Just a few weeks ago I was having a discussion with a long-time reader about how land use issues and housing tend to inflame the passions of Davis residents. But as heated as those can be, and I can’t put the last two Measure R votes in 2009 and 2016 completely out of my mind here, they are really nothing compared to the anger and nastiness that emerges when we have a major police incident.
I feel as though I’m reliving the 2006 Buzayan/ HRC issue again.
There were a lot of comments over that time that stick out, but the worst was the letter from James Hechtl that was published in the Davis Enterprise, where he referred to my wife and Dr. Jann Murray-Garcia in writing with, “Ms. Greenwald and Ms. Garcia apply their racist views to every possible issue that confronts them. They look at the world through their prism of hate. … The mere fact that they support numerous frivolous and hate-based lawsuits against the city should be enough to invite them and the rest of the Human Relations Commission to practice their trade in a more appropriate city. I recommend Johannesburg, South Africa.”
I would later learn that these vicious and mean-spirited attacks were being coordinated right out of the police department by embattled police chief Jim Hyde.
In his resignation letter, he wrote, “The destructive and divisive behaviors of the Human Relations Commission and in particular, their chairperson, have limited my effectiveness to work with this fine community. Despite the great work of the members of this police department, the HRC has divided the community along race and religious lines to fulfill a self serving political agenda. In my 27 years of government service, 10 years of clinical psychology, and 16 years of working with non-profit organizations, the HRC is the most dysfunctional and incestuous group I have ever witnessed. I hope that City Council will correct this community problem.”
The city would act, and it would disband the Human Relations Commission.
Flash forward 11 years later and here we are again at the center of a questionable police action. And, while there are many positive changes that have occurred in this city in the last 11 years, the rhetoric coming out of the community is already getting overcooked.
I have to ask the question – is there a way that we can scrutinize and even criticize the actions of our police officers without being villainized?
The calls received by Mark Reichel and the Vanguard is illustrative of this issue. It is easy to focus on the overtly racist tones, where the caller said that “people from Picnic Day would be fine if black people and gang members would stay out of Davis.”
She later added, “I hope your guys go to jail because you don’t attack an officer – if they didn’t want to get hurt, they should have stayed the hell out of the road – that’s how ignorant these stupid niggers are – they need to just (stay) out of the road and they wouldn’t have to worry about the problem.”
While the extreme and overt racist overtones here are unique, the underlying message is one I have seen repeated in the last two weeks.
The first is the notion of the outsider as problematic in Davis. The notion is that people who cause problems in Davis come from outside of the town – West Sacramento, Vacaville, Sacramento, Woodland, etc.
When the incident first occurred, the police chief noted to me that there were a lot of drunk college students, but for the most part they were receptive to police officers telling them to go home, calm down, etc. It was the out-of-towners that they found came back with attitude.
There is no doubt some truth to this, but lost in this rush to blame outsiders is the notion that Davis is in fact a town of outsiders, students who come from across the state and indeed the globe to come to school here, and many of them end up encountering hostility.
People of color regularly complain about racial profiling by police, and also disparate treatment in businesses and by community members. Time after time, separated by years, I have heard from students of color that they simply are not made to feel welcome in this community.
The woman who called was no doubt more blunt about questioning why people from outside of Davis would come in and cause problems, but was not unique in the sentiment.
A second problem is that people, for whatever reason, take serious offense whenever police are questioned.
I’ll never forget in 2006, at the January 17 council meeting, in arguing against the need for police oversight, then-City Councilmember Ted Puntillo stated: “What I want are police officers out there that are using their training and their instincts, I don’t want them thinking about oh somebody’s going to be reviewing what I’m doing.”
I was so appalled by that comment, it got me involved in the community in ways I had never thought necessary before. But the sentiment continues today.
Bob Dunning’s view of the incident was that the police acted completely appropriately, and yet he acknowledges we don’t have audio of what was said at the outset. I can certainly find fault in the actions of the defendants involved in the incident, but there are key questions about the police’s initial aggressive approach on the scene, and what appears to be have set off Antoine Perry and his girlfriend Angelica was that the unmarked police van almost hit her as it did the u-turn.
What was exchanged verbally between Sgt. Steve Ramos and Antoine Perry would be important, as it goes to why the first punches were thrown almost immediately upon his exit from the vehicle – and then, of course, why they arrived in plainclothes rather than having uniformed police handle what appeared to be a large but peaceful crowd at the time of arrival.
These are all serious questions. My concern at this point is that (a) we have a man investigating them who has a clear axe to grind, and (b) any time we ask a question, we get labeled “cop-haters” by the local columnist who has now drummed up resentment.
The day after the Mr. Dunning writes this column calling me a cop-hater, I get an angry phone call at 12:30 in the morning. Is that a coincidence? Perhaps. But heating up the rhetoric here is not helpful. I have tried to keep my columns as measured and analytical as possible as we sort out what is a very complex set of interactions with less than full information.
I know Mark Reichel has gotten a series of messages and calls that are fairly vicious in going after him. Mark doesn’t need my defense, but googling him in the Sacramento Bee will show that he has defended a fair number of high profile cases and often has prevailed in them.
The lady on the phone stated, “I know you just want to get money, you ambulance chaser.” There was a comment on Facebook on the Enterprise site to the same effect by a man (the comment has since disappeared).
This isn’t civil litigation. Mark Reichel is not going to make a penny off this case – he is taking it, as I understand it, pro bono. This isn’t ambulance chasing. He’s taking it because he believes in the cause, not because he wants to get rich.
I don’t understand the need for people to attack defense attorneys – the accused have an absolute right to a defense, and the defendant he represents, Elijah Williams, is probably the defendant who is least culpable in terms of his actions.
I don’t see any reason to malign Mr. Reichel here. In fact, he should be commended for his strong and passionate advocacy on the part of his client.
I’ve known Mark for about eight years. I first met him on the Gang Injunction case. Some might recall that Judge Kathleen White denied the defense team’s request to have appointed counsel. That means that a number of good attorneys stepped up to the plate to volunteer to defend those under the gang injunction, without any compensation. Mark Reichel was one of those attorneys.
This is not an ambulance chaser – just the opposite. This is a guy who is an asset to his profession, not a detriment. We need more of his kind – not less.
The truth needs to come out here – my biggest concern remains the barriers to that happening. The council needs to appoint an outside investigator who can be seen by the vast majority of the community as fair and impartial. That is not John McGinness.
—David M. Greenwald reporting