by JR Valrey, Black New World Media
“Steven was a 33-year-old San Leandro resident. At the time of the incident with police, Steven was struggling with homelessness and mental health. He was experiencing a mental health crisis in Walmart when the police were called,” said San Leandro-based organizer and family friend Jenna Hewitt King about the April 18 murder of Steven Taylor inside of Walmart, at 15555 Hesperian Blvd in San Leandro.
“Although holding a baseball bat, Steven at no point threatened people in the store. When an officer arrived on the scene, it only took him 14 seconds to deploy his firearm and 20 more seconds to fire it at Steven. A second officer arrived as Steven was being shot and tased him once more.
“I believe that the police officer involved should have done more to talk to Steven to let him know they were there to help him. The officer should have also waited for backup, which could have allowed them to work together in removing the bat from Steven’s hand and getting him to safety. The officer was close enough to Steven when he arrived to not only grab the bat from him, but to deploy non-lethal de-escalation, like grabbing or tackling him.”
San Leandro, a suburb of Oakland, has rarely seen activist activity over the last few decades. Today is a new day. Defund-the-police and demilitarize-the-police movements are forming locally and all over the country, most notably in the Bay Area in Oakland and San Francisco. Steven Taylor’s execution by the San Leandro police helped to spark a sleepy suburb into getting active and is an example of when community services are under-funded, the police are over-funded and used to deal with every situation.
The treatment that Black people receive when they are executed by the police, without investigation and/or indictments following, as well as commonly getting locked up unjustifiably, clearly defines that a war has been declared and waged on our community for a long time, without us responding.
“I believe that armed officers should not respond to mental health related calls. They do not have the proper training to handle these cases, which is noted in the data that people with mental illness are 16 times more likely to be killed by a police officer in the US,” explained Jenna Hewitt King, a San Leandro native and lifelong resident.
The mainstream media usually supports the police version of their executions of Black people, if the story is even egregious enough for mainstream media bosses to put it in or on the news.
“Steven came to live with me when he was 7 years old. His mom was unable to provide for him. He was an average young boy. He didn’t like school, because school was boring to him. When he was in the third grade, I took him to see a child psychologist, and he was diagnosed with ADHD,” said Ms. Addie, Steven’s grandmother.
“He was a very smart young child. He was loving and respectful, even though he didn’t like school. I never had problems. He didn’t cut class, and never was suspended. He didn’t have any fights. He was a clown. Everyone liked him. He had a lot of friends. He loved me, and I loved him. He knew that.
“The day he was murdered someone sent me a photo via email showing him bleeding out on the floor of Walmart. I didn’t know or believe it was him. His brother received a call from one of his friends that told him. He then called me. I started calling the SLPD, and never got a response.
“I had moved to Vallejo at that time. His child’s mother got a call from a friend. She called his mom. His mom started calling hospitals in the area, and she was told he was not there. His ex called the Coroner’s Office, and left his mom’s number with them. The Coroner’s Office called his mom at 1:00 a.m. to inform her that it was Steven Taylor,” said Ms. Addie.
The treatment that Black people receive when they are executed by the police, without investigation and/or indictments following, as well as commonly getting locked up unjustifiably, clearly defines that a war has been declared and waged on our community for a long time, without us responding. The treatment of victims’ families after police executions proves that these incidents cannot be blamed on a few bad apples. It proves that the department is defending the heinous actions, as are the courts and the city, all the way up the system’s food chain.
“We never heard from the police. They said they called his mom, but she never spoke to anyone. She saw it on TV. They have never explained anything to us about anything. The officers have not been identified, not fired or even arrested. The chief has refused to identify them, because ‘they have received threats.’ That’s his reason for not identifying them,” said Steven’s grandmother.
“The City of San Leandro’s response has been weak, to say the least. Neither officer has been fired or arrested. One of the officers involved is still patrolling the streets, even. At the first City Council meeting after Steven’s murder, the city named ‘Police Appreciation Week.’ City leaders are refusing to take a hard stance that Steven’s life mattered and he deserved to be given help, not to be killed,” said Jenna Hewitt King.
“In addition to not taking action, the San Leandro Police Department is refusing to abide by SB 1421, which mandates that all information related to the incident be shared with the public. Specifically, they are refusing to release the names of the officers involved.”
Getting an officer indicted for the police execution of a Black man is a hard thing to secure in the Bay Area, let alone elsewhere in California. Just think, the only time it has happened in California history was when Johannes Mehserle was charged in Oakland and convicted in Los Angeles of killing Oscar Grant on video, and he only served 11 months on a two-year sentence.
At the council meetings, demands have covered a lot of ground. There have been consistent demands to release the officers’ names, fire the officers involved, and reveal the status of the city’s investigation. None of these demands have been met.
In addition to these demands specific to Steven’s case, organizers and community members have also been demanding that the city establish a civilian oversight commission to support police accountability and budget reallocation of police funding to support other community resources – social workers, psychologists etc.
In June, San Leandro City Councilman Benny Lee amended the City of San Leandro’s budget to set aside $1.7 million in funding “that could include cutting two police officers, a student resource officer and $229,000 for new police vehicles, among other items in the budget,” according to reports. This is a start, but it is nothing compared to the $70 million a year budget that the police and fire department share in San Leandro.
“I did not know Steven personally. His two younger brothers have been close friends of mine since high school, which is part of what inspired me to get directly involved in advocating for justice for his family. After his death, I was supporting the work of the SLHS Social Justice Academy students in demanding justice. Then, I attended a protest for Steven that was organized by one of his classmates, Selina McManus. She and I connected afterwards and decided to connect with his grandmother, to help lead the organizing efforts for justice,” said Jenna Hewitt King, an educator who teaches English in a local district.
“I believe that this incident has opened the eyes of a lot of community members who may not have realized the racist outcomes of our city’s policing. Every City Council meeting since April 18 has been flooded with the voices of concerned citizens demanding that justice be served and that change come to SLPD and the City of San Leandro at large.
“I do believe that recent protests have been significantly larger than ones in the past, causing police violence in the streets to increase. I also think that being in shelter-in-place has allowed for more people to witness the impacts of police violence in a way that they haven’t before. I can only hope that people’s awareness won’t fade away and we can continue pushing for systemic change.”
With the police murder of Erik Salgado, 23, and wounding of his pregnant girlfriend in nearby East Oakland on June 6, police executions are running rampant in the area, inspiring more people to become active against local state sanctioned violence against Black and Brown communities in various cities within the Bay Area.
“People who want to get involved should make their voices heard at future City Council meetings. They should also sign the petition on change.org demanding justice for Steven. If folks are looking to financially support Steven’s children, they can donate to the GoFundMe campaign. Finally, be on the lookout for future actions related to seeking justice for Steven Taylor. We will not be silent until justice is served,” encouraged Jenna Hewitt King.