Lack of diversity on Measure N Oversight Committee could strip Bakersfield of a real investment

March 25, 2019 /


I hear a lot of talk about how communities of color and disadvantaged neighborhoods don’t receive enough investment. In these pages and beyond, there is a chorus of voices that are essentially saying, “Low-income families and people who aren’t white don’t receive a piece of the pie.”

This couldn’t be further from the truth. People of color receive lots of investment — more police in their neighborhoods, more squad cars rolling through their areas and more attention from law enforcement.

They receive investment all right, but in a completely different way.

Folks in affluent and upscale parts of town receive investment in the form of parks. Black and brown people get a payday lender or a liquor store. Families who live in Stockdale Estates have easy and fast access to nice parks. Families in the area known as 2 Square Miles have easy, fast and not-so-friendly access to more police.

It’s not that investment in law enforcement is money ill spent, but what have we — particularly communities of color — received in return?

Just a few years ago, The Guardian published a series of articles chronicling the number of people killed by police in our community. In 2015, Kern County law enforcement killed more people per capita than in any other American county. Let’s get real: most of these victims were low-income, people of color.

Bakersfield now has a chance to turn the corner and right some grievous wrongs. What will the city do?

In November, voters approved Measure N, which will generate an additional $50 million for the city. Yes, the measure is designed to fund more police officers, but it’s also supposed to pay for better parks and create real investment in economic development, among other things. Whether that economic development will extend outside of downtown, or other affluent areas, remains to be seen.

This cannot be a vehicle that just pays for more police. Any investment in additional officers should come with an investment in certified police training, accountability, and community oversight of the police.

As an organizer with Faith in the Valley Kern, I’ve worked with way too many families of color who have horror stories about their encounters with law enforcement. Unfortunately, our officers seem to be trained to arrest, not assist. They are prepared to use handcuffs, not handshakes. They are trained, it seems, to menace, and not calm a mentally-challenged citizen.

Recently, the city council selected a citizen oversight committee to determine how Measure N money is spent. I must admit, I’m discouraged by the lack of diversity.

Not only did the city council select eight men and one woman to serve, but close to 80 percent of the members of the Measure N oversight committee are representing Bakersfield’s business community. They should no doubt have a say, but are we actually getting a full and diverse swath of the perspectives that make up our community? Will that limited perspective be able to fully serve all of the people that make up our community

Bakersfield, we have a chance to make Measure N work for all of us. Despite the lack of diversity on the committee and in spite of our history of having an out-of-control police force, we can choose to make Measure N a vehicle of change by raising our voices and making elected officials respect our vision.

Bakersfield residents are tired of business as usual, and residents of color are tired of being bullied, bloodied and murdered by police. Together, we can change this city and turn officers into allies for all residents.

Josth Stenner is a community organizer with Faith in the Valley Kern. He works with families and community members impacted by our criminal justice system and believes those impacted by our community’s issues should be the ones leading and proposing solutions. He works to create a world where everyone belongs.