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Thursday, March 01, 2007

Souza Admits "Inconvenient Truth" Racial Profiling Does Exist in Davis

It was somewhat surprising to see in the California Aggie on Tuesday that City Councilmember Stephen Souza acknowledged “that racial profiling exists in Davis.”

This follows a year where several of his colleagues — repeatedly — stated that they had reviewed a number of recent complaints against the police department and found them to be totally without merit.

One of the people who came forward during that time was Jamal Buzayan. Another was Bernita Toney who has now had her complaints against the police department vindicated and validated in a court of law as she now awaits an attorney to take up a civil suit on her behalf against the city of Davis.

Recently Mr. Souza suggested on this blog, that the issue for him “is not should the City have oversight [but rather it] is what type we should have.”

The California Aggie quotes him as wondering how often racial profiling occurs.
"What I want to know is if there are cases that have been specifically cited by individuals in the community," he said. "I want to know if there's truth to those allegations. If we find cases of racial profiling in Davis, I want make sure they are dealt [with] appropriately and they will never happen again."
While I have generally been a proponent of transparency in governmental actions, especially law enforcement, my biggest concern has always been that those in government acknowledge that we have a problem. It was always clear that neither former councilmember Ted Puntillo nor current councilmember Don Saylor acknowledged that there was a problem. Mr. Puntillo used words like “forced” to describe the council’s move to install even an Ombudsman.

Without an acknowledgment that there exists a problem, it is difficult to enact policy that will lead to a solution for a problem. It is for that reason I was heartened to hear Mr. Souza acknowledge a problem.

The Davis Enterprise last night described an assembly at Davis High School on Tuesday for Black History Month. The keynote speaker was Ron Tyler of the ACLU. He called the issue of racial profiling another “inconvenient truth.”

The Davis Enterprise reports:

He focused on the issue of racial profiling and told the crowd they didn’t have to be people of color to experience profiling.
“Every teen who has gone to the mall has experienced age profiling,” he said, referring to young shoppers who are sometimes closely watched by store personnel.

Tyler, who is a lawyer, shared his own story of profiling. Going to a jail to meet with a client, he was stopped and searched by a police officer who didn’t know him.

While he chuckled at his own situation, he said, “For some people, the consequences of racial profiling are much more severe.”

“Take action,” he told his listeners, “beginning with self-awareness.”

Tyler warned the students to not let personal prejudices interfere. He also told them to speak up and to support one another, as well as support efforts to completely outlaw racial profiling.

“When we don’t stand up to inconvenient truths, everyone suffers,” he said.
Last May around 150 African American UC Davis students marched from the UC Davis Memorial Union to the Davis Police Station. For around two hours, student after student got up and gave testimonials about personal incidents where they believed they were racially profiled. I would estimate at least 20 to 30 students spoke about cases of harassment—many of them not minor.

The sad thing about this incident is that it could have brought about community dialogue. Not one of the city councilmembers at that time were at this rally. The Davis Police Officers for the most part stood behind the glass, often snickering and joking with one another rather than listening to the very credible accounts of racial profiling. The police chief at the time, refused to come out and address the concerns of the crowd.

Recently the Ombudsman Bob Aaronson lamented on the lost opportunity that the Buzayan Case represented to the community.
“As I was quoted in a recent Sacramento Bee article, the Buzayan matter was a missed opportunity to begin a meaningful community dialogue around law enforcement issues… Every honest person who played a role in the Buzayan matter must, in hindsight, admit that he’d/ she’d do some things better, more circumspectly, if a ‘do over’ were possible. Healing requires acknowledgment of as much by everyone. Those who haven’t benefitted (sic) from hindsight will simply repeat their mistakes, to the community’s and their own detriment.”
This march was another lost opportunity for dialogue. Councilmember Souza is unsure how widespread the problem of racial profiling is in Davis? He was on the Human Relations Commission for a number of years and undoubtedly heard many complaints over the years. He was on the watch, when a State Senator’s Staffer endured a racial profiling incident several years back while precinct walking in Davis. And had Mr. Souza been at the rally he would have heard many credible stories and complaints. Furthermore Mr. Souza has sat behind the dais and heard even more as individual after individual came forward last March to press their complaints. And then previously in February. And yet again in April.

The African Americans in this community would tell Mr. Souza, if he asked, that this has been a problem not for years but for decades. That it arises as a public issue every few years but rarely is something done to change it. Hiring an Ombudsman was a good first step, but it remains the first step rather than the completion of the solution. There is much more work that needs to be done.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting