My View: Lack of Transparency in the Process Breeds Anger and Distrust

Davis Police Car

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

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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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  1. Todd Edelman

    “Bad cops” and “reformed cops” are well-known phenomena, yet alternative and especially no-police models are less understood. Almost everyone will agree that “it takes a village to raise a child” but not as much that the urban form of much of the USA sort of begs for an employed security force, and the gated community is a reaction to this form where it’s often impossible for someone’s grandmother to be watching her grandkids play in the street while she’s working in the kitchen. Of course it’s not only grandparents that need to be involved, but instead we go the opposite direction and delegate security to armed people who are put in close proximity during dynamic situations to people they don’t know. I’m not as familiar as I’d like to be with the history of the invention of police with the goals of protecting the property of the elite – or returning the human property of same to their work as slaves – but what’s clear to me is that this “alternative” perspective needs to at least be more widely-recognized.

    True, most front line British police don’t get carry guns, but an armed response team can arrive quickly… so the core function there is not different, though of course it’s better in practical terms. And violence doesn’t have to involve guns of course… but guns? Of course!:  The first time I met – or really just talked briefly with – Chief Pytel during a community event soon after the November election organized by the Phoenix Coalition I suggested how great it would be for the DPD to make a symbolic gesture against the Trump administration’s likely dangers by disarming in a manner similar to the UK model. He told me that people did sometimes shoot at the police – how much of this is there really, here in Davis? –  and it is actually State law that they are armed if they are the certain type of police that they are.

    Violence doesn’t have to involve guns and as I’ve mentioned here before I only need to see a few seconds of the civilian car dashcam footage to know a big part of what happened at Picnic Day: A few seconds after the unmarked van stopped a unmarked police officer got out, ran around the back of the vehicle and simply tried to grab anyone he could. He tried and missed once, and then for a long moment did that kind of up-and-down flexing thing as he prepared to continue to fight. It seems like he was pumped up before the van made its u-turn and so on… it looked like an attack, the first press release was silly and as far as I know has not been amended publicly, the Council has done some good things – I am not clear how much more they can do, formally-speaking, at this point – and the police involved are still out there. People are nervous, feeling that we’re not so far from a situation where they shoot and kill someone here with the same excuses used at Picnic Day.

    Finally, it’s not helpful that City Council meetings are not interactive between government and the non-formally involved public, except during recess, and that that interactivity – such as when Councilmember Swanson came over to talk to those people who had just made public comments – is not part of the public record. I’d like to see a process to deal with public-police dynamics that’s formal, official, recorded and shown live, etc… with actual debates – back and forth – between citizens and elected officials, and citizens with each other.  It’s simply not really a natural or complementary way of communicating in the type of government we have here when the best it can be is speaking at councilpersons during meetings and writing or talking one-on-one in private.

    1. Jim Hoch


      After reading your post on how children should have to clean up human feces before playing baseball I think you are missing the feces aspect here.

      Why not have anyone who wants to address the council clean feces as a demonstration of community commitment?

  2. Ron

    I think that some have lost touch with reality, regarding the Picnic Day incident. Starting with the fact that this group was blocking traffic. Don’t know how the violence started, so soon after being confronted.

    1. David Greenwald

      One of the questions is how the officers should approached people blocking traffic, driving a vehicle directly into the group from many police I’ve talked to is not advised, especially in an unmarked car.

      1. Ron

        I agree. (Not sure that it was “into” the group, but it was close and a rather aggressive move.)

        Personally, I probably would have moved out of the way (even if it wasn’t a police car). (Of course, that assumes that I’d be blocking traffic for an extended period in the first place.)

      2. Howard P

        “Up to”, or “in close proximity”,might have been more accurate and less inflammatory than “into”… to date, I’ve not heard even one complaint/account that the van touched anyone.

        1. David Greenwald

          If you watch the video, what seems to set off Angelica was that she was pulled back from the van as it approached. So I used the terminology to describe what happened and seemed to precipitate the conflict.

  3. Ron

    Haven’t seen any follow-up reports regarding the “other” incident, on Picnic Day.  (The one where a mob jumped on a young woman’s car, causing severe damage.)  Apparently, the woman made the “mistake” of honking at the mob (who were presumably also blocking traffic).

    1. Howard P

      Yeah, probably a “she said”/”they said”… and “they” may know where to ‘find’ her, which might make her reluctant to file a formal complaint… one voice against several others who well may have ‘gotten their stories straight’ by now.  Damn well difficult/impossible to successfully prosecute, even if she was brave.

      I never expect to hear any more about that incident… am convinced the original report of the incident was “for real”… not ‘made up’…

  4. Ron

    Ever wonder why problems/conflicts seem to occur more often in the city (vs. on-campus)? If true, is it simply due to the lack of traffic conflicts, on campus? Or, is it something else?

    1. Howard P

      My opinion/speculation, and that’s all it is, is at least two-fold…

      First is, possession of alcohol is illegal on campus.  Not sure, but don’t think you can possess a firearm on campus, either.

      Second is, technically, for purposes of ‘trespass’, UCD is not public right-of-way, not ‘public’ property.  The right to be on campus is technically revocable at any time. So, if you are WUI/BUI (walking/bicycling under influence), or boisterous/obnoxious for ANY reason, you can be asked to leave, and you can be removed if you fail to voluntarily comply.

      1. Ron

        If the “impromptu parties” frequently occur around/near student housing, this seems like (yet) another reason to encourage more housing on campus.  (Let UCD deal with the repercussions of their event.)

        There are also fewer interactions with traffic, on campus. (Also, since one has to walk onto the campus, I suspect that some troublemakers won’t come.)

        1. Howard P

          A non sequitur to my post, where I was just opining/trying to suggest answers as to your question.

          Why you chose to take my response to your question, and use my post to reiterate for the upteenth time,

          another reason to encourage more housing on campus.

          is truly beyond my ken…

          Cheap, but I truly don’t care as to your seemingly underlying issue/dogma, but does tick me off more than a tad, that you attempt to use my honest response as your foil.

          Will keep in mind that you will bait, then use stuff to further your opinions/agenda… will be very reluctant to consider your “questions” as true inquiries.  You done burned that bridge…

          And, BTW, you are trending off the topic at hand…

        2. Ron

          Howard:  Now YOU are the one who has “lost touch with reality” (referencing my earlier post).

          I didn’t “plan” to make that statement.  But, if UCD is better-able to handle the consequences of “impromptu parties” that surround Picnic Day (and any other day, for that matter), then yes – it is yet another reason to encourage housing on campus.  (But, it does start going off-topic.)

          Again, it’s (no doubt) costing the city (and its citizens) quite a bit to deal with the ramifications of impromptu parties associated with UCD in one way, or another. (This is one of the complaints of those concerned about “mini-dorms”, etc.)

          1. David Greenwald

            UC Davis doesn’t really have the ability to handle stuff that occurs off campus.

        3. Howard P


          Ron… have never come close to saying, nor implying,

          Howard:  Now YOU are the one who has “lost touch with reality” (referencing my earlier post).

          Would ask for a retraction/apology, but that would be akin to demanding that the upcoming solar complete eclipse pass overhead so I could experience it.  So, I won’t ask that of you.

          [nice try, but no cigar, when trying to back-pedal with the “I didn’t mean it to be in quotes” BS.]

  5. Ron

    David:  “UC Davis doesn’t really have the ability to handle stuff that occurs off campus.”

    That’s not the argument I was making.  I stated that if the “impromptu parties” are centered around student housing, then having that housing on campus ensures that it’s UCD’s responsibility to deal with it. (And, that UCD might be better-situated to do so, as a result of campus rules and lack of automobile access.)

    I didn’t set out to make this point, but there it is.

    (Note:  I don’t think that students are directly causing most of the problems associated with Picnic Day.  However, perhaps “party crashers”, are.)

    1. David Greenwald

      There’s not going to be a party on campus like that because of space configurations, difficulty getting to campus, off-campus locations are more conducive to parties than on-campus ones. This particular party was at a frat house, you’re not going to have an on-campus frat house even if you have more on-campus housing.

  6. Howard P

    Unless things have changed in the last 15 years, there is one or two on-campus frats…  but they are so protective of that status, they’d never jeopardize that by supplying ethanol… unless, of course, they were drunk.

    So, in the main, you are absolutely correct…

  7. Ron

    David:  “There’s not going to be a party on campus like that because of space configurations, difficulty getting to campus, off-campus locations are more conducive to parties than on-campus ones.”

    Agreed – my point, exactly.  (Except that you left out the part regarding campus rules/regulations.)



    1. Don Shor

      Some percentage of students will always want to live off campus. In fact, the “campus rules and regulations” would be one of the primary reasons.

      1. Ron

        Don:  Given the example discussed here, that’s a pretty poor justification for constructing student housing in the city, vs. on-campus.

        To quote a rather famous line from a movie, regarding college life and frat houses:

        “Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, son.”

        And, I would add that it’s not good city policy to facilitate it.

        1. Don Shor

          Housing for people will be in town. Students are people. Some of them will choose to live in housing in town. Believe it or not, we can’t prevent that. No way to shepherd them all into tightly-packed high-rise buildings far across campus, away from the rest of us, even if we wanted to do that.
          So wherever you have 20-somethings cohabiting, you’ll get parties. I happen to think frat houses are a disproportionate share of the problem, and that some of the issues that have been discussed with respect to Picnic Day problems seem to overlook that connection. Early sales of alcohol in bars, and large parties at frat houses, probably account for the major share of the problems with Picnic Day. Seems that would be the place to start in any community-wide discussion of solutions. But evidently there’s too much profit in 7 a.m. alcohol sales and somehow frats just have to have big drunken parties at every opportunity. If those two things keep happening, so will the problems.

        2. Ron

          Don:  Not sure that we’re in disagreement, here.  I’ll just leave it at that.

          Also – I didn’t previously realize the apparent connection to the frat houses. Glad that it was brought up.

        3. Howard P

          Don… frats don’t take chances… they order, and make deposits on, kegs, taps/pumps, and other “supplies” well in advance of any event they ‘host’… the 7 AM thing applies more to the last minute folk and/or ‘out-of towners’… the frats, and btw, only a ‘denier’ would think that sororities don’t do it/aren’t complicit in it as well, are the main focal points, but there are others…  there was a party out on the lawn and adjacent side street @ Pole Line and Madrone… about 25 rowdy partiers taking up half of Madrone… at 2:00 pm.  Not ‘doing’ Picnic day activities on campus…

          There are no frats/sororities there.

          This is not a ‘simple’ matter, even if one lays it all on alcohol sales… but the ‘matter’ needs attention, sooner than later.

        4. Ron

          I’ve been wondering exactly what the policy is, regarding alcohol within on-campus housing.  Found the information in the link below, regarding alcohol in “residence halls”.  Looks like it’s not prohibited.

          I also wonder what the policy is regarding alcohol in other types of campus housing (e.g., on-campus apartments).  (Probably even less restrictive than residence halls.)

  8. Ron

    David:  “It disappeared because they have not arrested anyone.”

    In general, police “tend to” more aggressively investigate and prosecute individuals who are involved in actions against police, vs. actions against “average” citizens.  I’ve heard some arguments regarding why this approach is justified, but never quite bought into the reasoning.

    1. David Greenwald

      I don’t want to defend the police here but my guess is the reason they haven’t pursued it is that they don’t have any leads.  Of course that’s an assumption because generally they don’t publicize their ongoing investigations

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