A Voice from the Frontlines of the George Floyd Protests – Interview with Khalid (Paul) Alexander of Pillars of the Community

by on June 8, 2020 · 0 comments

in Civil Rights, San Diego, Under the Perfect Sun

Alexander Is the Founder and President of Pillars of the Community

By Jim Miller

As the activism and protests in response to the murder of George Floyd intensified both nationally and locally last week, I thought I would check in with my City College colleague and community activist Khalid (Paul) Alexander, whose work with Pillars of the Community (insert link: https://www.potcsd.org) puts him in the heart of the struggle to break down institutional racism in the criminal justice system and elsewhere in San Diego on a daily basis.

Here he speaks to the work of his organization and the deep inequities Pillars of the Community is struggling to address.

Question: Tell me about Pillars of the Community?  What kind of organization is it?  What inspired you to found it?  What kind of work do you do in the community?

Answer: Pillars of the Community is an organization dedicated to advocating for people who are negatively targeted by law enforcement. We do this advocacy through community building and policy work.

Our community building takes many different shapes and is extremely fluid. It can range from book clubs, community iftars (where non-Muslims and Muslims are invited to break fast with us during Ramadhan), to providing warm meals to families in need. Recently our policy work has focused on gang documentation and enhancements and challenging the “smart streetlight” surveillance system that Mayor Faulconer snuck under the nose of community members.

Q: We both teach at City College in the English Department.  Do you see any connection between your work as an educator and your work with Pillars?

A: One of the reasons I love City College is because my students reflect the community I live in and advocate for through Pillars of the Community. A large number of our students come from Southeast San Diego, have been formerly incarcerated, or are from gangs.

In fact, one of the reasons why I began Pillars was because I noticed that teaching alone would not be able to address all of the systemic barriers that are in the way of our students being successful.

A quick example of that is one of my formerly incarcerated students who was receiving a strong A and was one of the most important contributors to class discussions, was arrested two weeks before finals and put back into prison because of violating his parole. The violation which sent him back to prison and ruined his GPA for that semester was having a blue shirt in his closet that his parole office found after digging around his house. Although I was able to give him an extended date to turn in his final paper, many of his other professors did not.

Q: We are in the midst of a multilayered national crisis where the issues of police violence and systemic racism have exploded on the scene and spurred a mass movement amidst an ongoing pandemic and emerging economic depression, what are your thoughts about the uprising we are seeing in response to the murder of George Floyd?  How do these issues intersect?

A: Well, while George Floyd may be the spark that ignited these protests, the underlying reasons they have spread around the country is because of the systemic inequality and disregard for Black humanity by police across the nation. I believe it is the everyday disrespect and mistreatment of community members by police that is the real source of these protests.

One of the interesting things for me to watch has been the shock of “ordinary” protestors who can’t believe how aggressive the police are behaving towards them. The reality of the matter is that this is how the Black and Brown communities, particularly Black and Brown boys, are treated every day in their own neighborhoods.

This is doubly true if you happen to be or fit the description of a gang member. Add to this unemployment, poverty, the school to prison pipeline, and inadequate healthcare, and it is surprising that we haven’t seen this sort of resistance to failed government and barbaric policing sooner.

Q: How do you see the issues of police brutality and systemic racism playing out here in San Diego?

A: While the majority of the world looks at San Diego as the hometown of the world-famous zoo, SeaWorld, and beautiful beaches, we are also one of the leading cities when it comes to inequity and systemic racism. The two examples that come to mind are the use of penal code 182.5 to charge 33 Black men with a crime that the DA admitted in court they did not commit, and the rate of what is called “Disconnected” Black and Brown youth [“disconnected” refers to young people who are unemployed and out of school].

Q: You gave an impassioned speech last week in La Mesa in response to the city’s official press conference on the arrest of Amaurie Johnson and the subsequent protests there over the George Floyd murder.  Also at the La Mesa protest, Leslie Furcron, an older woman, a grandmother and City College student, was wounded by a police officer shooting into the crowd. What do you think is most important for San Diegans to know about what happened in La Mesa?

A: Well the most important thing to know about the La Mesa protests is that they were completely peaceful until the police started shooting protesters with “less lethal” bullets and bombing them with tear gas, which was outlawed for use against enemies during war by the Geneva Convention.

Ms. Leslie is actually a perfect example of the anger that has come to the surface in light of these protests. In addition to being a City College student, she is also one of the community members who has been involved in Pillars of the Community. Although she is a grandmother, when she and her friends saw the protests in La Mesa, they felt it necessary to join. Her reward for participating in the protest and practicing her constitutional rights was to be shot in the face by a police officer and almost die from her wounds. Leslie was not there just because of the brutal murder of George Floyd. She was there because she has lived her entire life under the system that allowed for him to be murdered.


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