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North County Equity and Justice Coalition
The newly formed North County Equity and Justice Coalition serves as a supergroup of social justice organizations to grow manpower behind reform efforts in neighboring cities. Photo courtesy
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Social justice supergroup boosts activism in North County

REGION — A new supergroup of North County organizations, intended to bolster activist participation, laid out a police reform game plan at its September Zoom meeting.

The two-month-old North County Equity and Justice Coalition (EJC) consists of more than 20 organizations committed to issues varying from racial justice to environmental justice, such as the North County NAACP and CleanEarth4Kids.

With the recent spotlight on police brutality, EJC is setting out to ensure activism doesn’t fizzle out — something coalition co-founder Yusef Miller has seen consistently.

Now, the coalition is pushing for a more streamlined and tactical approach to reforms.

At this month’s meeting, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Policy Associate Chelsey Birgisdóttir presented research released last year by the ACLU and the policy organization Campaign Zero. Biased policing from the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department was found against several groups, including people with disabilities and the Latinx and LGBT communities.

Black individuals were stopped by Sheriff deputies at a 130% higher rate than white people. Once stopped, Black people were 47% more likely to have force used against them, even though searching them didn’t result in finding contraband as often as searching white people did.

Birgisdóttir presented to EJC a four-step policy package, “Police Accountability Now,” that has more than 50 organizations on board so far.

Included in the package is a call for a better response to people experiencing mental illness, which entails divesting from the police budget to invest in community-led alternatives such as mental health specialists.

“We see consistently that whenever an armed officer is responding to a mental health crisis, those often escalate and lead to people being hurt and even being killed,” Birgisdóttir said. “We invest so much money in our police department and they are responding to a lot of situations that they shouldn’t. So, if we’re saying we don’t want law enforcement responding to these issues, that should correlate with a divestment from the budget and using that money to invest in responses that adequately respond to the situation at hand.”

The policy package also calls for community oversight boards and de-escalation policies, which were presented in the recent California Act to Save Lives legislation meant to limit police use of lethal force, but Birgisdóttir said cities are reluctantly reforming policies to comply with the law.

“Essentially this package is a means for electives to respond in this moment,” Birgisdóttir said. “Even if they pass all four things in this package, that should only be the start. It’s not like a menu item. You need to pass all four of these things, and you need to do more.”

Activists are already in collaboration with several cities, but they’re cautious — a collaboration with elected officials has occurred in the past, but when it comes down to the vote, oftentimes reforms fall flat.

“Getting councils to vote in favor of communities requires collaboration and an understanding of how to empower those communities to come out and press the elected officials,” said Rob Howard, Oceanside mayoral candidate and coalition member.

Pushing for more streamlined and tactical work, EJC is hoping to garner enough manpower to collaborate with cities on issues ranging from racial justice, mental health, homelessness and more, which Miller calls “all things good North County.”

“One of the benefits of coming together this way is that we can show up for one another in a united front,” Miller said. “It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about Carlsbad, San Marcos (or) Escondido. That work needs all of us … We want to make a sweeping change for North County. This is our focal point.”