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Commentary: Progress Illusive on Race and Social Justice on the Home Front

racial-profiling.pngOn Saturday December 7, 2013, wearing another hat I wear in the community, I facilitated a Davis Human Relations Commission program on Breaking the Silence of Racism.

It was a year ago that we held the first such program at City Hall. We had assembled a panel of leaders representing the Davis City Council, Davis Police Department, UC Davis, DJUSD, and the Faith Community. Their job was not to talk, but to listen and respond, if needed, to community members who came up to give their accounts of their experiences with prejudice and discrimination in the community.

That program was wildly successful. 200 people came to attend. More than 60 people spoke. So many participated we actually had to extend the meeting for an extra hour to accommodate them.

This year was different. The format was different as well. We still had 5o people in attendance, the representatives from the same groups participated except this time, and the DA’s office refused to participate – so the probation department came instead.

Their job was to talk about what they have done in the last year. We also had community groups, including our own Vanguard Court Watch, the Davis Phoenix Collation, Yolo Interfaith Immigration Network, and Neighborhood Court, represented by Robb Davis – because again the DA’s office refused to participate.

There are multiple metrics of success for any community meeting. First of all, the meeting was well-attended. The panelists were interesting and engaging. The community learned of a lot of work that is going on.

My colleagues on the Human Relations Commission (HRC) and citizen Diane Evans, who is also a member of the Vanguard Court Watch Council, put forth a lot of work to put this on and deserves a lot of credit.

But, in the end, I don’t come away with the same feeling I did last year. The tremendous grassroots energy was not there. And some of that is to be expected, as you cannot really replicate a successful event of that sort.

I do not want to take away from the good work going on in the community, as I feel that there has been some good progress made, even in unexpected quarters.

While the DA disappointingly refused to participate, Robb Davis spoke about the neighborhood courts program that most have found to be eye-opening and very successful. He even read a statement that I’m trying to get from Jeff Reisig himself, that acknowledged that the current criminal justice system is broken.

That is a tremendous acknowledgement and so, despite my frustrations with his lack of participation in any community forum where his office might be criticized, I think he deserves a measure of credit.

On the other hand, four weeks before this event, in the same room, the Vanguard had its event and Judge David Gottleib from Fresno, and Tim Nightengale who runs their VORP (which is a Victim Offender Reconciliation Program), spoke to about 200 people about their restorative justice programs.

So, while I am hopeful about the restorative justice potential in Yolo County and progress that has been made, we are still light years behind Fresno. Say it again, Davis and Yolo County are behind FRESNO.

That gets me to the second point. Back in October, when the Vanguard Court Watch Council met in Woodland, we had a representative from the Burns Institute, which is a national organization that deals with the disproportionate representation of minority youth in the justice system.

Yolo County is at the end of a three-year grant, run jointly by the Probation Department, DA’s Office, Public Defender’s Office and Community Groups – this is the Disproportionate Minority Contact problem that we have only recently learned about and that had not really made it to critical community groups.

Despite all of this work, when we go into the court system on a weekly basis, we do not see a lot of change. We see the same prosecutorial tactics, the same defendants, and when we go to the jail – it remains packed primarily with young, minority, male offenders.

Some of those people have committed very serious crimes and need to be incarcerated; many are there for pre-trial custody situations and will end up with probation and some will end up acquitted.

Unfortunately, while we heard a lot of the progress that has been made – and it has – it seems that some of the serious systemic problems, the hard problems, remain largely untouched. Until we can address those in a meaningful way, until certain public offices are willing to take on public criticism, I do not see this getting a lot better.

I think Diane Evans captured some of my concerns. This year we saw a very serious incident in which a young man, Mikey Partida, was savagely beaten in a hate crime that received large amounts of attention.

Ms. Evans wondered during her presentation on that Saturday if we can really claim progress if such incidents continue to occur in our community.

“How far have we come, or have we come anywhere?” Ms. Evans asked. “Is this just the site of racism and hate, or are we just going in a circle?”

I take it a step forward. Mr. Partida’s attacker took a plea agreement and got a much lighter sentence than many people in the court system who lack his resources receive. Until these inequities are fixed, have we really made progress?

Sadly, my answer is we have not. What we have seen is activity that starts to focus on the problems in the system, but we have not made real progress – not yet. Maybe next year will be better.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About David Greenwald

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

14 comments

  1. “How far have we come, or have we come anywhere?” Ms. Evans asked. “Is this just the site of racism and hate, or are we just going in a circle?”

    Yes Davis is just the site of racism and hate. One sleezebag commits a horrible act and that makes all of Davis and the other 60,000 residents all part of a community of racism and hate.

    • Davis Progressive

      Davis is a largely white community, that fashions itself as liberal or progressive except when it comes to the issue of race relations. It seems that upper middle class liberals have as little tolerance for people of color as any other group. They just hide it better. They take pride in voting for Obama and look away at racial profiling happening around the corner.

  2. David starts with:

    > Progress Illusive on Race and Social Justice on the Home Front

    As far as the “home” front Davis has way more people of color than it ever has, and while David might not call it “progress” almost every UCD fraternity and sorority now includes people of color when just 30 years ago they were close to 100% white.

    > Mr. Partida’s attacker took a plea agreement and got a much lighter
    > sentence than many people in the court system who lack his resources
    > receive. Until these inequities are fixed, have we really made progress?

    I would call both Mr. Partida and Mr. Garzón (son of Dr. Hernando S. Garzón) people of color (and they even seem to be about the same “color”) so what does this have to do with “Progress Illusive on Race and Social Justice on the Home Front”? It seems like this comment should be in another post like “Rich people of color (even if you kill your wife like OJ) get off just as often as rich white people”…

  3. With the new year comes rebirth! David actually said something nice about the D.A. Funny someone just mentioned to me yesterday that David is doing the same thing to the FF’s union boss that he did to the D.A. Maybe he only has enough bile for one punching bag at a time.

  4. “Ms. Evans wondered during her presentation on that Saturday if we can really claim progress if such incidents continue to occur in our community.”

    I think a community’s response to such a horrific incident better reflects it’s “social justice values” then the fact that it occurred.

  5. “Ms. Evans wondered during her presentation on that Saturday if we can really claim progress if such incidents continue to occur in our community.”

    So if our town of Davis only had 3 robberies all last year could we really claim progress if such incidents continue to occur? That’s how ludicrous that statement is.

  6. The heavy focus on race and sex issues within Davis can result in the coverage failing to observe or respond to related social issues of equal significance. To highlight my point, I am re-posting my “Laundering while Poor” comments made in response to the extensive coverage of the “Mowing While Black” incident that occurred at approximately the same time in 2013.

    “Over the years, numerous customers of the Wash Mill/Old Mill Stream Laundromat formerly in the Manor Mall Complex in East Davis could have been accused of “Laundering while Poor” if anybody truly saw them or gave a damn! These customers were predominantly young mothers from the many apartment complxes across from the Mall (on the north side of East 8th Street) who used this facility regularly to do family laundry. They were “mowed down” so to speak, when the heavily used laundromat was forced out of the Mall when the Mall owner catered to the demands of (Not So) Goodwill, a new tenant demanding an expanded site within the Mall.

    Am I the only one to “see” oversights such as this within the supposedly balanced news coverage within Davis!
    ___________
    PS To the Vanguard’s credit, you, David, promptly responded to this issue when I brought it up earlier this year. Thanks!

  7. “The heavy focus on race and sex issues within Davis can result in the coverage failing to observe or respond to related social issues of equal significance.

    I agree, I don’t think, any community, should judge their social progress by what is being reported. It’s probably better judged by what they do no deem important enough to cover.

  8. There is certainly something to the drift of this article. Many of the people in Davis who call themselves progressive and strongly favor affirmative action do so for racist and sexist reasons.

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