I will never forget that moment when I first really met Robb Davis. I knew him in passing previously, but in December of 2011 was the first time I would really be exposed to the man and his ideas.
The pepper spray incident on the UCD campus had just occurred and, while the community at the time was up in arms. Robb Davis, along with David Breaux and the Rev. Kristin Stoneking, came to a Human Relations Commission meeting, of which I was a member, and proposed the idea of a restorative justice process as a way to reconcile the hurt of the protesters and the community with the harm done by the university.
At that point, I had never heard of restorative justice, and I was skeptical of the concept. At first it seemed fanciful – we all wanted our pound of flesh, but as he laid out his vision, it opened my eyes to the possibilities.
Robb Davis won me over with passion and compassion on the issue, and I began to learn about restorative justice. I was impressed enough with Mr. Davis that, just six months later, I asked him to join the fledgling Vanguard Editorial Board.
Ultimately, Robb Davis, perhaps reluctantly as ever, would run for city council. Despite whatever reluctance he may have had about running, he threw himself in headlong, building a very strong campaign that pushed him to an overwhelmingly first place finish and ultimately he would become mayor.
My enduring memories of the mayor will be early morning chats where he would open up about his concerns about the community. In a time when we have become jaded by the cynical manipulations of our political leaders, Robb Davis is and always has been a real person. He wears his convictions on his sleeves. He feels the weight of the responsibility of his office.
Robb Davis doesn’t just pay lipservice to humility – he owns it.
I will never forget after yet another hate incident in which he would pour out his soul to the community in a speech, he acknowledged that he was not sure how much more of this he could take.
What became clear is that he would not be able to run for a second term for probably many reasons, but one of them may well be that he simply gave us everything he had for these four years. Each time a challenge arose – there were all too many in his short two-year tenure as mayor, he somehow would manage to find the inner strength not only to push on but to be a true moral leader for this community during times of heartache and crisis.
There was an early moment in January 2017 after the vandalism of the Islamic Center of Davis, where the mayor talked about the shame he had receiving a wake up call in Virginia in recognition that hate still plagued this nation.
He said, for people of color “these things have never gone away.”
The mayor during his speech was able to articulate in a very real way what white privilege is. He explained that he lives a good and comfortable life and white privilege gives him the chance to ignore the problems that people of color face on a regular basis.
He said, “All of those things are the basis of a systemic racism that exists in this country and I had the privilege for many years just to ignore it.” He said he’s lived a good life, “but all around me there are people who were experiencing a different reality and they still are.”
The question, he said, is now that we have woken up, “now what?” He said, “I believe that if we are going to confront these issues, if we’re going to confront differential impacts of the effects of police, if we’re going to confront inequitable funding of schools, if we’re going to confront the school to prison pipeline, then it’s got to be local efforts.”
A favorite of mine has been the mayor’s recurring theme about our collective brokenness.
“Our inability to own our collective brokenness,” he said. “I fear that if we continue to indicate the scapegoats among us, sending them out into the wilderness for the expiation of our collective sins, that we will only continue to perpetuate the mimetic violence that we would otherwise decry. We must own together shame.”
Following the comments by the Iman that threatened to tear apart this community, the Iman issued an apology.
Mayor Davis asked and answered the question “is it enough” – of course, “no it is not.”
But, as Robb Davis put it, “we live in brittle times.” He said, “The hurts are deep. Words were spoken that are harmful and hurtful. One statement cannot be enough.
“It cannot be enough because we are living in a storm,” he said. “We are living in the moment of the great shattering of our society. Everything outside is telling us that brokenness is the way forward. So we’re standing here against that brokenness.”
On our radio show he noted the problems of the criminal justice system.
“The brokenness of our punitive system was fully on display in the way this was handled,” the mayor said. “Our criminal justice system is broken and people are afforded rights and privileges based on not just race, class…people who have few means are not afforded the same privilege as those who have more.”
Following the suicide of Eric Pape, Robb Davis stated: “We have an opportunity every now and then to look at our systems and see just how broken they’ve become. We see two systems here which, unfortunately because of people of my generation, the choices we’ve made, are broken.”
No one in public life speaks truth to power with such conviction.
A year ago I wrote that I “will deeply miss Robb Davis when he steps down as mayor in a year.” I have enjoyed our friendship over the years. He has led this city through some of its toughest times – you can see the pain and anguish on his face, and he is the voice of moral clarity in this community during times that have tried our very core.
That time is now upon us.
As I have gotten to know Robb Davis over nearly seven years, I have come to admire this man – a man of truth and moral courage, a man who has worn every injustice and every heartache on his sleeve but has still not been afraid to hold his heart out for the community to cherish and, at times, to break.
In a month, a new person will become the Mayor of Davis and inherit the challenges that we face and the hope of tomorrow that we share.
Today I give my respects to Robb Davis, whom I see as a truly genuine man, who poured out every ounce of his soul into his community and we are all better for it.
I regret, due to other obligations today, I will not be able to attend his final meeting as mayor, but wanted to use this space to, one last time, thank him for his service.
—David M. Greenwald reporting