Over the past week, we’ve seen communities rise up across Orange County and the nation to call out in righteous anger for the right to breathe. Nothing can replace George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, Dion Johnson, and all those innocents who have lost their lives at the hands of those who swear an oath to serve and protect. It is disheartening to see Orange County residents, and Americans all across the country being shot at with rubber bullets, pepper spray and tear gas, or run down by police trucks, because they have chosen to speak up.

Police brutality is nothing new to Orange County. Last year in Anaheim, Christopher Eisinger, an unarmed black man, died after police detained him on the ground and kneeled on his back. The officers involved were not charged by the District Attorney’s office. This year the City of Anaheim settled for $2.9 million over the murder of Eliuth Nava Penaloza. The officers involved were not charged.

I am an immigrant and Latina. I do not walk in the shoes of an African American in this country. I have listened intently to Black Leaders as they speak on this issue. It’s abundantly clear that the Republican Party will remain silent on this issue, but the Democratic Party will not.

In the Democratic Party, our platform — the foundation for our core values — states: “We will push for a societal transformation to make it clear that black lives matter and that there is no place for racism in our country.” Our platform calls for reforms of use of force and de-escalation, and more transparent data, reporting, and investigations. It calls for an end to the school-to-prison pipeline, mass incarceration, and private prisons and detention centers. In this defining moment, we are reaffirming this commitment and taking action.

We have untapped power to enact reforms in our own backyard. Many may be surprised to learn that local elected officials such as sheriffs, district attorneys, judges, and city council members have significant authority to change our criminal justice system. Local leaders can establish oversight commissions, define uses of force, and much more. District attorneys and judges can prioritize prosecutions. As Tustin Mayor Pro Tem Letitia Clark said in a powerful statement this week, our sheriffs, district attorneys and judges “are our leaders in criminal justice — and we have the power to elect them.”

There are truly many ways we can each make a difference in the fight for racial justice, whether it’s listening to those impacted by police brutality, or having honest conversations with our loved ones. And on election day, we have the power to choose who leads our criminal justice system. Our vote can make systemic change.

Racial injustice touches us in many ways. Whether in our schools, health care system, our workplaces, or our parks — we must stand up for change. We can elect school board members who will support implicit bias training and ethnic studies programs. We can elect leaders who support youth services programs, equal pay for equal work, harassment-free workplaces, and equal access to health care.

In an effort to address the crisis at hand, I am convening a special session of the Democratic Party of Orange County Central Committee to propose that all our endorsed candidates – regardless of incumbency – sign on to concrete, equity focused policy goals. These goals include establishing police oversight commissions, de-escalation and racial bias training, re-evaluating use of force policies, implicit bias curricula in schools, forming curricula and spaces for racial issue dialogue, expanding mental health resources for communities of color, addressing the school-to-prison pipeline, and other policies that substantively uplift racial minorities and promote racial equity.

We must take action for racial justice in our local communities. We can do it by partnering with local leaders and those on the front lines of our criminal justice system to make positive, lasting change. We are committed to building partnerships that empower Democratic candidates with programs like our voter mobilization program, which builds grassroots voter relationships for local action and reform.

The Democratic Party of Orange County is led by diverse voices of color, by leaders in our LGBT community, by young people and by women, and we’re focused on systemic change. I’m proud of the work that Orange County’s grassroots are doing to make change. Our next election is a crucial opportunity to change leadership in the White House, and here at home. When we vote this November, we must vote all the way down the ballot. Now is the time to get involved in local elections and demand reform, so that we can begin to heal the anguish that our communities have endured for far too long.

Ada Briceño, Democratic Party of Orange County Chair and Democratic National Committee Member-elect

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