The Vanguard has a new home, please update your bookmarks to

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Would Profiling Make Us Safer?

I was flipping channels the other night right after the revelations about the terror plot were uncovered. I came upon Scarborough Country, the host is Joe Scarborough, a retired Republican Congressman from Florida. He had on his show, author, Michael Smerconish, whose book “Muzzled,” basically argues that we need to adopt some form of profiling in order to avoid terror attacks.

Scarborough said: "the suspects in this terror plot fit the same profile of those who killed Americans on 9/11, who killed British in the London attacks, who killed Spaniards in the Madrid bombings, who killed U.S. sailors in the USS Cole explosion, and of course, and all the other terror plots."

Smerconish said: "by process of elimination, I can tell you who they‘re not. And Thurston Howell II (ph), some guy with whales on his pants from country club suburban America, is not out there wreaking havoc on our airlines, is not seeking to blow up in mid-flight. And I think that law enforcement needs to take that into account at both our borders and at our airports. I mean, the reality is, it‘s radical Islam."

The amazing thing about all of these talk show-type hosts is that when someone disagrees with them, they ask the toughest questions in the world and really push the guests. When someone agrees with them, they do not ask very tough questions at all. If I were ever to unfortunately be foisted on American viewers, I would ask tough questions regardless, it's the only way to really get at the good tough truth.

And we did not in this case, because, Scarborough didn't ask the questions that needed to be asked. In the case of 9/11 and the case of whatever they are calling this foiled attempt--how would profiling have made us safer?

A couple of points here. First, they were using common products to make explosives. So it seems to reason that they would not have caught these people with a routine check. Now maybe, you could argue that they could interrogate the information out of the collaborators, but that would presuppose a level of ingenuity I have not found at airport security. It's possible that if they pulled over every single Muslim flying a plane, someone could have asked the right question and figured it out.

More likely, the only way to catch these people was the way they did, using security and not racial profiling.

That brings me to a second point. What does a Muslim look like? Muslims of course inhabit large areas of Africa, Asian including the near East, Middle East, East Asian, the Sub continent, and even parts of Europe. I've known Muslims who look like Mexicans. So basically in order to truly profile, you'd have to pull over all non-whites. I can see why some people have no problem with this policy.

But again, given what the hijackers on 9/11 used, the fact that the materials were seemingly innocuous and wouldn't have raised much suspicion, I suspect that once again, profiling is the lazy-person's way out of a very tough situation. If they can create explosives from household products, how are you going to catch them?

In the meantime, in the name of safety, people ditched sometimes hundreds of dollars worth of products and medicines. Fear and deprivation of liberties are huge costs and prices to pay in each attempted terror attack. Each time, the terrorists even threaten, liberty is taken away from the citizens of this country. In our fear, we allow the terrorists to win a not-so-small victory as we seek to continue to respond.

Now I bring this up as a segue to a problem in the Davis community. And that is racial profiling by the police. The police claim they don't do it, but if you talk to any number of minorities in this community, it is clear that they do. According to the Davis Police website, "bias profiling is defined as the detention, interdiction, or other disparate treatment of any person based solely on their sex, religion, race, color, ethnic status, sexual preference, ancestry, age, marital status, medical condition, or physical handicap."

So it is against department policy to pullover an individual based solely on any number of factors. And minorities are regularly stopped and asked questions. The question is usually either are you from a certain city (often Oakland or Sacramento) or are you on probation. More research is needed on the local gang interdiction efforts, but it the former question is aimed at establishing gang activity. West Sacramento has a much more extensive program, but there have been stories in Davis of police officers detaining individuals of color and then using coercion methods to make people sign declarations of membership in gangs. Gang interdiction seems to be one of the few available sources for external money.

This problem has been going on for quite some time. A lot of people have left this community because they have grown tired of the hassle and the lack of official steps to reduce the problem. There also seems to be a legitimate fear of crime and a willingness to violate the rights of others to make the community safer. A resident, a self-proclaimed liberal, was involved in a conversation on racial profiling. That person was asked if a crime was committed by a black person in Davis, would the police be justified in pulling over every black person. That person responded yes. And was adament about it, stating that they did not care, they just wanted to be safe.

That is the attitude of some in this community toward racial profiling. I wish I had a chance to ask that person a follow up question. Mine would have been, if the crime was committed by a white person, should the police pullover every white person in Davis until they find the culprit. I wonder what the answer would have been then.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Thursday, August 10, 2006

The District Attorney's Prosecution of Berny

On July 26, 2006, the Yolo County District Attorney dismissed 170 misdemeanor charges Tuesday against a Clarksburg goat farmer, Khalid Berny from Morocco, accused of allowing his livestock to roam "at large" on several occasions back in 2004. One misdemeanor count was filed for each escaped goat. Berny claimed that his goats, which he kept for grazing purposes, escaped from his land due to circumstances beyond his control, including vandalism to his fence and low-flying crop dusters that may have disturbed the animals.

Honestly, I could see them legitimately charging Berny with a misdemeanor, but 170? That seems over-the-top. One count--pay a fine--that would seem perfectly reasonable to me.

The Davis Enterprise reports the following: "the district attorney's office opted to dismiss the case, noting Berny's payment of restitution and impound fees to the animal services department, along with the fact that Berny no longer owns goats and is not likely to have similar problems in the future. "In the grand scheme of things, the community is better served prosecuting (more serious) crimes," [Deputy District Attorney Deanna] Hays said."

Sounds reasonable. What the Davis Enterprise article does not tell us is that the DA's office was ready to move forward to trial with this in May. It was the outside intervention of new defense attorneys and a last second extension on the case that set this case in a different trajectory. The new defense attorney's were Matt Gonzalez and Whitney Leigh from San Francisco. Suddenly the District Attorney's office decided to drop the case rather than continue to prosecute and potentially put Berny in prison for allow his goats to roam free. The DA's office has a policy not to drop the prosecution of cases in the face of restitution. The only thing that changed their calculous in this case, was the outside intervention from Gonzalez-Leigh and the very real possibility that they could lose this case.

Of course, the mainstream media did not cover this part of the story. It is hard to criticize the Davis Enterprise too much here, they at least covered it, unlike the Daily Democrat or the Sacramento Bee. The community needs to look at the prosecution of these sorts of cases and determine whether or not the resources being spent on minor crimes is worth it to the community as a whole. Is the Yolo County community better off for the prosecution of people like Berny, the Buzayans, the UC Davis student mentioned in the entry yesterday? Unfortunately, the DA's race is over and there was not much discussion of these issues. Hopefully the new DA will seriously look at the allocations of resources, but given the support he gained from the current boss and the entire office, that appears doubtful.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

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

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Rethinking Pesticides

I remain uncertain about my beliefs on pesticides and whether spraying in this case is appropriate. Last week I shared my concerns about the democratic process in responding to public needs. I remain very concerned about that lack of process here and I continue to urge the City Council to use all elements within its disposal to attempt to work to correct the basic problem of an elected body accountable to no one having control over democratically elected bodies.

But I grow concerned about a secondary problem. We've been told that these chemicals in the amounts we will be exposed to are safe.

"Councilman Stephen Souza again expressed concern about notifying residents. But he said that his major concern had actually been ground spraying, adding he felt pest control and other businesses use more concentrated insecticides. "I believe the threat is far less than what we face on an everyday basis," he said."

"Mayor Sue Greenwald said she'd spoken to a variety of experts about the safety and merits of spraying, but came away uncertain."

Who is telling us that the chemicals are safe? Well the vast majority of experts consulted by the City Council come from the UC Davis Pest Management and Entomology programs. This is a case of following the money. The vast majority of professors rely on Chemical manufacturing companies such as Dow and Monsanto to fund their research and provide them grants. These companies are often suppliers and manufacturers of the chemicals used in the pesticides.

Follow the money. Following the money trail here gives me pause. Let me be clear: the science could still be accurate regardless of the flow of money. But it's kind of like the Cigarette companies telling us that smoking doesn't kill us. It should be greeted with a healthy degree of skepticism. The history of the use of pesticides and chemicals is not a good one. Long term studies have often found that things we used in high quantities on a regular basis were killing us. They have not earned the benefit of the doubt on this.

Again--the amount of chemicals in these pesticides and the amount of pesticides applied to the environment is possibly sufficiently small to not pose a health problem. But when it's the chemical companies telling us that, I become concerned about the veracity of their claims. Once again, I do not feel that the City Council has performed due diligence in their role as public guardians. The process here concerns me. The lack of an independent and transparent review process concerns me. We need better answers in the future so that we can make informed decisions and we do not fall prey to scare tactics on either side.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Monday, August 07, 2006


David Serena--Yolo County Housing Authority

There is big and breaking news on this front. In June, David Serena filed a lawsuit in Sacramento federal court alleging that the Yolo County Grand Jury was underrepresentative of minorities. "Yolo County's apparent lack of any formal rules or procedures governing selection of grand jurors … is extremely susceptible to abuse and seems to have led directly to the years-long exclusion of Asians and Hispanics from inclusion in Yolo County's grand juries."

In late June, Serena resigned his post at the Housing Authority. In late July, Serena was arrested on 19 counts--the main charges against him involve medical and dental benefits for the children of Serena's partner, who is not his wife or domestic partner. The county contends the children were not entitled to receive those benefits. A report issued by Phil Batchelor, interim executive director of the Yolo County Housing Authority, indicates far more serious problems. According to the report, the agency, which provides housing for low-income people, is nearly $3 million in the red. The report lists 161 recommendations to clean up the foundering agency.

Inside sources tell us, that of the 19 charges, really, there are only two legitimate ones. Serena contends that in fact, he made inquiries as to whether or not he could put the children on his health benefits and was told that in fact he could.

The big news that we are waiting at on at this point is that on Friday in Sacramento Federal Court, the judge allowed the federal lawsuit to go forward.

Davis Human Relations Commission

It was reported yesterday in the Davis Enterprise that the Davis City Council would move to fill the vacancies on the defunct Human Relations Commission by September 16, 2006. They are now in the process of taking applications. Several of the members of the previous commission have already stated that they will not be applying. That will likely leave a commission that is completely toothless. Not only has the City Council's majority made it clear that they will not tolerate people who "rock the boat." But now only pliant people will even apply. It is quite clear that the new body will not be taking up the highly controversial stands of the previous body. The issue of police oversight remains only partially resolved.

The council has created an ombudsman position to handle complaints against the police department. However, that position remains unfilled.

---Doug Paul Davis Reporting