And so yesterday it was D-Day, so to speak, as we had planned and promoted the event, but would anyone come? The answer was a resounding yes. More than 200 people packed into the Community Chambers. The line of people waiting to speak was so long that we quickly and briefly huddled outside and decided to prolong the event so that everyone could speak.
After all, you cannot “break the silence” if you silence the public. The result was that the event went an hour past the original plan. People poured out their hearts. They came, in fact, not just from Davis, but from around the region.
The panel was comprised of Davis City Councilmember Rochelle Swanson, Chief Deputy DA Jonathan Raven, Reverend Kristin Stoneking of the Cal Aggie Christian Association, UC Davis Executive Vice Chancellor Rahim Reed, Pam Mari from DJUSD and Captain Darren Pytel of the Davis Police Department. They were great – they listened when they were supposed to, they commented when they needed to, they committed to follow up, and they all stayed an extra hour in their busy schedules.
It was a variety of topics, a variety of viewpoints, and a variety of people from different backgrounds.
The meeting started with a bang. Francisca Reyes and Maria Quezada spoke, whose sons will be sentenced in a week, probably, to life in prison for a drive-by shooting in Woodland which was gang-related. Ms. Reyes admitted that her son had done wrong, but believed that he did not deserve life for his crime. She believes that had her son been white, he would have gotten a second chance rather than going to prison for life for his first offense (we’ll talk more about this case later this week).
There were a number of complaints about the DA’s office, in fact. Supervising Deputy DA Jonathan Raven talked about the task force they were putting together, made up of citizens, to deal with racial issues including racial profiling. He said he was trying to get Jann Murray-Garcia, a pediatrician and a community activist, to join.
Dr. Murray-Garcia earlier had asked each of the agencies to provide various data on issues of race. Each of the agencies committed to trying to provide that data, including Councilmember Rochelle Swanson, about compiling a database of police stops.
Later, Dr. Murray-Garcia spoke about the case of Bernita Toney, who has twice been wrongfully accused of crimes and in the first instance was acquitted; in the second instance, the charges were dropped. She explained that this, and other cases, is why she is declining participating in the DA’s task force.
Former California Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso, a Davis resident now, talked about his experiences dealing with police in this county, on both the Luis Gutierrez matter and the pepper-spray incident. He looked straight at Chief Deputy Raven and told him that he felt that the DA in this county was part of the problem.
But the bulk of this event was not about the DA or the police. It was about the racial climate that the average citizen in the city faces, and it was about the schools. Parents and even teachers poured out their hearts, often to the point of tears.
A local business owner shared stories about the experiences that his interracial grandchildren suffered. He told the audience that if you explain this story to a black person in Davis, they understand. When you tell it to a white person, they respond that this is Davis, a liberal and progressive city. He said they just don’t get it.
Another person told of how their children had been bullied in the schools and felt more comfortable in a school in a different community.
Others related the problems that interracial kids had – not fitting into any group.
In the end, it was not the police, not the DA, not the university, but Pam Mari of the school district who was on the hot seat the most during this three hours of public comment.
She had a tough task, especially with emotions as raw as they were. She said that she felt bad mentioning it, but the school district has for the last several years simply been in survival mode. But she felt that was not a good excuse. She also talked about how new federal regulations would require the district to spend 100 hours in data entry on reporting requirements. She didn’t know where they would get those 100 hours.
But mostly she was passionate and forceful that things had to change and that addressing these issues is a mission that she is committed to. She believed we could do better and we had to do better.
I received the privilege of making the opening remarks to this great event. In those remarks, I noted, and my comments were echoed by others, that from time to time in this community, a crisis has arisen. In dealing with this crisis people come together, study the problem and make commitments to change.
Despite these commitments and the genuine way in which they are made, these changes fall by the wayside. One longtime resident talked about the fact that, in her time here, things have really not changed.
Rick Gonzales of the Yolo County Concilio talked about how they had formulated a 51-point plan back in the 1980s that is gathering dust right now, and that he believes that each of these 51 points applies today.
When I hear the stories about the plight of interracial students in this district, it hits close to home. We have an inexplicable and unacceptable achievement gap in this community that is far broader than in many other communities.
We have to do better. Twenty years ago, this was an overwhelmingly white community. In the 1990s, right before I came here, white students represented 75 percent of the student body in DJUSD. Now they represent 57 percent.
This issue hits close to home as I raise three interracial children and hope to educate them in DJUSD.
As one observer noted, “I hope that the action plan that comes from the event is as robust as the day’s events were.”
We have a lot of work to do in that regard, but my commitment is to make sure that these efforts do not end up falling by the wayside as they did decades ago.
My eyes are open even wider than I thought possible. I was blown away by the level of turnout and discussion yesterday. We have a lot of work ahead of us. But we have to do it.
—David M. Greenwald reporting