It has been almost 30 years since Rodney King made his iconic plea of “Can’t we all just get along?” following days of violent rioting across Los Angeles that left 63 people dead. The riots were ignited by the dismissal of charges against four L.A. cops who were videotaped bashing King’s head and body with 63 blows from their billy clubs.
No, Mr. King (who is now deceased), we still cannot just get along. Too many times, up to right now, aggrieved bystanders and upset citizens react with misdirected emotions, rage and targeting. We realize that incidents like police brutality, shocking revelations about an elected official, formal charges of harassment against our sheriff and crushing decisions about a potential high school closure are highly charged and emotional issues. These are all cases where we see the various stages of grieving and obtaining satisfaction play out, almost always with avoidable harm, anger and viciousness.
Across Sonoma County, right now, we are witnessing some terrible examples of unhealthy grieving and misguided protests. We are left to plead to everyone with Rodney King’s words: “Can’t we all just get along?”
In Windsor, angry voters want town mayor Dominic Foppoli removed from office immediately over a series of first-person accounts of past sexual transgressions and violence. Street corner protests might provide some opportunities for venting and public outcry, but it won’t contribute to an ongoing sheriff’s investigation or his removal from office.
In west county, disheartened parents, teachers, students and supporters of El Molino High School have staged several protest marches against the recent vote by the school board to close the school next year and consolidate with Analy High School. There are petitions being circulated to force a recall vote of the three trustees who voted to consolidate the two schools. Most of these same citizens also want to detach the El Molino district from Analy and break the West Sonoma County Union High School District (WSCUHSD) into two separate districts. None of these citizen-led and well-meaning actions will help find the $1.2 million (plus more) that WSCUHSD would need to keep the El Molino campus open next year. Removing the three trustees who have been searching for any and all possible financial or budget solutions for several years will not stop the underlying cause of steep student enrollment declines.
There was another street corner protest last weekend supporting the recall of Sheriff Mark Essick over charges of bullying and harassment from county supervisor Lynda Hopkins. While Hopkins’ charges have been investigated, the findings have yet to be made public because Essick has sued to keep the report sealed. No amount of protests will make the November 2022 sheriff’s election happen anytime sooner, when all county voters will have the chance to choose the next sheriff.
We get it. People get emotional and act with anger when they feel left out of important decisions or forced to feel like victims of betrayal or injustice. Politics and governing are full of all kinds of emotions. Our Constitution guarantees our right to assemble and petition and it does not set a strict code of conduct.
But we believe the most effective civic action requires accepting facts, tampering emotions, dispelling gossip and staying focused on the original source of grievance or gripe.
We are reminded of the aftermath of many protests and street demonstrations following the murder of Andy Lopez by a deputy sheriff in 2013. There was no violence. Most of the public gatherings were vigils and memorials to Andy. Latino and other community leaders organized and petitioned Santa Rosa’s city council and local law enforcement agencies to adopt measures for more police accountability and ethnic equity. Soon after, the Independent Office of Law Enforcement Review and Outreach (IOLERO) was established. No one, especially chaotic crowds of citizens, can ever get what they want if they take their eye (and emotions) off their original target.