Legally Speaking With Pamela Price

Pamela Y. Price, Attorney at Law

Month: December 2016

Honor the Godfather of Soul

Ten years ago, on December 25, 2006, James Brown, the Godfather of Soul died.  For many years, in honor of his memory, I hosted an annual James Brown Party.  We danced and laughed in celebration of his music, his life and his spirit.  James Brown was a musical genius, a trailblazing businessman and a civil rights icon.

 

This year, instead of hosting the party, I am making donations in his name to some really worthwhile nonprofits.  So, you should “save the date” for the 2017 James Brown Party, and make your tax-deductible donation in 2016 to an organization that is working to make a difference in this world.

Organizations That Work

Please check out and consider the following amazing organizations:

Legal Services

The Equal Justice Initiative (EJI.org) is a non-profit organization in Montgomery, Alabama working to improve justice and fairness in America by providing legal assistance to condemned prisoners, people wrongfully or unfairly sentenced, including juveniles incarcerated as adults.  You can make your donation online, by telephone or send a check to 122 Commerce St., Montgomery, AL 36104.

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area (LCCR.com) champions the legal rights of people of color, poor people, immigrants and refugees, with a special commitment to African-Americans.  You can make your donation online or send a check to 131 Steuart Street, #400, San Francisco, CA 94105.

The Ohio Justice & Policy Center (OJPC) based in Cincinnati, Ohio fights to protect the basic human rights and dignity of incarcerated people. You can make your donation online or send a check to 215  East 9th Street, #601, Cincinnati, OH 45202.

Community-Based Organizations

  Friends Foundation International (FFI.org) is an organization of friends (including me) who share the bond of friendship to use our collective commitment, resources and energy to improve the human condition and protect the environment all over the world.  You can make your donation online or send a check to Friends Foundation International, c/o Michael Freund, 1919 Addison St., #105, Berkeley, CA  94704.

Men and Women of Purpose ( MWP) is a community based non-profit in Richmond, California that provides re-entry services in Contra Costa County to help returning community members make the transition from jail to community.  MWP’s re-entry programs include employment counseling, transportation, housing referrals, mentoring, sobriety support, family reunification counseling and life skills training to cope with the mental, emotional and financial challenges of re-entry.  You can send a check to 3029 MacDonald Avenue, Richmond, CA 94804.

Kids Kasa is a foster family agency based in Fresno, California. Kids Kasa provides safe, structured, nurturing and therapeutic foster homes for at-risk children from ages 0 to 21.  Their program includes Independent Living Skills to prepare kids for emancipation.  You can send a check to 1275 W. Shaw Ave. #107, Fresno, CA  93711.

My list could go on and on, but since my money is limited, so is my list.  The good news is that there are literally thousands of organizations around the world working to help others.  Please pick one and make a donation in honor of the Godfather of Soul, Mr. James Brown.  Have a happy and safe New Year!

Love, Pamela

She Who Kneels

She Who Kneels

I am standing in front of a group of eager young women.  The breakfast is co-sponsored by God’s Word In Action, BWOPA (Black Women Organized for Political Action) Richmond/Contra Costa Chapter and Binspired.  Our topic is “Investing In Your Purpose.” As we go around the room for introductions, many young women say they are looking for “empowerment.”  All of the mature women offer our support as these young women begin to  navigate this journey called “life.”

The group includes about 20 young women from West Contra Costa County and a wonderful cadre of accomplished educators, spirit-filled leaders and community advocates.   It is my privilege to share some of the milestones in my life.  Milestones that were achieved by faith and perseverance. I share with them that many times along the journey, I did not know my path or my purpose.  But I trust God to lead me and guide me.  Sometimes I simply pray that He will “order my steps.”

We Are Not Ashamed

I am struck by how we each share our faith in God, openly and freely.  Too often, we hesitate to share our faith publicly.  It reminds me of one of my favorite songs my Free Spirits Choir used to sing “We Are Not Ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”  As we face the challenges of this time in our history, many people are putting their faith in the power of prayer.  We believe that “nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:39.)  As a Christian in this season of Christmas, I feel the need to say that I am not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I am a proud member of Glad Tidings Church of God In Christ in Hayward, California.  I do not always agree with the doctrines of the Church.  I appreciate, however, the role that my Church plays in the struggle for equal justice and human rights.  Two years ago, on Sunday, December 14, 2014, 12,000 COGIC Churches stood in solidarity with “Black Lives Matter.”  COGIC historically strongly supports human and civil rights movements.  Indeed, Dr. Martin Luther King delivered his last speech “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” at Mason Temple (COGIC Headquarters) in Memphis.

Faith And Works In Action

Perhaps I am a “radical” Christian.  But my belief in the gospel of Jesus Christ is what calls me to fight for justice without compromise.  The power of “the sword” in the halls of injustice truly comes from my faith and the grace of God.  At Christmastime, we celebrate the birth of Christ.  His birth “demonstrates that while evil is entrenched in this world, it is not in charge.”  Certainly, as we enter the era of Trump, this is a message we need to hear loudly proclaimed.  For me, Jesus is truly the light and the hope of the world.

Tragedy In My City

Tragedy In My City

I’m flying home from a conference and a brief visit with Mom. My mind is focused on renewing the Call to Action for a fair investigation of Bay Area police sex trafficking. My heart is focused on the City that I love. The City by the Bay that is the real heart of the Bay – Oakland.

ABCNews.com

Credit: ABCNews.com

We receive the first reports of a major fire late Friday night. Over the weekend, the horror grows. More than a 100 people trapped in a huge fire. It’s unbelievable. Our whole city is traumatized.

 

People begin to mark themselves “safe” on Facebook. Even though I am a thousand miles away, I feel compelled to mark myself “safe” as well. We are all beating as one heart. Across our city, we share the victims’ heartache. Our shock is amplified by the reports of young lives with so much promise for the future now gone.

We have all experienced tragedy at some point in our lives. Life is about challenges and overcoming challenges. Sometimes the challenge comes in the form of tragic death. Oakland is no stranger to tragic death. As we reel from the tragedy of the worst fire in our history, let us acknowledge that most of our community lives in a constant state of trauma. In 2016, we were all victims of 75 reported murders across our City.

Preventable Violence In 2016

Most of the 75 people murdered in Oakland in 2016 died by gun violence. Gun battles in the midst of a crowd of people happen way too often. Some people were stabbed and beaten like Karla Ramirez-Segoviano. Some, like Reggina Jefferies, were innocent bystanders killed in unexpected places or circumstances. Jefferies was at a vigil gathering for two teenager friends who drowned. She went to the vigil after doing a praise and worship dance in her church.

Reggina’s murder in the middle of the day in downtown Oakland was as shocking as the murder of Antonio Ramos in September 2015.  He was shot while painting on a community mural under the highway.

“Grief-stricken” families in Oakland are commonplace.  Street memorials of candles, flowers and pictures have become “normal.”  I know I am not the only one that becomes completely distraught when I accidentally walk upon a street memorial. I know that the young people in our City are not the only ones traumatized when they bury someone who died way too young. As we live and work in the midst of out-of-control violence, we are all living in trauma.

City Council President Lynette McElhaney recently called for the creation of an Office of Violence Prevention.  She cited the tragedy of young people, both victims and witnesses, who experience an unacceptable level of violence in our City. She is no stranger to the tragedy of gun violence in Oakland.  She lost her grandson to what she describes as “a preventable disease in our community.

As We End 2016 In Mourning

As we mourn the 36 young people who died in a tragic fire, let us also mourn the 75 people whose murder this year is equally as tragic for us, their families and those who loved them. Those who died in Oakland in tragedy this year need all of us to carry on – to live on – to love more and do more to repair our City. Let us remember that none of us is promised tomorrow. Yes, there is tragedy in death. But there is still joy in life.

Each of us – the living – have the opportunity – indeed the responsibility – to shine TODAY.  To love TODAY. To speak up TODAY. Remember that “life is not a dress rehearsal.” We must tell young people that if you are in school, don’t drop out and think you are coming back later. If you are in a gang, get out now. If you are in politics, don’t “wait your turn.” If you have a vision for your future, begin it now.

And don’t get stuck in grief. Time alone does not heal all wounds. Don’t try to bury your feelings or “be strong.” Get the help you need to heal. Look for therapists who are offering healing services throughout our City. Many therapists are volunteering grief recovery services in the wake of the fire. If you are able to help in our recovery from the Fire, reach out to the Gray Area Foundation for the Arts.

In Oakland, as we close out 2016, I hope this holiday season will be a season of healing and love for all of us. As we enter 2017, let’s make it the year that we cure the disease of preventable violence and death in Oakland.

Women Dying in California Prison

Women Dying in California Prison

In our discussions about mass incarceration, the plight of women in prison is often ignored. The California Coalition for Women Prisoners is sounding an alarm. The alarm says that since 2013, there is an epidemic of dying women in the California Institution for Women (CIW) including suicides.

On November 10, 2016, inmate Bong Chavez hung herself from a ceiling vent. For 2 weeks before she killed herself, Bong requested mental health services. She also allegedly told an officer she was suicidal. Bong was serving time for killing her own child in 2011. When she killed her child, she reportedly suffered from “significant mental health issues” including a brain tumor. She ended up in CIW after pleading “no contest” to voluntary manslaughter.

High Suicide Rate Documented

CIW is in Chino, California, about an hour east of Los Angeles. The suicide rate at CIW is 5 times the suicide rate of all California prisons and 4-5 times more than the national average for female prisons.

In January 2016, Lindsay Hayes, a nationally recognized expert in the field of suicide prevention within jails, prisons and juvenile detention, completed a court-ordered suicide prevention audit of all of California’s prisons.  Hayes found that CIW is “a problematic institution”  which “exhibited numerous poor practices” in the area of suicide prevention. His report found that CIW staff recorded more than 400 emergency mental health referrals for suicidal behavior in a six-month period in 2015, but only nine were entered in the mental health tracking system. Staff apparently was not completing required forms to refer inmates for mental health services.

Consequences of Overcrowding

Overcrowding in California’s prisons is normal. As of October 2013, CIW was designed to hold 1,398 inmates. In fact, the number of women housed there was 2,155, almost 800 more than its maximum capacity. In July 2016, the total number of inmates was still almost 500 women over capacity at 1,866.

With overcrowding comes a lack of supervision of officers and prisoners. Overcrowding causes a widespread inability to access programs, as well as delays and inadequate medical and mental health care. Safety and security, the hallmarks of CDCR’s mission, are severely comprised inside the institution. CIW reportedly has a very high rate of methamphetamine use. “Jackie,” currently incarcerated at CIW, blames the overcrowding for what she calls “an extreme increase in the internal drug trade in the prison system and all the associated fights, lockdowns and increased restrictions.”

In July 2016, a woman formerly incarcerated at CIW sued CDCR for rape and sexual assault.  She alleged that her assailant, Officer Michael Ewell, had sexually assaulted a female correctional officer at another institution and impregnated another female inmate before he sexually assaulted her.

Preventable and Mysterious Deaths

On July 30, 2014, Margarita Murugia was found hanging in her cell. She was reportedly distraught because her requests to see her dying mother were denied.

dae-dae-headshot-300x225Before her, Shadae Schmidt, better known as DaeDae to her friends, was found dead in her cell on March 14, 2014. She suffered a stroke in February 2014 but was placed in solitary confinement less than 3 weeks later where she died.

 

On April 14, 2016, Erika Rocha committed suicide.

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Processed with VSCO with c8 preset

Erika was 14 years old when she was charged as an adult in LA County. Facing a double life sentence for attempted murder, Erika took a plea deal for to 19 to Life. Erika was 16 years old when she was sent to state prison. At the time of her death, she was serving her 21st year of incarceration. She suffered from mental health issues attributable to her incarceration as a youth, including at least four indefinite terms of 2-3 years each in solitary confinement.

shaylene-momShaylene Graves died in June 2016, also an alleged suicide. She was only six weeks away from being released. She was planning how to work to help others after she got out. Shaylene had served 8 years for being the getaway driver in an armed robbery. She was just 19 years old when she was arrested. Her family is doubtful that she hung herself and continues to demand answers and accountability.

What Can You Do?

There is a petition online asking Governor Brown and the California State Senate to investigate the deaths at CIW.  I urge you to sign it and support the efforts to address this tragic situation.