“There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular, but he must take it because his conscience tells him it is right.” – Martin Luther King
The comments made by ASUCD Ethnic and Cultural Affairs Commission on the image of the blue line flag following the tragic death of Natalie Corona definitely rubbed a number of people the wrong way, who believed that the comments coming so soon after the tragedy were poorly timed and ill-considered.
The discussion triggered a passionate but civil debate on the Vanguard as to the meaning of the flag. But at the same time, calmer voices did not always prevail in this matter. While the group was publicly criticized in the media, and in a statement by ASUCD student body president Michael Gofman, it also triggered a much darker response.
As noted in the guest commentary today, many either in or associated with the group started receiving death treats and anti-Black attacks on friends and families. Some of these messages were shared with the Vanguard – they contain what can only be described as naked and blatant racism.
While a number of people shared these messages with the Vanguard, most of them ask that we not even print the message out of fear of retribution. It is unfortunate that these acts of hatred have so intimidated their targets that they fear coming forward in this environment.
The message I get in response to this clear racism is “there will always be disgusting people in the world.” Others point out, “I don’t believe that email is indicative of how the great majority of people feel.”
I agree that these emails are from a relatively small number of individuals who do not reflect the broader viewpoints in this community and in our nation. However, dismissing this as a few minority views is not particularly helpful – especially given the fact that these kind of encounters can be so traumatizing to the recipients.
At the same time, here on Martin Luther King Day, we need to make a more honest assessment. What troubles me is that in 2019, while hate is not the mainstream, it does tend to loom just below the surface. It has not been created but rather it seems to have been given license by the current occupant of the White House.
The students have not borne these attacks alone – nor are they isolated to this particular incident.
The Latina Mayor Pro-Tem of Davis, Gloria Partida, was on the receiving end of one herself. It is from a local resident who we have decided not to identify by name.
He writes: “I hope your pleased that your radical phoenix coalition and the racist black lives matter have desecrated the memorial for Officer Corona by stealing the flags. Maybe you should consider moving out of Davis. Your groups are partially responsible for the death of a wonderful person.”
What is notable is the writer conflates the activities of the much more mainstream and moderate Phoenix Coalition with the comments by the student organization. It also conflates the actions of Gloria Partida and her group to Black Lives Matter, which made a statement by asking members to take flags.
It blames the Phoenix Coalition – a group that seeks to foster racial diversity, tolerance and understanding – with these actions and argues that somehow these groups are responsible (in some way at least) for the death of Ms. Corona.
But finally it makes what I would consider a veiled racist comment, suggesting, “Maybe you should consider moving out of Davis” – as though Gloria Partida were not a legitimate member of our community.
While we are not identifying this individual, it is worth noting that this same individual made very derogatory remarks to my wife and Jann Murray-Garcia back in 2006 during some of controversy over police oversight at that time.
Indeed, on May 5, 2006, in a letter published in the Davis Enterprise, this same individual wrote, “Davis must rid itself of this antiquated, racist commission and its bully chairperson, Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald.”
Around the same time, another individual wrote this in a letter to the Davis Enterprise: “Ms. Greenwald and Ms. Garcia apply their racist views to every possible issue that confronts them. They look at the world through their prism of hate. … The mere fact that they support numerous frivolous and hate-based lawsuits against the city should be enough to invite them and the rest of the Human Relations Commission to practice their trade in a more appropriate city. I recommend Johannesburg, South Africa.”
While this was no doubt nearly 13 years ago now, times haven’t changed nearly as much as we might like to think. The impetus for those attacks were proposals for police oversight by the Human Relations Commission and a report by the HRC and Jann Murray-Garcia who identified a number of incidents involving the police.
For those who want to downplay the significance of these kinds of measures, bear in mind that reading the email from Gloria Partida brought back all of the raw emotions from 13 years ago – those kinds of attacks stay with you far longer than you would like to believe.
In 2017, as the issue of Picnic Day arose, involving the arrests of five people of color after undercover police cars escalated a conflict by driving their unmarked van very close to a crowded corner of party-goers, attorney Mark Reichel received an angry voicemail that he shared with me.
The caller, identifying herself as a citizen of Davis, left a 93-second voicemail message on his office machine.
“Picnic Day would be fine if black people and gang members would stay out of Davis,” she said. “If they didn’t want to get hurt they should have stayed the hell out of the road, that’s how ignorant these stupid (N-word) are…”
Mark Reichel told me he gets those messages all the time in his line of work, but a few days after he received his message, the same person left a voicemail on my phone at 12:30 am on a Friday night. Fortunately I didn’t answer the unknown call from the (916) area code. We were later able to track down who the caller was and confirm it was a Davis resident.
Here is the thing. The majority of residents in this community – the vast majority – are horrified by what happened to the young officer and the outpouring of love and support is frankly heartwarming.
My concern is that there are images which have been co-opted by white supremacists and those views are not as far below the surface as we would hope – even in a community like Davis, even in 2019.
On MLK Day, for all the heartache that we have gone through over the past ten days, it is important to remember that the fight against racism even in our community is still ongoing.
—David M. Greenwald reporting