Tuesday marked the first Davis City Council meeting since the Picnic Day incident came to light on April 24. About two dozen people spoke during public comment, with comments ranging from disappointment to questions about the choice of former Sacramento County Sheriff John McGinness as investigator to calls for the police chief to be fired.
Will Kelly said, “If (John McGinness) is Davis police’s first choice for who should be leading this investigation, they shouldn’t get to make a second choice. There’s no excuse for choosing someone like that and I think that is a clear indication that the police cannot police themselves.”
He called for an immediate investigation and asked that the council not allow the community anger to subside. “There needs to be a broader question about what were these officers doing patrolling downtown in plainclothes and an unmarked vehicle engaging so aggressively with a crowd of people for nothing more than standing in the street.”
Mr. Kelly noted that, back in January, hundreds, maybe thousands of people gathered in the park following the hate crime on the Mosque. “We didn’t have all the facts then, we didn’t know who committed this attack or what their motivation was and Mayor Davis you could have gotten up on that stage and said, let’s reserve judgment, let’s not jump to any conclusions, let’s go home and let the police conduct their investigation.”
Instead, he said, the mayor “showed real courage in talking about our collective shame.” We can’t explain away that attack as an isolated incident, instead we need to acknowledge that we’re all responsible. “I urge you all to speak up about this,” he said.
Stephanie Perrera urged the council “to take action against racism and police abuse in our community.” She said, “On top of their violence, on top of their lies, Davis Police hired an overt racist, John McGinness, to investigate the incident. Last Friday he said on his radio show that he believed black people were better off before the passage of the Civil Rights Act.
“Thankfully he is now removed from the case, but I have no faith that the department will handle this ethically from here on out,” she said.
She called on the council to fire the officers involved in this incident, order the charges against the three men to be dropped immediately and formally apologize for the abuse that they have endured. She said, “Fire Chief Pytel had a direct role in hiring John McGinness. Pytel knew what he was doing when he hired a racist investigator to take over this case, and he is unfit from here on out to handle this case.”
She then turned her criticism to Mayor Robb Davis, saying, “You said you will not comment on this until this investigation is complete. I reject your passive stance. Your passivity is complicity.”
Tanya Sweeney, who lives in that neighborhood, said she was particularly concerned that police “thought it was a choice for them as undercover police to drive an unmarked vehicle into a crowd of people and then get out of the car and begin yelling and assaulting people.
“If Davis is truly interested in being a city that leads in the way of social justice issues the police officers involved need to be fired, arrested, investigated in a meaningful way for the assault that they committed,” she said. “Action must be taken by the city to show that we know that the university is for all, and no group will be singled out by racial profiling and police brutality.”
Like others, she demanded that the charges be dropped and the police chief be fired.
Connor Gorman brought up the larger issue, noting that “many people of Davis think of Davis as a liberal sanctuary where these types of bigoted behavior and oppressive issues don’t exist and that is just not true.” He said that “these things are very much present in Davis as a community.”
Many people do not experience these on a regular basis, “but they are still there.”
Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald recalled the events of 2006 and said “it really divided the community.” But she also pointed to the work that a citizen group did in 2015 meeting with the police to create a new restorative process for complaint resolution. She called on the community to work with the police to address the current issues that have come forward now.
Another commenter, Robin, said it was common knowledge among people of color that “the police here (are) racist.” She said she has heard from people of color “they never come to Davis because every time they do they get pulled over.
“It’s very frustrating that we have to wait until a spectacular example that is videotaped, that we begin to discuss this in a more blunt manner.
“You can’t possibly ask the police to police themselves,” she added.
Dean Johansson noted a long history of Davis where he has been involved in several instances of this coming to the forefront. “The speaker who spoke about a conflict of interest goes to the heart of the matter, there needs to be some sort oversight.”
Al Rojas earlier in the evening was honored with the Thong Hy Huynh award for his lifetime of work on behalf of social justice issues.
“What are we going to do in the community to hear the people’s cries that are saying that there is something not right here,” he said. “When we talk about racism, it’s real. When we talk about hate, it’s real.”
He likened the situation to the Luis Gutierrez shooting, where the young farm worker was walking down the street in broad daylight and was stopped by three undercover Yolo County Gang Task Force officers. They ended up shooting and killing him.
“The real issue was to what lengths do you go when you see these things happen repetitively in these kinds of incidents where there’s no sensitivity and no accountability of the police officers,” he said. The 2009 case, he said, “ended up in a whitewash.”
“Do something before something really tragic happens,” he added.
Desiree Rojas said, “There needs to be an independent investigation to be able to find the problems – the seriousness of this problems.” She said, “The message that you’re sending our community is to trust the officers, but how do we trust the officers when they’re coming in disguised as something that doesn’t look like an officer. How do you expect people to trust and to know how to react (if you don’t know who is coming at you)?”
Gloria Partida noted that she grew up in Southern California in a neighborhood targeted by Darrell Gates. “So I understand what bad policing is,” she said. She came to Davis and said, “I have had really good experiences with the police department.”
But here, she said, “I was disappointed when I heard that the investigation was going to be done the way that it was and it just felt that it was not in keeping with the standards that we have set in our city.”
Colin Walsh noted that he was in school when Thong Hy Huynh was murdered in 1983. “Growing up in Davis as a white person, the issue of race was always something I had to self-evaluate and think about.” He said, “It was not an easy place for people of color growing up here.” He called for “a great deal of introspection.
“The police need to look at themselves and the police also need to be held accountable,” he added.
Jennifer Higley-Chapman said, “Despite what some people want to believe, the Davis police, no matter how nice they might seem as individual people, are part of a criminal justice system that treats black lives and other marginalized communities as though they matter less.”
Emily Hill said, “Even before this process, I was surprised and concerned to learn that the auditor was leaving and not going to renew his contract in part because of lack of cooperation from the police department, and I’d really like to urge the council, in the wake of his departure, that we set up an independent citizen’s committee to have independent oversight over the police.”
Sean Raycraft asked, “What made them think that this was a good idea to try to clear a street corner using an unmarked police car without sufficiently identifying themselves? Why did they think that jumping to violence was the best course of action at that time?”
He suggested a uniformed police officer using a bullhorn would have been far more effective.
—David M. Greenwald reporting