The protestors, about 75 strong, showed up at noon outside the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office in Martinez, CA. They marched inside the building, chanting, “We don’t play nice with ICE!”
It was February 2017 and the activists were rallying after revelations in an East Bay Express investigation that the sheriff’s department tricked people into surprise arrests, and then deportation, by federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents. Upon reporting for routine check-ins with their sheriff’s department case workers, immigrants would be ushered into rooms where ICE agents would handcuff and take them away. The story also revealed that the sheriff’s department held a lucrative contract with ICE to jail immigrants. Specifically, ICE pays the sheriff’s office to hold about 200 detainees per day, generating $6 million in gross revenue for the county and netting it $3 million.
The Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) organized the protest along with other community groups and labor unions. Headquartered in Los Angeles with offices in cities across California, including three in the Bay Area, ACCE is a grassroots nonprofit that advocates for low to middle income communities on a number of issues, including immigrant and tenant rights, education, healthcare, and criminal justice.
“We wanted to show the sheriff that it is not the will of the community that they round up and deport people,” says Christina Livingston, ACCE’s executive director, referring to Contra Costa Sheriff David Livingston (no relation).
In February 2017, The San Francisco Foundation awarded ACCE a $10,000 grant from its Rapid Response Fund to organize nonviolent direct actions urging the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office to cease collaborating with ICE and to reduce the number of deportations in the county.
In March 2017, ACCE and its partners once again galvanized community members to show up at Sheriff Livingston’s office to protest his opposition to California’s SB 54, the first of its kind in the country to establish a sanctuary state. (SB 54 passed and became law last fall.) “We really see [Sheriff Livingston] as the face of the Trump agenda being executed here in the county,” says David Sharples, director of ACCE’s Contra Costa County office.
The following month, the group also protested outside the West County Detention Facility in Richmond, CA, to demand an end to the holding of immigrant detainees there and to oppose a $95 million expansion of the jail. Under pressure, Sheriff Livingston announced in July 2018 that he was ending the ICE contract at the Richmond detention facility.
Through the power of protest, Sharples says Contra Costa community members have built a critical organizing base in the county. They also attracted media attention from both local news outlets.
“I feel like we were able to really change the conversation in the county,” Sharples says. “That’s part of the reason to do these actions: to educate the public about why it’s important to end the ICE contract, why it’s important to oppose the jail expansion, and why it’s important to oppose the Trump agenda here locally.”