We are better than this? Are we? by Tracy Pepper

Tracy Pepper is founder and executive director of Color Me Human and a board member of Earth Justice Ministries. Her Other Voices piece, “We are better than this? Are we?”  was published in the Grass Valley Union on August 13, 2020. 

It is past time to address racial issues in this County. I have heard time and time again: “there are no racially-motivated incidents in Nevada County.”

Many of us know this to be a lie, and we’ve tried to tell you as much.

Imagine the hardest conversation you’ve ever had to begin, hoping for help, closure, understanding, or compassion. Now imagine being met with “I’ve never seen anything like you say,” or “racism is not an issue here.” The implication that we are oversensitive, overreacting, or even paranoid is both isolating and enraging. I am here now with witnesses, video evidence, and the support of my community to finally, hopefully, obliterate the doubts about the extent of racial discord in Nevada County.

It is heartbreaking and disturbing to view the violence of these men, who many recognize as friends, neighbors, and local business owners, against peaceful protesters, including elders, women, and children. Violence imposed upon these protesters, and the seemingly complicit, almost supportive behavior of local law enforcement is gross negligence of duty, and dangerous to every person in Nevada County.

Peaceful protesting is one of our Constitution’s cornerstones, a right which should not be taken lightly. While there is no expectation that everyone will support the protesters’ values and message, law-abiding protesters should be able to do so without fear of being assaulted with impunity. Law enforcement should be there to ensure everyone’s safety, not take sides one way or another. During Sunday’s protest, law enforcement failed to embrace its motto to “protect and serve” all community members.

In addition to a thorough investigation into Sunday evening’s event and holding those involved accountable, an apology from the Nevada City Police Department is warranted. However, words without action are all too common on this issue. So, I call upon City Council and Chief Ellis to formulate and share a clearly defined plan on how the department will handle future situations.

Additionally, I call on local law enforcement, Nevada City and Grass Valley councils, and Nevada County Board of Supervisors to form a Citizen’s Oversight Committee committed to enhance accountability and transparency in policing and build community trust through civilian oversight.

We are not yet better than this; this is us now.

We cannot overcome racism without a humble and dedicated inventory of both our personal bias and inequity built into the systems we serve. Based on statements from law enforcement, I will cautiously trust in the collective willingness to share this path and commit myself and Color Me Human to this effort. Now is the time!

Tracy L. Pepper, MPA, is executive director/founder of Color Me Human.