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Thursday, May 17, 2007

Civil Rights Fighters Honored in Davis Tuesday Night

At Tuesday's City Council Meeting, a number of community leaders in civil rights were honored with Thong Hy Huynh Awards. The awards are named for the 1983 killing of Huynh, who was stabbed to death in a racially motivated killing on the Davis High School campus.

This year seven individuals received awards in six different categories. Mel Trujillo who passed away last month received the Lifetime Achievement Award, Yolo County Supervisor Mariko Yamada and Michelle Reardon received the Humanitarian Award, the group Youth for Hope received the Young Humanitarian Award, Yolo County Clerk Freddie Oakley received the Civil Rights Advocacy Award, Hamza El-Nakhal the Community Education and Awareness award, and the Davis Wiki received the Excellent in Community Involvement Award.

Yolo County Supervisor Mariko Yamada has been a long and forceful advocate for civil rights in this community. She has long been a champion in the area of health and human services and an advocate for the poor. However in my mind, it has been her advocacy on behalf of police oversight and particularly on behalf of young Halema Buzayan that has distinguished her from many other public officials in this town.

Last year she became the only public official at the time to advocate and support the installation of a police civilian review board in Davis. In 2005, she spoke publicly during a a joint session between the Davis City Council and the Human Relations Commission and encouraged the council to study the establishment of an independent review function for the Davis Police Department. She did this because her office had specifically fielded five cases dealing with the alleged mistreatment and/ or harassment by Davis police officers.

In a February 2006 letter to then Davis Mayor Ruth Asmundson, Yamada wrote:
"Had I not had first-hand experience guiding a longtime Davis resident through the existing Citizen’s Complaint process against the Davis Police, I would not have had the opportunity to experience its frustrating and “fox-in-the-hen-house” dynamic."
From the standpoint of Jamal Buzayan, who is currently involved in a lengthy court battle and a civil rights lawsuit in federal court stemming from the 2005 arrest of his daughter for an alleged hit-and-run accident that has since been dismissed by a Yolo County judge,
Mariko [Yamada] is the only public official who stood by the truth and sought justice from day one until now."
Yamada was also a strong supporter of the efforts of the former Davis Human Relations Commission, publicly urging the council last June to retain the commission and its chair.

For these reasons, Supervisor Yamada is strongly deserving of the honors bestowed upon her on Tuesday night.

On Valentine's Day, Yolo County Clerk Freddie Oakley thrust herself, perhaps unwittingly into the limelight, in her protest of California Laws that prohibit the marriage of Same-sex individuals.

Oakley in a written statement issued on February 14, 2007 said:
For four years in a row, I have followed the law and denied marriage licenses to same-gender couples who apply annually on this date. I will continue to follow the law.

But this situation, where following the law requires me as a public official to treat people unequally based on gender, is a painful reminder to me that we have not learned the lessons of courtesy, decency and fairness that we seek to teach to our children.
She concluded by saying:
Today I am protesting this discrimination by giving a special Valentine's Day memento to people who request one. I do this at my own expense, in the exercise of my own civil right to call for a change in the law I must faithfully administer. I am the hand that must ultimately deny the application of some couples to contract a civil marriage, but I truly believe that the American values of courtesy, decency and fairness mean that if anybody gets a Valentine, everybody should get a Valentine.
In issuing the "certificates of inequality," Oakley earned praise in the gay and lesbian community, many of whom waited in line that day to obtain a certificate of inequality. Meanwhile she earned the scorn of some of the Christian Conservatives.

By putting herself on the line and taking a principled stance, she is duly deserving of the numerous honors that have since been bestowed upon her.

It was with great sadness, that Mel Trujillo could not be here on Tuesday night to receive his richly deserved award for Lifetime Achievement. His wife, Joyce Trujillo, received it in his stead, as our dear friend and comrade in the struggle for civil rights succumbed to cancer last month.

Those who were able to make it to his memorial service, would have heard first hand from Rick Gonzales, Jr. and Carlos Matos, Trujillo's commitment to civil rights. First, his longtime involvement in the Concilio of Yolo County which is an organization dedicated to among other things, helping young, especially Latinos, go to college. And now most recently the Martin Luther King, Jr. scholarship which also helps young minorities go to college. It was a great privilege to watch Trujillo in action in January, for what turned out to be the last time as he was able to raise the money from community members to be able to give scholarships to I believe it was nine deserving individuals, many of whom will be the first members of their family to go to college.

Trujillo dedicated his life to the fight for civil rights and social justice. I got to know him especially well in the last year. He grew angry and disgusted with the situation involving the Davis Police Department and what he perceived as the complicity on the part of various elected officials in the City of Davis. He was particularly disturbed by the Halema Buzayan incident, in which he became almost unwittingly involved through his confrontation with Davis Enterprise Columnist Bob Dunning.

Mel Trujillo you see grew up in poverty in New Mexico but was able to use the GI Bill to have a 20 year career in the military. In his late 30s, he parlayed that into a college degree and then law school, where he became an administrative law judge. It was his knowledge of juvenile law that enabled him to intervene with Mr. Dunning on behalf of young Halema Buzayan and her treatment by Davis Police Officer Pheng Ly.

Trujillo was also a strong supporter of the Davis Human Relations Commission and its former chair.

Mel Trujillo was a fighter for civil rights for 30 years, and many in this Davis Community who were the beneficiaries of his efforts will sorely miss Mel. His honor for lifetime achievement was so richly deserved.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting