Elk Grove's Forums on Racism - What I Learned

By Michael Monasky | November 7, 2017 |  

A white neighbor, a woman with children who supported the Sanders presidential campaign last year, suffered multiple taggings on her apartment building by white supremacists. Holding an infant, she came in tears, the first to speak, to report these incidents at the second of four meetings on racism this last month. It took great courage for her to speak out loud about her pain and the injury done to her community.

The first racism forum was held October 16 at the Elk Grove United Methodist Church, sponsored by congregations and civil rights groups. It was inspired to enable people to come together to talk about the problems of harassment by area rednecks who feel entitled to commandeer oversize trucks bearing racist, Confederate flags, endangering pedestrians, and spewing hate at minority-owned businesses. It was also convened at the church to encourage victims to discuss solutions to this behavior and make a plan of action.

The remaining three meetings on consecutive Mondays were held at the Elk Grove Park Pavilion, sponsored by the City Council and the Cosumnes Community Services District. The Elk Grove Unified School District also attended the second meeting on a panel with the other sponsors. The last two meetings were workshops on implicit bias training. About 300 people attended the first of these three city-sponsored meetings while the last meeting drew about 100 participants.

In retrospect, the citizen-participants in attendance were the same folks one would usually see at a city council, school board, or  parks/fire board meeting. These are the people who care about how civic institutions operate, sometimes serve an oversight function, and become the admonishing conscience for such public bodies.

One attorney-citizen distributed a flyer titled “Equality Elk Grove,” citing five particular goals: tracking hate incidents; promoting by-district elections; establishing a citizen-run community policing commission; requiring a school board curriculum on racism and hate crimes; and a mechanism to extend the conversation about protecting the civil rights of all persons in the community. (The online petition can be viewed and signed here).
Elk Grove is far from achieving any of these goals. The Elk Grove Police Department was cited by many black resident citizens as part of the problem for unfair treatment, unprovoked stops, and general harassment; citizen oversight does not serve its purposes. The City Council has no interest in by-district elections which would make their seats vulnerable to candidates without deep-money campaign financing. The two school board members appeared to be blindsided by the accusations of racism and had little to say in response to the community's call for school-based interventions.

The meeting moderators mentioned Racial Healing Circles which began October 19 at UC Davis in Sacramento. These meetings are meant to be a safe space for the community to discuss gender, race, and class-based hate incidents; but they are not being held in, nor are they necessarily geared towards the needs of Elk Grove.
It's obvious to me that Elk Grove needs to admit to its racist origins and renounce its current racist behaviors. Workshops about understanding implicit racial, gender, or class-based bias aimed at the already engaged community serves no useful purpose other than to reassure elected officials that they've done the right thing. 

What's called for is community oversight of the police, city council, schools, and other institutions so that black people are not feeling fear and terror for just being black in public. That kind of change is most painful for those least likely to undergo the necessary transition: our elected and appointed leaders.

At the last workshop, I suggested more counseling resources for the schools, as well as full funding for the arts. I also complained that mental health services are being illegally restricted by the big health care insurance companies. Therapists trained in personal, family, and community treatment can be our best resource to tap for such a large and daunting project. We must work to shame the devil from negligence and abuse; and endeavor to encourage each other to enrich our local neighborhoods and human communities.

A common theme came from a number of participants; we should break bread together; we should invite each other into our homes; we should have a party. I suggested, within earshot of at least one city councilman, that the $30,000 public relations campaign spent on buttons and posters declaring our humanitarian intentions, would be better spent in $1,000 increments to 30 community associations. These associations are without websites, and have no police support to hold a block party. They could also use a small stage and sound system for home-grown entertainment, music, and dancing to help bring the community together.

Our solutions do not have to be complicated or expensive. But they will require our devoted attention and honest effort over the period of time we expect cooperation to supplant competition, for acceptance to replace intolerance, and for love to overcome hate.

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D.J. Blutarsky said...

I'm afraid the desire to stay in office and maintain the political status quo will dominate the minds of the incumbents who are up for re-election next November. Calls for voting by district, ending racism, citizen oversight of the police, diversity in the city workforce, greater transparency, etc. are undoubtedly sending chills up the backs of the Fab Five!

Political Consulting 101 teaches them that if you beat the issue to death with endless meetings, throw in some good soundbites, take a few good photos, and even come up with a slogan on a billboard-the people will eventually tire themselves out and move on.

Mark my words--in 12 months from now, the political flyers of the incumbents will be as 'multi-colored' as the rainbow, and the list of endorsements from ethnic groups will be as long as the day is short.

"When the day is short
And the nights are long
It's a different world
Where the rules are wrong"

-Martha Wainwright-

Josie said...


At this meeting we heard a training session on implicit bias. Could following one path in the discussions be some of the reasons of why it is easy to misunderstand each other when we talk about race and racism?

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