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Sunday, May 27, 2007

Victims of Racial Profiling Reluctant to Step Forward

A year ago this past week, over 150 UC Davis students and Davis residents, most of them African American, marched from the Memorial Union on the UC Davis Campus to the Davis Police Station to protest against numerous incidents of racial profiling.

It was an event that was not even covered in the Davis Enterprise. I stood and watched the event for two hours as one by one student after student got up and talked about personal incidents involving the Davis Police. And no one from the City Council was there and the only paper that covered it was the California Aggie.

The Aggie quoted one of the organizers:
Devon Lee, another organizer of the event, said he feels the City Council has ignored students such as him.

"They weren't listening to us," Lee said. "They'd rather talk about a small business closing that affects people's recreation than the problems and circumstances that we have to deal with being students of color in the community."

"We protested for about two hours," Lee said. "We had police officers sitting behind glass windows laughing at us."
One of the reasons that I started this blog was the lack of coverage of events like this one and incidents such as those described at the rally. And yet, a year later I am still frustrated for a very different reason.

Each month I receive several emails from people in the community who have experienced or witnessed incidents involving the Davis Police Department. Sometimes the incidents happened too long ago for them to have filed a complaint--which in and of itself is frustrating. But more frustrating than that, is the unwillingness of people to go on the record, even as an anonymous source. People are afraid of retribution. People are afraid of getting involved. And people are afraid they will end up like the Buzayan family if they come forward.

One individual who I spoke with, is a respected member of this community who could bring a fresh new voice and face to this issue. The incident occurred at least two and maybe three years ago and he no longer will go to Davis as a result. He told me, "I believe there are some serious issues that need to be resolved in the Davis Police Department." Of course, he's not going to be the one to help resolve those issues because he won't say a word about it.

Another prominent resident of this community, an employee for the school district, was harassed by police in the parking lot of one of the schools shortly after he arrived in this community. Has he gone on the record? No.

I got another email a few months ago, a Davis resident was taking a course at Sacramento City College, the Davis branch. She told me about her classmates who had been repeatedly followed, pulled over, and even arrested. One time they said he looked like a car jacker even though he had a different car and plate number. But once again, could not get them to talk on the record.

One of the most egregious stories I know of occurred in late 2005, where the owners of a business establishment in downtown Davis had walked from a bar toward their home after a night of drinking. They had to use the restroom so they stopped at their store to use the one there. At that point, they found themselves surrounded by the police and held on the ground at gunpoint for 45 minutes. This despite the fact that one of them owned the store and directed the police to notice his picture on the wall. The situation was resolved when a police officer called the man's wife at home on the man's cell phone to verify his identity (of course the police officer had no idea who the man was calling or anyway to verify it, however he used the call as a reason to let them all go). However, after initially contacting us (my wife Cecilia), he refused to follow through with a complaint.

Yesterday at Farmer's Market, I told someone about this problem and they suggested that I write a special story categorizing the number and type of complaints and periodically update the numbers so that people can get a real sense for not only the number of emails I get but also encourage other people to come forward.

At this point, I have received around 13 emails or calls since January 15, 2007, none of them have gone on the record about their incidents.

I find myself frustrated at this point because without people willing to go and file complaints about these incidents, nothing is going to change. We will not find out if the oversight system works or needs to be altered. The community as a whole is unaware of such incidents, even though people within the community will tell you they have been going on for years.

Nothing is going to get resolved in this community unless people are willing to step forward and put themselves on the line. We all have reasons not to do it. Heck I cannot even blame people given what has happened to some, for not getting involved. In many ways it is like reporting a rape. The process is brutal. You go through the violation again and again. You are publicly scrutinized. But you do it because you know if you don't, it will happen to someone else. No one else should have to go through these kinds of violations and indignities. Unless people are willing to step forward, however, history will repeat itself over and over again.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting