React in haste; repent at leisure
May 03, 2023
A few reflections on our recent tragedies
By Roberta Millstein
Before I say anything else, let me begin by expressing my deepest condolences to the family and friends of David Breaux and Karim Abou Najm. Both were important contributors to the community, both with more to give. The third stabbing victim, is, as of this writing, thankfully still alive. Although her name has not been released yet, I venture to say that she too is an important member of our community. I can say that with confidence because I deeply believe that we are all important community members.
With two of the three stabbing victims being unhoused, I am grateful to see that the City is working toward providing emergency shelter for those who are willing to accept it. I hope that these efforts are successful; given that the perpetrator(s) have not been found, the unhoused members of our community are clearly more vulnerable than ever.
Beyond protecting those who most need it, what else can the City do? Here I will admit to being tired, wrung out, and on edge, so I don’t have the energy to go on at length. So what follows will be, I am sure, too brief. But perhaps it will be enough to get people thinking.
It has been proposed that we need more camera surveillance. Yet studies consistently show that additional cameras do not actually deter crime. At best they help us to solve it, but even then the results are mixed. Meanwhile, there are known drawbacks to increased surveillance. We know that surveillance can be a means of control or misused. Let us recall that Martin Luther King, Jr., was the subject of surveillance by the FBI.
And who is most likely to be the subject of that abuse? Statistically, people of color, people who are low income and unable to defend themselves, and people whose views challenge the establishment. Let us note that at least 2 out of the 3 victims are people of color, and again, two are unhoused. Friends, we do not want to go there. We should not do things that might make us feel more safe while actually making the most victimized more unsafe.
I know my bringing this up is to open a can of worms, but adding more police will also, statistically, bring more harms to the most vulnerable. Let us not go there either. I say this while being grateful for the current efforts to find the Davis Stabber(s), even as I recognize that there are things that could have been done differently and better.
What about more lighting around the City? This might seem like a no-brainer, but again, I don’t think it is. I think Davis passed its Light Ordinance for a number of reasons, reasons that include the health of nocturnal wildlife and important connections to the universe around us, providing a source of wonder and inspiration as long as humans have existed. And it is not even clear that it would have helped. We don’t know how or where David was killed. Karim was killed only 40 feet from a streetlamp. And there were multiple witnesses to the stabbing of the homeless woman; it happened anyway.
Recently, Cash App founder Bob Lee was brutally stabbed to death (our own brutal stabbings are a horrible echo). The immediate reaction was to decry increasing violence in San Francisco. Then it turned out that this was not an act of random violence, but rather that the (presumed) perpetrator knew the victim. My point here is that there is still much we don’t know about what happened. It would be hasty to act in light of what we think we know, especially since most proposed actions have serious drawbacks.
I understand that people want to do something. They are scared and upset, rightly and understandably so. Let us do the most obvious things that will protect us. In addition to emergency shelter, let us continue to urge people to go out in groups, to be aware, to look out for each other.
But let us not enact a bunch of policies that we will come to regret.
If people want to do something, they can sign up to bring meals:
Posted by: Shoshana Zatz | May 03, 2023 at 06:31 PM
The time has come for women to stop baking and cooking their way out of serious problems. The police were strongly suggesting more surveillance. Worst case - some of the men of Davis will be hassled for crimes they didn’t commit. But do you know how many women are raped and attacked here in Davis that you DONT read or know about? Let’s stand up for the safety of our vulnerable.
Posted by: Peabody Ellis | May 03, 2023 at 06:53 PM
Thank you, Roberta. I am reminded of Sean Brooks' public comment at last night's somber city council meeting. Rushing to put more surveillance into place is not something we want to do right now. It has longer-term, and often negative consequences. At last night's meeting I actually did not hear the police chief asking for more surveillance than what the city council has already authorized. Given the tense situation in town right now, I was more worried by the young men sitting behind me in the gallery whose spokesperson voiced angry and aggressive comments toward the police and the council that it is time to be more aggressive toward lawbreakers and to, as he said: "Everybody should have a [concealed carry weapon]."
If you are worried about the city's surveillance policies, please participate in the annual review of the surveillance ordinance, which the Police Accountability Commission (of which I am this year's chair) does on an annual basis. The report is available via the Commission's web page. We are reviewing it and reporting out at the June 5 meeting and then at the council's June 6 meeting.
Posted by: Robert Canning | May 03, 2023 at 07:49 PM
Thanks, Shoshana. I agree, that is a good action to take!
Peabody, I have never baked or cooked my way out of a problem. And a surveillance state won't make me free either, or stop women like me from getting raped (given the number of rapes that are perpetrated by people known to the victim, behind closed doors).
Thank you, Robert, and thank you for the info about the surveillance report. I will check that out. I am glad to hear that the police were not pushing for more surveillance, but some citizens have been.
Posted by: Roberta L. Millstein | May 03, 2023 at 08:06 PM
Roberta - your post is so thoughtful and well-written! I completely agree. We don’t need more gov’t surveillance - more lighting is a great idea. A more connected community and much more in the way of mental health resources, among many other resources to lift up everyone - housing, food and other basic needs. Seems this person is most likely suffering from a very severe mental illness. We have really fallen down as a society in addressing those needs.
Posted by: Ann Block | May 03, 2023 at 08:09 PM
We're already all under constant surveillance via private cameras. In fact, the police sometimes ask for and use the results.
If cameras didn't work (to both deter crime, and/or prosecute it) there wouldn't be a proliferation of cameras. For that matter, that also applies to those using cell phones to record crimes and incidents.
I personally welcome any government entity to use cameras (in regard to myself) or anyone else. No one is even going to bother viewing the results, unless a crime occurs. No one cares that much about what "you" are doing, nor is anyone going to pay some government official to monitor cameras 24 hours a day in the absence of a crime.
To reiterate, we need a lot MORE cameras.
Posted by: Ron O | May 03, 2023 at 09:45 PM
I appreciate this thoughtfully written opinion and many of those that follow. Roberta, thank you for speaking out. More surveillance is not going to make us safer.
More lights do not make us safer either. pools of bright artificial light make the dark places comparatively darker and harder to see, when you stand in the light you are the one that can be seen.
I have been shocked by the knee jerk reaction opinions I have seen online, so this post and comments are refreshing.
Posted by: colin walsh | May 03, 2023 at 10:05 PM
"The time has come for women to stop baking and cooking their way out of serious problems."
Hey Mr. Peabody, the 1950's called, and they want their misogyny back :-|
"But do you know how many women are raped and attacked here in Davis that you DONT read or know about?"
I don't, because you already defined that I didn't read or know about these crimes.
"Let’s stand up for the safety of our vulnerable."
By saying so in a post online! One two three: slacktivism!!!
Posted by: Alan C. Miller | May 04, 2023 at 12:27 AM
"At best they help us to solve it, but even then the results are mixed."
If cameras help solve crimes then it logical to say that since the perpetrator got caught that the cameras also help to stop future crime.
Posted by: Keith | May 04, 2023 at 07:49 AM
I'll reiterate - MORE cameras are needed, not less. And that was true BEFORE these stabbings occurred.
But in this case, how helpful might it be if we were all viewing video(s) of this guy RIGHT NOW, instead of a vague description?
I find it hard to believe that some are worried about "big brother" regarding this. News flash: Big brother doesn't care enough to watch what you're doing, until AFTER a crime is committed. THAT's when it's helpful to have video.
But to suggest that cameras don't deter crime in the first place? Well, that's "news" to thousands of retailers across the country. (Except in places like San Francisco, where at least until recently - it hasn't mattered if you have video or not.) It's also "news" to those who have installed Ring doorbells or other security cameras around their house - which are then sometimes used by police and media. Not to mention cell phone video.
Apparently, this entire industry is a complete waste of money, according to some.
But they certainly want police to have cameras, don't they? Not to record crimes, but so that they can dissect it in detail - to subsequently monitor the OFFICERS, instead. Looking for any possible way to indict them.
And you wonder why some think society is going downhill? Look in the mirror regarding your own beliefs to find the answer.
Posted by: Ron O | May 04, 2023 at 09:03 AM
I agree with everything Ron wrote in his 9:03 comment.
The police and cameras aren't the evil boogeyman.
Posted by: Keith | May 04, 2023 at 10:20 AM
I’m a female jogger who has been assaulted while running in Davis actually. Yes, most brutality against women occurs behind closed doors. But I am trying to rally the vulnerable to do
More than organize meal trains (that was the first comment after the piece). Women of Davis, are you in support of more surveillance? Many of us have been thinking about this for a long time (my assault was in the 90’s) and so when there’s call to quiet down about safety measures, I want to represent a different point of view. We all can say our opinion. And to the person who ad hominem’d me about mental illness, shame on you. Even if I am, I still get to say my truth.
Posted by: Peabody Ellis. | May 04, 2023 at 11:14 AM
If I take you at your word, my empathy on the assault. And if I misgendered you based on your name's common association and your comments, or if you really are taking real-world, not virtual, steps to make women in Davis safer, apologies. And I think the comment on mental illness was about the murderer, not you.
Posted by: Alan C. Miller | May 04, 2023 at 05:14 PM
Cool. Appreciated. It made me sad when the news about a woman being threatened with kidnap and rape by an identifiable truck was subsumed by the stabbing. i Thought it representative of how women’s rights have been overcome by the issues of the day. I understand how worry about racial profiling is reining as the issue of the moment, it’s just hard to open the floor. And I don’t understand because Davis is so white. It seems like y’all are invoking some risk that just doesn’t exist in our homogenous town.
Posted by: Peabody Ellis. | May 04, 2023 at 07:26 PM
I want to elaborate on several points.
1. Police chief Pytel was recently quoted as saying, "Crime requires light, and so when you have dark areas, people need to use flashlights in order to be able to see. Flashlights stick out like a sore thumb in the middle of the night and so that’s why criminals have to be really sparing about either using flashlights or picking those areas where there’s enough ambient or background light in order to engage in criminal activity." Above, I think Colin also makes a very good point about dark and light areas and the adjustment of our eyes to the very bright. We can't light every inch of the City. No one is saying we should get rid of the lights, but it just isn't clear that greatly increasing our current lighting is a good idea.
2. There is also the impact on other animals on excessive lighting, which I mentioned in my article but which has gotten lost in the discussion. See, e.g., https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2023/05/05/dark-sky-night-light-pollution-impact/ "Night skies have been getting nearly 10 percent brighter per year over the past decade, American and German researchers reported in January, a doubling in brightness every eight years. The dramatic growth of LED lights, and the bluish, short-wavelength light they give off, compounds the “skyglow” effect of light pollution. Light-polluted skies cover an estimated 80 percent of the world’s population and 99 percent of the U.S. and European populations, another international group of researchers found several years ago. Here in North America, 80 percent of us can no longer see the Milky Way when we look at the night sky.
That’s a shame for humanity. But it’s much worse for the insects, birds, reptiles and mammals that have had their ecosystems disrupted by the sudden change. In the evolutionary blink of an eye, artificial light has altered migration, mating, foraging, pollination and predation rhythms that developed over eons. Light pollution isn’t as severe an ecological threat as climate change or habitat loss, but it’s accelerating the decline of many animal populations."
3. Keith, I noticed on the VG, you wrote, "Now you make me second guess myself. That camera footage is being used to go after many protesters who simply walked into the Capitol without doing any harm or damage. So in that case there was misuse of the surveillance video for political purposes.". That is exactly the point.* A person can be in the wrong place at the wrong time, or with the wrong people at the wrong time, and be accused and convicted. The idea that innocence will protect you is naive. Video can be misused. Yes, many individuals have video systems now, and of course most have video on their phones. That is very different from government-controlled surveillance. And if you are a person who says unpopular things, you might well be a target.
*Whether or not those folks are innocent or guilty is not the issue here. I think the point is rather to imagine a scenario that you might find yourself in that could be used to support a guilty finding. It's not that hard. Having the "wrong" friends or family can be enough.
Posted by: Roberta L. Millstein | May 05, 2023 at 08:03 PM
I wanted to ask PE:
I was unclear on some of your points.
"It made me sad when the news about a woman being threatened with kidnap and rape by an identifiable truck was subsumed by the stabbing."
Can you give a link or reference? I did not hear about this and couldn't find any reference to this crime.
" i Thought it representative of how women’s rights have been overcome by the issues of the day."
Can you be more specific as to your point?
" I understand how worry about racial profiling is reining as the issue of the moment, it’s just hard to open the floor. "
'Open the floor' ? I'm not sure what you mean by that. Is that the opposite of a glass ceiling?
"And I don’t understand because Davis is so white."
UC Davis certainly isn't all that white. But what does Davis being white have to do with your concern about racial profiling and opening the floor? Whatever that is referring to.
Posted by: Alan C. Miller | May 07, 2023 at 12:34 AM