By David M. Greenwald
Davis, CA – Fifteen years ago next month was one of the lower points of my life. I stood in the parking lot of City Hall, it was three in the morning, and the council had just voted 4 to 1 to disband the Human Relations Commission because they dared to demand police accountability in the form of a civil review board.
This community in 2006 was not ready for that moment. This was before Oscar Grant, Michael Brown, Eric Garner. It was before Obama and Trayvon Martin. It was before local organizations like the Phoenix Coalition and People Power.
It would have been easy to have taken our chips and go home. No one would have blamed us for doing so. Even now there are things that happened that year that continue to boggle my mind.
But a student of history can sum up the struggle for justice in aphorisms. One from Martin Luther King is “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
He warned that change takes a long time, but it does happen. In fact, in a lot of ways, he never lived to even see that change.
Frederick Douglass in 1857 spoke these words: “If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.”
He added, “This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”
In many ways the local struggle for police reform parallels the national one. In 2006, the response to calls for police reform were met with a denial that Davis had a problem.
Just as Rodney King, Oscar Grant and ultimately Michael Brown, Eric Garner and others forced the national discourse to acknowledge a problem of police violence, the local discourse was re-opened by the 2017 Picnic Day incident.
That led to a reevaluation of policing in the local community, the rise of groups of like People Power and ultimately the council approval of a civilian review board, the Davis Police Accountability Commission—the same structure that was summarily rejected by the council in 2006.
Just as George Floyd’s death nationally has triggered a huge movement for change nationally, it has pushed us once again to go further.
In 2006, I learned that the experiences of Black and Brown people in this community at the hands of police are markedly different from their white counterparts. It took us nearly 15 years, but last summer, the city finally released the data that bore that out.
We know that police are not trained or well equipped to deal with mental health crises, we know that police officers should not be asked to be social workers, and so the idea of reimaging policing has emerged to shift funding from activities that are essentially social work and not law enforcement activities away from armed police responses and toward mental health professionals.
That will not only create a more appropriate response, but also reduce the prospect of police violence—and in so doing, keep us safer.
What I am suggesting here is that, taking the long view, this community, like our nation, has undergone some rather amazing transformative change in the last four years.
That doesn’t mean we should let our guard down. In fact, just opposite. Just as we must heed the words of MLK in acknowledging this is a long-term struggle, we must heed the words of Frederick Douglass, the power concedes nothing without a “DEMAND.” Not a suggestion. Not a polite request. Not a whisper. But a demand.
That’s how I see the public comment discouragement playing out on Tuesday. The city council on April 6 agreed to making transformative change. The city manager spent a good deal of time on Tuesday explaining the changes that are in the budget. The activists pushed harder and argued this was not enough.
Yesterday’s article covers the interplay between public commenters—activists, and, yes, a number of them Vanguard board members and one of our student editors, to be transparent—and the city manager.
From the standpoint of the activists, this is all lip service, no action.
Julea Shaw, from People Power and the Vanguard Board noted, “Our budget is a statement of our values.” She added, “What are the values that you want to uphold and be remembered for as a councilmember in Davis?”
As one public commenter put, “The budget as it is now, doesn’t reflect our values.”
The city, in the view of the activists, is stonewalling funding on the reimagining public safety budget while funding an increase in the police budget.
On the other hand, the city manager (rightly) points to six areas that have been funded from the April 6 discussion, and the council put a place holder for a seventh, a professional consultant.
But that leaves some of the biggest items—the new management level position, the crisis now program, and the actual restructuring of the department—to another time.
Those are arguably the biggest items on the agenda and none of them is included in the upcoming budget.
I get that Crisis Now is much bigger than just Davis. In our article last week, Karen Larsen showed just how big a ticket this would be—with about a $5.6 million gap.
That money is going to have to come from grant money, state and federal funding, and partnering with the county and problem Woodland and West Sacramento. That’s not a short-term process for sure.
The management level position, however, might be more short term.
The role and duties are currently under review by the Council’s Organizational Subcommittee. “Pending those subcommittee discussions would shape what this looks like… and therefore what funding level is needed,” said Mike Webb on Tuesday.
Webb said he is not sure at this point whether this creates a new position or recasts an existing one.
“We don’t know yet based on the conversations that are still underway,” he said. “We want to keep all those options on the table. It’s not abandoning the notion of that position by any means. We want to do it right.”
I get it. I also get that the restructuring of the police services is a big issue. None of these are small or simple changes.
BUT! By not including even a placeholder on the budget for any of them, we are essentially punting on these changes. I believe that the council is sincere about doing this and that this will change slowly, but I completely understand why those pushing for these changes wanted to at least see budgetary placeholders.
The council did this for the outreach consultant, so why not do it for the rest and then adjust as needed?
Seems reasonable to me.
In the end, though the activists may be frustrated, I have great confidence that the council and the city will step up and do the right thing here.
We have seen a lot in the last year. We have discussed progress and lack of progress.
I will end this on a positive note.
When giving the eulogy for George Floyd, Al Sharpton told the story of being at a march years ago when a young white women told him “n-word, go home.” But he noted recently that he was headed to the airport and, talking to a reporter, he explained that “a young white girl—she didn’t look any older than 11 years old. She tugged my suit jacket and I looked around and I braced myself, and she looked at me and said, ‘No justice, no peace.’”
He said, “It’s a different time. It’s a different season.”
What a long struggle it has been for people like Al Sharpton and so many others. But there is progress today and I have confidence with continued struggle that that progress will continue.
—David M. Greenwald reporting
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