BENJAMIN WOOD ON POLICE ACCOUNTABILITY; WILL THIS MOVE POMONA FORWARD?

church & city | Julian Lucas

As we all want Pomona to advance from the dark days, well let’s be honest, the stone age, there seems to be some type of force holding us back from not being able to have an understanding, which hinders us as a community.

How do we come to a common ground? We all come from different backgrounds and have experienced life differently. What will it take for the community to come to a mutual agreement on police accountability? What will it take for Pomonans to share their experience without having backlash or be devalued? What will it take for many with a voice to be inclusive?

Police Oversight Commission - What motivated the idea to develop?

It’s an idea that has been around for a while. I know that I have been studying the issues surrounding policing for a long time and there are a lot of structural changes that need to be made in order to reduce the amount of abuse, but many of them would be large-scale and long-term projects that frankly, I don’t have the capacity for at this time. But civilian oversight is something that can happen at the local level, and I really believe it would help out in many ways. This is something we’ve been discussing as long as I’ve been in Pomona, but what really stimulated this round of discussions of oversight was the 2016 beating of Christian Aguilar at the fair, and in particular the role of Internal Affairs in attempting to cover it up. If the community can’t count on the accountability structures that are already in place, what are people supposed to do when they have issues? So it is really a combination of long-term issues, especially of mistrust in terms of community-police relations, with the impact of this recent incident, that is currently motivating this movement.


With all the efforts towards this Police Oversight, do you feel it will change lives?  

Well for the vast majority of the community, it will not make a big difference in their day-to-day lives, except for the knowledge, in the back of their minds, that if ever anything were to happen, they would have a trustworthy place to take their grievance.

Who it will really make a difference for are those people who have a problem—who have suffered from abuse or misconduct in the past or could in the future.


As a civilian, what does community policing look like to you? 

I know that this concept of “community policing” is pretty popular, and that some people feel like it is a good solution to the problem, but I have my reservations. There is so much overlap between “community policing” and counterinsurgency that at a certain point they become indistinguishable. The problem is not so much in what intelligence the police are gathering, but what they are investigating and criminalizing. And so much of the “law and order” mindset is concerned with order, obedience, and supposed violations of “the peace” that amount to quality of life issues, that what tends to get criminalized and investigated is dissent—in other words, activities and behavior that is protected, that is political, and that historically has been what has brought about change, especially to policing practices. But if “community policing” means a more genuine connection to the community, such as officers coming out of the community and remaining in it, living here, knowing the people they are dealing with, then I’m not against that. When they get out of their cars and actually have to come face-to-face with people, when they speak the language, when they understand the circumstances of the people, they are more likely to focus on genuine dangers than the public order-type charges that just get our folks caught up in the system over normal and innocent behavior.

Julian Lucas ©2019

Julian Lucas ©2019

Do people know their civil rights? 

Maybe not in the legal sense or in a detailed way, but people definitely know when they are being mistreated. They know what racism and sexism and homophobia is because of the way it impacts them, even if the signs of it aren’t overt. But people do need constant refreshing and reinforcing of what their rights are, civil and otherwise, and they need the courage to exercise them and to stand up for them when they are having their rights violated or chilled.


How did your background and experience growing up form your point of view on racial and economic injustice? 

Well I grew up in Ontario, which, despite being very diverse racially, is pretty much a working class community, like Ontario. I was fortunate enough to have stability despite having some uncertainty when it came to family situations, but there were definitely times when we were struggling, and on public assistance. Then I started learning Spanish and became exposed to the whole array of injustices that our immigrant community faces. I was already sympathetic to those kinds of concerns but I really started feeling for immigrants, and one of the main problems the immigrant community faces is their interactions with the state, of which the cops are the enforcement arm. We used to have a lot of problems of police-immigration collaboration and I saw the way people suffered because of that. It still exists to some degree despite the success of the efforts to create Sanctuary.And then when I started being out there on the front-lines of activism, seeing the ways police confront, contain, and suppress people’s movements—getting pushed back by baton-wielding riot cops who were protecting corporations, for example, seeing students getting beaten down for trying to join a march, and of course, seeing the families who had lost loved ones due to police violence, walking their paths with them, building with them, these were all experiences that shaped my concerns and opinions, affected the life choices I made, and helped me have a deeper and more systemic analysis of the situations we live in.


What organizations are you involved with? What factors influence your motives to service your community?

[Laughs] Too many to name. My day job is of course at the Day Labor Center, both working on individual immigration cases as well as on campaigns around immigrant rights, labor rights, and tenants’ rights. So there are organizations set up around each of those issues. In my free time I am involved in organizations that work on issues of environmental justice, police accountability, prison abolition, and solidarity with indigenous struggles.

As far as motivating factors go, I try to focus my limited time on areas of greatest need, things that emphasize direct action and community empowerment, and often on issues that other people might consider “risky” or “too radical” for “respectable people” to be involved in.

I have conflicting emotions but I struggle to root my service in love for humanity, especially the most oppressed and downtrodden, and try to work locally but with a global perspective.

Julian Lucas ©2019

Julian Lucas ©2019

What does forward thinking mean to you?

This is a term that gets bandied about a lot too, and is not very clearly defined in the public discourse, but for me “moving forward” or progress means orienting society towards and expansion of rights, towards democracy and collective decision-making processes, towards sovereignty and the power to determine one’s own and one’s community’s destiny, rather than always surrendering that power to the corporation, the state, the boss, the bank, and the cops that protect them.


What does “Imagine Pomona” reflect?  How do you envision Pomona to be?

I really don’t know. There are so many initiatives and groupings in this city that it is hard to keep up with them all, and I think there was some project in the past few years called “Imagine Pomona” because I see people wearing shirts with the slogan.

But for me, a vision of what Pomona could be is really rooted in what it is already: a place where the people work hard, are dignified, participate in the politics and the culture, but one where people are less limited by economic constraints, are less rent-burdened, are not overworked and are having their labor actually valued, where the air is clean and breathable, and where the public servants and systems work on behalf of the people rather than against them.


What are three positives about the city of Pomona?

Well I mentioned some of them in my answer to the last question but I think culture is definitely one of them—the richness of the backgrounds the people bring and how they express it. The arts are a huge positive influence here in the city. I could even imagine an arts-based economy someday.

And definitely the activism!

Julian Lucas ©2019

Julian Lucas ©2019