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Sheriff Parkinson acknowledges systemic racism in Unity report 

SLO County Sheriff Ian Parkinson said that the county showed "powerful indicators of systemic racism" in a Unity Committee report published for the Sheriff's Office on Sept. 24.

His acknowledgment is a volte-face after claiming in the wake of the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests that he had "never seen any indication that systemic racism exists in this county." Parkinson made the comment at a meeting of the North San Luis Obispo County Tea Party, which was recorded, put on YouTube, and later made private.

click to enlarge CONFIRMING THE PROBLEM SLO County Sheriff Ian Parkinson called a diverse coalition of community members to collect data and stories that is an accurate representation of issues plaguing minorities. - FILE PHOTO BY CHRIS MCGUINNESS
  • File Photo By Chris Mcguinness
  • CONFIRMING THE PROBLEM SLO County Sheriff Ian Parkinson called a diverse coalition of community members to collect data and stories that is an accurate representation of issues plaguing minorities.

Cmdr. Keith Scott of the Sheriff's Office told New Times that Parkinson evaluated community concerns soon after the BLM protests.

"Sheriff Parkinson set out to unite a diverse group of people from the community and the Sheriff's Office to sit down and discuss experiences of systemic racism in San Luis Obispo County and to identify strategies to improve our community," Scott said.

Set up in September 2020 to identify issues plaguing underrepresented groups in the community, the Unity Committee worked toward showing the Sheriff's Office that systemic racism was longstanding in SLO County.

"I feel like them not acknowledging that systemic racism [exists] in our county was a big part of the problem because you can't solve anything if you don't admit it exists in the first place," said Michelle Call, executive director of GALA Pride and Diversity Center. "I feel like the sheriff's department definitely has a long way to go, but this is a significant step because it gives us the opportunity to continue working together."

GALA is one of the 10 social justice resource organizations that support the Unity Report. Other groups include Lumina Alliance and Tranz Central Coast.

The report highlighted accounts of aggression faced by the seven people who make up the committee and by some of their acquaintances.

Scott gave examples of microaggressions and systemic racism that he's experienced since joining the Sheriff's Office as its first full-time Black deputy 31 years ago. They range from having racial slurs hurled at him to community members undermining his authority by asking for a "white deputy" to respond to calls for service instead.

"I have been ignored as a commander and have heard citizens ask, 'Where the boss (supervisor)' is to my subordinates while I am standing in front of them in full uniform and with stars on my collar, and I have been referred to by the pet name of 'Chocolate Cowboy,'" Scott wrote in the report.

The report looked at racial statistics in SLO County from a historical standpoint, as well. It identified that the majority of county's elected positions over the decades, such as district attorneys, sheriffs, and state legislators, have been occupied by white people. That's why one of the committee's stated goals is to empower youth of color to take on leadership positions.

"I feel like when we have especially cisgender white men in positions of power in our town who aren't even acknowledging these problems exist, there's no way to get anything done on a county level," Call said. Δ

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