Legally Speaking With Pamela Price

Pamela Y. Price, Attorney at Law

Category: Black Lives Matter (Page 1 of 2)

Why I’m Running For DA

My friends’ first question is not why am I running for DA. The first question is “have you lost your mind?”  No, I have not lost my mind.  I know who I am and I know why I’m running.  So here it is.

No Police Accountability

Exhibit ACourt-Appointed-Investigators-Report-on-City-of Oakland’s Response to Allegations of Officer Sexual Misconduct.  This scathing report exposes the total lack of accountability we have in Alameda County for police misconduct. It is particularly disturbing because OPD is under a consent decree that requires the Criminal Investigation Division (CID) Commander to inform the DA of possible criminal conduct by officers. Yet, neither the City Attorney nor the District Attorney have taken any responsibility to enforce this provision of the Consent Decree. This persistent problem has cost our City millions of dollars.

Our DA says she had no knowledge of the investigation of police sexual exploitation going on right under her nose. The Court’s report verifies this claim. Nancy O’Malley had no idea that sex trafficking by the police was happening in Alameda County. It has been reported that two investigators in her office were part of the problem. She says she was completely unaware of the ongoing investigation until she read about it in the newspaper. To me, that is a gross dereliction of duty on her part.

When Officer Brendan O’Brien killed himself in September 2015 and left a note, he was still under suspicion of killing his wife. The question is why the DA did not ask “what’s in the suicide note?

Courtesy: Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images

The Court report leaves no doubt that various members of OPD, certainly including former Chief Sean Whent, the Internal Affairs Division and CID Commanders engaged in obstruction of justice. When asked if she intended to investigate anyone for obstruction of justice, DA O’Malley said flatly “no.” Surely, this is why OPD felt completely comfortable covering up these crimes. There simply is no history of accountability for police officers in Alameda County.

“Is this because I was little?”

The Court finds that OPD did not properly investigate because of “an implicit but evident bias against the victim.” The report says “put simply, CID and IAD wrote off this victim.” Regrettably, I observed a similar bias in the DA’s response. While our County’s female leaders did not come right out and blame the victim, no one acted like they gave a damn about Jasmine. It was as if her exploitation was not taken seriously. Ultimately, the DA left Jasmine to languish in a Florida jail for 17 days.

Sept. 9, 2016. (AP Photo/Terry Chea)

When DA O’Malley famously announced “I would charge these officers but I don’t have a witness,” Jasmine was facing a felony and 15 years in prison. She was tricked into going to Florida in the first place by the Richmond Police Department.

The fact is the Richmond police sent DA O’Malley’s star witness across the country. Richmond PD placed Jasmine in a situation where she was held against her will, assaulted and arrested because she wanted to come home.  If I were the DA, I would absolutely demand a thorough investigation of possible witness tampering. I would absolutely do everything in my power to hold whomever sent my witness to Florida accountable. More importantly, I would do everything in my power to bring her home. The same bias that OPD exhibited was obvious in the DA’s response to Jasmine’s incarceration in Florida – they wrote her off.

No Criminal Justice Reform

In 2014, Proposition 47 passed in Alameda County by almost 74% of the voters. We recognize that we cannot solve our problems by locking everyone up. DA O’Malley vigorously opposed Proposition 47.  She called it “a frightening fraud with irrevocable and far-reaching consequences.” How can we expect her to implement legislation she considers “a frightening fraud?”

In 2012, California voters passed realignment legislation to reduce the numbers of people in prisons and bring them home. The measure, Proposition 36, passed in Alameda County with 78.6% of the vote.  Yet, in 2016, DA O’Malley proposed to spend only $1.72 million of her $73 million budget on re-entry services.

In 2015, the DA’s office prosecuted almost 41,000 adults and 1001 juveniles.  Ninety-three percent (93%) of the adult cases reviewed for charging resulted in some type of prosecution. So, if you get arrested in Alameda County, there is a 93% chance that you will be prosecuted for something. In contrast, Homeless Court meets six times a year and helps about 300 people a year.

The vast majority of the prosecutions (59% – almost 29,000 cases) were for misdemeanor crimes. The misdemeanor numbers include thousands of women arrested for prostitution. In 2015, the Safety Net Program – a program to create a safety plan for at-risk and high-risk victims of commercial sexual exploitation – only reviewed 83 cases.

The New Jim Crow in Alameda County

In 2015, almost 1500 juvenile cases were presented to the DA. Of those 1,001 (67%) resulted in prosecutions. Felony arrests of African-American kids were a startling rate of 25 per 1,000 compared to 2.3 per 1,000 for White kids. Only 112 kids were referred to a restorative justice program. Only 80 kids participated in our Collaborative Mental Health Court. In 2014, Alameda was one of only 9 counties in the State where the DA only charged Black or Latino kids as adults. “The New Jim Crow” is alive and well in Alameda County.

Why We Have to Make A Change

We have got to change the picture of justice in Alameda County. The days when the DA can “talk the talk” and not “walk the walk” have to be over. As Adam Foss says, we need prosecutors who want to change lives, not ruin them. We need better public safety outcomes. Alameda County has the 4th highest homicide rate for young people (ages 10-24) in the State. Whatever she’s doing is not working.

Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions are about sending folks back to jail.  Since 2012, we have rejected that approach in Alameda County. We want to bring people home and rebuild families and restore our community. We want to end the horrendous racial divide that has infected our judicial system. We want to treat and teach our kids how to be kids. That’s how we need to spend our money – by investing in our people. We need Justice Done Right in Alameda County.

Stop The Violence Now

A Department of Violence Prevention in Oakland

On Tuesday, May 16, 2017, starting at 5:30 p.m. the Oakland City Council will decide a question of urgent priority. The question is whether to establish a Department of Violence Prevention (DVP).

Or whether to accept Mayor Libby Schaaf‘s goal to reduce violent crime by a mere 10% using the same old failed methods. A coalition of community groups along with Councilmembers Lynette McElhaney, Larry Reid and Rebecca Kaplan are calling for people to show up at the Oakland City Council meeting. If you cannot make the meeting, you should contact Councilmembers Dan Kalb, Abel Guillen, Annie Campbell, Noel Gallo and Desley Brooks.

Why This, Why Now?

It’s 1999.  I’m standing in front of City Hall with my two young grandsons. Both of them are still in elementary school. We are part of the Acts Full Gospel Church‘s weekly rallies against gun violence in Oakland. The faith community wants the killings in Oakland to stop. We want City Hall to take action to stop the violence in Oakland.

In 2001-2002, there is a rash of killings of young Black men in a part of Oakland known as “Ghost Town.” I sue the City on behalf of the family of 21-year-old Chance Grundy. A man murdered Chance because Chance witnessed a murder and cooperated with the police. The police let it be known that Chance was a cooperating witness. The murderer let it be known that he wanted Chance to “sleep with the fishes.” We lose the case. It turns out that (in real life, not like in the movies) the police have no duty to protect witnesses even when they know the witness is in danger.

Fast forward to January 11, 2013.  My friend Brenda Harbin‘s beloved grandson, Ken Harbin, Jr. is shot and killed. Four people are killed that day in Oakland. In the wake of Ken’s murder, we stand on street corners with Soldiers Against Violence Everywhere (S.A.V.E.). Once again, we ask the City to take action to stop the violence in Oakland.

Every grandmother and mother’s nightmare, the loss of a beloved child.  A dream struck down and unfulfilled by a senseless act of violence.

America’s Gun Violence Problem

America’s “gun culture” is totally unique. We own way more guns privately than other countries, and we have the highest gun ownership per capita rate in the world. Gun violence has long been deemed a public health crisis. A March 2016 study in the American Journal of Medicine found that 90% of all women, 91% of children under 14 , 92% of youth aged 15 to 24 years, and 82% of all people killed by firearms in the world were from the United States.

In 2010, the number of homicides by guns in the U.S. was at least 9,960. The Centers for Disease Control reported 11,078 firearm-related homicides that year. By comparison, there were only 173 gun homicides in Canada, 155 in the United Kingdom, 158 in Germany and 142 in France. Sweden had only 30 homicides by gun. Japan had only 11 people killed with guns.

Credit: Ma’ayan Rosenzweig/ABC News

Currently, the U.S. is ranked 4th out of 34 developed nations for the incidence of homicides committed with a firearm.  A young man here aged 15–24 is 70 times more likely to be killed with a gun than his counterpart in the eight largest industrialized nations in the world. These include the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Japan, Canada, Italy and Russia.

In 2015, there were 372 mass shootings and 33,636 deaths due to firearms in the U.S. That same year, guns were used to kill only about 50 people in the U.K. More people are killed with guns in the U.S. in a day (about 85) than in the U.K. in a year.

The Race-Based Rationale for Guns

Efforts to control guns in America have stumbled on the “right to bear arms” clause in the Second Amendment to the Constitution. What is often overlooked is the history of the Second Amendment. It was added as a compromise to protect the slave patrols in the South. The Founders knew the militias were necessary to keep the slaves under control. The Supreme Court has interpreted and protected the Second Amendment regardless of the consequences.

In 2002, Michael Moore wrote, produced, directed and narrated Bowling for Columbine.  The film highlighted the racist underpinnings of the Second Amendment. However, the Film’s main point, that our violent crime rate is substantially higher than other nations, seems to have been lost over time.

Support the Department of Violence Prevention

Gun violence in Oakland has remained steady.  In 1999, the County Board of Supervisors passed a strong gun control law. The Board reacted to a “rash of gun-related violence” in Alameda County. The Board found that “gunshot fatalities are of epidemic proportions in Alameda County.” That law was immediately attacked based on Supreme Court decisions. While the case was pending, the County retreated and announced that gun shows would be allowed on County property.

Our Mayor opposes the proposal to create a Department of Violence Prevention (DVP). We need to support the goal to reduce homicides by 80% and achieve an 80% clearance rate within 3 years. The Mayor wants to increase funding for law enforcement,  but “budgets are statements of priorities.” Our priority has to be to reduce gun violence, domestic violence and commercial sexual exploitation of our children.

We need the DVP. Let’s make 2017 the year that we cure the disease of preventable violence and death in Oakland. We cannot expect different results by doing the same thing over and over again.

Trump’s Secret Assault

I’m sitting and waiting for the healthcare vote. I’ve watched nervously over the last few days as the forces of Trump gathered in secret.  It is clear they intend to deliver a savage blow to healthcare in America. As a result, it is clear that now, more than ever, we need single payer healthcare in California.

The Healthy California Act – SB562

SB562 is a Senate bill in the California State Legislature that proposes to provide free healthcare for all Californians. Single-payer health care is a system in which the government, rather than private insurers, pays for all healthcare costs. Healthy California is a campaign of over 4 million Californians committed to guaranteeing healthcare for the residents of our state.

 

In a 2003 study, Americans spent 7.2% of our Gross Domestic Product (GPD) on health care. By comparison, it found that citizens in Europe, Japan, New Zealand, Canada and Australia spent less than 2.6. Their healthcare costs were covered by their governments. A 2010 study found that Americans continue to spend way more on our healthcare than other similarly-situated countries.

Source: Wikipedia/Sugar Baby Love

Our failure to provide universal healthcare in America also hurts our financial status in the world. A comparison of our credit rating to other countries with universal healthcare makes it clear we need single payor healthcare.

Source: Huffington Post

SB562 is a Senate bill in the California State Legislature that proposes to provide healthcare for all Californians. On April 26, 2017, the California Legislature moved SB562 forward. It would provide full healthcare coverage for all Californians. The advances from Obamacare would be folded into the new system. It will eliminate “co-pays” “out-of-pocket costs” and “deductibles.” These are the private expenses that are driving all of us to the poorhouse. SB562 will lower prescription costs which really hurt people when they are sick and need help the most.

Reproductive Injustice

According to the U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services, the infant mortality rate is one of the most widely used measures for the overall health of a community. Leading causes of death among infants are birth defects, preterm delivery, low birth weight, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), and maternal complications during pregnancy. Infant mortality continues to be a major problem in the U.S. although the rate is dropping.

In Alameda County, 619 babies died prematurely between 2006-2012, compared to 56 in Marin.  Alameda County’s infant mortality rate is consistently higher for Black and multiracial women than women in other ethnic groups. It is 3 times higher for Black families as white families in Alameda County, and almost that high in Contra Costa County.

West Contra Costa County became a medical desert in 2014 with the closure of Doctor’s Medical Center. Residents of 8 cities, Hercules, Pinole, San Pablo, El Sobrante, El Cerrito, Albany, Richmond, Kensington and the surrounding incorporated areas have to travel to Berkeley or Oakland for emergency medical care. The current crisis in West County is the result of decades of racial injustice in healthcare and other social services in Contra Costa County.

Studies also show an increase in pregnancy mortality rates in recent years. Again, Black women are dying at significantly higher rates:

  • 40.4 deaths per 100,000 live births for black women
  • 16.4 deaths per 100,000 live births for women of other races
  • 12.1 deaths per 100,000 live births for white women

Reproductive Injustice is still pervasive in our healthcare system by race and gender.

The Urgency of Now!

These statistics make it clear that NOW is the time for universal healthcare.  That the fight for single-payer healthcare is a social, racial, gender and economic justice issue.  Having free access to quality healthcare is one of the pressing human rights fights of our time.  Indeed, lives are at stake and every day counts! I urge everyone to join and support the Campaign for a Healthy California!  #HealthyCA

Justice-By-Geography

My mouth fell open when I read this! Shocking! In Alameda County? It surprised me and not much about our judicial system surprises me.

The Prosecutor’s Power to Charge Children

In 2016, California voters passed Proposition 57. It passed in Alameda County by an overwhelming 77% majority.  One of the main changes in the new law is to eliminate the prosecutor’s discretion to charge children between 14 and 18 as adults. It repealed California Proposition 21, which was passed in March 2000. Proposition 21 gave prosecutors the authority to decide whether to try a child as an adult.

In a “direct file” case, the prosecutor had the sole authority to decide whether to charge a child as an adult. Under the old law, the decision had to be made within the first 48 hours of an arrest. As a result, prosecutors often had minimal information about the circumstances of the crime or the child. In addition, there was almost no opportunity to interview key witnesses before making the decision.

At the same time, placing a child in the adult prosecution track has dire consequences for his or her “rehabilitation.” First of all, children are five times more likely to be sexually assaulted in adult prisons than in juvenile facilities. Furthermore, children are up to 36 times more likely to commit suicide after being housed in an adult jail or prison than those in juvenile facilities.

Disparity Gap in the Rates of Direct File

Fortunately, organizations like the W. Haywood Burns Institute, the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice and the National Center for Youth Law sounded the alarm on this practice.  Based on their research, they concluded that prosecutors were charging kids as adults at alarming rates. The prosecutor’s power to charge kids as young as 14 as adults was completely unregulated in California and most of the nation. Not surprisingly, the practice primarily impacts kids of color who were 90% of all “direct filed” cases.

These youth law advocates conducted a comprehensive survey and comparison of California counties. They found that the type of justice you receive in the juvenile system depends on where you live – hence, justice by geography! Furthermore, since 2003, there has been a growing disparity gap in the rates of direct file prosecutions of children by race in California.

Statewide numbers reveal that in 2014, for every White child charged as an adult, there were 3 Latino and 11 Black kids. What is shocking to me is that in Alameda County, prosecutors did not charge a single White kid as an adult in 2014.  Yet, in the same year, Alameda County prosecutors charged 14 Black or Latino kids as adults. Alameda is one of the nine counties in the State where only Black or Latino youths were subject to direct filing.

The Road to Recovery

Our road to recovery from juvenile injustice in California is likely to be long and difficult. With the passage of Prop. 57, the decision to prosecute a child as an adult is now decided by judges. Those of us who question the wisdom of this approach wonder whether we are going backward instead of forward. We know that in real world, judges have usually supported prosecutors.  Indeed in Alameda County, most of the sitting judges were prosecutors. So, some of us are concerned that “the fox is already in the henhouse.”

The response to our concerns was that the judge must make his decision in public and give a statement of reasons for the decision. Now, the prosecutor must make a motion to transfer a child to adult court. The judge must hold a hearing and evaluate whether the child should be tried as an adult. The hope is that increased transparency will lead to more accountability and better outcomes for kids.

In the meantime, it is unclear whether any of the kids charged, convicted or sentenced under the old law are entitled to relief.  In fact, once they were charged as adults, they were subject to the same pressures to plead guilty as adults. According to the AG’s records, 88% of the kids charged as adults are convicted and sentenced as adults.

Can We Save Children We Already Condemned?

Kurese Bell in San Diego County is a case in point. Kurese was only 17 when he and a friend, 18-year-old Marlon Thomas, robbed two marijuana dispensaries. At the second one, they unintentionally got into a shootout with a security guard inside the building. Eighteen year old Marlon was killed. Because Marlon’s death occurred during a robbery, 17-year old Kurese was charged with murder as an adult. Kurese was convicted in January 2017, after Prop. 57 became effective. If he is sentenced as an adult, he is not likely to have a parole date for 25 years.

Kurese’s case was a “direct file.” Ironically, the District Attorney of San Diego is the only DA in the State who supported Prop. 57. San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis is a former Juvenile Court Judge.  She says that she believes that a judge should hear both sides as to why a juvenile should be treated as an adult.

Earlier this year, Kurese’s lawyer, Patrick Dudley, took the courageous step of asking the Court to apply Prop. 57 retroactively to Kurese’s case.  The motion was granted!  The judge applied Prop. 57 and granted Kurese a transfer/fitness hearing in which the presumption is that Kurese is “fit” for a juvenile court disposition.  The prosecution must prove that he is not. A hearing is scheduled for May 12th.

Whether we will see similar steps to achieve justice in Alameda County by applying Prop. 57 retroactively remains to be seen.  Certainly, given our history of racial disparity in charging children, justice would appear to demand it.

Ending the Bail System

© 2013 Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

This week, California is taking a momentous step forward. The State Senate, supported by the Assembly, is moving to end bail as we know it. For as long as I have been a lawyer, “making bail” has been a requirement in our criminal justice system. The rule says you are “innocent until proven guilty.” Making bail is the first step that undermines the rule. In our system of justice, once you are arrested, you must prove your innocence. That requires money, starting with bail money.

Where Did It Come From?

The United States has 5 percent of the world’s population but 25% of the world’s prisoners. California led the way to mass incarceration when we approved the 3-strikes initiative in 1994. The right to bail comes from English law. It was incorporated into our Constitution in the Eighth Amendment. Today, a coalition of civil rights organizations supported by dozens of advocacy organizations has taken a huge step to repair the damage of racist failed policies. Thanks to Professor Michelle Alexander, we know that there were more African-American men in prison, jail, on probation or parole in 2013 than were enslaved in 1850.

Almost a dozen legislators, including Assembly District 18 representative Rob Bonta are pushing forward with bail reform. There are two measures being pushed through the State Assembly. Bail reform – SB 10 and AB42. Passage is not guaranteed. Bail reform failed in the legislature in 3 prior attempts. SB10 creates a pretrial services agency in each county and a hearing process for anyone who cannot immediately be released on their own recognizance.

For the first time, the judge deciding whether to release an individual must consider the presumption of innocence along with other factors.

We Have A Bail Problem

The current system allows a person’s wealth rather than their guilt or innocence to determine whether they will remain in jail until the case is over. Indeed, in California, the average bail amount is $50,000. This is five times higher than the rest of the United States. Thousands held in county jails across the state have not been convicted of a crime. They may in fact not have committed any crime. Many people arrested spend up to 5 days in jail even when there is not enough evidence to charge them.

Bail is historically and often used to coerce guilty pleas. Prosecutors often ask for a high bail and judges grant the request to coerce the person to plead guilty. A 2017 study by Human Rights Watch found that between 2011-2015, 1,451,441 people were arrested and jailed for felonies. Of that number, almost 500,000 were eventually found not guilty, their cases were dismissed, or the prosecutor never filed charges.

Alameda County Has A Bail Problem

In 2014-2015, Alameda County spent close to $15,000,000 to incarcerate people whose cases were either dismissed or never filed. Many innocent people had cases filed against them, but the case was dismissed or they were acquitted after spending weeks or months in jail. It is estimated that more than 85% of the people in jail in Alameda County are pretrial detainees – they have not been convicted or pled guilty. Ninety-one percent (91%) of those who pled guilty to a felony were released shortly after they took the plea deal. Most of the time, there is no legal right to sue for wrongful imprisonment, even if you were innocent.

When a person cannot make bail, it may cause loss of employment, income and/or housing. Our current system causes traumatic family disruption. On the one hand, when a person is held in jail, the whole family suffers shame and fear. To bail someone out may require multiple family members to take on crushing debt. The consequences of pretrial detention affect people of color, particularly Black people, and poor people far more often than white people. The stories of people losing their jobs or their homes because they went to jail and couldn’t make bail are far too common.

SB10 and AB42 are important steps in addressing the terrible consequences of mass incarceration. They both need our support to pass this time. The question is do we really believe that someone is innocent until proven guilty, and if so, does that matter? Please sign the Courage Campaign’s online petition!

“Meet the Women You Don’t Know”

“Meet the Women You Don’t Know.”  With those words, most of us were introduced to the Black women who worked on NASA’s mission to send an American into orbit in space.  Thanks to Margot Lee Shetterly‘s research and writing, this year we learned the story of Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson.

Not just the three women profiled in the movie Hidden Figures, but dozens of Black women who defied sexism, racism and segregation to work at NASA in Hampton, Virginia. “Human computers” with extraordinary mental capacities.  Who Knew?

“We are the ones we have been waiting for”

The story of Black women standing up for freedom in America is filled with “hidden figures.” As I write the story of so many courageous women, I am reminded of June Jordan‘s iconic poem “We are the ones we have been waiting for.”

Susie King Taylor (1848-1912)

Susie King Taylor (1848-1912) was born a slave in Liberty County, Georgia. She learned how to read at secret schools taught by Black women. She escaped from slavery in 1862. Within days, Taylor began a lifetime of teaching other Blacks to read and write.

Between 1862 and 1866, Taylor served as a nurse with the 33rd United States Colored Infantry Regiment. She traveled the South with the regiment, teaching many Black soldiers to read and write. As a Black woman in the South during the Civil War, she was always in an incredibly dangerous position. Taylor was one of thousands of brave Black women who served in the Colored Infantry. She wrote a book about her experiences entitled “Reminiscences of My Life In Camp.”

After the Civil War, Taylor established independent schools throughout the South for former slaves and soldiers. In 1874, she relocated to Boston where she dedicated her later life to the Women’s Relief Corps, a national organization for female Civil War veterans. Taylor was a tireless advocate for all of the veterans of the Civil War.

Patricia Stephens Due (1939-2012)

Patricia Stephens Due (1939-2012) began fighting segregation at age 13 when she insisted on being served at the “white only” window of the local Dairy Queen, instead of the “colored” window in Quincy, Florida. She became a lifelong civil rights activist.

Due was a college student at Florida A&M University (FAMU) when she joined the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) in 1959. She served in leadership roles in CORE and the NAACP fighting against segregation. She was also a union activist who helped organize healthcare workers.

In 1960, Due, her sister Priscilla Stephens and six other FAMU students spent 49 days in the nation’s first “jail-in.” They refused to pay a fine for sitting in a Woolworth’s “Whites Only” lunch counter in Tallahassee, Florida. The tear gas used against the protestors damaged Due’s eyes and she wore dark glasses for the rest of her life.

Due led one of the most dangerous voter registration efforts in the country in northern Florida in the 1960s. After the “jail-in,” she and other students who participated traveled the country in speaking tours to publicize the civil rights movement. In 1963, she married civil rights attorney John D. Due, Jr. They worked together for many decades to challenge injustices in Florida. Her FBI file was reportedly more than 400 pages. It was Patricia Due’s belief that “ordinary people can do extraordinary things.”

Thelma McWilliams Glass (1916-2012)

Thelma McWilliams Glass (1916-2012) was one of the early organizers of the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955. Glass, a graduate of Alabama State University and Columbia University, was the Secretary of the Women’s Political Council. Black women formed the Women’s Political Council at Alabama State College in Montgomery in 1946. It included teachers, social workers, nurses and the wives of Black professionals in Montgomery. Its focus was to end the humiliation inflicted on Blacks who rode public buses.

Following the victory in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, the Women’s Political Council called for a boycott of the Montgomery bus system. Thelma Glass passed out fliers, spread the word in the community, drove and organized car-pools for people to get to work. That boycott became the modern “shot heard around the world.” Thousands participated and it inspired millions. Several Black women, inspired by the Women’s Political Council, refused to give up their seats to whites on buses in 1955 and got arrested. The NAACP chose to highlight the arrest of Rosa Parks, an NAACP secretary and activist for many years. The Montgomery bus boycott triggered the end of segregation in public accommodations and launched the public career of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King.

In 2005, Thelma Glass remarked that “we didn’t have time to sit still and be scared.”

As I celebrate Women’s History Month 2017, inspired by these courageous sisters, I want us all to know that this is our history and “we are the ones we have been waiting for!

The Vote for DNC Chair

Credit: David Paul Morris, Bloomberg

This weekend in Atlanta, the Democratic National Party will elect a National Committee Chair.  The progressive favorite is Keith Ellison, a veteran Congressman from Minnesota. Keith Ellison is the first Muslim ever elected to Congress. He is also the first African-American Congressman elected from Minnesota. Keith is running to succeed Donna Brazile who served as the Interim DNC Chairperson.

Who Votes for the DNC Chair?

According to VOX News, there are 447 potential voters for the DNC Chairperson. They include state party chairs and vice-chairs, 112 slots evenly divided by sex. State party officials, allocated by population and Democratic vote fill 208 slots.  California has 20 slots in this category. Our representatives include Hon. Barbara Lee, Rep. Maxine Waters,  NAACP State Chairwoman Alice Huffman and Christine Pelosi. 48 slots go to various national Democratic groups. The outgoing DNC chair gets to appoint up to 75 slots. 8 slots go to Democratics living abroad, but they each only get to cast half a vote. The DNC roster appears to include fair representation of women who will get to participate and vote in this important decision.

Contested DNC Chair races are rare. In 1985, Nancy Pelosi ran for DNC Chair.  Pelosi reportedly urged the Party to “move to the center” and become “the party of capitalism.” Nancy Pelosi stamped down younger leadership in November 2016 when she held onto her position as the leader of the Democrats in Congress. It will be interesting to see if her daughter Christine will vote for Keith Ellison. The chair (and eight other leadership officers) are elected by a majority vote. Another impressive candidate for DNC Chair is Jehmu Greene of Texas.

Who Is Keith Ellison?

Keith Ellison was raised in Detroit Michigan by two professional parents.  Keith and three of his brothers became lawyers. Another brother became a doctor.  Keith is a former trial lawyer who started his career as a civil rights lawyer.  He also worked for a time as the Executive Director of the nonprofit Legal Rights Center in Minneapolis.  He says his grandfather’s work with the NAACP in Louisiana influenced him in his youth. In his first week as a member of Congress, Ellison voted with the new Democratic majority as part of the 100-Hour Plan to raise the minimum wage, for federal funding of stem cell research, and to allow Medicare to negotiate pharmaceutical prices. He has a plan for his first 100 days as DNC Chair that focuses on organizing the massive opposition to the Trump administration.

Keith Ellison is probably the only candidate for DNC Chair that has an African-American Agenda as part of his platform.  This is especially relevant because the relationship between the party and the African-American community has become increasingly strained. In 2016, many Black leaders urged Blacks to “abandon” the Democratic Party. Hillary Clinton’s reluctant discourse with Black Lives Matter activists was not enough to give her the victory.

In 2014, PowerPac+ issued its Fannie Lou Hamer Report. The report showed that of $518 million spent in 2010 and 2012, the Democratic Party spent a measley 1.7% of its money on minority owned political consulting firms. One difference between Keith and former Labor Secretary Tom Perez, also running for DNC Chair, are their views on conflicts of interest within the party. Keith opposes conflicts by DNC members who also have contracts with the Committee. Perez is apparently not inclined to take on this issue.

Who Supports and Opposes Keith Ellison?

Keith Ellison is endorsed by Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and Rep. John Lewis among others party leaders. Keith is opposed, not surprisingly, by Zionist Jewish leaders, including major Democratic donors like Haim Saban.

 

Credit: Wikipedia

Mr. Saban is Hillary Clinton’s biggest donor and reportedly has a net worth of $3.6 billion. He has also contributed between $5 million to $10 million to the Clinton Foundation. Mr. Saban is a leading member of the .01% of wealthy Americans. Saban says that his greatest concern is to protect Israel and he entered politics for that purpose. Regrettably, American politics has long been defined and divided by support for Israel (or not).  In my experience, there is a very thin line between folks who are “pro-Israel” and straight racist Zionists.

“Evidence” used to label Keith Ellison as “anti-Semitic” is his support of Stokely Carmichael‘s right to speak at the University of Minnesota in 1990 and his support of the 1995 Million Man March. As someone who hosted Stokely Carmichael at Yale in 1975, and a businesswoman who closed her business on the historic day of the Million Man March to support my brothers, I find this “evidence” completely ridiculous.

Why Does It Matter?

The DNC Chair position is historically a bureaucratic one. The DNC will set the rules for and administer the election primary process. And it’s the DNC that will help determine whether Democrats can in fact make gains in the 2018 midterm elections. But, the Chair does lead on Democrats’ decisions, organization and spending priorities. The Chair can be a prominent voice in the national dialogue on issues that matter to Americans.  In addition, the Chair provides direction and hopefully, inspiration to Democrats locally and nationally.

This election really matters, however, because it will either define or expose the Democratic party.  Most of all, it will show whether we are really a grassroots party, or the party of capitalism. Whether we want progressive, younger members to lead us, or to continue to be dominated by those who have power, money, control and conflicts of interest in the party. Today, progressive activists everywhere proclaim our opposition to the “Muslim ban” issued by the Trump administration. There is a question whether we will also see a “Muslim ban” inside the Democratic party this weekend.

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.

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