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Just Us in Davis: Why I said ‘no’ to this D.A.

By From page A13 | December 30, 2012

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* Screening of “From The Community To The Classroom: A Youth Directed Film of How Davis Young People Led Their Community Closer to Educational Equity,” at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 15, at the Guild Theater in Oak Park, 2828 35th St., Sacramento. A new discussion guide and lesson plans will be introduced, followed by a reception next door at Underground Bookstore.

* “Visions of Other Suns: Great Migration Stories From Local African-Americans,” a family event, 7-8:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 31, Brunelle Performance Hall at Davis High School, 315 W. 14th St.

* Mark your calendars for an original play about racism in Davis, written by Davis High School alumni and performed by current DHS youths on the weekends of March 8 and 15 at the Brunelle Performance Hall at Davis High School, 315 W. 14th St.

I was recently asked to join Yolo County District Attorney Jeff Reisig’s new Multicultural Community Council in a collegial invitation extended by Chief Deputy District Attorney Jonathan Raven. I told Jonathan I was not interested, because I had accompanied too many Davis folks in Yolo County Superior Court who were inappropriately charged, investigated, overcharged, gang-labeled and unnecessarily prosecuted at great taxpayers’ (yours and mine) expense, and residents’ turmoil.

(Seven cases come to mind in 30 seconds of recall.)

During the excellent Dec. 1 public forum, “Breaking The Silence of Racism,” sponsored by the city of Davis Human Relations Commission (available for viewing at (http://dctv.davismedia.org/node/38980), I was called out again — this time publicly — by panelist Raven, as someone he was trying to convince to join Reisig’s community council.

So, I am publicly writing “no” to this D.A., as I said publicly “no” during the forum. I know 2014 is an election year for Reisig, but I do not think my advice will make a bit of difference in what seems to be a systemic pattern of racial injustice at the hands of his office. The Honorable Cruz Reynoso, former California Supreme Court justice, current UC Davis professor of law and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest civilian honor, took his time to show up to December’s Saturday public forum to testify, among other things, “There are real problems in the Yolo District Attorney’s Office.”

We need to listen.

Two other cases involve my best girlfriend, Bernita Toney, an African-American 30-year Davis resident, parent, community volunteer and UCD graduate.

Bernita provided compassionate care to community elder John Clark, a frail African-American diabetic. When Mr. John had a stroke and needed extended nursing home care, Bernita continued to do his laundry, incontinent as he was in an understaffed facility; drove him to doctors’ appointments; made sure his bills were paid so he could return to subsidized housing; and set up and attended “family” meetings at the facility to ensure optimal treatment. When Bernita was out of town, she’d prep me to stand in for the meetings and appointments, as Mr. John had no family in the area.

I had no idea, as Bernita did not, that In-Home Support Services should not be charged for the abundant services and support she rendered to him during his stay in the convalescent facility. When she was told, she immediately set up a repayment plan. IHSS employees deemed the oversight as “overpayment” versus fraud, well acquainted with Bernita’s meticulous and patient care of Mr. John.

Weeks later, Reisig’s office charged her with fraud, with a total of 11 felony counts (case #57-01609728). Bernita raised the money and paid the entire balance. Still, the D.A.’s Office pursued prosecution over the next 12 months, expending our taxes in the face of dire county budget deficits.

I believe the office was practicing what American University Law School professor Angela J. Davis, author of “Arbitrary Justice: The Power of the American Prosecutor,” refers to as “prosecutorial bullying,” coercing the innocent to plead to lesser crimes they did not commit. (See Frontline’s “The Plea,” at http://video.pbs.org/video/2216784391).

Bernita’s case continued agonizingly all the way up to jury selection day, when the prosecutor offered to reduce her 11 felony counts to one misdemeanor, if she would plead guilty to that misdemeanor. She refused, and in an unusual move, the D.A.’s Office dropped all charges, retaining the privilege to re-try her within a year.

This is the third time the Yolo County District Attorney’s Office has dragged Bernita through an extended court process when its officers must have known she was innocent. Bernita was charged in 2005 with leaving her young children unattended in a car, based on a Davis police report that the D.A.’s Office knew was false before the trial. Spilling over into Reisig’s administration, it took two years, two public defenders, thousands of public dollars and more than 20 court visits for Bernita to be acquitted by a jury in less than three hours. Reisig’s office sent Bernita a bill for the public defender.

I am saying “no” to yet another community board or advisory council that exhausts community members, giving the appearance that the status quo is being challenged when it isn’t.

Here is what I suggested at the public forum: While differing in extent or type of racial inequality, the public entities represented at the Dec. 1 forum should publicly present data by race/ethnicity, language status and age that we can access electronically and track over time.

This kind of public accountability would hold our tax-supported public entities accountable to a status quo that pursues not just high conviction rates or recovered checks, not just equalized test scores, but justice. Supply the necessary supporting text and education, but give us the data without a crisis necessitating that we beg and then wait for it.

Lists of specific data must await another column. Please email suggestions of the types of data we might request of the Davis Police Department, of the Davis Joint Unified School District and of the Yolo County D.A.’s Office.

In 1968, Robert Kennedy stated that America could have a black president within 40 years. A week later, Kennedy was gone. Still, 40 years later — to the year — President Obama was elected. Oh, the millions of individuals’ decisions and acts that accomplished this history! Now it’s just us left to make 2013 a year of actions, not just dialogue, that continue to move our community toward a daily justice that fully benefits and equally shapes the futures of its children and residents.

Jann Murray-García, M.D., M.P.H., is a Davis parent and pediatrician. She shares this monthly column with Jonathan London. Reach her at [email protected]

Jann Murray-Garcia

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