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Wednesday, August 09, 2006

What's Going on With Davis Police?

It's gotten to the point, where even at a car wash, you hear stories about the Davis Police. In this case, it was my wife at a car wash in Sacramento, the manager figured out she was from Davis and the first words out of his mouth were, "Man the Davis Police are stupid." And of course he had the story to back it up.

Everyone thinks criticism of the police means you hate the cops. Many of the same people criticize the US for fighting a war in Iraq, yet they probably do not think that they are anti-American. We need an effective police force to be safe in our houses and our businesses. But in order for that to happen, there has to be a general trust between the community and the police. I think most people in this community have had good experiences with the police here and for the most part the police repay that trust. But there are segments of the community, that have not had those kinds of positive experiences and we need to examine that and we cannot be afraid to scrutinize and to criticize when those criticisms are warranted.

From the start this story was different. I've heard numerous stories in the last few months, and almost none of them involve white people. This one does. The guy's son, went to UC Davis, he rented an apartment, he apparently sub-leased to some other people, so his name was still on the lease but he was not living there. The cops came for one reason or another, found marijuana plants inside. Instead of investigating as to whose plants they were, they got the kid's name off the lease, and arrested him. Kid denies even living there, doesn't matter. He's arrested and charged with possesssion (fortunately wasn't enough to get him on intent to deal).

The police are the first responders and guardians if you will, to make an analogy, but most of the problems could not happen without the willing accomplisses in the DA's office and in the courts. The DA's office prosecutes almost every case that comes before them as a matter of policy. And it doesn't matter how strong, weak, or unimportant that case is. In this case, they pushed the kid to take diversion, which is a means of settlement and restitution that does not involve jailtime. They tried to get Halema Buzayan to accept diversion, but her family decided to fight the charges. This is a pattern--they arrest people on minor charges and have them take diversion. Is there money in it for them or does it prop up their numbers? I don't know. It's a pattern.

I think the shocking thing was that when the kid was before the judge, the judge asked him what lesson he had learned. The kid said, to study hard in school. That was not the correct answer. The correct answer was to not smoke pot. Of course, nevermind that this kid did not smoke pot, that was the essential lesson that he learned. Maybe I need another blog on decriminalizing marijuana, that's a story for another day.

We can see how this case was handled poorly. First, the police did not fully investigate the case. They made an assumption based on a very thin connection and refused to pursue alternative explanations. Second, the DA's office, prosecuted this case as though this kid represented a danger to society. Finally, the judge never intervened to stop this from happening. And of course, the parents did not have the sources or the will to fight as the Buzayan family did, so they had to take whatever the system gave them.

As so many of these kids have done, the student has transfered to UC San Diego to get out of this town and not have to deal with this kind of stuff in the future. I cannot tell you how many kids who grew up in this town, who have brown skin, refuse to come back to Davis. We have heard numerous stories in the last year about kids who feel safer in their own communities like Richmond and the Los Angeles area around USC than they do in Davis. But because the majority in this town have had good experiences with the police and have not had to deal with this dark under belly of the system, they do not know what a lot of minorities have to deal with.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting