Racism, a prejudice which holds that members of one racial group are superior to another, may exist in many forms — it also may not be as far from home as some like to think.
This was the sentiment shared during “Breaking the Silence of Racism,” a workshop sponsored by the city of Davis’ Human Relations Commission. More than 200 residents gathered Saturday in the Community Chambers at City Hall, 23 Russell Blvd., and approximately 30 let their voices be heard.
The community was allowed to share personal experiences with discrimination during the workshop. A six-person panel of local leaders and officials was present to hear the stories and engage in discussions on how public policy could remedy the situation.
Sandy Holman, founder of the Culture Co-op and event moderator, began the talk with an admittance that solving the problem of racism in the two hours they allotted is unrealistic, but said it’s part of continuing a much-needed conversation.
“We want to hear all of your stories and record the memories,” she said prior to inviting the guests up to the podium to speak. “We’re doing it so that when this committee changes, we don’t have to go back to square one.”
Sitting on the panel were Davis City Councilwoman Rochelle Swanson; Jonathan Raven of the Yolo County District Attorney’s office; Rev. Kristin Stoneking; UC Davis representative Rahim Reed; Pam Mari of the Davis school district; and Capt. Darren Pytel of Davis Police Department.
The first voice heard was that of Francisca Reyes, a Hispanic Woodland resident. She made an emotional plea for her son, who was convicted of a gang-related crime, and she said could be sentenced to 35 years to life.
“I can’t help but think, ‘Would he be facing the same if he were white?’ ” Reyes said. “I feel that the justice in our community is unfair … We all make mistakes, and should have second chances.”
Reyes was followed by another Woodland mother undergoing similar circumstances, Maria Quezada, who also cast judgment on what she describes as racial bias within the District Attorney’s office.
“I can’t comment on that specific case,” Raven responded. “However, Woodland has a serious gang problem … One of the things we’re trying to do to prevent this is reaching out to the young.”
Education became the next subject of question, as former Davis High teacher Bill Calhoun took the podium to disclose the hardships of being the first black teacher in the local school district.
A lack of diversity among the faculty and administration continues to leave students of color with few role models to look up to, Calhoun said.
Ken Bradford, a local businessowner, also shared a story intended to expose bigotry within the school system. He told the room of the experiences of his grandson, who was bullied and mistreated for his African-American heritage.
“You explain this to a black person in Davis, and they understand,” he said. “When you try to tell a white person about it, they respond, ‘No way, we’re a very liberal and progressive city.’ They just don’t get it.”
As a representative of the Davis School District, Mari assured them that addressing these issues is a mission that stays with her in every waking moment, and that improvements have been made.
The discussion wrapped up with more attendees sharing stories and further discussing issues, such as racial profiling by cops. When asked about it, Capt. Pytel explained that this is a criteria that recruits for the local department are screened on.
Councilwoman Swanson added that compiling a database of who is being stopped by police most often is an idea she would pitch to the city manager by Monday, but she could not promise a deadline for it.
“As a mother of two bi-racial children, this is an important issue to me too,” Swanson said.