By David M. Greenwald
Davis, CA – A letter signed by over 600 individuals and groups was formally delivered to Mayor Gloria Partida at a press conference Monday afternoon outside of city hall, calling for a fundamentally new approach to community safety—one that is rooted in public health and proactive services rather than law enforcement and punishment.
Morgan Poindexter of Yolo People Power (and a Vanguard Board Member) delivered the remarks at the press conference flanked by, among others, Morganne Blais-McPherson, Nusrat Molla, Sule Anibaba, and Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald.
“I would like to formally present our open letter for an independent department of public safety,” Poindexter said.
The department would be responsible for all dispensation of services associated with non-violent safety calls, both emergency and non-emergency, under the leadership from a director with a background in public health.
“The department would address community health and safety needs,” she continued, explaining that this would include mental health care, addiction counseling and homeless outreach and support. “This department would be staffed by trained, unarmed mental health professionals instead of formal law enforcement officers.”
Poindexter added, “This department is a centerpiece of a new paradigm of public safety in the city of Davis.”
She said, “The separation of community services outside of the police department has many benefits and directly addresses the central asks of Black Lives Matter.”
Further, she said, “In order to meaningfully address decades of racial trauma and police brutality, we must listen to those affected when they explain the urgent needs for the complete separation of community support, mental health care crisis response, away from law enforcement and the criminal justice system.”
She added, “This would decrease unnecessary contact with armed law enforcement and end the criminalization of mental health care needs, homelessness and other social service needs.”
The letter, published by the Vanguard on Monday, noted, “Many Davis community members have been re-thinking public safety after episodes of police brutality and a long-time lack of adequate services for mental health issues, drug use, and houselessness. These issues have exacerbated racial disparities, which are particularly pronounced in Davis.”
It called on the council “to be bold leaders in responding to these issues by creating a department that prioritizes the well-being and safety of our community, particularly our most vulnerable. Such a department would take a twofold approach by first expanding access to social services such as free mental healthcare and programs to support houseless Davis residents.”
Mayor Gloria Partida received the letter following the remarks by Poindexter.
“I want to thank this group that has worked tirelessly through the last year and the Davis Community that is always engaged and always wants to be on the right side of history,” the mayor said.
“The direction that this community is asking to move is the right direction to be moving in,” Partida said. “The question of course is how to implement this in the most equitable and the most engaged way. We want to make sure that we hear all the voices.”
Though she did add, “There are always other voices that we have to consider in this process.”
She said that she and her colleagues have put in a lot of thought over the last year (over nine months since the death of George Floyd), and they have listened to the conversations in the Police Accountability Commission and the community.
“We are ready to discuss this (Tuesday) evening,” she said. “And to make sure that we ask the questions that need to be asked.
“For too long, the police have acted as the go-to managers of inequality in this country. Davis is no different. We need to reinvest in what makes us really safe, like free mental healthcare programs, and create structures with longevity aimed at promoting the well-being of all,” said Morganne Blais-McPherson, an educator and member of Yolo DSA (Democratic Socialists of America) & UAW (the UC student workers union) 2865.
“We have been doing community outreach and education for months, and we always receive such positive feedback! The evidence-based public safety reforms we are fighting for really are common sense to people of all ages, religions, lifestyles, and backgrounds. The people of Davis are very ready for these changes,” said Julea Shaw, a community activist with the Yolo People Power Research Team.
Morgan Poindexter explained to local media that they want the independent department of public safety “so that we can have cops do what they were trained to do and do them well. And have mental health professionals do the things that they were trained to do and do them well.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting
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