By Kazia J. Hart
Last summer, Davis residents marched, sweat-drenched and frustrated, to the Davis Police Department. George Floyd’s and Breonna Taylor’s names filled the air as hundreds of protesters took to the streets to affirm that Black Lives Matter. A better, safer future seemed both possible and imperative. Our community, like others all over the world, spoke loudly and clearly to demand change.
As the fight for racial justice has moved to online organizing, Davis residents have taken to leaving public comments and sending a slew of emails to the City Council, urging elected officials to respond to the nine recommendations on public safety put forward months ago by the Temporary Joint Subcommittee. Community members, including the authors, are disappointed by a lack of commitment to creating an independent Public Safety Department charged with tasks that would be better handled by unarmed professionals, such as traffic and code enforcement, welfare checks, and outreach with houseless residents.
Though there is a history of police violence in Davis, including the infamous Picnic Day Five and Pepper Spray incidents, many find it difficult to shake the feeling that police make us safer. We have been taught to rely on armed police officers to keep our homes, our roads, and our bodies safe. However, for many U.S. residents, particularly black and brown people, calling the police is a dangerous gamble at best, and deadly in the worst cases.
We may feel like our community does better at treating people equitably and safely. However, Davis PD’s own data shows that Black residents of Davis are arrested at 5 times the rate of White residents, and Hispanic residents are arrested at 1.5 times the rate of White residents. These disparities are worse than in the United States as a whole. This is not to mention that many of the arrests made in Davis are for petty drug possession; a policy that has wreaked havoc all across the United States for decades and has almost exclusively targeted the poor and people of color. We are funneling too much of our city budget into an inequitable system that perpetuates harmful racial disparities and makes it even harder for oppressed groups to live and thrive. This injustice comes at the expense of proactive public safety policies that could prevent crime before it happens, support the health of the general public, stop the cycle of recidivism and poverty, and provide resources that allow communities to flourish. Black organizers have been telling us for decades that the way that the justice system in America is structured is punitive instead of solution-driven, reactive to crime instead of proactive, and fundamentally inequitable on the basis of race and class. It is past time we listened.
Hundreds of Davis residents took to the streets after the brutal execution of George Floyd because they understood that our current police-centric model of public safety is deadly and ineffective. They questioned the efficacy of surface-level reforms that have been tried over the decades like endless civilian oversight committees and anti-bias training that has not changed police behavior. Even body cams have proven to be an ineffective deterrent to police violence. These solutions are band-aids on broken bones and distract us from fixing the problems we face with compassion and common sense. If we want a safer society for everyone, we must look to a future where Public Safety Departments operate from core values of proactive intervention, anti-racism, data-based policies, and a restorative philosophy.
Fortunately, our city has the capacity to make big, smart, fundamental changes. We did it this year with HealthyDavisTogether when we expanded COVID testing, distributed PPE to those in need, and provided critical information to the public to make our city safer. We did it with Cool Davis in 2010, and UC Davis is already using a model on campus that is addressing the root cause of academic misconduct instead of defaulting to a punitive system. The next step in ensuring that Davis is taking practical steps towards meaningful community-based safety is demanding a three-year freeze on hiring police officers and creating an independent Public Safety Department. We have the opportunity to join other bold cities like Ithaca, Berkeley, and Austin as leaders in this effort.
On Tuesday, April 6th, Davis City Council will be meeting to discuss if and how to move forward with recommendations on restructuring public safety in our community. You can make a difference by submitting a public comment and emailing them to demand commitment to and concrete action towards real public safety, including a Public Safety Department independent of the Police Department. Sign on to our letter to City Council now at tinyurl.com/DavisPublicSafetyDepartmentNow.
We are members of Yolo DSA, a local chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America. DSA is the largest and fastest-growing socialist organization in the United States, with members holding office from city council to U.S. Congress. You can find out more and get involved at dsausa.org.
Kazia Hart has a B.S. in Psychology from UC Davis and is a Co-Chair of the Yolo Democratic Socialists of America. Has worked as a property manager on Olive Drive for the last 7 years.
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