What a difference a year makes in the life of Sharie Wilson, an African American business owner in Elk Grove.
Last September 13, a racist note was left at her hair salon, DreamGirls Fine Hair Imports, threatening a “coon hunt coming soon.” Recently, Wilson was one of ten out of thirteen members of the newly formed Elk Grove Police Community Advisory Board who was introduced by police chief Bryan Noblett at the May 23 Elk Grove City Council meeting.
“I decided to join the advisory board because I wanted to be part of the solution,” said Wilson recently. “I think the advisory board can help with the situation we’re all having with racial issues. I think our voices would weigh heavily with the police department.”
The creation of the 14 member advisory board came in response to a series of incidents in which the African American community was targeted. Wilson decided to speak out in September after receiving the racist note.
But even before that incident, she and others in the African-American community had seen not-so subtle signs of racism. Wilson had people pound on the door of her salon and yell racist slogans. Confederate flats had been flown in front of her door.
“We still have the good ole’ boy mentality,” she said. “I could have a nice car and I get pulled over. Maybe I didn’t have a license plate, but why is it more noticeable because I’m black? Why do I get more notice?”
But the racist note about the “coon hunt” was the last straw for Wilson, who asked the Elk Grove City Council to hold a town hall meeting to discuss in an open dialogue her concerns and the concerns of others about race.
“I ask (the city) that you open up a town hall discussion, a dialogue, so we can really talk about this situation, so next time we won’t be in here talking about somebody who got killed or we found one of our kids hanging from a tree, because it’s possible,” she said at a City Council meeting in October, according to the Elk Grove Citizen.
The City of Elk Grove teamed up with the Cosumnes Community Services District to hold the first of three town hall meetings on Oct. 25 to discuss race relations in the Elk Grove community. While many of the 30 speakers at the event were African American, there were others who spoke about hate crimes directed at Asians and Latinos in the city.
Several community members mentioned seeing a truck flying a Confederate flag intimidating black teens in the city, prompting African American parents to warn their children about the truck’s occupants being possibly dangerous.
Also at that meeting, the Elk Grove Citizen reported that Wilson shared a note that had been found that referred to incidents of racist graffiti found at the Emerald Apartments on Oct. 9, in which the letters “KKK” was spray-painted on a number of surfaces at the complex.
The second town hall meeting, held on Oct. 30, focused on implicit bias training, while the third gathering, held Nov. 6, was about next steps for the city. Among the suggestion was the creation of community policing commission.
It wasn’t until the January 10 Elk Grove City Council meeting, that it was announced that the Elk Grove Police Chief was working on creating a Community Advisory Board (CAB). Its purpose was to serve as a resource for Noblett in developing community policing priorities and strategies.
“We went through these recent, unfortunate racial events and hate crime events in our community,” Noblett to the Elk Grove Citizen in April about the formation of the CAB. “It just really brought to life the need to accelerate that process and really get (this board) up and running.”
It was in February that Noblett announced that he had begun the process of recruiting members to serve on the CAB, with the requirement that applicants be either residents or business owners in Elk Grove.
Noblett said that more than 50 people applied to be on the board, but he chose 14. “The goal was to select a group that represented a diverse cross-section of our population to include racial/ethnic diversity, gender diversity, professional diversity, and geographic diversity,” said Noblett in a statement to the Elk Grove TrIbune recently.
He had initially picked 14, but one had to drop out as that person has since moved out of the area. Noblett is in the process of finding a replacement for that member. All members of the board are encouraged to attend the Elk Grove Police Department’s Citizen Academy and to go on ride-alongs to better acquaint themselves with the department and its staff.
In addition to Wilson, the others are: Shirley Lewis, Lynn Wheat, Gurpreet Singh, Hillary Gaines, Jocelly “Joy” Yip, Stephanie Tseu, Irfan Mehmood, Manny Provedor, Edward Basuttil, Kenneth Nelson, Todd Bloomstine, and Gerald Williams.
Police did not release information about their backgrounds. However, at the May 23 meeting, Nelson was identified as the third Vice President of the Greater Sacramento branch of the NAACP. Williams was identified as a state worker who moved to Elk Grove seven years ago. Gaines is a white woman who has a black husband and mixed race children, and who has spent more than 15 years working with youth in mental health and foster care systems.
The board held its first meeting on May 2. The session was closed, as it was mostly an introductory meeting. Wilson did not attend that initial meeting, but veterinarian Gurpreet Singh, owner of Animal Care Center, did.
He noted that while there were members who had experienced hate crimes and racisms first hand, there were others who didn’t. Some were concerned about working with youths, and others with dealing with the police.
Singh, who is a Sikh, said he had experienced minor incidents, in which he had been mistaken for being a Muslim and taunted with the name of “Osama” after terrorist Osama Bin Laden. “I’m into education,” he said. “If someone says something, I call them on it.”
A common misconception about Sikhs is that because they wear turbans and beards, they are often mistaken for being Muslims. Because Sikhs are being mistaken for being Muslims, they are often denounced because people see a turban and think they are terrorists. “Whether they are Muslim, Hindu or Sikh, we are all the same – we are human beings,” he said. “For people who do wrong, they are the ones who should be punished. That’s the confusion – either way, it’s wrong.”
Singh said he was interested in serving on the board because he wanted to serve as a bridge between the Sikh community and the police. “Being a Sikh, at least I can be the voice of the Sikh in the community, and educate (others) about the culture of the Sikh,” he said. “We also have older folks (in the Sikh community) who do not know the language and they are scared of the police. Even if the police is there to help them, they think they are doing something wrong.”
Noblett said he was impressed by what he heard at the first meeting. “I found the group to be very energetic and motivated to serve the community,” he told the Elk Grove Tribune. “It’s clear they are very focused on matters involving community policy, police-community relations, and working collaboratively with PD staff to weave the community into our operations in the interest of working together to keep Elk Grove safe.”
Wilson didn’t meet members of the board until the May 23 Elk Grove City Council meeting, when each member had a chance to say a few words before City Council Members. “It’s a diverse group of people,” she said. “There will be disagreements, so it won’t be just one sided. I just hope they can understand my view and I can understand theirs.”
Noblett has high hopes for the board. “I am hopeful that this group of dedicated community members can keep me informed on matters of community concern that otherwise I may not be aware of, and that they can assist in educating the community at large on policing matters to help further the police community relationship,” he said.
According to the applications for the board, the CAB is described as serving as a “sounding board for the Chief regarding community needs and concerns.” It will keep Noblett apprised of the community’s needs for police services, and help educating the community at large about the function and the role of the Elk Grove Police Department.
However, the CAB will “not have the power or authority to investigate, review, or otherwise participate in matters involving specific police personnel or specific police related incidents.” This is cited from the mission and purpose of the CAB. The board will meet monthly, and minutes from the meetings will be posted on the police department’s website.
Members serve for two-year terms, so that more people can participate. Extensions of terms may be granted at the discretion of the police chief. CAB members can also be kicked off the board for cause by a majority vote of the board. If a member misses more than three meetings in a year, then the position is considered vacated, and that person may be replaced. All members serve on the board on a volunteer basis.
Singh hopes that by serving on the board, that future problems can be averted. “God forbid that any situation arises – nobody can predict what can happen, but there is something in place already.”
Wilson shares the same hope. “I’m not going to just sit there,” she said. “I am going to be a voice, and they are aware that we will have a voice. We won’t be muted. We will be bringing up situations that they (the police) won’t be comfortable with.”
As for getting to the bottom of what happened to her last year, she said the police have already put up a camera across the street from her shop so they can see what is going on. Also extra officers have been patrolling the area. All of this was done well before she joined the CAB.
“There is surveillance, there is patrol, so I think the police are already doing their part,” she said. “If we get together with the police chief, then I think things will change.”