Speaking up for civil rights is one of Wendy Byrd's core goals as the president of Stanislaus County's NAACP chapter.
Modesto's hyphy melee in September 2006 triggered a leadership change within the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People chapter that led to Byrd winning its top post five months later.
She was one of the NAACP members who wanted to do more to advocate for young people who were caught between a rowdy crowd downtown that Labor Day weekend and police who were overwhelmed by what they encountered.
Since then, her chapter has responded to more than 125 requests for help from the public, and it has sought a more prominent role as an advocacy group.
She spoke with The Bee last week about the NAACP's projects. Here are excerpts from that conversation. The full audio interview is available with this story at modbee.com.
Q: No one was charged with a crime from the hyphy incident, and the one student who filed a civil rights lawsuit against the Police Department for being roughed up that night dropped his case. How was that event resolved in the community?
A: When it really came down to it, there wasn't sufficient evidence (to charge the people who were arrested after the hyphy incident), and sometimes people can get caught up in the system to the point where being in there creates more harm. For example, one of the young men lost his job. ... We were helpful in expediting that particular case to a resolution.
Lawsuits are unfortunate, but sometimes that's the best and the only way to get the attention or respect that a case needs. That certainly is an individual choice the young man made, and we assisted in a supportive role the best we could.
I haven't heard of very many more incidents about hyphy. From that, a spinoff support group came in working with parents and teenagers who were kind of borderline, or maybe going in the wrong direction or presenting themselves as flirting around with hyphy.
Q: The NAACP is helping the Most Envied motorcycle club carry harassment complaints against the Police Department and Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department. Was it a difficult decision to take that case?
A: It wasn't difficult.
Sometimes groups can get involved or become guilty by association, but that doesn't make it right for their rights to be violated or to be harassed just because of what they're wearing or who they're with.
Q: You support Modesto's move to district elections. What are you hoping to see when Modesto adopts that system for next year's City Council races?
A: To me, it will come full circle if we start to see more diversity on the City Council. Time will tell. Making the playing field more equal, where it gives everyone an opportunity to compete financially as well as socially and physically for those positions, is a step in the right direction.
What I've learned after being here 20 years in Modesto, diversity is not just going to happen on its own. You have to really, really push it.
Q: What kind of message does a lack of diversity send?
A: To me, it sends a message that there's not a sense of belonging for minorities or whatever group that's lacking. To me, it sends a message that still we live in a system of white privilege. To me, it sends a message that there needs to be more dialogue of why the statistics in the community don't match the work force.
Q: What else is on your radar?
A: I believe our city and county has grown to the point of having a (law enforcement) citizens review board.
If you don't have anything to hide, you shouldn't mind opening up your books and being transparent. The way the law is written now, it protects and probably encourages police officers to abuse their authority.
An oversight committee can only help in the sense that it would give the citizens another layer of protection, or just a perception, because part of the problem with going to the police to complain about the police is that it's a conflict of interest to have them investigate themselves.
Bee staff writer Adam Ashton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2366.