On Tuesday there were about 10 people who came to give public comment on the continuing situation involving the Picnic Day investigation. For the most part, the commenters were respectful but pointed in their concerns.
However, one young lady really unleashed on the council. Mayor Robb Davis took the rare step of calling a recess following public comment, and Councilmember Rochelle Swanson came over to engage with a group of citizens to express disappointment in the tone of the comments.
Here are some of the comments the young lady said:
- “I have not seen anything substantial for you, to show that you are actually committed to bring justice to this situation.”
- “I’m disturbed at the fact that you are all unconcerned about people snapping their fingers who agree with me that there is racism in policing than you are about people of color and black people in particular feeling safe walking through, driving through, and living in this town.”
- “You need to re-think your policy on that.”
- “Meanwhile Chief Pytel continues to serve as the police chief despite all of this. The officers that attacked this crowd are still serving as police officers.”
- “Mayor Davis, you showed up at Juneteenth on Sunday. The celebration of the end of slavery in this country, and yet I’m not seeing you do anything to end the modern system of slavery here in Davis and throughout this country. I am tired of excuses.”
- “I do not care how hard the police’s job is – a lot of us have hard jobs. We don’t go around beating people up because we have a hard job or a hard day. We don’t go around shooting people when we have a bad day. Normal people don’t get away with that, why is it that we hold our police officers to a lower standard of decency and ethics than we do everyday people. Why do you continue to uphold this white supremacy? I’m angry. I want you to do something. I want you to do something substantial. What you have done so far is not.”
I have waited until today to respond to this situation, because I think it is complex and delicate. It is easy to chalk this up to frustration – but I really think there is more to it than that.
So, first let me defend the Davis City Council. This week I have had extensive conversations with four of the five council members and I think they are all sincere in wanting to address at least the policy aspects of this – to the extent they can. There is a level of frustration here by the council, in addition to the citizenry, as to how this has been handled and how it has progressed.
I think they take exception to comments such as, “Why do you continue to uphold this white supremacy?” Because you have a mayor who has grandchildren born to an undocumented immigrant, you have a mayor pro tem who is himself a person of color, and you have two councilmembers who have African American children. So, while some will look at a mostly white council, below the surface the experiences of the councilmembers are actually far more diverse than you might initially think.
Rochelle Swanson has in the past talked about how her family has experienced racial profiling. How she fears for the safety of her African American sons on a daily basis.
Almost to a person, the councilmembers have said that they are not going to sit at the dais and grandstand on this – I think we need to wait for their measured approach and see where we end up. We need to trust that they will do the right thing, but be ready to hold them accountable if they do not.
This is a long process and we need to have patience in how it plays out.
At the same time, I think we need to place the “white supremacy” comment within the context of the broader debate on policing.
I go back to the city’s 2016 MLK Day event where Natasha Minsker, in going through the history of policing, made the argument that the law, i.e. the police, “has been used as a tool of racial oppression in this country from the very beginning.
“Think about that, one of the first laws in our country gave the police the power to kill black people for resisting white oppression,” she said.
That notion has continued today in the New Jim Crow critique of the legal system.
“Today we have a system where the criminal justice system operates as a massive instrument of control for people of color, particularly for African Americans and Latinos,” Natasha Minsker said. She repeated that one in four African Americans is either in custody or under the control of supervision. “It operates as a system of control for the heavy police presence in communities of color, police presence that is not there to investigate crimes against people of color, as the crimes to which African Americans are victims continue to be the least likely to be solved.”
She continued, “There is a heavy police presence there to police or control.
“We have dismantled the explicit race-based laws. Those aren’t there.” She argued that the disproportionate impact “works through implicit bias.” She argued, “Three hundred years of legal oppression has created in all of us implicit bias. As a result of all of that legal system and real oppression, we now are burdened by an unconscious association between crime and race.”
I explain this point at great length because it helps situate the claim that the police are often seen as an extension of an unjust system.
Finally, the handling of this matter from day one has lent itself to the kind of angry critique that came out.
I was reading some accounts of what has happened in Chicago, where the city paid out last year about $50 million to resolve 187 police misconduct complaints last year alone.
“We have learned too many times that a lack of transparency into the Chicago Police Department leads to unconstitutional policing and violations of civil rights,” said attorney Matthew Topic of Loevy & Loevy.
The situation in Davis, of course, pales in comparison with Chicago, but the frustration is justified.
The first notion that something occurred on Picnic Day was a police press release that contained a narrative that simply defied common sense or logic.
Next, the city made the decision not to use the police auditor, who had been employed for nearly 11 years, and there has been no official explanation from the city manager or city council as to why. The only justification that was given came from a comment from Chief Darren Pytel that seems contradicted, as we pointed out yesterday, by the language in the auditor’s contract.
Then there was the decision to hire John McGinness – which seemed to catch the council off guard and no one seemed able to do due diligence to figure out whom they had hired. The comment by Will Kelly on Tuesday is spot on – are we simply going to hire another guy like Mr. McGinness who is just a bit more savvy in hiding personal views?
At the very least, we need to ask why the council apparently found out about the issues surrounding the former sheriff the day before the public announcement, after Mr. McGinness had already signed the contract and was working on the investigation.
It is a legitimate question to ask why five people are facing criminal charges and the officers are still working on the streets, while this incident has not been investigated or resolved.
There is a complete lack of transparency on the part of the city as to what has happened, what the process will be, what the timeline will be and why – and this when the process is shrouded in shadows and mystery and the elected officials appear to be on the outside looking in.
Of course people are going to question a process that has more questions than answers so far, and where no one has stepped up to explained what happened and why.
So, while I give the council the benefit of the doubt and have really no doubt that they will do the right thing here, I understand the frustration and the anger – because I share it.
—David M. Greenwald reporting