Town Hall Meeting on Elk Grove Race Relations Part Catharsis, Part Healing

October 24, 2017 |  

In a meeting that was part healing and part catharsis, over 40 people spoke at last night's town hall meeting spoke in often personal terms of race relations in Elk Grove.

The four-hour gathering, which was organized by the City of Elk Grove and conducted at the Pavilion building at Elk Grove Regional Park, drew a standing room only crowd estimated to be over 400 people. The meeting was organized after Old Town Elk Grove business owner Sharie Wilson's beauty salon was targeted last month by a hate message left at her establishment and racist graffiti painted on an apartment building.

Although the meeting included presentations by the Elk Grove Police Department, the city's Multi-Cultural Committee, and the public affairs department, the main draw was the personal testimonies of the participants. Of the topics broached were racial profiling by police, bullying at schools, the city's racial history, and numerous individual experiences of racism.

Elk Grove resident DeLonda Coleman related the story of her son, who is 32 and has lived in Elk Grove for over 21 years, has been targeted by Elk Grove Police. Coleman said she believes he has been targeted based on his race.

"I can't tell you how many times he has been pulled over, this year, for driving while being Black," she said. "They don't give him tickets, they just pull him over to harass him."

Following Coleman was Betty Williams, president of the Sacramento chapter of the NAACP who said the most complaints her office receives about race relations with police in the Sacramento region are regarding the Elk Grove Police Department. 
Elk Grove Council Members (l-r) Darren Suen, Pat Hume,
Stephanie Nguyen, and Vice Mayor Steve Detrick listen to
personal experiences on racism from over 40 speakers.  

"When it comes to law enforcement, the top five law enforcement complaints that come in my office, the number one law enforcement in Elk Grove Police," Williams said. 

Williams went on the say the department has repeatedly heard this, and that a step that could be taken to help to solve this problem would be the formation of the police oversight commission. 

"I recommend some type of oversight commission of the police officers," she said. 

She added that at a recent police relations youth workshop held to discuss relations with Sacramento Police Department, all the complaints voiced were about Elk Grove Police. 

Another topic that came up with numerous speakers was about a pickup truck often spotted in the areas around Elk Grove High School and Old Town Elk Grove. That pickup truck, which fly's a Confederate flag, was seen being driven around in after school hours with the driver and passenger taunting people with racial epitaphs.

One speaker, Kendra Lewis, asked the Elk Grove City Council, who was in attendance at the meeting, what if anything has been done about locating the pickup truck. 

"Its heartbreaking that all these kids need to deal with this truck in Elk Grove," Lewis said. "Somebody needs to find this truck." 

After hearing Lewis' comments and others on the pickup truck, Vice Mayor Steve Detrick advised anyone who sees the vehicle to get a description and if possible a license tag and video to the police.  He also said that it should not be engaged if seen and to let law enforcement handle the matter.

"We'll go after it," he said.

Among the several teens who spoke at the meeting was Julia Knox, a student at Elk Grove High School. Knox said that on many occasions she has experienced racism while on campus.

 "I've been called a n***** many times," she said. "I think it [the behavior] comes from the parents, what they were teaching about racism." 

Towards the end of the personal testimonies, the audience heard from Paul Imboden, a life long Elk Grove resident. Imboden, who is white, shared his knowledge of Klu Klux Klan activities in the community.

"I remember when the klan was out here, it was not hidden," he said as he pointed to the eastern portions of Elk Grove. "It was part of Elk Grove, it was part of Wilton, it was part of Herald, it was a part of Galt, it was part of this whole community here."

Imboden went on to say the challenges are not facing just Elk Grove but all the other communities as well. After hearing comments from Detrick and Elk Grove Council Member Darren Suen, he noted it would be a long-term project.

"You guys are facing an uphill battle, this is something that will take a long time," he said. "It will take years, and years, because it has been years."  

While many speakers related their personal experiences in dealing with racism in Elk Grove, many included aspirational comments on building better relations in the community. One of those included Jerry Marshall who noted the process for change can be lengthy and requires perseverance.

"What I advocate is for people to stay in the conversation, not to shy away from those difficult conversations," he said. "In this crisis, I'll tell you what my grandmother would say; 'You got to have faith.'"

After hearing a presentation from Elk Grove's public information officer Kristyn Nelson on the city's outreach efforts to promote the continued discussions on the topic, the remaining audience gathered with Sharie Wilson and her family in the front of the room for a group photo. While posing, the group ended the meeting with the chant no place for hate.

The next meeting is scheduled for Monday, October 30 at the Elk Grove Regional Park Pavillion building at 6 p.m. 


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