It seems that everything comes together—in two weeks it will make the 14th anniversary of my founding of the Davis Vanguard. The impetus for that foundation was the June 2006 shutdown of the Davis Human Relations Commission after my wife and other commissioners pushed for a civilian police review board.
That structure of that board was very similar to the board that exists today—of which my wife is a member, and Dillan Horton, a young Black citizen of Davis who is running for city council, is chair.
This week, we are reminded that we still have work to do on racial progress. The city finally released traffic stop data which showed that Blacks and Hispanics—but in particular, Blacks—are stopped an extraordinarily high and disproportionate amount of time compared to their percentage of the population.
For years, dating back to the start of my involvement in the community in 2006, I have heard from Black people, in particular, that they are stopped disproportionately and most often not ticketed—which suggests to them and to me that police are pulling them over on a pretext.
The data largely bears this out. Sixty-eight percent of the time Blacks are stopped for supposed moving violations, and yet they only receive citations around 18.6 percent of the time. That means just over one in every four times did the officer deem the stop to be worthy of a ticket.
I have met Black students who told me that they have been pulled over so often—never receiving a ticket—that they stopped driving into town.
The data we now have access to suggests we still have work to do.
The appointment itself of Joy Klineberg was made just two weeks ago yesterday. It seems a lot has happened since them.
In normal times, the appointment of Klineberg, who was appointed to the temporary position just under two years ago, would have hardly registered on the Davis Richter scale.
She profiles to the type of person who not only seems like a safe choice for appointment, but also the type who gets elected by the voters to serve on the board.
Not only had she served previously, but she had served on the site council and as PTA president at her schools.
Appointments have largely been non-controversial.
In 2010, the Davis City Council filled a vacancy left open by Don Saylor being elected to the Board of Supervisors. The city council selected Dan Wolk. For Dan Wolk, at the time in his early 30s, his chief asset was the fact that his mother had served as mayor, supervisor, assemblymember and state senator.
At that time, appointing a white man who was young and his chief asset was his last name, elicited no blowback from the community. In fact, in 2012, Dan Wolk ran for city council and won every single precinct, to become mayor from 2014 to 2016.
Contrast that with the appointment of Joy Klineberg, by all accounts heavily qualified. In fact, you could argue that she was perhaps the most qualified applicant, given that she had already served on the board, and given that the school board is about take on the very thorny issue of school reopening—perhaps mitigated now that the state and county are pulling back on re-opening. And the biggest long term challenge will be the budget, in the wake of what could become a double-dip recession.
But the times have changed. The community, in fact, was already organizing and pushing for the board to appoint a woman of color.
It is hard to know where the future may take us. But it could well be that the May 25, 2020, death of George Floyd will serve as every bit of a launching point as the 1955 killing of Emmett Till.
We are still watching to see what comes of this. We have already seen big impacts, however, from mass protests that swept the nation. We have seen places like Minneapolis, which was at the epicenter of the protests with the death of Floyd, and Berkeley take huge steps to defund the police.
We have seen the state of Mississippi finally remove the confederate flag from their state flag. We have seen the Washington Redskins say that they will change their name.
In the 1950s and 1960s, the civil rights movement changed the course of history and finally gained Blacks—who had suffered 250 years of slavery, then 100 years of second class citizenry, devoid of basic rights—the right to vote, the desegregation of public accommodations and schools, and the end of Jim Crow.
But when the civil rights movement occurred in the 1960s, most people shut off the movie when Martin Luther King delivers his great speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and when Lyndon Johnson in 1964 signed the Civil Rights Act and, following Selma in 1965, signed the Voting Rights Act.
But Martin Luther King did not stop there. In 1968, he was organizing the sanitation workers in Memphis—the poorest and most vulnerable people. He was fighting against de facto segregation in Chicago and the north.
Even before he was assassinated, he was losing ground. The issues were no longer as black and white, good and evil. It was easy to rail against Sheriff Jim Clark, Police Commissioner Bull Connor, Governor George Wallace. Much harder to rail against the forces of inequality and systemic racism.
The movement frayed as calls for Black Power turned off white voters. Riots and unrest, rising crime rates, led to a white backlash. Civil rights stalled as the nation turned more conservative, shutting off the Supreme Court as an avenue for racial progress.
Across the nation now, protests against police brutality and systemic racism, the tearing down of age-old symbols of oppression, and the push for criminal justice reform have led us to a potential new moment.
The question remains—what will that look like locally?
Maybe we caught just a glimpse this week of how powerful that move will be.
Cindy Pickett, the outgoing board member, on the night of the vote was outraged at the appointment and called it “appalling.”
At that time, she noted that they had a provision under the law to put the appointment on the ballot, and it required about 1.5 percent of the registered voters in order to qualify. That came to about 658 signatures, based on the last general election.
Could they do it? In a pandemic?
Perhaps as many as 100 people came together. Most of them had never gathered a single signature in their lives.
They needed 658 signatures. They got 1700. In four days.
It took less than two weeks to overturn the decision of the school board.
If this group stays together it has the capacity to truly change the political landscape of Davis. And if what we are seeing in Davis is any indication, we are about to see something extraordinary sweep this nation.
—David M. Greenwald reporting