Commentary: Should the Beating Change your View of Davis?

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vigil-partidaI do not often pay much attention to the “What do you think?” section of the local paper.  In fact, I do not believe I have ever written a column on it.  But the one today, asking about the hate crime beating, caught my attention.

In fairness, the question was not framed as well as it could be: “Did the recent hate crime beating change your opinion of Davis?”  The problem with it is that you could think that this type of thing always occurs and it would just reinforce your view of Davis, and you could think this is an outlier and therefore discount it as having any meaning.

So it is not surprising that no one’s view of Davis was changed by this incident – or at least none of the six people that were interviewed.

Only the yoga teacher, however, really seemed to grasp that there is a problem here.  She noted, “No, because there was (an incident) years ago, when a group of boys pushed another boy in front of a moving train. … It seems we need an outlet for young boys to learn to respect other people and not harm them.”

Most of the others seemed to think this was simply an exception.

One person, described as a UC Davis graduate living in Davis, said, “I’ve been in Davis for a couple of years now, and that’s just not the environment I feel like we live in. It makes me feel sad.”

A business owner from Vacaville: “No, it didn’t change my opinion, because I think it’s just one incident. We’re all different, and some people think different. So we just have to be cautious. We have to look out for one another.”

A business owner from Davis, “I’ve worked in Davis for 30 years. One incident – about anything – is not going to change my view.”

On the other hand a student said,  “It doesn’t really matter where you are, stuff like that still happens.”

Finally a self-described student said, “I know the accused and I don’t think that’s what actually happened. I don’t think it was actually a hate crime.”

This incident does not change my view of Davis, it reinforces it.  My view of Davis is that this is a community where people like to believe they are progressive and tolerant, they vote for Obama at an 85% clip and are proud of it.

Beneath that surface, however, is a darker underbelly.  Whether it’s Andrew Mockus, Thong Hy Huynh, or any number of lesser incidents, some that we have covered and some that happened before the Vanguard‘s time, this is a community where periodically hate emerges from that vein of tolerance.

My friend Bill Calhoun likes to talk about the 1970s and the Davis High students who dressed up in KKK outfits at a basketball game.

There was the string of racist graffiti at UC Davis, the attack on the Hillel House, the gay man attacked with eggs, or the African-American harassed by students in the neighborhood.

Even former Mayor Pro Tem Rochelle Swanson told tales of her sons and their family facing harassment in South Davis.

I do not believe, as some have suggested, that Davis is an incredibly racist or homophobic community, but I do believe there are more problems than some people want to acknowledge.

The fact that several of the responses seem to suggest that this is an isolated incident, however, concerns me.  The extreme nature of this incident has captured our attention and rightfully so, as the severity of the attack is certainly not an everyday occurrence.

However, to suggest that this is just one incident, that this is not the environment I feel we live in, and that this one incident does not change our views of Davis, I think is problematic.

I am working to get data from the Davis Police on hate incidents, but it seems like every year we have a few that draw our attention.  And yes, I am folding hate incidents that involve race into hate incidents that, like this one, are anti-gay.  But at the end of the day, I believe we have a more significant problem than one hate incident would suggest.

One of my concerns that I have is that Davis is a changing community.  Twenty years ago, in a statistic I have cited a number of times already, we had a student population in the K through 12 schools that was 75% white, while now we have a 42% minority population.

That’s still far lower than surrounding areas, but within our little enclave that represents a drastic change.  At last December’s Breaking the Silence of Racism, even one of the themes that kept recurring was the treatment that racial minorities faced in the Davis schools.

Now we have a very violent incident that occurred involving a recent graduate from our school system.  That follows the noose incident from last June that was hung from the football goalposts at Davis High School.

I do agree with the business owner, however: “We’re all different, and some people think different. So we just have to be cautious. We have to look out for one another.”

That part I can agree with.  But the idea that this is just one incident – I don’t think it is just one incident, I just think it is the most vicious of the incidents in recent years.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

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.

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30 thoughts on “Commentary: Should the Beating Change your View of Davis?”

  1. JimmysDaughter

    My view has not changed. For several years, I’ve viewed Davis as an optical illusion. Several acts of hatred have occurred in Davis. Here are just a few: Several years ago a high school student was murdered. More recently, I rented a home in North Davis. After I signed the lease, the owner told me “I’m glad to be renting to a family. We had a homosexual couple look at the house.” A few years later, my husband & I separated. The same owner (a doctor and his wife) told me they weren’t renewing my lease because “since your husband moved out you won’t be able to take care of the house.” My son had an African American friend at Davis High who was constantly pressured to play basketball. None of his white friends were approached. The kid told them he was not interested in basketball, and they continued to bug him. At a Davis High football game, a homophobic banner was displayed and many people on this blog defended the kids. (Boys just being boys, as I recall.) A man possibly pulled a turban off another man’s head in a bar. A Nepalese man was sentenced to over 300 years in prison, and probably wrongfully convicted. A group of students were pepper sprayed while peacefully demonstrating. A black couple were the victims of police misconduct while having a loud argument. I myself have been the victim of very mean law enforcement, in my home. I have more examples. Suffice it to say, Mikey’s incident is definitely not one incident. Davis, the quiet, liberal ex-hippy town with a frog tunnel, is an optical illusion. I’m glad I moved away. My current town does not pretend to be something it’s not. And that is very refreshing indeed.

  2. medwoman

    JimmysDaughter

    [quote]Davis, the quiet, liberal ex-hippy town with a frog tunnel, is an optical illusion. I’m glad I moved away. My current town does not pretend to be something it’s not. And that is very refreshing indeed.[/quote]

    While I am glad that you have found a community that you prefer, none of the examples that you have given would have been unusual in any community in which I have lived ( 12 different towns and cities altogether).

    I have a different, and perhaps more optimistic view of Davis than you have portrayed. I have not and do not adhere to the idea of Davis as ” the quite, liberal, ex-hippy town with a frog tunnel ” and in reality do not know anyone who does. But I do believe that this is part of what Davis is. Davis is also a community in which the majority of people go about their quiet, private lives with minimal disruption of others. And, we are a community in which all of the incidents you described, and doubtless many others have occurred. So yes, we are all of this and more. In my view, that makes us a human community with all the strengths and weaknesses of city life. What I do see is a degree of public engagement that I have not seen in many other communities in which I have lived. I see well attended forums, vigils, public discussion, blogging and letters to the editor at
    higher rates of participation than in other communities in which I have lived.

    Do we live in an optical illusion of Nirvana ? Of course not. But I do not agree that because we have some quirky features and a tendency to like to emphasize the good points of our community, that the community has failed. I don’t believe that is true. I believe it is our obligation to continue to point out problems, correct those that we can, and continue to work to raise awareness of those that are not immediately amenable to change. For me, this is what an engaged community is about. And in my experience, Davis is more engaged than anywhere else I have lived.

  3. biddlin

    My business dealings in Davis are almost exclusively with young males selling a guitar or other stringed instrument . As I have noted before, there is an element of entitled white kids who display language and behaviours that would have had consequences had my kids displayed them . The more I read the Vanguard, the more I believe these behaviours are transmitted from parents. The inability for so many posters to even consider racist graffiti or a noose hung in public schools “racist ” was a clear message to me that Davis was in denial . The continuing denial about the “hate” aspect of the latest incident comes as no surprise . One thing I’ve learned from reading the commentaries and posts on this site: If it doesn’t affect your wallets, it seems hard to get most Davisites to care .

  4. David M. Greenwald

    “If it doesn’t affect your wallets, it seems hard to get most Davisites to care . “

    I’m not sure that’s much different from anywhere else.

  5. wdf1

    Jimmysdaughter: [i]My current town does not pretend to be something it’s not. And that is very refreshing indeed.[/i]

    Please explain what that means. That there are no incidents like this where you live?

    or if there are incidents like this, no one gets worked up about it?

    or if they happen, they don’t even get reported?

  6. medwoman

    What I am seeing in the comments from both JimmysDaughter and biddlin is what I frequently see in the comments posted by those who would trivialize or deny prejudice and hate crimes in our community. That is the tendency to create false dichotomies and to view situations, in this case, our community in ( no word play
    intended ) black and white terms.

    My view is that Davis is, like all communities, composed of individuals with a wide array of values and points of view. One can look at the community in terms of broad behaviors, such as citing the fact that 85 % of voters chose the more liberal candidate during the presidential election and decide that “Davis” is a liberal community.
    Or one can chose to look at the comments of a few individuals on a blog who choose to ignore or trivialize acts of brutality and/or intimidation based on prejudice and generalize that to say that “Davis” is not a liberal community. Either approach is nothing more than a “snapshot” of a particular aspect of our behavior and should not be used to characterize the community as a whole. As a matter of fact, it seems to me very ironic since this
    generalization of the individual behaviors of those committing the antisocial acts to the community of “Davis”
    seems to mirror the behavior that is being objected to. Namely, attributing characteristics of individuals to the group and then acting on that prejudgement and generalization.

  7. Don Shor

    [i]But at the end of the day, I believe we have a more significant problem than one hate incident would suggest.[/i]

    Ironic that the picture you chose to go with this article was of hundreds of people at a candlelight vigil in support of the victim.
    Davis is a community which, when acts of bigotry are publicized, responds with compassion, outrage, and support for those who have been victimized. That’s the other part of the story.

  8. wdf1

    DMG: [i]Hundreds of people showed up but tens of thousands didn’t.[/i]

    Where in California would you have found a more satisfying reaction to an incident like this in 2013?

  9. medwoman

    “My only point is that beneath that surface is a more concerning element”

    Fully agreed. And since we know it is there, my question is how to proceed in such a way as to maximize the positive while remaining in full awareness that each element is there snd capable of being manifested. Just out of curiosity, in a town of around 65,000 what would anyone have considered the number of individuals at the vigil that they would have considered a compassionate community response ?

  10. Growth Izzue

    The six people who said that their opinions of Davis didn’t change because of the possible hate crime got it right. This is a very open and benevolent community that welcomes people of all kinds with open arms. There are always a few bad apples in any community, even Nirvana. Some like to perpetuate any racial or hate events because it serves their agenda.

  11. wdf1

    medwoman: [i]in a town of around 65,000 what would anyone have considered the number of individuals at the vigil that they would have considered a compassionate community response?[/i]

    Also, look what else was going on that same evening at almost the same time — five events that I can think of, and maybe there were at least one or two more, I didn’t check the UCD event calendar. At least a couple of those would have solidly drawn on the same population of supporters — the DHS play and YIIN. At least a few people managed to split their time at two events.

    Fundraiser for the Yolo Interfaith Immigration Network ([url]http://www.davisenterprise.com/local-news/immigration-work-benefits-from-fundraising-dinner/[/url])

    DHS Drama production, The Breedless Kitsch ([url]http://www.davisenterprise.com/local-news/dhs-drama-takes-on-small-town-racism-in-the-breedless-kitsch/[/url]) about the DHS noose incident.

    [urlhttp://www.davisenterprise.com/local-news/auction-saturday-benefits-dpns/]Fundraising auction for Davis Parent Nursery School[/url]

    Willett Elementary fundraising auction ([url]http://www.willettpta.org/calendar/icalrepeat.detail/2013/03/16/655/-/willett-auction-march-madness[/url])

  12. Rich Rifkin

    [i]”My friend Bill Calhoun likes to talk about the 1970s and the Davis High students who dressed up in KKK outfits at a basketball game.”[/i]

    I hope Bill doesn’t talk that same way about the very serious crimes one of his children was involved in at the same time.”[/i]

  13. Rich Rifkin

    Don: [i]”Davis is a community which, when acts of bigotry are publicized, responds with compassion, outrage, and support for those who have been victimized. That’s the other part of the story.”[/i]

    Don makes a very good point. One of the more publicized hate crimes which took place in the Sacramento region not too many years ago was the arson attacks on three Jewish synagogues in Sacramento in one night, burning two of them completely to ashes. Before too long, a couple of neo-Nazis brothers were arrested for this crime (one killed himself in jail awaiting trial). The case did not expose to my mind that our region is filled with anti-Semites and violent Nazis. What struck me was the extraordinary support the Jewish community received in the wake of those attacks from the Christian churches and other faith communities. Likewise, political leaders in the region–the person who stood out most was Jimmy Yee, a member of the Sacramento City Council in whose district the largest synagogue resides–all stood up, spoke out against hate crimes and anti-Semitism and so on.

    I think the overarching point with regard to the attack on I Street is much the same. Everyone who has spoken out about this case has come to the aid of the victim, and (metaphorically at least) has stood together with the wider gay community.

    What always distinguishes a hate crime from other crimes is that the criminal’s intent is to menace a larger group, not just the one or two or half dozen people he attacked. If there is an attack on a homosexual, it is a hate crime (in my opinion) if the intent is to make other gays scared, to make them feel as if they too were attacked.

    Yet when the great majority of the people stand up on behalf of the victim (and his/her group), that intent is defeated.

  14. David M. Greenwald

    Rich:

    I think you make a reasonable point, but where I differ with you is that – do you think people in this community – particularly in the targeted group – feel more or less safe now than they did before the incident? I think the strong community response is part of the healing process, but it certainly does not defeat the intent, it may mitigate it or reduce, but it doesn’t negate it.

  15. Rich Rifkin

    DG: [i]”Beneath that surface, however, is a darker underbelly. Whether it’s Andrew Mockus, [b]Thong Hy Huynh,[/b] or any number of lesser incidents …”[/i]

    The killing of Thong Hy Huynh by James Pierman was a racist hate crime. But it’s completely false to point to that incident and think it says anything about the race relations climate in Davis or at Davis High at that time.

    Pierman had a seriously troubled childhood for all of his 17 (or 18?) years up to that point. He was not from Davis. He actually never lived in the city limits. I think he was staying in a trailer a few miles outside of town for a couple of months before he met and murdered Thong, who also was brand new to Davis High.

    Pierman had lived an itinerant life up to the point he got to Davis high school and likely had no idea at all what Davis was like. He was bound to find trouble anywhere he went.

    Yet some people with an ax to grind in Davis at that time–and people like David Greenwald who moved here much later–always point to that terrible incident as a reflection on “the dark underbelly” of Davis. It was not.

    It was the dark underbelly of a very troubled young man who never lived here. He was just passing through. In his case, on his way to perdition.

  16. eagle eye

    Hate Crime? It’s not known yet whether this was a hate crime, or whether the accused was merely teasing the other party. Nor do we know yet whether it was mutual combat or a one-sided attack. The “victim” is the one who approached the accused, so, who knows?

  17. Rich Rifkin

    Speaking of racism in Davis … For my column this week I have been reading editions of the Davis Enterprise from 1913. I came across a front page story which involved multiple attempted murders by a man who was employed by the Armstrong family as their cook on a ranch outside of Davis. As the story was told in the newspaper, the family was unsatisfied with the work of their cook, so they fired him. He apparently did not take kindly to his dismissal. He returned to the house with a gun, intent on killing all the Armstrongs. He shot one of the Armstrong children, a young girl, but the bullet did not kill her. When the lady of the house, Mrs. Armstrong, found him and he tried to shoot her and another of her kids, his gun malfunctioned. She chased after him and he escaped … for awhile.

    Where is the racism in that story? Well, for one, the Enterprise never gave the cook’s name. The headline and the body of the article always referred to him as “the Jap” or “the Jap cook.” Eventually alleged criminal made his way to Dixon, where another family employed another Japanese worker, and that second person was also referred to as “the Dixon Jap” or some such thing. Further, when the Enterprise quoted the cook (based on what the Solano County Sheriff had said that the cook said to his compatriot in Dixon), the diction was a highly sylized, insulting form of broken English, including misspellings.

    Based on what I know about California in the 1910s, anti-Asian racism and stereotyping and so on was very common. Obviously, that story (in light of the times we live in) makes the Enterprise of 100 years ago look bad. However, my suspicion is that no one who read the 1913 Davis Enterprise–at least no whites in Davis–thought there was anything problematic with the way that story was told. … And I should add, I’ve seen dozens of other similar stories in old newspapers of that time and even much later which are very similar. Anyone who does not think our country has made huge progress with regard to racism over the last 100 years is completely ignorant about our country’s past.

  18. medwoman

    Rich

    [quote]Anyone who does not think our country has made huge progress with regard to racism over the last 100 years is completely ignorant about our country’s past.[/quote]

    I do not know of anyone who is making the assertion that the country has not “made huge progress with regard to racism”. Do you ? What I do believe is being expressed is the concept that we still have a long way to go to get to the point where people are not ever treated differently because of the color of their skin, their religion, or their gender preferences. When you see articles on these issues, I believe that this is the framework in which they are written, not to portray some indefensible idea that no or even minimal progress has been made.

  19. Rich Rifkin

    [i]”I do not know of anyone who is making the assertion that the country has not ‘made huge progress with regard to racism.’ Do you?”[/i]

    Most Americans have little knowledge of American history; and likewise most Californians have a poor understanding of California history. A consequence of that ignorance, of not having more than a veneer of understanding of the facts of our past, they cannot fully appreciate the progress our country has made.

    I concede that most would say ‘we have made huge progress with regard to racism.’ But most who would say that don’t really know where we once were, save perhaps a cartoonish version of parts of our past they may have seen in movies.

    I should add that the more I learn, the more I realize how ignorant I was. My only saving grace is that others are generally worse.

    [i]”What I do believe is being expressed is the concept that we still have a long way to go to get to the point where people are not ever treated differently because of the color of their skin, their religion, or their gender preferences.”[/i]

    Not ever? Yes. That is a long way off.

    I think the most important thing to keep in mind, however, in the wake of a violent crime like the one on I Street is that the overwhelming majority of people who live in our community are good, decent people who do not support attacks on gays or other minorities, and when a crime like this one occurs, the vast majority stand on the side of the victim.

    It is a fair and reasonable question in cases like this one to ask where and why the alleged attacker developed a violent, anti-gay prejudice, if he actually has one. (It sounds to me like he does, but the case has not yet played out.) I am certain that is not common among young people in Davis. Most youths I meet are amazingly excellent, far better than I was as an 18-20 year old.

    But at the same time, perhaps, Clayton Garzon might be part of a crowd of “counter-cultural” youths who think that way. Or maybe (and really hopefully), if it turns out he is guilty, he is just one troubled young man who has psychological and/or psychiatric issues which are at the heart of his individual malevolence, and this terrible incident says nothing at all about other young people in Davis and their feelings toward homosexuals or others different from them.

  20. medwoman

    [quote]I think the most important thing to keep in mind, however, in the wake of a violent crime like the one on I Street is that the overwhelming majority of people who live in our community are good, decent people who do not support attacks on gays or other minorities, and when a crime like this one occurs, the vast majority stand on the side of the victim.
    [/quote]

    [quote]Not ever? Yes. That is a long way off. [/quote]

    I agree on both counts. I believe this should be our goal.I also think that there are those in our community who see the progress made so far as a reason to relax and say that we no longer need to address these issues. It is this stance with which I do not agree.

  21. David M. Greenwald

    We’ve made tremendous progress. I remember as a senior in high school, our psych teacher showed us a video of Geraldo, the episode where the white supremacist hit him with the chair and broke his nose.

    An exchange however that sticks out in my mind is that one of the white supremacists in defending their world view put it to on of the other folks that if they supported blacks so much, would they let their kids marry a black man.

    This put them on the defensive and the response was that they don’t have to marry to support equal rights. This wasn’t that long ago, maybe late 80s or early 90s, no one would even bat an eye at that question today. I don’t care if my daughter marries a black man or a white woman as long as she’s happy. But 20 years ago, that was still an issue.

  22. David M. Greenwald

    Now more than thirty years ago, I was at an elementary school in University City, a suburb of St. Louis and it was a school that was at least 60 percent black ,and someone set fire to a Martin Luther King display, must have been 1981.

  23. wdf1

    Rifkin: [i]Where is the racism in that story? Well, for one, the Enterprise never gave the cook’s name. The headline and the body of the article always referred to him as “the Jap” or “the Jap cook.”[/i]

    I was looking at DHS yearbooks from the 30’s & 40’s a couple of years ago (you have to go to the DHS library for that). I was looking up something else, but couldn’t help notice how there were a few apparently Japanese-American students in the yearbook in the 1930’s, but then not in the early 1940’s.

    I suppose a few decades from now some of our current language, concepts and ideas may no longer be appropriate, and maybe somehow we’ll be the ones lamenting and resisting change. It would be interesting to guess what those things would be.

  24. Rich Rifkin

    [i]”I was looking up something else, but couldn’t help notice how there were a few apparently Japanese-American students in the yearbook in the 1930’s, but then not in the early 1940’s.”[/i]

    It depends on the year, of course, but the Japanese and Japanese-Americans in Davis and the entire West Coast were forcibly relocated from May, 1942 until the end of the War. That may be why you did not see any Japanese names in those latter books.

    On the other hand, it’s possible that many of the Asians (some Japanese, but most not) you saw in Davis yearbooks in the 1930s were itinerant farm laborers or their children. If that was the case, it’s entirely possible that in some later years, they were working out of this area when the school pictures were taken, or by then other immigrant groups had replaced them as this area’s farm laborers.

    One long-term trend in California has been wave after wave of different groups who came here to work as farm laborers. For most of my life it has been Mexicans and Central Americans. But earlier generations were Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese, Filippinos, Okies, Native Americans, Hindus (from India), and large numbers of whites of various ethnicities who came in small groups.

    An example of that last type in Davis was Matthew Clancy. He was born in Ireland and lived there through the Potato Famine. He was pennyless when he got to the United States as a teenager. After working various jobs in larger cities, Clancy came to Davis and worked as a farm hand. He saved every cent he could and he rented farm land and made money, until he could buy some land for himself, which he also farmed. As an older man age 71, if I recall correctly, Clancy had a young wife and four daughters, and he built for them and for himself a large home in Davis at Second and C Streets. Today, that house is a City of Davis merit resource.

    [img]http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_-iCrgpX1jNM/SeaaPYK10rI/AAAAAAAAAKM/R-0_GPxyKw8/s400/Clancy+house.bmp[/img]

  25. legmom

    “I also think that there are those in our community who see the progress made so far as a reason to relax and say that we no longer need to address these issues. It is this stance with which I do not agree.”

    I agree with medwoman. I think that many in the community (I’m guilty too) have repeatedly been outraged, participated in an event/vigil and then gone back to our lives until there’s another hate incident/crime. We have to address the many factors that contribute to destructive attitudes (including thinking that ‘boys will be boys,’ etc.). I can’t say how many demonstrations/vigils I’ve attended, city/school district events (achievement gap, Breaking the Silence) I’ve attended with good intentions to follow through. But we have to work constantly to create an environment that encourages a different way of living and thinking. For example, our children should grow up going to schools where the curriculum is inclusive, teaching the contributions of all groups, and where saying ‘that’s so gay’ is not tolerated.

    I know there are many already working on these issues. I think it would help if we know each other and work in concert to support each other’s efforts. I’m a member of one group working toward this end. We welcome you to attend our next event:

    Film Screening and Discussion (Follow up will be key)

    Not In Our Town: Light In the Darkness

    When: April 14, 2013 12:30 to 2:30

    Where: Unitarian Universalist Church of Davis (UUCD) Library
    27074 Patwin Road, Davis, CA 95616 (off Russell Blvd. in West Davis).

    We have recently started a relationship with the Not In Our Town organization to promote awareness and speaking out. There are also community members, some from our group, working with the City of Davis Human Relations Commission to organize further events as follow up to the community forum ‘Breaking the Silence of Racism.’

    UUCD Anti-Racism Task Team

  26. Reel

    Does this change my view of Davis? No. Davis is not progressive, it would like to be. Davis is not tolerant, it would like others to believe it is. Davis is not diverse and does not celebrate diversity. If you vote differently, believe (spiritually) differently, or even ‘earn’ differntly than the majority teeva-wearing Davisites, you are uneducated, below and marginlized.
    I have made peace with this reality, though Davis is not what it would like to believe it is (It is no Berkely, it is no Sacramento), it does have some redeeming qualities; bike friendly, good restaurants, good Spanish immersion program. Other than that, unfortantely, I see right through Davis’ false image.

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