6/4/20: Thousands Paddle Out for Unity in Encinitas

In the midst of nationwide protests fueled by anger and anguish over institutionalized racism and excess police force against Black Americans, thousands of Encinitas residents and visitors participated in a peaceful and meaningful “paddle out” at Moonlight Beach last night.

(Photos by Billy Watts. Notice that in the top photo, the word “Unity” is spelled out by many surfboards.) 
 
It’s not uncommon in our beach community for surfers to get together and do a paddle out when a beloved friend or family member dies. A Hawaiian tradition, it’s a way to pay respect, honor a life and recognize a community of loving supporters, in the sacred ocean water. What a fitting way for our surfers to honor the memory of George Floyd and the too-many black lives that have been lost at the hands of law enforcement. 

Fox 5 aired this excellent story on the paddle out (above) that gives a sense of the event’s spirit. Click on the link to watch.

Vigils at the Cardiff Kook

Since Sunday, there’s also been an ongoing vigil and memorial at the Cardiff Kook to hold space, commemorate and say the names of those killed by police violence since 2014. Together with other local elected leaders, I will be speaking at the final vigil tomorrow (Friday) evening at 7 p.m., before the activists and organizers from Black Lives Matter who created the memorial respectfully take it down. 

What does this all mean?

The impacts of the global health pandemic, the economic collapse and excessive use of force by law enforcement fall disproportionately on communities of color. Minorities are dying at higher rates from coronavirus. They are more likely to lose their jobs and work in jobs that expose them to the risk of infection. Black people are three times more likely to be killed by police than white people. 

There are other substantial burdens that fall disproportionally on people of color – the effects of environmental pollution, disinvestment in public urban spaces, reduced access to healthcare, lack of housing, and the list goes on.  

The present architecture of our society perpetuates these structural inequalities. It’s up to all of us to do the hard work necessary to create and sustain the change needed to correct this. It won’t be easy. All of our interlocking systems, and the public support of the status quo in many areas, will need to change.  We all need to take a look in the mirror and consider the things we support and oppose, and those things we stay silent about. We need to recognize the impact that our priorities have on communities of color. 

When I look to our American history, I’m encouraged and heartened by our capacity to become a more equitable society, often after times of strife. In this country, our elected leaders passed the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments, abolishing slavery, guaranteeing equal protection under the law, and enshrining the right to vote. I’m not minimizing the struggle it took to get there – these three constitutional amendments only came after a horrific civil war.

This country also passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act in 1965, during the height of the civil rights movement. These pieces of legislation have been transformational, substantially increasing black Americans’ participation in voting, and outlawing discrimination in hiring, schools, employment and public spaces. 

“Change only happens when ordinary people get involved, get engaged and come together to demand it.”
– President Barack Obama

Stunning evidence of the engagement needed for change has happened right before our eyes in the last few days. Every law enforcement agency in San Diego County, including the Sheriff’s Department that serves Encinitas, has announced that they will discontinue using the carotid chokehold, which constricts blood flow through the neck. I joined many community leaders and citizens in publicly calling for this change. 

We need to think about what change we’ll be demanding in the months ahead, especially five months from now when we vote in November.

Fighting for justice during a pandemic

Some have wondered how and why people are risking public health to protest during this pandemic. That same question arose a month ago when people were protesting stay-at-home orders and demanding that beaches re-open. Now, despite those protests and the re-opening of things such as beaches, businesses serving the public, and parks, the number of positive cases in the county continues to be relatively flat.

For tens of thousands of people nationwide, the urgency of raising a collective voice against racism and systemic injustice is overshadowing the risks from the coronavirus. I see many people who are balancing their internal call to participate in this extraordinary movement with their desire to protect public health by showing up to stand in solidarity while wearing the facial coverings, and working to keep distance from others. It’s still a requirement under the county health order to wear a facial covering in public when coming within 6-feet of others. 

In life, there are rarely perfect answers. Coronavirus is deadly, but so is systemic racism.

I’d like to offer my heartfelt thank-you to everyone who cares about these important issues and is fighting to build more justice into all of our lives.

Together with you in commitment to our highest principles,