On April 18, Steven Taylor, who was born and raised in San Leandro, was murdered by San Leandro Police at a Walmart store on Hesperian Blvd, in front of dozens of other Walmart guests. Taylor, who was a Black man, and also generally known to be both in a mental health crisis and homeless, was shot on the scene within a minute of officers first arriving on the scene, after first being tasered. In video footage released by SLPD, they claim that he was still charging toward the officer when he was shot, although he had been Tasered already and seemed to be stumbling. After being shot, he was tasered again (even as he was backing away) and was pinned down to the ground so the officers could handcuff him, even though was severely injured and bleeding. The officer who killed Mr. Taylor was the only person close to him at the time, and clearly could have made other choices that could have spared his life.
As a pastor in San Leandro, and a Korean American woman married to a Black man, the murder of Steven Taylor has radically impacted our family and also catalyzed our commitment to seeing change in the local community. It is both heartbreaking and angering to know that any time a Black person goes out, they are at risk of not returning home. My husband just got a shirt this week that says “How perfect does a Black man have to be before we mourn him?” and it is true. There is no margin for error, no space to have a “bad day.” Black bodies are seen as threatening and suspicious first, no matter what type of situation they are in or help they might need.
Moreover, this case fuels ongoing conversations about defunding the police. In a situation of mental health crisis, how different would the outcome have been if a social worker, mental health counselor, or somebody with thousands of hours of training could have been on the scene? How can we expect that having armed, uniformed officers coming in with guns drawn could help de-escalate the situation? Consider that people with mental illnesses are 16 times more likely to be killed by law enforcement, and a 911 call can feel like a death sentence for those in crisis, rather than a source of help.
In the aftermath of Taylor’s shooting, alongside the growing outrage nationally that grew after the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, residents of San Leandro have begun to mobilize towards longer term changes in the city and the police department. As relatively new residents here, my family has been learning a lot- about the city, our history, our police department, and local government.
Here are some notable things we are learning and experiencing:
- San Leandro has an incredibly racist history. It has the nickname Klan Leandro for a reason, and was highlighted by a national documentary series in 1971- the Suburban wall — as one of the most racist cities in America. It has a long history of restrictive housing covenants and redlining, had a reputation as a “Sundown town,” and was known to be an area that was not welcome for the Black community. There are many historic anecdotes of how realtors and homeowners actively conspired to keep the Black community out for many decades, and police actively waited at the border of Oakland and San Leandro to ensure that Black people would not come into the San Leandro borders.
- The San Leandro police department has a history of racist incidents as well as a lack of accountability and transparency. They have been known to harass and detain young people of color, particularly middle and high school students. I learned that Steven Taylor’s own brothers were arrested and placed in juvenile hall, as middle schoolers, for breaking a window. Their caregivers were not even notified about their arrests. There are countless stories to note, including some documented here.
- In recent years, there have been multiple killings of Black and Latinx residents, including Anthony Gomez, Guadalupe Ochoa-Manzo, and Gwendolyn Killings. In all of these murders, the officers were white, and all of them are still employed by SLPD. In multiple instances the officer already had a record of abuse as well, such as with Officer Ryan Gill. There have also been more recent incidents of abuse at the hands of SLPD, seen in the Emerald Black case, as well as an incident just this past week in which an SLPD Officer and former Police Association president, Daniel Fernandez, verbally abused a homeless person as well as a bystander who was calling for kinder treatment. The officer who shot Steven Taylor has not been fired and is still on administrative leave.
- In the aftermath of Taylor’s murder, the city, police department, and press have repeatedly dishonored Taylor’s family. Taylor’s own grandmother never received any direct correspondence from the police and had to learn about her grandson’s death through a call from the coroner’s office. Moreover, the mayor only reached out to the family after receiving pressure from Congresswoman Barbara Lee. This was despite the fact that the mayor’s own son was classmates with Steven Taylor and that she knew him personally. At multiple meetings after his death, there was almost no mention of his name. Even after George Floyd’s death and national uprisings, acknowledgement of Steven Taylor was almost nonexistent.
- Taylor’s grandmother finally received her first correspondence with the police department this week, nearly 60 days after her grandson had been shot and killed and she had called in to multiple council meetings.
- The mayor, Pauline Cutter (a white woman), has continued to take a defensive posture against the community’s cries for justice. In her first statement after the shooting, she she offered condolences to Steven Taylor, whom she said “passed away” rather than noting he was killed by police. Whether in a meeting with San Leandro high school students in the Social Justice Academy, at private meetings with former classmates of Steven Taylor, or at public council meetings, she has continued to evade the public’s concerns, gaslight those who are protesting, and exhibit both defensiveness and fragility. In a city council meeting, after 70 members of the comment passionately commented, including Steven Taylor’s own brother, her first words were, “I’m sorry you are willing to assume things that aren’t true.”
- All but one of the city council members received campaign contributions from police unions in the last election. Victor Aguilar, Jr. is the only one who did not.
- After advocates pushed for the city to write a letter requesting an independent investigation by CA Attorney General Xavier, the city failed to write an adequate letter. The letter they sent does not explicitly call for an independent investigation and only asks for information on how to do so.
- After over 70 residents attended a city council meeting on June 14th and advocated for a delay to a budget vote that would allow for conversations about defunding the police, the mayor and 3 council members- Ballew, Lee, and Cox- all voted to approve the budget anyway. Since then, there has been much miscommunication about this vote, as it has been deemed a vote to “defund the police” even though the adopted budget was disapproved of by protesters. This process has occurred with little community input or collaboration with communities of colors and local organizers, and budget conversations have continued even though the city has promised to create Budget Advisory Task Force. Moreover, this move to “defund the police” was connected to potential cuts of a highly esteemed program of the police- the homelessness task force- which created public outrage and confusion about the intention of defunding.
- July 10th marks 60 days since Steven Taylor was killed, which means that in accordance with SB 1421, San Leandro Police should release the records specific to the case, including the names of the officers involved.
While this moment, both nationally and locally, presents a great opportunity for local municipalities to do some critical self-examination and make courageous and costly decisions towards change, San Leandro’s leadership continues to miss the mark.
Steven Taylor should still be alive. San Leandro must do better. The city must confront both is racist history and racist police department, and continue to work towards sustained change.
If you’d like to demand Justice for Steven Taylor and support his family, here are a few concrete resources:
- Utilize a toolkit created by the Anti Police Terror Project. You an access it online here. Thursday, July 9th is a day of action, so please flood social media with stories about Steven Taylor.
- Support the family by giving to this gofundme. All proceeds will go directly toward family member.
- Sign this letter demanding that the city of San Leandro rewrite their request for an independent investigation.
- Contact San Leandro and Alameda County officials with these demands.
- Show up Friday at 6pm to this event, join others who are calling out for justice. Please wear a mask if you attend.