Public defenders gather in SB to protest racial inequities
Santa Barbara County public defenders gathered Monday at the County Courthouse to peacefully protest racial inequities within the justice system.
The movement was organized by Santa Barbara public defenders Mindi Boulet, Mark Saatjian and Juan Higuera as a part of the statewide protest known as Black Lives Matter To Public Defenders.
Many protestors wore shirts saying “Black Lives Matter To Public Defenders.”
The gathering included a moment of silence in honor of George Floyd, an open mic for both community members and public defenders to voice their grievances about the justice system, and a march around the courthouse.
Ms. Boulet told the News-Press the demonstration was a way to show the community that public defenders support Black Lives Matter and that they are the movement’s allies both inside and outside the courtroom.
She said that as a public defender, she understands the reality of systemic racism inside the justice system and that it is time for the racism to end.
“I think that we need to license the police. They need to have licenses just like we need to have licenses,” Ms. Boulet said. “Attorneys have licenses, D.A.’s have licenses, doctors have licenses, manicurists have licenses, barbers have licenses, real estate agents have licenses, they need licenses. There needs to be an agency that people can go to to file a complaint against a police officer.”
Inspired after he heard George Floyd’s daughter talk about his death, William Malker, a Santa Barbara criminal defense attorney, said he and his colleagues see racial injustice play out every day in courts and on the streets.
Mr. Malker said he wishes that more could be done to correct that. “We see racial profiling, and we see disfair treatment in the way laws are written that impact disempowered communities of African-Americans in particular.”
“This kind of thing is what we see every day. We’re sensitized to it, sometimes we feel defeated about it, but we get up every day, and we keep trying,” Mr. Malker said. “This movement, this moment is ours to seize. We cannot just let it go. We have to seize the opportunity to make sure people keep listening.”
Lea Villegas, a public defender and chief trial deputy-Santa Maria, also spoke out during the protest.
“Right now is not a time to remain silent,” she said.
“As we’ve been seeing across this country, what’s making this moment so amazing is the fact that people are not remaining silent and people are listening,” Ms. Villegas continued. “And we are coming together in order to address this as a community.”
“As public defenders, we have a super power and that super power is giving a voice to the voiceless,” she said. “It is amplifying voices. And right now our job is to make sure that the thunderous sounds that are being made across this country, those voices continue to echo and reverberate in this building and in these walls.”
Public defender Addison Steele expressed his anger by saying it is now time to rethink policing. “Probation is different for black people and brown people, and I have to have that discussion with them. Trial is different for black people and brown people, and I have to have that discussion with them.”
In addition to rethinking policing, Mr. Steele and others voiced their support of disarming the police as well as their opposition to the building of a new police station in Santa Barbara.
Robert Landheer, a Santa Barbara criminal defense attorney and former public defender, voiced his support for a civilian complaints review board, which would allow citizens to file complaints against police officers who abuse their power.
“One of the structural changes that should happen now is a civilian complaints review board,” Mr. Landheer said. “It should be happening in every city in the United States. That is an effective way to have oversight of your community police department.”
Those present at the courthouse included Santa Barbara Mayor Cathy Murillo. She voiced her support for Black Lives Matter and said that City Council members will be moving forward with a plan to create a new civilian review board at Tuesday’s council meeting.
Ms. Murillo, who spoke to the crowd, said that the civilian review board is just the beginning and that she and the City Council are looking at finding new ways to fix the broken systems within the city’s bureaucracy.
“It’s been transformative to those of us who think we’re doing the work already,” Ms. Murillo said. “But we need to do more, and we need to be informed by the people whose lives we affect and whose well being is in the palm of our hands.”