While the third annual Breaking the Silence of Racism event did not come close to matching what occurred in 2012 when 200 people packed Davis Community Chambers, the crowd on Saturday, closer to 60, still delivered some poignant and at times heart-wrenching stories.
The panel of community leaders consisted of Assistant Police Chief Darren Pytel, UC Davis Vice Chancellor Rahim Reed, Jennifer Mullen, a Counselor at DJUSD, and school board Vice President Madhavi Sunder.
The panel began with brief comments about what is going on in their jurisdiction and then sat back and listened to the dozen or so public commenters tell their stories.
Assistant Chief Darren Pytel talked in his introductory remarks briefly about hate crimes and the message of “it’s not going to be tolerated here, and we don’t want it here.” He then stated, “Let’s face it, in some communities the police are also a flashpoint for claims of discrimination, and we can’t ignore that.”
He talked about the new conflict resolution program with the police department. Five community members came to work with five police officials to address the issue of “how is it that we can build trust with various segments of the community – sometimes minority, sometimes just people who have had some negative experiences with the police department.”
They worked through a year-long process to figure out how to do things better.
“The most important thing that the group worked on was an alternative conflict resolution program,” he said. When people do file complaints, Assistant Chief Pytel noted, “not everybody is completely satisfied with the way that we have resolved citizen complaints.” He said, “People walk away – even though oftentimes a complete and thorough investigation has been done, people are just feeling that their voices actually weren’t heard by the police department employee who dealt with them on the street.”
Rather than an investigation, the employee and the complainant, using trained facilitators, can work through the conflict engaging in face-to-face dialogue.
“We’re really excited about this,” he said.
UC Davis Vice Chancellor Rahim Reed said, “We want to promote a very robust environment for the discussion of differences,” whether that be different opinions, thoughts, attitudes, perspectives, of cultures. “But we want to do it in a very civil, very respectful way.”
“We recognize that our principles of community, although they’ve served us well over the last 25 years, that in fact the UC Davis campus today in 2015 is different than the UC Davis campus was in 1990,” he said, as they are larger and much more diverse.
Rahim Reed said, “We are part of the Davis community.” He said they recognize that the various streets that separate us “are not borders, you can freely cross from one side to the other.”
“Recently we’ve had some incidents occur on our campus around Islamaphobia and anti-Semitism,” he said, acknowledging that they have been very challenging to deal with. A committee has been set up, chaired by Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Adela De La Torre and himself, inviting key members of the community to join them.
Jennifer Mullen, a Counselor at the high school at DJUSD, said that the theme “restorative” is “the major focus in the school district right now. We are working towards building capacity for understanding in the district for restorative practices, by training teachers and students and staff.”
“Our intention in that is really to make a paradigm shift,” she said. “It’s not just a set of tools or programs, but it really is a shift in thinking.” They want to “create safe spaces for dialogues” to “have conversations and to really listen to one another, hear each other’s narratives and stories.”
She said that the disproportionate rate of suspensions and expulsions of students of color is the “most blatant form of racism in our schools.” She said, “We are working towards restorative practices.” She said that the disproportionate rate decreases in schools that adopt these practices, however, she stressed that doesn’t mean kids won’t be suspended or that there is no discipline.
“It actually means there’s a much higher level of accountability when you need to hear someone’s story,” she stated.
School Board Member Madhavi Sunder talked about the “Hate is not a Davis Value Campaign,” and added, “Hate is not a DJUSD value either.”
“School climate is a high priority,” she said. “In fact, it is the priority when you talk to principals and teachers. The community recognizes if students do not feel safe and welcome, they cannot learn and thrive.”
School climate, she said is safety and the relationships with peers, teachers and counselors. She said they are taking a holistic look at what climate is. She talked about a lot of the programs that are currently offered at some of the schools.
Ms. Sunder said, “A new direction that we’re going (is) restorative justice programs. When you look at the literature on school to prison pipelines and what is one effective way of breaking out of that – the idea of restorative justice, bringing the parties together to help develop mutual understanding.”
Rick Gonzales of the Yolo County Concilio, and a past Chair of the Human Relations Commission, talked about the history over the last 30 to 40 years. He said that when Thong Hy Huynh was killed in 1983, the HRC was formed and he was among the founding members.
He said that a group of UC Davis students came forward and asked why the police were following them and the stores weren’t serving them when they went into the downtown stores. “The city council gave us the duty to a do a year survey,” he said. A lot of people talked about the schools, “and we had no jurisdiction over the schools.”
“The result of that was we started a report that was written John Meyer, who was our city manager at the time,” he said. “He wrote a very comprehensive report of fifty recommendations, it was called ‘Racial Issues of 1989’…”
He said we do not need to reinvent the wheel, some of those recommendations have been implemented, many have not. “It is as valid in 2015 as it was in 1989 when we put it together,” he said.
Teresa Geimar got to know a man on a bus in Davis who was from India. He would often complain to her about his treatment. Later, she said, she saw him and he had moved to Sacramento. When she asked how he liked it there, he said, “It’s much better.” People were not making the kinds of comments to him that they did in Davis.
She then described her experience as a female civil engineer. There was one guy, she said, from whom “I kept getting digs all the time. I talked to the other women in our group and they didn’t see it at all because it wasn’t happening to them.” She said, “The light came on, if it doesn’t happen to you, these subtle things, you don’t see them. But if it’s happening to you, it’s a slap in the face each time.”
After that experience, she said, “I want to make sure I’m not doing that because I think that the guy who was doing that to me and the people that were doing it to my friend on the bus, they may not have even realized that they were doing it because it’s so subtle.”
Franky Woods said he was one of the coaches at Davis High when the noose was hanging from the goalposts.
He said, “We woke up to that and it was a reality that these kids they’re starting off young and they’re subject to this discrimination and this threat. We had a majority of black coaches for the first time ever, and it was a very frightening moment at the time.”
James Martinez said “I was the victim of a malicious intentional act by a public safety officer belonging to the city of Davis.” He said the officer “caused my accident and left me on the ground without providing any type of emergency response.”
Very emotionally, he stated, “I don’t know why I wasn’t afforded the services in this community, I don’t know whether I was seen as inadequate for services in this community whether it be my race, my facet of life, or whatever it may be.”
He said he suffered a serious injury and had just had back surgery. He has suffered this for a whole year. Mr. Martinez said he was a pedestrian on the ground and that the officer left because he was pursuing an emergency.
“I just cannot understand any of this on how it happened,” he told the panel. “I want to understand. That’s why I’m here.”
Tia Will shared the same story she told on the Vanguard two weeks ago.
“About ten years ago, I was the senior physician on duty on our high risk labor and delivery unit in Sacramento. I was called to the room of a self-avowed white supremacist and separatist. She was due for a blood draw to obtain information critical to my decision making regarding her care and that of and her in utero child. She was refusing the blood draw because the phlebotomist was African-American. She requested that I write an order and entry into her chart stating that no one other than Caucasians were to participate in her care or enter her room. I stated that, while she had the right to refuse any care for any reason, I could not and would not make such an entry into her chart.
“However, because the information was necessary for her health, I requested that the white nurse who at that time had been assigned to her care do this one single blood draw. Please note that this is common practice, well within the nurse’s scope of practice and frequently done in special circumstances such as when there is urgent need for the information and a phlebotomist is not available or when a patient is particularly needle phobic and the nurse has already established rapport, thus lessening the patient’s anxiety.”
Ms. Will continued, “Unfortunately, this simple, everyday request was overheard by an African-American nurse also working on the unit at the time. Instead of addressing her concern directly to me, this nurse chose to call the Sacramento Bee to report the racist behavior of the attending physician (me) on the Labor and Delivery unit. This could easily have turned into a PR nightmare, but did not due to the adroit handling of the situation by Kaiser’s public relations specialist.
“I leave it to you to determine which acts were actually racist and which acts were discriminatory,” she said in closing. “But what it pointed out to me is that racism is clearly alive and well and has many complexities.”
Douglas Samea-Reed told the heart-wrenching story of the death of his wife. He asked, “Why are we so willing to turn a blind eye to the needs of the dying, to discrimination against the dying.”
His wife had breast cancer that metastasized, spreading to her lungs where she had over 30 tumors and her spine was broken into three pieces. “Cancer left her totally paralyzed but able to feel every drop of pain,” he said. She was hyper-sensitive to pain medications and liquid morphine would put her into a coma.
He said that Hospice came in and insisted “that she be rolled on her side.” He said that anyone with an ounce of common sense would know that “you can’t do that” with someone in her condition, “that person is going to go into arrest and die.” He said, “She did.”
He said that because “she wouldn’t allow them to turn her so they could look at her back, they revoked her contract.” He said this was a crime.
He said he complained to the DA’s office and they told him, after investigating for two weeks, “You can’t prove that she suffered enough for us to take action. The rest of what you have are misdemeanors, so there’s nothing we can do for you.”
The public comments were followed with a brief wrap up by the panel and then some informal discussion by those remaining in the chambers.
—David M. Greenwald reporting