Sunday Commentary: We Have a Big Problem with No Clear Answer

Chancellor Gary May

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Davis, CA -This week, the city council approved a statement against the police killing of Tyre Nichols in Memphis.  UC Davis Chancellor Gary May issued a statement against hate.  Both were unfortunately necessarily, but neither of them goes nearly far enough.

I was immediately troubled by the council statement which condemned the killing but then launched into an explanation of what the city of Davis has done on policing.

As I pointed out last weekend, I support what the city has done, but the problem that the Nichols killing illustrates is that even with the hiring of minority officers, which was a big call back in the 70s and 80s, and the implementation and use of body worn cameras which arose since Ferguson, none of that prevented the killing of Nichols—and if you look at national data, it hasn’t reduced police violence, not at all.

While I didn’t agree with Alan Miller’s complaint that the city council should not take up the issue, I don’t think he’s altogether wrong either.

He told the council, “Every local jurisdiction does not have to condemn this, we don’t live in Memphis…”

There’s a level of truth to that comment.  And I don’t think the council had a particularly strong response to it.

Where I disagree with Miller, however, is when he noted that when a situation like this happens, it usually “gets linked to the Davis Police.”  He took offense to this, stating, “I find it downright offensive that anybody would take this incident and then somehow float over here and attach it to the Davis Police Department.”

But I disagree there.  After all, the only area where the city council has policy jurisdiction is over the Davis Police Department.  And while thankfully we have not had to deal with a tragedy of this magnitude here, I think it’s more a matter of “but for the Grace of God go I” rather than “it could never happen here.”

To their credit, the city has implemented policies for body worn cameras and has also looked toward a more crisis-focused model for dealing with mental health incidents that are frequently at the basis of police shootings.

What we still have not done is implement a new policy on police stops—which the data clearly shows is and has been the biggest problem facing the Davis Police.

Various jurisdictions have gone much further than Davis thus far here, even though the data that we have seen shows Davis actually has a more disproportionate police stop-and-search rate than even San Francisco.

In January the SF Police Commission banned nine types of traffic stops including those for minor infractions like a missing front license plate, a broken taillight, or jaywalking—that are often used as a pretext to question and search drivers, and disproportionately impact communities of color.

The city council had a chance to make a much stronger statement, and agendize a time to take further action, but really missed an opportunity to do so.

A look at the major police killings shows a significant number started as pretext stops, traffic stops for minor offenses—often that appeared to be dressed up racial profiling which then escalated to fatal violence on the part of the police.

As the data shows, that this end has not occurred in Davis is probably more about fortune and luck than skill.  I think the council missed a clear opportunity—but they can certainly circle back to rectify that.

Meanwhile, Chancellor May in his monthly column, said, “I’m inviting all members of the Davis community to stand strong and take action in the face of hate.”

He said, “It’s time to work together again to target the virus of hate.”  And he said, “We invite you to join us in condemning hate, creating safety and cultivating change.”

The chancellor noted that, in the last year, “we’ve seen a rise in antisemitism in our community” and that “hate crimes are also on the rise nationally.”

He said, “These incidents occur in our communities and impact our neighbors, colleagues and friends. They cause fear and trauma. But we have the power to try and change these negative outcomes. This is why Hate-Free Together is needed now more than ever.”

The chancellor lays out the threefold plan: “Hate-Free Together comprises three key actions. We will condemn hate and all forms of bigotry, refusing to stand silent in the face of hateful words and actions. We will work to create safety among our diverse community. And, we will cultivate change so we can break the cycle of hate.”

I am ambivalent about this response.  On the one hand, I think that it is vitally important for local citizens and local communities to push back against hate, express outrage and put pressure on state and federal governments to do more.

A critical condition for atrocities up to and including the Holocaust has been silence on the part of average people.

At the same time, beyond that I’m not sure how much the local community can do.  We have reported on the rise of right-wing extremist groups locally—the Proud Boys who showed up at a campus protest and escalated the situation to potential violence.

The chancellor of course fails to mention that recent incident, he also fails to mention the rise of right-wing extremism, which lies at the core of these hate incidents and is a key driver for them.

How do you address these things when you don’t mention them?  More importantly, how much can we do locally when the seeds of hate were planted nationally?

I get it, in this space, we want to avoid this looking partisan, but by doing so, we are avoiding the actual problem.

It’s just like people who claim they don’t see race and then wonder why we can’t address racism.

I think both the city council and chancellor mean well here, but at the end of the day, I’m not sure how much they can actually do locally to address these problems.

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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