remarks pleasing. In the larger context, they are ignorant, highly bigoted, divisive, and unworthy of a public official, who, if elected, must serve all people in the city.
In my opinion, Hakeem Brown does not listen to a variety of input, or have enough regard for other people and their opinions to be elevated to the position of mayor. He also appears from his public actions to have anger management issues. He is a short-timer on the council and in my opinion does not have enough experience or the temperament to be an effective mayor for all the people of Vallejo.
Since writing the paragraphs above, the news about Mr. Brown’s criminal behavior became public. His behavior is terrifying. A person who has committed so many acts of violence and continues to try and minimize his record is not being honest or forthright. Given his ongoing displays of temper and impatience, he has not repented and he should not be serving in a public office.
I had been a big supporter of council candidate Brown. I raised money, contributed to his campaign and even prepped him before candidate forums. Once in office, he would call me before certain issues came up on the council agenda and if it was something I was knowledgeable about I would recommend he ask certain questions or suggest he talk to someone I knew to have good insight into the issue.
Once on council though he seemed to vote opposite from what he said he stood for - consistently. When he voted for the Vallejo police station on the waterfront, that was it. I "Liked" someone's post who questioned his allegiance to VPD over taxpayers and got a scathing text from him. I called him immediately - and he went off. I mean really off on a tirade. He started yelling and escalating in his irrational ranting. Unable to get a word in edgewise I told him I would hang up on him if he continued to be abusive in his language - which he was.
He ramped up more so I counted to 3 and hung up on him. Of course very apologetic and remorseful later, I told him if he ever went off like that again that would be the end of any association. And of course he did go off on me again, which is why I am pointing out that this is a man who is used to screaming at women. I had heard of domestic violence accusations and convictions against him. Being on the receiving end of his unhinged screaming verified to me he has an issue with women and cannot be trusted to treat women with respect.
We call on Hakeem Brown to drop out of the Mayor's race and resign his seat on the Council. He very deliberately went about concealing and minimizing an extensive criminal record that reveals a pattern of abusing women and a chronic inability to control his temper. This is not just an issue from the distant past but a pattern that has continued to surface in recent years as he pursued his political ambitions.
To the local pols that endorsed his candidacy - you should have known better. There have been plenty of indications that something was very wrong here. The people of this city deserve so much better than the dishonesty and gamesmanship we continue to see from City Hall. Hopefully this will serve as a wake-up call to voters that we need to look beneath the rhetoric and slick campaign literature when election time rolls around.