Updated: Jan 31
At the Sacramento City Council meeting on October 11th, the community came together in a beautiful way to embarrass and shame our resident old racist, Mr. Jeff Harris.
Harris was upset because Keyan Bliss (a member of the Police Review Commission and local community organizer) had called him racist, and used some swear words. In a classic display of white male arrogance, Harris decided that an appropriate response would be to try and use the power of the city council to remove Keyan from his position on the Police Review Commission (read more about the lead up this meeting here).
Things didn't go as planned for Mr. Harris.
From the very beginning, it was clear that Harris was fighting a losing battle. He attempted to place this issue on the consent calendar (a part of the council process which is supposed to be a list of uncontroversial issues that the council can vote yes or no on without needing any debate), but Councilmember Katie Valenzuela put an end to that bullsh*t right away, removing it from consent and immediately declaring her strong opposition to the entire circus, saying:
An accusation of racism should be met with questions and conversation, not retaliation
The council opened the floor to public comment prior to making their own, and the public comments were overwhelmingly in support of Keyan. Of the 33 people who made comments, 32 of them stood by Mr. Bliss, a torrential outpouring of solidarity and love from a strong community. Ultimately, the public pressure worked, and when council members spoke afterwards, every single one of them opposed Keyan’s removal, leading Jeff Harris to withdraw his motion, sparing himself the embarrassment of an actual vote.
The comments made by the community were comprehensive, calling out all the varying degrees of bullsh*t on display, and as usual, saying things better than I ever could. Here are a few of the many great points they made:
1. Jeff Harris is a coward
Kendall noted Harris’ cowardice in addressing the issue on a night when he couldn’t show up in person, saying:
I find it curious and telling that there’s an empty chair on the council floor tonight, and that Harris couldn’t even show his face in public to stand by his baseless attack
Harris claimed that he was forced to teleconference in since he was on a trip to Seattle with Regional Transit, but if that’s true, why plan to address this issue at this specific meeting? The City Council is required by law to provide 72 hours notice regarding agenda items, so it's not as though this was sprung on Harris as a surprise, he brought the issue in the first place!
2. Jeff Harris IS racist
When Keyan called Harris “as racist as Jim Crow”, Harris’ response was to accuse Keyan of “slander”, which is patently absurd. Per Dave Kempa:
If he ever tried to take that to court he would get laughed out of the f*cking room
Slander is a specific legal term which refers to someone knowingly making false statements about another person, but as many in attendance noted, Keyan’s statement was very evidently not false.
Kula Koenig said this best (you can find her full comment in the video below), laying out a litany of Harris’ misdeeds, and ending with
So yes, that is some racist ass sh*t, and that’s why Keyan said what he said
Harris has consistently voted to essentially let the police do whatever they want and spend as much money as they like. He has consistently opposed actions to assist unhoused folks and supported the city’s brutal sweeps of encampments. It doesn’t matter whether he holds any personal animosity towards black folks; by enforcing harmful city policies which systematically discriminate against black folks in the community, Harris is, factually, a racist.
3. Why so defensive, Jeff?
A number of people reiterated Valenzuela’s point that it’s important to look inward rather than react defensively, such as Casey, who stated:
If Councilmember Harris has a problem with the comments being made, perhaps he should check his own actions
Ryan with Public Health Advocates (listen to his full comment in the video below) put it best, saying:
It’s very sad that this council, that committed to racial equity as a cause that you’re invested in, is even having this conversation around someone being called out for racism, instead of looking internally to say, ‘Well, damn, why would somebody have that feeling about me?
If the city chooses to react to criticism by lashing out instead of engaging in introspection and self-reflection, it undermines every prior statement they’ve made regarding racism as completely performative and worthless.
4. Respect the Police Review Commission
A number of fellow members of the Police Review Commission - including Jeff Harris’ own appointee Steve Williamson (listen to his full comment in the video below) - showed up to express their support for Keyan. It appears that the city council neglected to inform the Commission of Harris’ plans to remove Keyan, and they weren’t made aware until Keyan himself mentioned it at their most recent meeting, where they promptly voted unanimously to oppose his removal. According to Basim Elkarra, the appointee for district 1:
If we lose Keyan, we lose the legitimacy of the commission
Every member of the Police Review Commission (as well as several other members of the public) expressed frustration that the City Council has essentially ignored every single recommendation that the Commission has made. As Nia put it:
Why is it that we establish a commission with no teeth or backbone? Why is it that when that commission decides to grow one, we dissect it, remove it, and malign it?
This issue goes beyond just Harris’ disrespect towards Keyan. The City Council needs to start actually listening to their commission and addressing the many flaws in our system of policing.
5. “Civility” is a tool of oppression
Numerous individuals pointed out how absurd it is for Jeff Harris to be concerned with the decorum and civility of a Police Review Commissioner, when the real incivility can be found in the disrespectful treatment of this community by the police, and by the city council itself. As noted by Graciela Castillo-Krings
I agree that we need to treat each other with respect and courtesy, but these are two-way streets
Additionally, many people argued that the use of civility and decorum as a weapon is in and of itself racist, with Courtney aptly stating:
Your ideas of professionalism are deeply rooted in white supremacy
Dropping an f-bomb is a valid reaction to the trauma Keyan and other members of the community have experienced as a result of city policy.
Even Councilmember Rick Jennings agrees:
He may not use the words that I would have used, but that’s okay! Because he has to speak his truth
Mayor Steinberg, despite ultimately opposing Keyan’s removal, still somehow managed to land on the wrong side of the issues by spending most of his speaking time bloviating about the importance of respect, and whining when the audience verbally expressed their discontent at some of the nonsense on display. Those present in person, to their credit, largely ignored Steinberg’s frequent calls to be silent and properly made themselves heard. Margot, an organizer with DSA, pointed out exactly what was wrong with Steinberg’s actions by remembering something a professor told her in college:
White people have historically claimed civility in discussions around civil rights to silence dissent
Here are a few absolutely outstanding public comments in support of Keyan:
Dr. Flo Cofer: Explicitly calls out the city's institutional racism and defends Keyan's "as racist as Jim Crow" comment
Kula Koenig: Calls out Jeff Harris specifically as a racist, and calls out the council as a whole for only taking performative steps against racism without doing anything real *you can read the SJPC piece she mentions in her comment here
Mack Wilson: Talks about how "decorum" is used to oppress the community, but never actually practiced by the oppressors
Michael Angelo Garcel: Talks about his experience with racism in California, and how he expected it to be better than the south, but it wasn't
Moiz Mir: Calls out the city council for refusing to listen to the Police Review Commission, and makes great comments about how wonderful and invaluable Keyan is
Ryan McClinton: Speaks on the importance of introspection instead of defensiveness when you are called out for racism
Steve Williamson: Talks about how much he respects Keyan and wants him to continue serving on the Police Review Commission - this comment was important to include because Steve is Harris' appointee for the Police Review Commission, and his decision to come make public comment on behalf of Keyan is pretty embarrassing for good ol' Mr. Harris
Tifanei Moyer: Provides a really excellent summary of Keyan's excellence, his hard work, and his passion
This City Council meeting was ultimately nothing but a pointless display of Jeff Harris’ ego. As one commenter and community activist, Paul Andrews, stated:
This is a waste of the council's time by an outgoing council member throwing a tantrum at having his actions called for what they are: racist
Fortunately, this was also a beautiful example of how powerful it can be when the community shows up in solidarity with each other and puts pressure on the council.
It is impossible to know how things would have shaken out if no public comments were made, but given the city’s history, it is fair to assume that they will always try and do the most harmful things they think they can get away with. At this meeting, the community showed up and made it clear, we won’t let them get away with this.