‘Let’s fix it.’ Hundreds attend Elk Grove town hall after hate note targets black salon

Elk Grove residents who spent four hours discussing racism in their city hold up pledges to stand against hate in the community on Monday, Oct. 23, 2017.
Elk Grove residents who spent four hours discussing racism in their city hold up pledges to stand against hate in the community on Monday, Oct. 23, 2017. The Sacramento Bee

Sharie Wilson arrived one morning last month at her Elk Grove hair salon to find a note telling her that a “hunt” was “coming soon” and referring to African Americans with a nasty slur.

Despite that, Wilson said Monday she is willing to give people the benefit of the doubt. Sometimes she doesn’t see racist acts as evil.

“And I want to do this out of love because I don’t believe that everyone really understands that when they do racial acts, that it’s a racial act,” she told more than 200 fellow residents at a city-organized forum on race. “I really don’t think so. And I think sometimes it’s ignorance. Sometimes they just don’t know any better. So I really want this conversation to really be out of love, you guys. And let’s fix it.”

The note found Sept. 13 on Wilson’s DreamGirls Fine Hair Imports led to Monday’s town hall meeting at the Elk Grove Regional Park Pavilion. Police are still investigating that incident as a hate crime.

Wilson said she asked the City Council to hold the meeting to demonstrate she’s not the only one experiencing racism in the diverse city. It may not be every black person, she said, but plenty of people have stories.

More than three dozen spoke Monday night. Some were mad, some sad and others fired up about stamping out hate in the city of 170,000 residents. Many spoke about racism against African Americans, but some talked about discrimination or hate aimed at Latino or Asian people as well.

Elk Grove is uniquely diverse. According to the city’s website, 35 percent of residents are white, 28 percent are Asian American, 18 percent are Latino and 11 percent are African American.

The city plans to host two more meetings on race relations and implicit bias, one on Monday and the second on Nov. 6.

Several speakers mentioned a pickup truck with a Confederate flag intimidating African American teenagers around the city. It wasn’t clear from the testimony whether they witnessed one truck or multiple trucks revving their engines and following black kids. Alexis Lanier said her son and his friends, who often walk around town to Dutch Bros. Coffee or In-N-Out Burger, were left shaken.

“My son called me one day and he was in tears,” she said. “I mean, we’ve heard it all night. It was that truck... They said that the people in this truck, they said it was two males, and they actually made slurs towards them.”

Latasha Williams, a DreamGirls salon employee and a 10-year Elk Grove resident, said it’s upsetting to have to warn her kids that the truck’s occupants could be a threat.

“It’s sad when your son and his friends have to come and say ‘Mom, when these trucks come, they stop and they drive really crazy and they screech their tires when we’re walking down the street,’” she said. “And you have to say, ‘Well listen for those trucks. When you listen and you hear those trucks, don’t step out into the street. When you walk, you listen and be aware of your surroundings. When you see that truck, call me, get on the phone.’ You have to tell your kids that when they’re walking and that’s sad.”

Councilman Steve Detrick asked people to take photos and get the license plate so the authorities can pursue the perpetrator. Four council members attended Monday’s meeting, joined by representatives from the Elk Grove Unified School District and the Cosumnes Community Services District.

Along with their own experiences with racial slurs, parents talked about their children being called slurs at school or their sons being pulled over frequently by the Elk Grove Police Department.

Elk Grove Elementary School Principal Dave Neves said children learn racist behavior at home and asked parents to remember that children overhear the conversations they have about current events.

“These kids are coming to school with this information because last I looked, we weren’t overtly teaching racism,” he said. “So I just want to ask you to do one thing... Please for my kids, my Monday through Friday sons and daughters, all 866 of them, will you please, please teach them how to love? And when you hear them talking disrespectfully to you or among themselves, stop them right now. Let them know that that kind of talk doesn’t work in your house.”

Elk Grove Police Department Detective Kevin Papineau gave a presentation about hate incidents and hate crimes at the end of the meeting. He said in order to catch perpetrators, he needs people to report every incident. He said that if people feel they’re being pulled over by officers for “less than legitimate reasons,” he wants to hear about that, too.

During the final minutes, Elk Grove launched a “humanity” campaign aimed at having residents sign a pledge denouncing hate and hate-based crimes in the community.

Salon owner describes the note an employee found Tuesday on the business' door.

Ellen Garrison: 916-321-1920, @EllenGarrison