Sunday Commentary: Full Circle and a Big Victory For Restorative Justice

Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis served as the emcee at the 2015 MLK Day.
Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis served as the emcee at the 2015 MLK Day.

In January, when Assistant Police Chief Darren Pytel and many of the other members of the Community-Police Working Group  presented their recommendation to the Human Relations Commission, it marked a huge amount of closure for me personally, but Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis was briefly overcome with emotion.

For him this was vindication for several years of effort to move our community forward on alternative conflict resolution and, most specifically, restorative justice.

It was December 2011, and the community was still stunned by the pepper spray incident that had taken place on the UC Davis campus. People were hurt and many were angered and outraged by what had occurred on the campus.

Into that December Human Relations Commission meeting walked Reverend Kristin Stoneking, David Breaux (known by many from his Compassion Campaign) and Robb Davis. I knew Robb Davis a little bit from his work with Davis Bicycles! as well from Joe Krovoza’s campaign a year earlier.

They presented an idea – a restorative justice process between the university and the pepper spray victims. They had drafted a letter to the chancellor and wanted to see if the city would sign onto it.

At first it seemed like an idea out of left field. I was angry and I wanted to remain angry. The community was outraged and I thought at the time that the community needed to remain outraged.

Eventually, however, Robb Davis won me over with his compassion and commitment to conflict resolution. I began to study and learn more about restorative justice and the potential it holds as a means of conflict resolution.

I would interview Linda Smith, whose daughter had been brutally raped and murdered by two teenagers, who worked in Texas through a victim-offender reconciliation program. Through Robb Davis, we would bring Sujatha Baliga to speak at the 2013 Martin Luther King Day celebration and I would meet Ron and Roxanne Claassen.

Finally, in late 2013, we would bring in Judge David Gottlieb to speak about Fresno County’s youth offender restorative justice program.

Robb Davis’ advocacy and compassion inspired me to learn about a very powerful alternative conflict resolution process that I think has the potential to change the way we do criminal justice in America, the way we do school discipline and the way we resolve disagreements in the community.

In the end, however, Robb Davis was not able to get the university to agree to a restorative justice process with the pepper spray victims. The victims sued the university, which forced the university to lawyer up. And the opportunity passed us by.

In a lot of ways this was a tragic outcome. I believe that the community remains damaged and traumatized by the incident. Talking to a lot of people when the MRAP (mine-resistant ambush protected vehicle) came to town, the memory of the pepper spray played a large role in the reaction by large segments of the community against the police vehicle. This was overt – many of the public commenters cited the pepper spray incident as an example of why we should not have the vehicle.

The university’s reputation was hurt and Chancellor Linda Katehi to this day is badly damaged by the incident. Many in the community hold her responsible for the incident. And, in many ways, the university’s reaction to things like students’ complaints about Solano Park can trace directly back to the pepper spray incident and the desire to avoid more controversy.

While the city has taken huge steps on innovation, the relations between the university and city are strained and some of that can be traced to the pepper spray incident.

On the other hand, Robb Davis’ efforts made a huge impact. I got to know and respect him personally and that led me in the spring of 2012 to ask him, among several others, to join the Vanguard Editorial Board. Without his work on the editorial board and the respect he engendered with several thoughtful commentaries, it is unlikely he would have run for city council and end up finishing first in 2014.

Moreover, in the spring of 2013 when Eli Davis was approached by police while mowing his lawn, restorative justice was very fresh in my mind. I never would have even thought to have proposed a police-community restorative justice process had Robb Davis not pushed the idea a year and a half earlier with the pepper spray incident.

The Working Group wasn’t a purely restorative justice process, in that it was not a victim-offender dyad. However, there were elements of it.

The outcome was described as creating “a restorative-type” process. But the idea that two sides can sit down on the table and identify the harms they have suffered, be able to lay out their grievances and their perspective and have a facilitator that can make sure the needs of each side is addressed can be very powerful.

One of the big complaints about the current formal complaint process is that “there is no restorative component to the process.” There is no way for there to be “joint healing” and, even if it is discovered that the officer acted in violation of departmental rules or the law, there is no way to reconcile the officer with the community member.

Through this process a group of citizens and the police were able to work through and resolve long-standing community complaints and disagreements, but, just as importantly, set forth a policy that can help prevent future complaints and disagreements.

The university has made a lot of changes to their rules, procedures and personnel. They were able to change the culture of their police department. But the one thing they did not do is create a process to allow the community, the students, and themselves to heal – and that is what we hope we have done in our own community on a separate issue.

There are many lessons to be learned here.

First, we often define failure too narrowly as the failure to achieve immediate goals. Failure is seen as a negative and should be avoided at all costs.

But we learn from mistakes. Failure allows us to see a different picture. Failure may well open new doors.

In this case, the only failure would have been to not have put forth a bold initiative. You never know where the new path will lead you. I doubt very much that Robb Davis thought his path would lead him to the Davis City Council less than three years later.

Second, restorative justice and conflict resolution are the waves of the future and they can help heal rifts in the community that have festered for years.

Third, and finally, it is never too late to fix the past. As I described yesterday, what happened in 2006 transformed my life every bit as much as what happened in 2011 transformed Robb Davis’. The final chapter was not written on June 27, 2006 for me. When the opportunity arose to create a different outcome – seven years later – I jumped on it.

There is no guarantee this pilot project will work, but what I strongly believe is that we will win, regardless of the outcome, as long as we keep trying to find a better way.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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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15 Comments

  1. Anon

    While the city has taken huge steps on innovation, the relations between the university and city are strained and some of that can be traced to the pepper spray incident.

    First of all, what does innovation have to do with issues relating to the pepper spraying incident.  Not following your train of thought.  Secondly, how did the pepper spraying incident strain relations between UCD and the city?  It certainly strained relations between the UCD administration/UCD law enforcement, but I am not following how it strained relations between UCD and the city.

    1. Anon

      Meant to say: “Secondly, how did the pepper spraying incident strain relations between UCD and the city?  It certainly strained relations between the UCD administration/UCD law enforcement and students, but I am not following how it strained relations between UCD and the city.

  2. Tia Will

    Anon

    First of all, what does innovation have to do with issues relating to the pepper spraying incident.”

    I am certainly not attempting to answer for David here, but will share my thoughts about the issue of “innovation”. I do not see innovation as limited to the parks currently under consideration or even just economics. Life is all about change on the individual, economic, environmental and societal levels. For me it is about improving processes while creating the least amount of damage possible regardless of what sphere happens to be under discussion.

    In some areas, including both our justice, economic, and environmental paths, I believe that we have not consistently chosen the most beneficial, least detrimental path possible. Just because we made those choices in the past does not mean that we need to keep moving in the wrong direction. I see both the pepper spray incident, mass incarceration and “winner take all” economic policies as manifestations of adherence to paths that do not represent our best possible choices. Just my Sunday am musings.

    With regard to your question about how did the pepper spraying incident strain UC/City of Davis relations, I believe that to be much more straightforward. For me it was an issue of trust. If the UCD administrators and police could make such a total hash of things, why would I assume that their city counterparts would be immune to such errors of judgement, communication and execution ? This did have a major impact on how I viewed both the means of acquisition of the MRAP and its potential for misuse in situations for which it was not intended. While my opinion on this incident certainly does not represent a “strain on relations”, magnify it throughout both the UCD student community, already perhaps not the most trusting of police, and the citizens of Davis whether in favor of or opposed to the MRAP, and I do not see it as too much to consider a strain in relations.

    1. Anon

      I see both the pepper spray incident, mass incarceration and “winner take all” economic policies as manifestations of adherence to paths that do not represent our best possible choices.”

      Comparing pepper spray incident to “mass incarceration” seems a bit over the top.  The term “mass incarceration” is a popular buzz word right now, but hardly describes what is going on in this country.  Only 1 in 32 Americans are incarcerated, or approximately 3% of Americans.  And who in Davis is advocating for “winner take all” economic policies?  Davis is all about forging compromises, with all sorts of opportunity for public input.

  3. LadyNewkBahm

    “There is no guarantee this pilot project will work, but what I strongly believe is that we will win, regardless of the outcome, as long as we keep trying to find a better way.”

    Don’t worry about accountability or anything meddlesome like that. It is only SUGGESTED that we base continuation of policies on their actual results.

      1. hpierce

        Gonna to jump out on the proverbial limb, here, but think if the word “suggested” was replaced by “required”, or “expected”, the comment may not have been made.  Think the truly operative word was “accountability”. [or, lack thereof, if it is only a “feel good” gesture.]

  4. David Greenwald

    It appears the term “suggested” does not come from the staff report.

    The staff report reads: “The entire program will be evaluated at the end of the first program year to determine whether it will become a regularly offered method for resolving conflict with members of the Department.”

     


    1. Anon

      Thanks for posting the staff report.  That was quite helpful.  I like the fact that those who use the system will be able to evaluate the program, not just the city or police department.  My guess is parties to the conflict will find the program less satisfactory than the police or city.  But only time will tell.  It is an interesting concept, but I have to admit being leary based on previous poor experiences with mediation.

      1. hpierce

        “… I have to admit being leary [sorry, have to make a ‘funny’ here, hoping you mean leery, not the Timothy kind] based on previous poor experiences with mediation.”  Anyhow, I agree.  The first “mediation” I was involved with was on a legal matter, where the previous leader of our organization hired an attorney without authorization.  We disputed the charges.  It quickly became apparent that the purpose of the mediator was to ensure that the attorney was fully paid.  No ‘compromises’.  Needless to say, the attorney got all of the billed hours.  The second mediation I was involved in, was as a “technical expert”.  I was not a “party”, but got to see it.  A mediation between was between an elderly couple and an adjacent condominium association.  My expert opinion was both sides had contributed to, or could have mitigated the problem, with the condo commandos having the greater resources and culpability.  The mediator, who was pretty damn good, tried to go there, with a 1/3 -2/3 split.  Turns out the representative of the HOA didn’t have the discretion to “agree”, and as a result, the elderly couple “gave up” accepting 1/3 responsibility [they agreed to that], and the HOA nada.  In any subsequent action, arguably the goal line moved, with the HOA only having to argue what part, if any, they had for the 2/3.  I too, am skeptical about “mediation”.  The “stronger” party can easily play games.

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