By: Dymond Walker, IVN
San Bernardino, CA — San Bernardino City Hall witnessed a wave of outrage at an anti-racism event on Oct. 23 as community members and leaders expressed their dismay regarding last week’s City Council meeting where an African American woman was subjected to hate speech.
More than 100 San Bernardino residents gathered on the steps of City Hall, seeking explanations for the events of Oct. 18. With just three out of seven council members present, residents questioned the city’s commitment to addressing racial tension. During a public City Council meeting, local resident Amy Malone voiced her discontent with the city’s new manager, Charles Montoya. The meeting took a troubling twist when a remote participant targeted Amy with racial slurs and hateful comments.
“The city apologizes to the person speaking at the time, to everyone in attendance at the meeting, and to anyone who heard what was said,” said San Bernardino Mayor Helen Tran as she made her opening remarks at the Stand Against Racism event. “It was offensive and unacceptable, and the City of San Bernardino condemns what happened in no uncertain terms.”
However, the city’s public apology was overshadowed by the absence of four out of seven council members. This has left community members, leaders, and even the three attending Black council members—Ben Reynoso, Kimberly Calvin, and Damon L. Alexander—skeptical about the sincerity of their solidarity and eagerness for action.
“I’ve been debating this all day. I wasn’t even going to show up,” said Reynoso. “This was for them [absent council members], and it was clear as day. This whole thing was because it was on the news. We’re only here because people are trying to save face, and the people who should be doing that aren’t even here.”
Mayor Tran conveyed her sincere apologies for the absence of council members Theodore Sanchez and Juan Figueroa due to work commitments. She also read statements from San Bernardino City Council Members Sandra Ibarra and Fred Shorett, who were unavailable as well.
Residents like Jacqueline Banks, a retired San Bernardino County employee, perceived that the statements offered by the absent council members were disingenuous and misleading.
“The letters that the mayor read were lies and deception—smokescreens,” said Banks. “Because you know what? If it were that important to them, they would’ve been here. This is the city that you represent, so you should’ve been here.”
Banks proceeded to share her account of the events on the evening of Oct. 18, expressing both her and the chamber’s astonishment. She was shocked that the mayor and city council carried on with the meeting as if nothing had happened.
“If it’s so devastating now, why wasn’t it devastating Wednesday?” said Banks.
NAACP San Bernardino Branch President Chache Wright shared his experience with the crowd that evening. Wright, seated in the chamber with his two sons, had hoped the meeting would allow residents to voice concerns for the community. However, he left startled that his sons had encountered such ignorance.
“The moment you allow negative things to happen to just Black people and you let everything else slide? It’s a problem for everybody, whether you realize it or not,” said Wright.
However, despite his disgust over the incident, Wright remained steadfast in making demands.
On behalf of the NAACP San Bernardino Branch, Wright unveiled a set of requests, which included obtaining an unedited version of both the live council meeting and the Zoom call, disclosing the name of the third-party entity that provided technical support during the meeting, and Wright asked for a comprehensive internal investigation into the Oct. 18 incident.
The San Bernardino Faith Council, represented by Pastor Joshua Beckley of Ecclesia Christian Fellowship, presented several requests without disclosing specific details. Beckley publicly stated that the council has been given a 30-day deadline for these demands to be met, aiming for this to not be a “stumbling block but a steppingstone” in a long journey to restore the community’s reputation.
Regrettably, it could be too late, given that the harm has already been inflicted. The absent council members have deeply disappointed the community, leading to widespread skepticism.
Banks likens the situation to cotton candy, underscoring its fleeting and insubstantial nature.
“It’s a whole bunch of fluff,” said Banks. “What happens to cotton candy when you hold it for too long? It shrinks and starts to disappear, and that’s what I feel like is going to happen. It’s going to go to nothing.”
City Council Member Reynoso has committed to addressing the people’s demands earnestly, promising to convene meetings with fellow council members to show solidarity.
“The council is going to meet with them,” said Reynoso. “We’re going to take it to the city manager so there is no confusion and we are going to be honest. That is the only way we can start to fix this.”
Mayor Tran concluded the event by delivering her closing remarks, aiming to encapsulate the community’s pain and suffering while also presenting a path toward healing and progress.
“What happened last week was unacceptable on any level,” said Tran. “While this will require the time to heal, this is an opportunity for us to come together. What happened last Wednesday does not define us as a city, but what happened tonight defines our resolve.