Public Defender Tracie Olson Speaks on Overcoming Systemic Racism in Yolo County

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Yolo County Public Defender Tracie Olson

By Nora Lelivelt

DAVIS – In the wake of the insurrection on the nation’s Capital and in comparison to the Black Lives Matter protests, local county officials continue to encounter denial and resistance while combating systemic racism in Yolo County. 

In the Racial Justice Speaker Series presented by UC Davis Law, Tracie Olson, Yolo County’s Public Defender, spoke on the biased policies and protocols in the county, stating: “Racism is a local problem, not because Yolo County is aberrant, but because I believe that racism is a problem in every county in the nation.”

Olson began her presentation on Jan. 25, 2020, with a call to the public; the first action to eliminate prolonged racial injustices is to accept the problem and accept responsibility. Further, Olson explained how the denial of racist acts will often erase accountability, so systemic problems are never adequately addressed.  

For example, even at the federal level, there is denial and disagreement about the nature of America. In reference to the insurrection on the nation’s Capital, President Joe Biden stated, “The scenes of chaos at the Capital do not reflect a true America,” but Olson opposed this statement, claiming “Isn’t this exactly the America we know?”

In history, there has often been a white backlash to various desegregation movements: Olson pushes the community to view its similarities and accept its responsibilities. 

One of the next steps in overcoming denial is to create a role for people contributing to the future of the community. Currently, a few committees have been formed throughout the county to accept the responsibility of a racially corrupt system, determine what specific programs are willing to change and create a budget that is willing to be spent to make a difference.

Already in progress is a Public Defender Racial Justice Committee, currently attending training, developing litigation strategies, and forming partnerships to overcome the systemic racism in the criminal and juvenile legal environment of Yolo County; however, additional data is required to accurately confront racial inequalities and discrimination, “but the next year should not be just collecting data, I want to take action,” said Olson. 

Furthermore, there is some present evidence of systemic racism in the statistics of jail bookings. While the population of African Americans in Yolo County is roughly 3 percent, the percentage of African Americans in Yolo County Jail is over 20 percent. It is clearly necessary to reverse the disproportionate incarceration seen here. 

Responsively, the Yolo County Criminal Justice Department is working to identify breaks in the system where implicit bias or racism can impact decision-making, soon to build a pilot program combatting these systemic disparities. Eventually, community leaders hope this program may extend to programs managing housing, poverty and Child Welfare Services. 

To learn more from the Racial Justice Speaker Series, watch previously recorded presentations or engage in conversation with our campus and community, visit: https://law.ucdavis.edu/racial-justice-speaker-series/

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