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Friday, September 29, 2006

More racial profiling and cleaning up the DA's office

Racial Profiling 101

I get a call yesterday from a friend, his son, a Muslim, was sitting outside of school with his backpack on the curb waiting for his father to pick him up from school. Next to him was a boy his same age, also with his backpack, he happened to be white. The security guard comes up to the Muslim, and asks him what he is doing there. The kid says he's a student and is waiting to be picked up. The guard proceeds to ask to see his ID--the guard checks it out and leaves. He does not say a word to the white student.

The father is furious. I'm left with the thought that while this might be innocent and innocuous, it would seem that in this day and age with the issue of racial profiling burning in our community that a security guard would be a bit more sensitive to the social context of his interaction and take care to make sure that his actions do not spark allegations of racial profiling. It can't be that hard, can it? The son is embarrased and humiliated at something where he did not do a single thing incorrectly, other than to sit on a curb and be a Muslim-American in Davis. When is this community going to start to question our practices?

Cleaning up the DA's office

Interesting gossip coming out of the DA's office. When Jeff Reisig ran to replace the long-time DA Dave Henderson, he was supported by nearly everyone in the DA's office as well as most of the law enforcement community. Despite that heavy support from the establishment Reisig won a relatively narrow race with just 54 percent of the vote.

For a long time, there have been complaints about the operations within the department. Most of us assumed that Reisig would continue business as usual within the office given the people who supported his candidacy. However, it seems that the specter of a future challenge may be convincing Reisig he had better clean up the office while he can. He has pulled the files on all of the employees and will review them. This move has apparently caused quite a stir already. We'll see if this is just a ploy or whether Reisig is prepared to clean house (an act that is long overdue from what we've heard).

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Chair of the Senior Citizens Commission Blasts Back

Yesterday I reported that Councilmember Stephen Souza publicly browbeat the chair of the Senior Citizens Commission. Well in last night’s Davis Enterprise Elaine Roberts Musser fired back.

She strongly opposes the proposed merger of the Senior Citizens Commission with the Social Services Commission arguing that “based on my knowledge as a commissioner at the county level. Such a merger may have unintended consequences.”

Moreover she informs us that County Supervisor Mariko Yamada strongly opposes this merger and wrote a letter the members of the Davis City Council expressing that.

But the real fireworks come toward the end of the letter.

“In my opinion, if the Davis City Council doesn't think enough of its senior citizens to have a separate commission for the elderly, Davis may find itself in the unenviable position of not being represented at the county level. When matters with respect to the county come up for budgeting and projects, Davis seniors may discover themselves on the short end of the stick. Woodland and West Sacramento, who do have separate senior commissions, may garner a windfall with respect to county monies or projects, whereas Davis will be left out in the cold.”

Finally she delivers the electoral threat with the full-force of the Senior voters behind her. “I would also urge Davis seniors to keep in mind who on the City Council did not think their concerns were important enough to rate continuing the Senior Citizens Commission, the next time City Council members come up for re- election.”

I will be very interested to see how the Council responds to what I am guessing they will perceive as a threat. This is starting to bear a remarkable resemblance to the situation of the HRC, where the Chair, frustrated at the Council’s attempts to skirt the issue and undercut her finally threatened them with going to the voters. That was a huge mistake, but the Senior Citizen Commission is probably in much stronger position to press home this threat than the HRC ever was and that’s why it will be interesting to see if the Council ends up being as heavy-handed with the Senior Citizen Commission as they were with the HRC.

One thing is clear—the council in June tried to portray the situation with the HRC as unique—it was not. The difference is that the HRC was politically vulnerable enough to isolate. The Senior Citizen community is probably far too strong for those kind of tactics to work.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting…

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Racial Profiling

Every so often I get an email worth sharing. Most people end up putting their comments on the blog and that's obviously ideal.

But I got this email last night and it was particularly pertinent to the ongoing discussion of the police issues here in Davis.

So I'm driving down Sycamore Ln. just passing Willett Elementary School on Sunday...yesterday. I'm with the family trying to go shopping. I see a Davis Police car traveling in the opposite direction and following a car very closely. No, not close, on the bumper of the other car. I had to interrupt my family shopping trip to see for myself. I make a U-turn. Sure enough, two Hispanic kids are being pulled over for apparently no reason in the parking lot of Willett elementary. The police ask the driver for his license and ask him if he is a student. He explains that he is just here to play a game of volleyball with friends at the park. The cop leaves and the kid turns to me...we are at this point watching...and says "if that's not racial profiling I don't know what is."
This is the kind of situation that is frustrating. And the basic that it is frustrating is that everyone knows what is going on here. You have a minority kid driving the car, the cop pulls him over, asks him a question, and then lets them go. No citation, no warning, nothing except a question.

So the kid is angry because well they feel violated by this intrusion into their everyday life by the state.

There is no report on the incident, so we have no idea how many times this occurs, and there is no good way to study it.

And the police can always fall back on the justification that either the person was acting suspiciously or the person matched vaguely the profile of someone who might have committed a crime.

Last May heard numerous stories and they were all very similar of African-American UC Davis students who were pulled over asked either if they were from Sacramento or Oakland, asked if they were in a gang, asked if they were on probation. Probation is always a good one for the police, because then they can actually do a legal search without permission or probable cause. These students really resent this and it creates a climate of distrust between UC Davis students who happen to be minority and the police.

Last summer I saw something similar happen, I was walking through Central Park, suddenly I see a police car make a fast move, drive onto the sidewalk. Cops get out of the car with both doors left open and weapons drawn. And they talked to an Hispanic male for a few minutes, let him go and leave. I walked up and asked him and he just kind of shrugged and said they asked him some questions and he has no idea why they pulled him over.

These are the type of things that it's going to be hard to investigate for an Ombudsman. The Buzayan's of the world are violate perhaps but at least there is a paper trail. Here, there is no paper trail and the police control the flow of information. And a lot of kids leave UC Davis and that's it, they don't come back.

I do not have a good answer for this, but we have to figure something out.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Browbeating Seniors

My focus on the HRC and the Council’s reconstruction of the HRC is closest to my heart, but my single-minded focus has obscured some of the other controversial changes to the commission system proposed by Souza-Asmundson.

To most of us Stephen Souza is the mild-mannered councilmember, who looks like he’d be right at home smoking a bowl with his constituents and philosophizing about the meaning of life until the wee hours of the morning. Souza appears generally calm and reserved and often tries to play the role as moderating force to the cold and calculating Don Saylor. But there is a dark-side to Stephen Souza that few in the public have seen. He’s every bit as cold and calculating as Saylor, with an equal mean and vindictive side to him.

One of the proposed changes was merging the Social Services Commission with the Senior Commission. Now last week, Souza and Asmundson went to the Social Services Commission and asked them to support the merger, they did by a 6-1 vote. Now there is subtext to this vote, the next day, the Council was going to here on the issue of accessibility in new building projects, which is the most important issue to that commission. Would they vote against the wishes of the council majority knowing that their issue was going to be heard the next day? No. And they were not all that happy with the council’s decision anyway.

The sham comes when the Senior Commission meets late last week, and Souza and Asmundson show up again. Souza browbeats the chair of the Senior commission for over an hour. Apparently it was quite abusive from eyewitness accounts. They have not voted on the matter yet, but will at the next meeting.

To begin with, I do not understand the rationale of the merger. The two commissions do not deal with the same things. Even if the merger were to make some sense, I do not understand why Souza would have so much invested in the merger that he would feel the need to be abusive toward a senior (or anyone for that matter). The chair of the commission is furious and this is not the first time that Souza has done this to a chair. He may have been able to get away with this with the HRC, but seniors are a large percentage of our population and they vote. Word will get around about this. And I’m just left scratching my head.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Monday, September 25, 2006

The New (White) HRC

Diversity Gone from the HRC

Last Summer the Davis City Council voted 4-1 to remove every member of the Davis Human Relations Commission from the commission and have them reapply. Only one member--member emeritus John Pamperin chose to reapply. The rest of the commission is entirely new.

I write this column with a great deal of ambivalence because it touches upon an explosive issue and also a philosophical conundrum. I begin with a simple statement—the Davis Human Relations Commission has since its inception been one of the most diverse bodies in this entire city. The last human relations commission had members from many different ethnicities—Latina, Africa-American, Muslim, Jewish, East Asian, Indian, among others.

The new human relations commission appears to be nearly completely white. That brings up the race issue and also brings up a philosophical question about the nature of representation.

Let me clarify right away—I do not believe the city council is racist. I’m not accusing anyone of racism. However, I do believe that the current city council majority created a climate that limited the number of applicants.

Let me also clearly state that I think there are some excellent members on the new commission. I have concerns about one of the members who had to resign due to a conflict of interest five years ago, but this entry is mainly about the charge of the HRC and its new membership.

This is a commission whose primary charge is to deal with issues of prejudice, discrimination, and racism. Can a mostly white body effectively address those concerns? That is a crucial question that gets to the nature of what representation is itself.

I do not wish to criticize the membership of a commission before they have met, but I believe there is a fundamental problem in the city of Davis with racism. And that problem is not one that most white people, myself included, are very aware of. It was only my close proximity with several instances of racial problems that I became aware of this problem.

Moreover, a white person in Davis, I have never had a personal problem with a police officer or the police themselves. If I did not know people who did have problems, I would never have become aware of it. Almost all of those people with problems with the police have been minorities.

The very problem that the HRC now faces is not racism by the City Council necessarily, but rather neglect. The City Council was in a great hurry to get rid of the former Latina-American chair because she chose to raise issues, but they did not do sufficient outreach in order to get a diverse pool of applicants on the commission. I doubt if they even considered what the make up would look like.

They got exactly ten applicants, two of whom became ex-officio/ non-voting members and one of whom is an alternate. The other seven are regular members. Why such a small pool of applicants? Because everyone saw what happened to the previous HRC and non one wanted to deal with the current council and their consolidation of power.

But the ultimate effect and we cannot lose site of this is an HRC where the majority of the members have never personally had to deal with prejudice and the majority of the members are white people. And that is a fundamental problem.

---Doug Paul Davis Reporting