Guest Commentary: Wanted – Leadership Substance, Not Spin

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Photo Courtesy Don Sherman

By Francesca Wright

It has been over a year that community members have been asking City Council to create meaningful structural change in how we address public safety. We have marched. We have sent public comments to City Council meetings. We have analyzed local police traffic stop and crime data, researched the underpinnings of public safety as well as examples of effective public safety practices.

We have sent petitions. We have met individually with each council member. Over 800 people signed an open letter to the Council. Three council-appointed commissions unanimously supported nine recommendations on public safety.

Our former Mayor offered a road map of how to create a Department of Public Safety that could position the City of Davis to become a leader in evidence-based prevention and early intervention.

This may be the most public pressure exerted on any council in the 23 years I have lived in Davis California. And after all of this, how has the current city council responded?

We have witnessed performative rhetoric, an increased police budget, and the most modest changes possible. All while numerous other cities are taking progressive steps forward, the very kind we’ve been urging the City of Davis to take. Our “fair city” is falling farther behind the curve.

Recently the Mayor invited the Chair of the Police Accountability Commission, and the leadership team of Yolo People Power to meet and discuss differing perceptions of what the City Council has accomplished. We heard from the Mayor that downtown business owners are worried about crime. We heard from the Vice-Mayor that “all those people who called in to defund the police don’t know what they are talking about.”

What was sadly missing from their comments hurt more. We did not hear their plan to address disparities in the ways people of color are treated by police in Davis. We did not hear their plans to shift code enforcement and traffic control to unarmed personnel or to narrow permissible reasons for making traffic stops. We heard no efforts to adopt anti-racist policies in the city despite council members’ appearance at multiple Black Lives marches, even claiming that racism must be systemically addressed like Covid-19. We heard no commitment to create a department-level position to oversee and direct evidence-based public safety.

Basically, Council has accepted the police chief’s concession to move two homeless outreach workers out of his department, earmarked some one-time funding for an analyst. Thankfully, they have agreed to participate in an important county-led mental health response project, “Crisis Now,” which has already been wholeheartedly embraced by Woodland and West Sacramento.

While they have not resisted the county’s vision, they have not advanced Davis’ vision. This is not leadership. This is maintenance of the status quo.

I no longer feel it is worth providing research and advocating for structural change with this Council. Until we have persons in office who can imagine better, who will incorporate research into policy, who will provide clear direction to staff, and who have an agenda for change, we will remain the community where those with racial and economic privilege can pretend all is well. Meanwhile, police will continue to justify helicopter surveillance and use of attack dogs to capture homeless seeking warmth in the winter; to stop, search and arrest black people nearly six times more than white folks; and to persist in the misperception that policing is reducing harm.

To have meaningful change we need effective visionary leadership.

Francesca Wright is a Davis resident and the co-founder of Yolo People Power

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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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16 thoughts on “Guest Commentary: Wanted – Leadership Substance, Not Spin”

  1. Matt Williams

    What was sadly missing from their comments hurt more. We did not hear their plan

    This is a recurring theme in many areas … no plan.

    At a Cool Davis Climate Change meeting a bit over a year ago one of the presenters asked the question, “Where are the City Councils that made so many good things happen back when Village Homes was being considered and built and Davis was at the international forefront with innovative bicycle traffic lanes?”

    The list of “no plan” issue areas is all too long, and includes:

    — Social Justice,
    — Police Reform,
    — Response to Climate Change,
    — Transportation,
    — Economic Development
    — the Cannery CFD,
    — Repairing the Streets
    — Solar Power,
    — Solid Waste, and
    — the handling of development applications.

    It is all too tempting to ask “Why?” but I think we have gotten to the point where more questions will not move the community forward.  Questions are reactive not proactive.  Change comes from proactivity.  Francesca’s final statement is the right prescription, “To have meaningful change we need effective visionary leadership. We need leaders who aren’t making their decisions to avoid making mistakes, but rather to do the right thing.  Doing the right thing can start with social justice and police reform.  Doing the right thing can start with listening to the people you assembled to assess the problem … the same people who made nine proactive recommendations for making meaningful progress.

    1. David Greenwald

      I like to use my advantage of the longview on this issue.

      In 2006, the City Council shutdown the HRC because it advocated for civilian oversight.

      Since then we have seen incremental change however.

      In 2015, body worn cameras
      In 2018, the same civilian review body was implemented
      Now we have seen the council implement the first step towards moving away from armed police in mental health crises
      We finally have RIPA data after begging for it for a decade – and we did it before mandated by the state

      Could we do more – absolutely and we should. I’ve laid out my thoughts on this. I view the role of activists to push for aggressive change and the role of council to take concrete steps to implment those changes. Both sides are doing their job here. I would like to see more for sure, but we shouldn’t lose site of how far we have come in just 15 years from when I started.

      1. Keith Olsen

        I view the role of activists to push for aggressive change and the role of council to take concrete steps to implment those changes. 

        Is the role of a city council supposed to be implementing changes put forward by a small group (relatively speaking) of activists?  My view is a council should represent the broader community and not automatically kowtow to small factions of loud voices.  Sure sometimes changes can initiate from small groups if a council feels that they’re needed, but no council should feel pressured or browbeat into having to accept any proposals from any group of activists regardless of what their cause might be.

        1. Bill Marshall

          My view is a council should represent the broader community and not automatically kowtow to small factions of loud voices.

          Here we are in main agreement, except that that needs to be moderated further by the member’s own knowledge, experiences, judgement and ethics.

        2. David Greenwald

          That’s why it’s a push-me / pull-you relationship.

          But how do you know that a community that broke 85-11 for Biden isn’t in line with police reform?

      2. Matt Williams

        I like to use my advantage of the longview on this issue.

        In 2006, the City Council shutdown the HRC because it advocated for civilian oversight.

        Since then we have seen incremental change however.

        In 2015, body worn cameras

        .
        2015 minus 2006 equals nine years.  Are you saying that Francesca, the community, and the three council-appointed commissions that unanimously supported nine recommendations on public safety should wait nine more years before expecting anything to get done?

        1. Keith Y Echols

          Almost all of the time; progressive reform among those fairly agreeable to it often comes down to $$$$.  Who’s money is paying for what. Which includes sources of funding. Often times even though a group of people may believe one thing; they may act to protect their funding which seems contrary to that belief.  What I’m saying is that the Police and their political allies maybe be cool with all these reforms until you talk about effecting their budgets and funding.

          But how do you know that a community that broke 85-11 for Biden isn’t in line with police reform?

          I think this statement isn’t quite completely in line with everybody’s socio-political alignments.  While Biden believes in police reform; he does not believe in moving funds and resources from the police.  In fact he’s said he believes in increasing funding to the police.  Again, that’s not a contrary view to police reform.  But it is a contrary view compared to progressives in HOW police reform is obtained.  And I think Biden’s view is more prevalent among “liberals” than progressives want to believe.

          1. David Greenwald

            I haven’t seen Davis polling, but in general among Democrats most of these kinds of proposals are running in the 70-80 percent approval realm. Some of them would actually save money.

        2. Matt Williams

          Almost all of the time; progressive reform among those fairly agreeable to it often comes down to $$$$.  Who’s money is paying for what. Which includes sources of funding. Often times even though a group of people may believe one thing; they may act to protect their funding which seems contrary to that belief.  What I’m saying is that the Police and their political allies maybe be cool with all these reforms until you talk about effecting their budgets and funding.

          .
          I completely agree with Keith’s statement above.  Bottom-line, feel free to talk conceptually all you want, but don’t touch my money or my headcount.

          Money and headcount are the two key symbols of power and status.

      3. Alan Miller

        I view the role of activists to push for aggressive change and the role of council to take concrete steps to implment those changes.

        Maybe the ‘lived experience’ (role) of the activists has been similar to Larry Elder in the gubernatorial campaign — to be so extreme as to sink their own ship, even in a town like Davis.  Maybe they should take their activism to Dixon and see how their boat floats.  Could be an exercise in humility.

  2. Alan Miller

    I no longer feel it is worth providing research and advocating for structural change with this Council.

    What changed ?

    Until we have persons in office who can imagine better,

    Imagine better, Oh Council!

    who will incorporate research into policy,

    The ‘evidence based’ we give you!

    who will provide clear direction to staff,

    Our direction!  (remember they poo pooed the downtown business owners concerns)

    and who have an agenda for change,

    Ours

    we will remain the community where those with racial and economic privilege can pretend all is well.

    It’s nine o’clock and all isn’t well?

    Meanwhile, police will continue to justify helicopter surveillance and use of attack dogs to capture homeless

    You called for ‘evidence based’.  I am unaware of (1) helicopter surveillance and (2) use of attack dogs to ‘capture’ homeless.  Please use ‘evidence based’ evidence to provide examples of this – and if this did happen once is it widespread?  The powers that be tell me the so-called homeless just get processed and are right back out on the street hours later, so that’s why they don’t even bother – so what’s the use of ‘capturing’ them?  What is the point of helicopter surveillance and attack dogs to ‘capture’ the homeless – if they can’t even be detained?

    seeking warmth in the winter;

    So in the summer they don’t bother, because the homeless are warm and won’t freeze, they only do it in the winter when it might kill homeless?  Though if you think about, why are they only capturing the homeless who are seeking warmth – maybe they are seeking to capture them to keep them warm?  Or do they capture them and put them purposefully place them in unheated cells?

     to stop, search and arrest black people nearly six times more than white folks;

    Well that isn’t good and should be addressed (I’m assuming that figure is ‘evidence based’.  Also, why are black people ‘people’, while white people are ‘folks’?).

    and to persist in the misperception that policing is reducing harm.

    What exactly is meant by ‘reducing harm’ ?  Are you saying if there were no police, there would be no harm?

    1. Ron Oertel

      Well that isn’t good and should be addressed (I’m assuming that figure is ‘evidence based’.

      Evidence of disparate outcomes does not establish cause.

      The problem with the activists is that they believe it does. Evidence is lacking regarding that belief.

      That belief is the foundation of the Vanguard, itself.

      1. David Greenwald

        “Evidence of disparate outcomes does not establish cause.”

        It doesn’t need to establish cause if the problem is systemic rather than individualized.

        1. Ron Oertel

          It doesn’t need to establish cause if the problem is systemic rather than individualized.

          Again, a “belief” (along with a “buzzword” in the view of some, no doubt).

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