Analysis: Threat of Crime Leads to Racial Profiling in Davis

The police have been warning residents about a string of burglaries.  As one local TV station reported, “Davis residents are being warned after 15 homes were burglarized and ransacked during broad daylight while people aren’t home, police said Thursday.”

They reported, “Davis police dispatch took a call Wednesday from someone who said a man knocked on the door and when the resident answered, the man asked for Jerry. However, no one named Jerry lives at the house.

“Within an hour, two nearby houses were burglarized. The burglar cut the window screen to get into the homes, which were ransacked, investigators said. This happened near Slide Hill Park, off East Covell Boulevard.”

Police say this scenario has played out at least 15 times since July 3 with all of the burglaries taking place during the day while people are at work.

“The suspect goes up to the front door, knocks on the door, asks for somebody by name who does not live there, and that’s how he determines whether or not somebody’s at home,” said Lt. Paul Doroshov with the Davis Police Department told one station.

Davis Police also warned that burglars are entering through screens where the windows are open.

“We ask that you please don’t leave your first floor or accessible windows open when you are not home,” a Facebook post said. “If someone comes to your door and asks for anyone who does not live at your residence, please gather as much information as you can on the appearance of the person and immediately call the Police Department at 530-747-5400.”

But when people are on high alert, they often resort to measures such as racial profiling.

For example, the description of the suspect caught on video allegedly burglarizing a home “is described as African-American, 6-foot tall and drives a newer white model 4-door sedan.”

That is the type of vague description that has led in the past to incident of racial profiling.

For instance one social media group posted the description as an “African American male around 6ft with long hair or dreadlocks” walking around in neighborhoods.”

This was posted on social media on Thursday, for example.  The car interestingly doesn’t match the vehicle description, but the person sees “a male who was African American was sitting low in his seat hoodie covering most of his face slowly cruising down Baywood … stopped in front of a home for a minute saw me staring and sped off down [Whittier] then to Loyola.”

The poster says, “I got a picture of the car so the neighborhood is aware.  Made me very nervous and uncomfortable.”

Reminds me that a few years ago there was another rash of burglaries that led to a 911 caller reporting a walking salesman who happened to be African American as a possible burglary suspect.  That led to the police combing the neighborhood in West Davis for a possible suspect where one veteran officer found Eli Davis, a 60-something-year-old African American who was mowing his lawn.

However, the officer started to question Mr. Davis and even asked for his ID before deciding that the man probably lived at the home and therefore was not the man he was looking for.

On one level we can criticize the officer for both failing to use common sense and also poorly handling the encounter, leading Mr. Davis to feeling very violated.  On the other hand, we have faulted the community for filing such a vague report and racially profiling an individual who was traveling salesman.

The danger is that the current description of the burglary suspect is equally vague.  We don’t know age or build or any real descriptions other than six feet tall and African American, which will likely lead to many African Americans in this city being pulled over, or as in this case photographed and followed.

In the photograph above maybe the witness saw what she said she saw.  Or maybe she was afraid and her mind became vivid with imagination, or perhaps her own actions caused the man to speed off.  We don’t know.

—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. Keith O

    Mowing while black makes yet another appearance on the V.  What’s that now, 15 times?  20?

    Would you be writing this article if the description of the man was “described as African-American white, 6-foot tall and drives a newer white model 4-door sedan”?

      1. Keith O

        Any description helps.  Often times that’s all we get to go on.

        I saw this posted yesterday on Nextdoor by the DPD crime analyst dept.  I felt it was a great service for our police dept to put this out on social media.  Many commenters thanked the analyst for doing so.

        Why do you have to make everything about race?  Why are you trying to stir things up?

        1. David Greenwald

          Actually it doesn’t help – the mowing while black case shows why it doesn’t help to have such a vague description.

          “Why do you have to make everything about race? Why are you trying to stir things up?”

          This has actually been a huge topic of discussion in several places on Facebook the last few days. It’s about race because of how the suspect was described.

        2. Keith O

          Would you have written this article if the suspect was vaguely described as white, 6-foot tall and drives a newer white model 4-door sedan?

          I think we all already know the answer to that.

          1. David Greenwald

            No I wouldn’t have written this article. The racial profiling element wouldn’t have been there.

        3. Keith O

          So in your mind vaguely describing someone as white and 6′ tall is okay but don’t you dare describe them as black or any person of color?

          Do you understand how hypocritical that comes off?

  2. Mike Hart

    The Davis PD did the right thing and I applaud them for it. With such a great video and physical description there is a good chance they can catch him if neighbors keep up the watch. Bowing to the altar of mindless PC worship is destructive and dangerous to your neighbors.

    If you happen to be a 6′ black man with dreadlocks you should reconsider a career as a girlscout selling cookies door to door. If you are ANY person trying to sell things door to door we don’t want you anyways…


  3. David Greenwald

    A friend of mine just messaged me that her husband didn’t want to go outside of their place to get the mail last night for fear of being racially profiled.

  4. John Hobbs

    You must realize that Keith is just saying that if a suspect were described as an older white male,  he wouldn’t object to being stopped and questioned by police as often as they like and I’m sure wouldn’t mind being proned out and interrogated in the street in front of his neighbors, if it made them feel better. Luckily for him that never happens. Good to be a white male, ain’t it?

    1. Keith O

      You’re so full of it.  Actually it did happen to me, I even commented about it on the V.  I understood that the cops were just doing their job. Here’s my post:

      Keith O May 8, 2017 at 12:01 pm
      I was once walking my dog in a Davis park while getting my oil changed at Speedee.  Two cops approach me, one standing a ways back with his hand on his holster.  The cop then proceeds to question me but backs off and says I can go but says he stopped me because I fit the description of someone they were looking for.  Racial profiling?  Nah, I didn’t take it that way even though I was walking while white (male and old).

  5. Howard P

    Here’s a portion of what was released by PD to the Emptyprize…

    “We’re deducing that he’s checking the houses to see if anybody’s home,” Doroshov said of the suspect, described as a light-skinned black male, 25 to 30 years old, standing about 6 feet tall with longer hair. He may have been seen driving a white, newer-model sedan.
    Police have not ruled out the possibility that others are involved in the scheme as well, Doroshov said.

    Doesn’t look like general profiling to me…

    1. Howard P

      Thinking longer, what is the difference between a fairly specific description, and ‘profiling’?

      Am thinking to pass “the test” of non-profiling, PD should never release the gender, height, body morph (including skin ‘color’), hair style/’color’, clothing, vehicle description, location of where seen, etc., etc., etc. of a suspect running around, doing burglaries, etc.

      After all, ‘we know’ how unreliable eyewitnesses are…

  6. John Hobbs

    Keith, I’m sorry about your comprehension deficiency, but you confirmed what I said about your position in your subsequent post.  The cops politely stopped you and ask a couple of questions to establish your ID and then let you go. They never threatened you, used profanity or drew a weapon.You were never proned out and interrogated in front of your neighbors That never happened to you or any other old white guy in Davis.

  7. Eric Gelber

    In a relatively non-diverse community, like Davis, we have to be careful about drawing parallels. A description of a 6-foot tall white male in his 20s to 30s, possibly driving a white vehicle would describe at least hundreds, if not thousands, of locals. People meeting that description are not likely to be viewed with suspicion or repeatedly stopped by police. A similar description of a black male will inevitably lead to targeting of the much fewer innocent individuals in Davis meeting the description. Hence, Davis’ reputation as being unfriendly to minorities, particularly to blacks. What constitutes racial profiling in one situation will not result in racial profiling in the other; so, the two situations cannot be treated the same, for example in releasing vague descriptions. Making simplistic comparisons and refusing to recognize the distinction illustrates the problem.

  8. John Hobbs

    It seems to me that

    “We ask that you please don’t leave your first floor or accessible windows open when you are not home,” a Facebook post said. “If someone comes to your door and asks for anyone who does not live at your residence, please gather as much information as you can on the appearance of the person and immediately call the Police Department at 530-747-5400.”

    accomplishes the goal without racial profiling.

    1. Howard P

      je d’accord… mais, once the PD is given

       please gather as much information as you can on the appearance of the person

      PD should feel free to share that with the public, once they have it… in this matter, I believe the PD did just that… I see “no harm, no foul” in this current situation… except, the danger that some idiots embellish beyond the police info, and inflame others to respond inappropriately…

      Fr’instance… ‘whittier to loyola then left to pole…”… inaccurate or lie… if they meant to say, “whittier to loyola, and right to pole line, then left on pole line”, they failed… parsing it as written, if they turned left on Loyola, and were heading away from Pole Line…


      1. David Greenwald

        One more thought, the literature on eye witness identification suggests that people cannot accurate identify people and in particular people of the opposite race. Maybe its better to simply have people be on the look out for specific behavior rather than people’s characteristics.

  9. Mike Hart

    Davis is frequently the victim of Racial Targeting- Our little white town suffers from very frequent downtown bank robbers, the all too common late night punch and grab assaults and yes, the endless door to door knock and rob attacks.  Racial Targeting is very real…  I think David should write an article talking about the very real suffering of the pasty white victims.

    On the racial diversity side, the bums downtown and the flashers are generally white…

  10. John Hobbs

    “the bums downtown and the flashers are generally white…”

    Mike sees the dark underbelly that few of us know.

    Why only “the pasty white victims.”? I see very few, almost none, save a couple of goths, pasty white folks in Davisville. Most seem to be tanned or ruddy complected.

    You “underprivileged” white guys are giving me some real chuckles this morning. Thanks for that.

  11. Rodney J

    There are  3 issues raised here.  The first is the description.  What more can be gleaned from a dark video and a home owner who gives a like description.  That is not racial profiling.  The second issue is the posting by an uncomfortable person.  This poster had way more than just an African American going down a residential street.  He observed a hoodie pulled over his head, this man stoping in front of and looking at a particular house and making eye contact with poster then speeding away.  Taking a picture of the car and making a report and a posting is again not,  in my view racial profiling.  Its a good citizen making a fair observation of suspicious activity and a fair report.  The third issue is stoping and contacting and sometimes harassing any African American like the salesman or the man mowing his lawn.  And yes,  thats an inexperienced or ignorant contact and absolutely racial profiling.  Any information or report is fair even if based on fear.  What’s done with the report, thats the devil in the details.

    1. David Greenwald

      Part of the problem with your analysis is that by separating out the components, you miss the interaction between the three – the vague description leads to fear by citizens which leads to racial profiling or potentially could.

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