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Saturday, October 14, 2006

More on Racial Profiling

I had originally put this in a comment, I'll throw it as it's own entry and follow-up with some thoughts on it...

One thing that the Davis Police recognize is that the majority of the crime committed in Davis is from people outside of the city and it generally comes in the form of property theft. The police also understand the key access points to the city and they basically watch those access points and look for anyone "who doesn't belong." And then they look for a second reason to pull them over and ask them questions--that could be a minor violation such as failure to use a signal or it could be an expired license plate or broken headlights.

Part of this is good police work--understanding where the crime is going to come from is very important. On the other hand, the people who may "look like they don't belong here" simply because they are not in the majority are most often minorities who live in Davis and end up being pulled over multiple times in short periods of time. This is more common than not.

The key questions that are asked during the stops are things such as, "are you from Sacramento?" Or, "Are you from Oakland?" Which may tell them they are gang members. They also ask if someone is on probation because that allows them to conduct a search without permission or a warrant.

In the end, profiling is hard to prove. There are some aspects of good police work here, but the practice ends up angering many people who fall into the target group that the police believe may not belong. In the end, they are looking for reasons to pull over minorities and question them. It may or may not be an effective crime fighting technique, but it also serves to drive a wedge into the minority community.

The rest of the community really has no conception for the amount of anger that is out there. Last May, I attended a march at the police station with a number of students--almost all of them were minority students and the vast majority of those were African-American. I've followed this issue for quite some time and yet I was caught off guard by the sheer number of students who stepped forward and the level of anger that they had at how they were treated.

I would say more than 20 students spoke about personal experiences with the police and racial profiling and some of them had more than a handful of these experiences. It was shocking to listen to this, because it was clearly a very different world that they inhabit from those of us who are white. So when I heard comments from people in this community last spring talking about the fact that they’ve never had a negative experience with the police, the first thought that jumps into my head is that they are older and white rather than younger and a minority. That gulf made it very difficult for much of the community who has undoubtedly had good experiences with the police to understand where this anger was coming from. That polarization led to many of the problems that occurred in the past year.

The number of times many of these students had been pulled over leads one to the stark conclusion that this is not merely the enforcement of minor violations as some police officers claim. It is systematic and it is very intrusive.

But the issue of racial profiling itself remains a very tricky situation to try to deal with. It is difficult to prove because the encounters are often ambiguous and it is only in the broader context that it becomes apparent that there is a problem. That's been the problem all along--the City Council and the previous police chief denied that there was any problem whatsoever (while at the same time they implemented tremendous amounts of change by creating the position of ombudsman) and the majority of the community agreed with them because they never experienced the problems that some of our residents and our students have had to experience.

There is little that the Ombudsman can do about racial profiling--most cases will be murky at best. A police officer pulls over an African-American UC Davis student, says that he has failed to signal--how is even a video going to demonstrate conclusively otherwise? We would need data on traffic stops and that data would have to somehow demonstrate that a disproportionate amount of African American students were getting pulled over for minor incidents with no citation given.

Amazingly enough there was some data collected at one point by the police department. However, last year Steve Pierce, then Assistant Chief, admitted that they didn't know what to do with it and they threw it out when they moved to the new police station. He admitted this at a public meeting and wrote it in an email to Chief Hyde.

Unfortunately, while I have hope for the new ombudsman and his ability to investigate some of the complaints into the police department, racial profiling is going to be a tough nut to crack. I just don't see that issue getting resolved anytime soon. Clearly the community needs to see what is going on before they are going to be willing to act and I don’t see how that’s going to happen either.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Friday, October 13, 2006

CAB Meetings to Stay out of Public Light

The majority City Council moved to change the purview of the Davis Human Relations Commission (HRC) citing that the HRC no longer needs to concern themselves with police issues since council has created a Community Advisory Board (among other bodies such as the Police Advisory Committee and the Ombudsman) to serve that purpose.

The following is the description from the city website on the CAB functions:
An advisory board of 12 people representing a cross-section of the community based on neighborhoods, businesses, schools, religion, race, gender, and other factors was formed the last quarter of 2005. The members are selected by the Police Chief with the City Manager’s approval. This board meets with the Chief on a monthly basis to provide input to the department regarding constituent concerns. Additionally, the CAB members will take information away from the police department back into the community. This Board has broad public representation and input into the police department. Most importantly, CAB opens and sustains on-going dialogue with key members of the community on issues of mutual concern.
While the board may have "broad public representation" and it may open and sustain "on-going dialogue," it also meets in private. There has been increasing discussion that with the removal of the police issue from the HRC, the CAB needs to take on a more public role. Councilmember Heystek raised this issue at the September 19, 2006 Council Meeting.

And according to the posting by Chair Steven Worker on the Davis Wiki, this was an item of discussion at the last CAB meeting.
The CAB process was discussed and there was agreement that meetings needed agendas (pre-meeting) and notes (post-meeting). There was discussion that these might be posted on the DPD website. It was felt that guests could be invited by CAB members, but the CAB would not be a place to hear complaints about specific incidents , but rather discuss overall themes and issues.
This is a troubling policy statement for two reasons. First of all, you have a body that is meeting and advising on policy decisions that is not open to the public except by invitation.

Second, the public once again has no public venue in which to air their concerns about police practices except for the City Council Meetings. The Police Chief has suggested that that is the role of the ombudsman, but that forces people to take formal action every time they need to air their grievances. Moreover and troubling is the fact that without public scrutiny there can be no public pressure to change policies. John Burris in his book, "Black and White," cites the fact that even when Police Departments are found to have committed acts of misconduct, the lack of public scrutiny often means that the practices continue and policies remain unchanged. This occurs despite millions of dollars in settlements paid in civil lawsuits and sustained complaints against specific officers. Lack of public awareness means that poor training and other factors can continue despite lawsuits and complaints.

This current arrangement with lack of public hearings is clearly by design. The City Council was not happy with the way things went last year with the Davis Human Relations Commission and they somehow believe that they can handle this problem better by removing it from the public realm.

This approach seems problematic at best. There remains a sizable number of people within this community who are very concerned about the police issue and the conduct of the Davis police department. By forcing this issue largely out of the public realm, these problems will not go away and in fact they may fester beneath the surface. If anything the situation could become more volatile without any sort of pressure release valve provided by bodies such as the Davis Human Relations Commission over the last 20 years.

The Police Ombudsman Robert Aaronson is a good hire and a good person, but most of his duties and reports will be not made public (and there are good reasons for this). It is very concerning that there is no public access now on this issue.

(For further information on the CAB I recommend you read the segment in our Police Oversight Series on the CAB)

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Video Shows Case of Alleged Racial Profiling

The People's Vanguard of Davis has acquired this footage taken in January of 2006. It shows an area couple who witnessed a police officer pulling over an African-American UC Davis student. They then talk to the student who is unhappy at being pulled over.

As with most cases of alleged racial profiling, the evidence is unclear. We do not have access to the interaction between the police officer and the student. And even if we did, we would see the police officer ask a couple of questions, check the car's paperwork and let the student go. There was no citation given. The charge of racial profiling is difficult to sustain and often explained either by citing a minor vehicle violation or the claim that the person fit the profile of someone sought by the police for the commission of another crime.

The reason that he was allegedly pulled over was failure to signal, however, the student claims that that was untrue and the officer never cites him for it or even gives him a warning. This is a similar story that is told over and over again amongst minority students in this community. A student is pulled over, asked what they are doing, asked where they are from, the license and registration are processed, and then more often than not the person is let go without a citation or even a warning.

I like this clip because the student is clearly well-spoken and someone that most in the community can relate to. He is on his way to a job interview, well-dressed, and driving a nice rental car.

The sad part about this interaction is that these types of interactions between minorities in Davis and the police happen frequently, there is little that can be documented about them and in the end, the only thing this clip can do is raise community awareness about the problem.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

PG&E Spends $9 Million on anti-SMUD Campaign

The numbers are staggering… According to the Sacramento Bee:
“Pacific Gas and Electric Co. has poured $9.4 million into an aggressive campaign to retain Yolo County customers, spending $21 for every dollar spent by supporters of a Sacramento Municipal Utility District expansion.”
Yolo County officials who never agree on anything are near unanimous in their support for SMUD. That includes people like Mariko Yamada, County Supervisor, Sue Greenwald, Davis Mayor and on the other side Council members Don Saylor, Steve Souza, and Ruth Asmundson. All of these officials support SMUD.

The draw is that SMUD presents about 30 percent-lower average rates. These rates help the cities better maintain their budgets. It helps the school district’s lower costs. And it helps the consumer save on their electricity bill.

Everyone wins except for PG&E. How much are they set to lose? Well enough so that they can spend $9 million without blinking.

As many people in Yolo County have suggested—perhaps had PG&E put their money and efforts into improving their system and their customer service, the ratepayers in Yolo County would not be revolting.

I’m a strong supporter of local business. I’m a stronger supporter that small business provides better services. And finally, in this day and age, I’m a strong supporter of competition. When a company like PG&E operates with a natural monopoly, they have no competition.

This is probably the first time they’ve ever had to compete to keep customers. Because if “I” don’t like them, I can sit in the dark or install a windmill in my backyard and solar panels on the roof. Neither of which are really feasible options.

Now suddenly they have to fight for their customers. Instead of trying to win us over with promises of improvement and rate reduction, they are using their vast wealth that they’ve acquired from us to scare us into sticking with an inferior system. Unlike other political campaigns—everyone knows about PG&E, everyone knows about the services they provide, and they aren’t going to fool anyone with $9 million or even $90 million.

That said, I don’t think SMUD is running a very good campaign. I’ve heard complaints that the spokesperson was very bad at community forums and that Stephen Souza wasn’t very helpful. Why is Stephen Souza the point person on this? It should be someone like Mariko Yamada.

In the meantime, anyone driving by the PG&E plant on L and 2nd in Davis might notice the rather large NO on H and I signs, I could be wrong, but aren’t signs of that size, not allowed in the city limits? Why has no one challenged them?

As I said yesterday on Target, you have a choice. If you like your current rates and the current system, stick with PG&E. If you believe the scare tactics that SMUD is overreaching and this will cripple SMUD, then again, vote for PG&E. Personally, I can not think of many companies in this country that I dislike more than PG&E and I am willing to take the chance on SMUD.

Regardless of these issues, Yolo County deserves better than to be foisted a smear campaign that will cost well over $10 million by the time it is over.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Souza Encourages Heystek to Bring up Living Wage Item on His Own

In what follows is the exchange from the August 1, 2006 Meeting where Heystek first requestioned that council agendize the living wage ordinance. Note that he clearly states he would like it on the September 12 agenda. This is important because when Council votes against agendizing the item by a 3-2 vote, Souza specifically encourages Heystek to prepare the item on his own for discussion. Because he has to prepare the item himself, it takes until the September 19 Meeting to bring it forward, which was the last possible date it could have a first reading and still apply to Measure K. Heystek is then chatised by Souza and Saylor both at the meeting and in the press for politicking and throwing this item on them at the least meeting. In light of this video clip, this attack is shown completely unfounded and the council majority is in fact responsible for the late date by failing to allow staff to prepare this item.

Bottom line here--the video at the end of this clip clearly shows Souza encourage Heystek to bring this proposal forward on his own and later both he and Saylor attack Heystek for bringing it forward at the last minute (he did not) and for politicking. This is duplicitous on the part of council at best.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Dreaming of a Green Target?

In Sunday’s paper we were told that a “green Target” not only “provides affordable shopping” but it “fits Davis’ values.”

I read through the entire column written by a large number of individuals, and I did not see much that would sway my view of Target as a large business that would put local owners out of business, would bring in a number of jobs to people who could not afford to live in our community on the Target salary, who practices union-busting behavior, and I could go on.

In fact, I came away rather insulted that they thought, “The use of wood, stone and other design features to make the store unique to Davis” would make me believe that Target supported my values. My values are not based on exterior aesthetics.

The big story from last weekend is the closing of an icon in Sacramento and Davis: Tower Records. From the Sacramento Bee:

“The Tower Records legacy began on Watt Avenue in 1960, where Russ Solomon opened his first store. A store still exists on Watt Avenue, above, but not for long. Tower served as a point of pride for capital-area residents. But competition from big-box discounters and the Internet began eroding music retailers like Tower in the mid- and late 1990s.”

Tower is obviously not a locally owned business, but it was started in Sacramento. Moreover, it demonstrates once again that big-box retailers have the capability to put others out of business.

Meanwhile, we can do some math. Target brings in about 200 jobs (150-250 is the estimate). Most of those will receive Minimum wage which is currently $6.75 per hour. Even if they work a full 160 hours in a month, that is $1080. And that’s before taxes. So we’re talking about $900. No one can reasonably live in Davis on $900 per month. So we would not be bringing in 200 jobs into Davis, we would be bringing them into Woodland, West Sacramento, Dixon or wherever someone can afford to live on $900 per month.

Now imagine that we adopt Heystek’s living wage ordinance, those same people would make $1600 per month before taxes. You could in fact, rent an apartment and live in Davis on $1400-1500 per month. But of course, the council supporters of Target also oppose a Living Wage (despite their weak attempts to claim otherwise).

By the way, an excellent letter by Gene Borack on Sunday calling Souza’s rhetoric for what it is. By the end of this week, Davis residents will be able to view the exchange between Souza and Heystek from the August 1, 2006 meeting on our site and they will see that indeed as we have said and Borack stated, that council encouraged Heystek to go forward only to pillory him for bringing it out at the last minute.

Folks, this is all very basic, the pro-Target people talk about Target fitting Davis values, well it’s all about which values you hold and support. I support the concept of locally owned and operated business. I support the small business owner who resides in our community. I support unions. I support the living wage. This Target proposal goes against all of these core values of mine. If they go against yours, then you ought to oppose Target. If on the other hand, you believe we need to be able to buy socks and underwear in Davis no matter who manufactured said apparel, then by all means, support a Target. I do not wish to tell other people how to vote, but people should have the facts at their disposal.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting

Monday, October 09, 2006

Saylor Attacked ASUCD back in May

Back in early May, the Davis City Council passed a resolution creating the position of the Ombudsman. Prior to that meeting, the student body at UC Davis (ASUCD), an elective organization that represents 25,000 students, held an emergency meeting to recommend the creation of Civilian Review Board instead of an Ombudsman.

There are two different groups in this community most impacted by the issue of Police conduct—one of those is the minority community at large and the other is the student community, especially the minority community within the student population—the majority of which reside within the city proper. In other words, the ASUCD was not taking up an issue that didn’t directly affect their members. Later in May we saw 150 minority students march to the Davis Police Station to request changes in department policy regarding racial profiling.

Rob Roy, who was both a candidate for the Davis City Council and a member of ASUCD, presented the resolution to the Davis City Council that evening during public comments about the Ombudsman. The Council could have easily accepted the recommendation and then acted as they were going to act anyway. That would probably have been the professional way to respond.

Instead, Don Saylor in very stark and direct language tore into Roy and the ASUCD, blasting the process, blasting their knowledge of the issue, he did so in his trademark measured tone, but it was no less abusive. He called it “at best ill-informed” and at worst “cynical” and “politically motivated.” Further he called them “misinformed” and “misguided.”

It was stunning to see of member of the Davis City Council castigating an independent elective body that was acting to represent the needs of their members. It would be one thing to disregard the recommendation, to disagree with it, but to angrily denounce them seemed well out of bounds.

Like most things said in the late night (this was at around 10:45 PM)—the audience in the chamber was non-existent and the audience on the TV was probably just as small. It was not covered in the paper and unless you happen to watch it, you would have missed it completely.

Here’s a clip of Saylor’s statement…

---Doug Paul Davis Reporting

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Charlie Brown, Max Cleland, and the Democratic 2006 Prospects

Yesterday three veterans of the US military were in Davis. Retired Republican Congressman Pete McCloskey who made his name as an anti-Vietnam war Representative, former Senator Max Cleland, and Congressional candidate Charlie Brown. Brown the proverbial underdog is facing eight-term incumbent John Doolittle. Doolittle is in hot water because of his close affiliation with Abramoff and probably because of general disatisfaction with the direction of this country.

Two things among many stike me about the event yesterday. First, Charlie Brown's staffer told us that he's not getting money from the national party. That is a travesty. The New York Times now lists 50 congressional districts that are in play, Doolittle's is now one. The Democratic party has an 18 district strategy--they are funding only 18 districts that they think they have to win to get to 218 and no more.

Folks if the Democrats end up winning the House it will be because of people like Charlie Brown--war heroes who have serious doubts about the conduct of the current administration and the average voter who rise up against the existing political order and caste out the Republican incumbents. It will be a movement of grassroots people who have had enough. The Democratic establishment is utterly useless.

The second amazing thing was watching Max Cleland wheel in on his wheel chair, and you know the guy is a veteran of Vietnam, you know he is in a wheel chair, you know a lot of things. But when you see him up close and you see the remnants of his legs and his right arm, you realize what true sacrifice is. I became angry because in 2002 his Republican opponent dared to challenge this man's patriotism because he had questions about the patriot act. And what a speech he gave. The Republicans claim to be the pro-military party, but they have left the veterans behind, they have hung the brave fighting men and women out to dry, and they had to get rid of Max Cleland because he reminds them of their hypocrisy.

Next time you hear the Republicans charge the Democrats with wanting to cut-and-run, just remember Max Cleland. This man could have cut and run on life a long time ago, he could have given up on his country after losing in 2002, instead, he's still fighting for this country with everything he has. To me that's true patriotism.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting