Sunday Commentary: Not in Our Town

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vigil-partidaLast week we described the reactions of a number of people on the street who expressed the belief that anti-gay attacks, like the one that appears to have occurred when Clayton Garzon allegedly beat Mikey Partida while yelling anti-gay epithets, do not happen in our town.

As Jonathan London, a Davis resident with a periodic Sunday column in the Davis Enterprise, amply notes there is a prevailing sentiment that “this kind of crime does not happen in Davis: This is not who we are.”

It is one he rejects, arguing, “Beyond noting the obvious fact that the vigil was necessary because such crimes do happen in Davis, I was curious about why this phrase kept reoccurring.”

What is striking to me is the difference between the notion that “this kind of crime does not happen in Davis,” which seems to be a statement conceived in denial of an existing problem – though probably inadvertently so, versus the “not in our town” sentiment which seems to be more proactive and defiant.

“Not in our town” seems to mean not that this does not happen but that we will be vigilant and do everything within our power to make sure it does not happen, ever again.

Therefore, one is a statement perhaps couched in denial, and the other is a statement couched in defiance – NEVER AGAIN.

Mr. London quotes from the Davis High School play inspired by the noose that was found last summer hanging from the goal posts.  He quotes one of the cast members, saying, “This play calls out some of the problems that a town like ours sweeps under the rug to have a perfect community.”

Last December, when the City’s Human Relations Commission sponsored the event, “Breaking the Silence of Racism,” it was the “breaking the silence” part that connects to this discussion because, too often, we do not believe that these things happen here.

As Mr. London writes, “The image of a town that tends to sweep issues such as racism, sexism and homophobia under the rug came home even more vividly when I happened upon another rally organized by UC Davis on campus later that week. Speaker after speaker at this rally testified about their ongoing experiences of physical and psychological violence they experienced as women, as gays, as lesbians, as transgender people on and off campus.”

“Many of the rally participants described the added pain of the willful blindness of their peers to these violations,” he continues. “One young gay man described having anti-gay slurs shouted at him from a passing car one evening, while dozens of fellow students walked by without a word of support or even acknowledgement. It was left to this young man to confront his tormentors alone, which he did, at great risk to his own safety.”

Writes Jonathan London, “It was the pain of feeling ‘swept under the rug,’ of being invisible in the eyes of the ‘bystanders who shrink from scary issues’ that most deeply saddened and enraged these students. It is this toxic experience of invisibility that makes the ‘this does not happen in Davis’ phrase so problematic.”

“This is the problem with repeating this mantra as a fact, as opposed to an aspirational statement (‘we hope for a day when this won’t happen here’) or imperative declaration (‘we won’t allow this kind of thing to happen here’),” he said. “Repeating this mantra can actually make tragic events such as gay-bashing, and other micro-aggressions more, not less, likely to continue.”

Of course, against this image becomes the contention that Davis is far more tolerant than other places, that these things, while they occur, may occur less often than in other communities.

However, I do not believe there is any inherent contradiction or tension between the notion that things happen and they happen more often than we want to believe, but that Davis is also a community where several hundred people will come out to show community support for the victim in this case.

We are not talking about the hundreds that came to the vigil on Saturday at Central Park and the one or two days later at the UC Davis Quad, but the thousands that “liked” the Facebook page set up by Mr. Partida’s family, the hundreds that posted message of support and the outpouring of donations and overall love from the community.

But beneath that strong and vital surface is a darker underbelly where people of color and people of different sexual orientations feel less welcome in Davis than in other communities.

As a community we cannot let our strengths prevent us from addressing our weaknesses and our inherent inconsistencies.

Is This a Hate Crime?

This week Clayton Garzon was arraigned and we got to hear his defense for the first time.  First, it appears he is going to claim that he was confronted by a large group and was defending himself.

Second, he is going to claim that this was not a hate crime.

From the perspective of the defense, this makes a lot of sense because a hate crime could add one to three years per enhancement, so we are talking about three to nine years of additional prison time if the hate crime enhancements are found to be true.

Of course, a lot of this is damage control by the defense, attempting to try to rehabilitate Mr. Garzon’s image.

Mr. Garzon is represented by Sacramento attorney Linda Parisi.  She has been arguing against the assault as a hate crime.

In documents filed, she argued, “Mr. Garzon has many family members and friends that are members of the LGTB community.”

A letter from Mr. Garzon’s uncle, who is gay, states, “I can unequivocally say that Clayton has been uncommonly supportive of me being gay.”

A neighbor, who is also gay, stated, “I do not believe that Clay’s actions in the morning of March 10 were driven by hate for gay people.”

Ms. Parisi said that, while the beating was “a very tragic event,” she said that the use of slurs was a “sad commentary on today’s youth, but not necessarily an expression of hate.”

“I don’t believe he’s a young man who engaged in a hate crime,” Ms. Garzon said.

Under California Penal Code section 422.55, “Hate crime” means “a criminal act committed, in whole or in part, because of one or more of the following actual or perceived characteristics of the victim…” including “sexual orientation.”

The defense has a tough task in this case, if it can be demonstrated that Mr. Garzon beat up Mr. Partida while shouting the “f-word” of gay slurs, and it is difficult for the defense to counter the charge that this was done, at least in part, because of the perceived sexual orientation of Mr. Partida.

The fact that Mr. Garzon would treat his uncle or neighbor decently is akin to the defense saying “some of my best friends are black,” as though that precludes racial prejudice.

We know from research that minorities who become known individuals are seen through individualistic traits rather than as part of a group, and therefore this is nothing inconsistent with an individual being prejudiced against one group of people while having friends or family that are part of that group.

The catalyst here is obviously fueled by alcohol consumption, and this could turn latent animosity into action.

Mr. Partida’s sister writes a letter to the editor confronting Ms. Parisi’s defense.

She writes, “My brother, Mikey Partida, is not subhuman. The use of homophobic, hate-fueled slurs to address him or other gay community neighbors as such is neither dismissible nor acceptable. While your comment that these slang terms ‘occur quite commonly’ among the young people in today’s society is a troubling indicator of your perspective on current social norms, I have to wonder if such references toward his gay uncle during the Garzon family Thanksgiving dinner would be as commonly tolerated as you would like us to believe.”

“As anyone who has ever been the target of hate speech will agree, whether racially based or otherwise, the social act embodied in such derogatory language is to dehumanize its target,” she continues. “This enables not only the speaker but an entire group of people who subscribe to the same hateful ideology to perpetuate discrimination of another based on a defining characteristic. It results in the institutionalization of social constructs of discrimination that have historically led to egregious crimes against humanity that I don’t imagine need to be highlighted for you here.”

While I completely agree with the comments of Mr. Partida’s sister, at the same time, I would caution against this type of confrontation with the defense attorney.

Ms. Parisi clearly has a job to do here and that is to defend her client.  And this is a difficult case and a difficult community, for the occurrence of this type of attack.

In the end, I do think there is an interesting legal argument here as to whether the words used by Mr. Garzon are enough to substantiate a hate crime enhancement, especially as he put those words into action.

My guess is that the court and likely the jury is going to be largely unsympathetic to the claim by the defense that the letter from his uncle and neighbor contravenes the image of Mr. Garzon savagely beating Mr. Partida while screaming the “f-word” at him.

The defense just may lose the benefit of the doubt in most people’s eyes.

—David M. Greenwald reporting 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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6 thoughts on “Sunday Commentary: Not in Our Town”

  1. JustSaying

    This comment has been moved to our Bulletin Board: Does school choice in the district contribute to racial segregation? ([url]/index.php?option=com_kunena&func=view&catid=2&id=1087&Itemid=192#1087[/url])

  2. memary10

    I am an “import” to California from the East Coast. I used to think the city I came from back East was racist until I lived here for awhile. I don’t live in Davis or Yolo County, but as far as I am concerned, the city I live in is like Meridian Mississippi 1954. One of my family members is inter-racial and has had some of the most horrifying racially motivated experiences of her life here in Northern California. The racial hatred here is palpable.

  3. Matt Williams

    Just Saying, one easy way to solve that problem is to 1) only grant school-choice placements where there is a compelling academic reason (e.g. language immersion, mathematics acceleration, etc.) to do so, and then 2) distribute the academic school-choice programs around to the various district school facilities so that de-facto segregation can not happen.

    If we followed that simple two-step approach to school-choice, then each school-choice student’s non-immersion/acceleration classes would be conducted together with the neighborhood students at the school where they attend their immersion/acceleration classes.

    I would do away with all school-choice applications that have no motivation other than to put students together who are “friends” or whose parents are “friends.”

  4. Don Shor

    Why would you seek to reduce school choice within the district? Why do you choose to make these value judgments about the decisions of parents as to the best placement for their children within the district? Why not seek to make all parents, regardless of income status, aware of the many options available district-wide and seek to increase the use of magnet programs?
    This is absolutely one of my pet peeves: let’s balance the school enrollment issues by forcing parents to keep their kids somewhere.
    Why do you think it is inappropriate to choose a school based on friendship of the kids?

  5. wdf1

    Matt Williams: [i]2) distribute the academic school-choice programs around to the various district school facilities so that de-facto segregation can not happen. [/i]

    Patwin Elementary is the only elementary campus that is only a neighborhood program. All the other elementary campuses by next year will have some sort of school choice program.

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