Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Despite bumps along the way, progress made locally in social justice realm

From page A1 | December 08, 2013 | Leave Comment

The work of Nelson Mandela will undoubtedly continue on, even after his passing Thursday at the age of 95.

That fact was quite evident Saturday in Davis when dozens of community members gathered to discuss the progress the city has made recently in terms of social justice, as it was Mandela’s words that fittingly led off the meeting.

“I have walked that long road to freedom,” read Councilman Lucas Frerichs from one of the great man’s most famous lines. “I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.”

The community forum, hosted by the city’s Human Relations Commission, was called “Breaking the Silence 2: Making Systemic Progress.” The first edition of these forums last December allowed community members to come forward and tell of their experiences with discrimination in the community.

This time, more than 40 citizens filed into the Veterans’ Memorial Center, 203 E. 14th St., to hear organizational leaders speak about the work their groups have carried out during the past year to continue to push Davis towards becoming a more accepting and diverse place to live.

Institutional representatives on hand included Frerichs; Rahim Reed, UC Davis associate executive vice chancellor for campus community relations; Kate Snow, Davis Joint Unified School District coordinator of school climate activities; and Darren Pytel, assistant Davis police chief.

The community groups who participated Saturday were the newly formed Davis Phoenix Coalition; Vanguard Court Watch; Yolo Interfaith Immigration Network; and Neighborhood Court; among others.

Progress was immediately called into question, however, when the incident involving the violent beating of Lawrence “Mikey” Partida, a hate crime in town that received much media attention, was brought up.

Davis resident Diane Evans wondered hypothetically that if such incidents can occur in the community, can the city really claim progress?

“How far have we come, or have we come anywhere?” Evans posed. “Is this just the site of racism and hate, or are we just going in a circle?”

But while the community may not have made it through this past 12 months with a clean record, according to several local leaders, Davis has made some progress in the area of social justice.

Robb Davis, a Davis resident who has emerged as a candidate in the 2014 Davis City Council race, was on hand representing Neighborhood Court, the restorative justice-based program formed this year that brings victims and offenders of nonviolent crimes together to identify and redress the harm caused.

Davis said through this program, the first of its kind, the city can really make strides in improving the community by helping offenders in a non-punitive way.

“We’re not talking about restoring a community in some vague way, we’re talking about restoring offenders,” Davis said. “Sometimes I feel like we’re on the cusp of something remarkable in this county.”

Both Pytel and Reed spoke at length about the role of the police in the community. Each talked about the barriers for many looking to start careers in law enforcement.

Pytel specifically said the community needs to start the education of young people early, as choices they make in their formative years still will affect their career choices later in life.

Under state law, people who have been convicted of a felony are precluded from becoming police officers, Pytel said.

Snow, meanwhile, representing the school district, spoke about the work the student support services department is doing, especially in the area of bullying.

“We as a (school) system can change the overall trajectory of our young people,” Snow said, adding, “We need to pay attention to how we’re treating students.”

Bullying was a reoccurring theme Saturday.

— Reach Tom Sakash at or 530-747-8057. Follow him on Twitter at @TomSakash

Tom Sakash

Tom Sakash covers the city beat for The Davis Enterprise. Reach him at, (530) 747-8057 or @TomSakash.

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