By Jesse Ortiz
I’m responding to a recent column written by Jann Murray-García titled “Just Us in Davis: Why I said ‘no’ to this D.A.” In the piece, Murray-García details why she turned down an invitation to be part of a newly formed group called the Yolo County Multi-Cultural Community Council.
The group is coordinated out of Yolo County District Attorney Jeff Reisig’s office. As the designated chairperson of the 10 racially diverse council members representing Woodland, West Sacramento and Davis, I would like to share some thoughts and clarify some information presented in the column.
In declining an invitation to participate in the group’s work, Murray-García recounted her thoughts on perceived patterns of racial injustice in dealing with prosecutions in the District Attorney’s Office. She then cited these alleged patterns to attempt to discredit the Community Council because, in her opinion, it represents the District Attorney’s Office.
Though I have never met Murray-García, I would like to acknowledge her efforts and dedication in addressing racial injustice issues. I am aware that at times this cannot be an easy task.
All community members of the Yolo County Multi-Cultural Council are recognized longtime local activists. Like Murray-García, they, too, have fought racial injustices across a broad front for many years. They are independent thinkers and believe in the purpose and goals of the group. And because of their past and current leadership they recognized the need for change within their own communities and within Yolo County.
It is fair to say some members share some of the perception to different degrees of the District Attorney’s Office that Murray-García describes in her column. But one thing that they all have in common is the desire for broader acceptance, understanding and inclusion of all people in Yolo County, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation.
As a Chicano who grew up in Yolo County, I have also seen injustices in particular in the educational and legal system. But, like the other council members, I also know that institutional systems can work to benefit those in need the most if one works within the system for change. The community members of the group are not novices in understanding there is room for improvement at all levels for the betterment of the poor and people of color.
The Community Council serves three distinct purposes, the first of which is to “Promote relationships, acceptance and peace within all Yolo County communities.” Thus, when members were being recommended to join the group, people who support this purpose were considered.
(For clarification purposes, Murray-García was not asked to join the group by the District Attorney’s Office but by community members of the group. The question may have been posed by a member of the District Attorney’s Office but it was done on behalf of the community members, where at least three members who know her felt she would be an asset.)
Murray-García stated in her column that she would not join another community board that gives the appearance that the status quo is being challenged. Like many community volunteer groups, members tend to be those who are busiest but are committed to giving back. The Multi-Cultural Community Council will be no different than other new groups; it will take time and there will be obstacles. The main agenda is to make Yolo County a better place for all people to live and accept each other. Only time will prove its effectiveness.
The two other defined purposes of the group are to forge coalitions to assure ongoing community dialogue related to cultural awareness, the criminal justice system and public safety; and to ensure community participation in educational and informational programs related to accessing and understanding the criminal justice system.
In closing, I will share that the idea of such a group as the Yolo County Multi-Cultural Community Council and its principles came from Yolo County District Attorney Jeff Reisig. In my 30-plus years of involvement with equity issues — in particular in Woodland with the Chicano/Latino community — Reisig is the first county elected official who I am aware of who has come forward with such an agenda.
His goal of addressing complex issues that confront people of color and the idea of making his office more sensitive and responsive is admirable. Reisig and I may not agree politically on many issues but I know that as a group we agree with this effort.
If you would like information on the Multi-Cultural Community Council or its planned activities for 2013-14, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-669-7792.
— Jesse Ortiz, Ed.D., is a lifelong resident of Yolo County and a professor at Woodland Community College. He has served as a community volunteer for many years in Woodland and was a member of the Woodland Board of Education for 10 years. He was recently elected to the Yolo County Board of Education.