Legally Speaking With Pamela Price

Pamela Y. Price, Attorney at Law

Category: Humanity

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.

Losing the Federal Government

I feel like we’re tettering on the edge of a cliff.  The next deep breath, we fall into the abyss.

What Just Happened?

Today, April 6, 2017, is truly one of the last days of American democracy.  Why? Because today, the Republican Senators voted to change the rules of the U.S. Senate. They made the change to ensure that Democratic Senators will no longer have a voice in voting on federal judges at any level. It also means that, tomorrow, the right wing of the American judiciary will take over the U.S. Supreme Court for possibly at least the next 50 years. So, the transformation of America is complete.  Elections do matter. The bloodless coup which became apparent in November 2016 is complete.

Who Is Neil Gorsuch?

This dramatic rule change was necessary to get Judge Neil Gorsuch of Colorado appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Judge Gorsuch is the son of Anne Gorsuch. Anne was a Ronald Reagan appointee who at one point was the head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). She cut the EPA’s budget by 22% and reduced the number of cases filed against polluters. Ann also relaxed Clean Air Act regulations and facilitated the spraying of restricted-use pesticides. She hired EPA staff from the industries they were supposed to be regulating.  According to her Wikipedia page, Anne is the first agency director in U.S. history to be cited for contempt of Congress after she refused to comply with a subpoena.

Judge Gorsuch’s background as a litigator is one of privilege. He graduated from Harvard Law School in 1991.  He clerked in the D.C. Circuit federal court and the U.S. Supreme Court after law school. He then joined an elite D.C. law firm and stayed there for 10 years, representing corporate clients and billionaires.  In 2015, his former firm paid new associates “a starting bonus “of $175,000 or a $330,000 signing bonus to those who clerked for Supreme Court Justices. Gorsuch left the firm in 2006 when George Bush appointed him to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.

What is His Record?

Judge Gorsuch is the heir to Antonin Scalia. Like Scalia, Judge Gorsuch says he will “look backward.” He believes the Constitution should be interpreted the way it was interpreted when it was written. No matter that in the original Constitution, Black folks are only 3/5 of a person and women do not have the right to vote. In Gorsuch’s view, the infamous Dred Scott decision would be “good law” because it is based on what the judges then understood the law to be. He would also support the decision in Plessy v. Ferguson which ruled that Jim Crow laws were constitutional. The Court’s understanding of the law at that time legalized discrimination that endured for nearly sixty years.

His record on women’s rights and civil rights as a federal judge is troubling.  In February 2017, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and 107 civil rights organizations signed a letter opposing his nomination. What is really scary, however, is that the National Rifle Association (the NRA) just dropped a million dollars to support his nomination. Gorsuch’s apparent views on guns led Americans for Responsible Solutions, the gun violence prevention organization founded by former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and Navy combat veteran and NASA astronaut Captain Mark Kelly, and its sister organization, the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, to oppose his nomination. Under Gorsuch, America’s status as the most violent country in the world will be preserved.

“Defective from The Start”

Gorsuch says using the courtroom to “debate social policy is bad for the country and bad for the judiciary.”  If Gorsuch opposes using courts to debate social policy, he likely will oppose efforts to change any policies in the Courts.  His views are exactly opposite from the greatest lawyer and judge America has ever known, Justice Thurgood Marshall.  In 1987, Justice Marshall pointed out that “we the people no longer enslave, but the credit does not belong to the framers. It belongs to those who refuse to acquiesce to outdated notions of liberty, justice, and equality and who strived to better them.” He said “the government they devised was defective from the start, requiring several amendments, a civil war, and major social transformations to attain the system of constitutional government and its respect for the freedoms and individual rights, we hold as fundamental today.”

Donald Trump promised to appoint a “Scalia-like” justice to the Supreme Court. He is keeping his promise. Justice Scalia was a rabid opponent of affirmative action and voting rights. He wrote the Walnart v. Dukes decision that ended one of the largest class-action suits in history and set civil rights progress backward for years. Scalia opposed gay rights and a woman’s right to choose what to do with her own body. Scalia denied protection to victims of domestic violence and he wanted to abolish the Miranda rule protecting a defendant’s right to remain silent. The truth is, if Judge Gorsuch starts where Scalia left off, he too will be “defective from the start.”

Hypocrisy in Alameda County

Credit: Alameda County Sheriff’s Dept.

Former Livermore Police Officer Daniel Black is on trial.  He is one of dozens of Bay Area police officers who allegedly abused their power to sexually exploit my former client, Jasmine.  Black admits that he had multiple sexual encounters with 19-year-old Jasmine.  He claims the sex was part of “a private relationship” with Jasmine.  Black’s alleged conduct took place in April 2016 while the Oakland Police Department was trying to cover up Jasmine’s sexual exploitation by OPD officers.

In September 2015 OPD Officer Brendan O’Brien committed suicide and left a note “naming names.”  O’Brien’s suicide exposed the commercial sex trafficking of young women by law enforcement throughout the Bay Area.  Daniel Black was not one of the men named in the note.  Apparently he was not aware of the ongoing OPD cover-up and investigation. He is accused of going to Richmond to get Jasmine in April 2016, and using food and alcohol to compensate her for having sex with him.

Felonies and Misdemeanors

Penal Code Section 266i (a)(2) provides that any person who “[b]y promises, threats, violence, or by any device or scheme, causes, induces, persuades, or encourages another person to become a prostitute” is guilty of pandering. Dan Black’s sexual exploitation of 19-year-old Jasmine was “pandering” her under the law.  The fact that someone has previously engaged in prostitution is not a defense to the charge.  Penal Code Section 266 is a felony.

Dan Black is on trial for five (5) misdemeanors.  He is charged with engaging in prostitution, engaging in lewd conduct in public and giving alcohol to a minor (under age 21).  Misdemeanor charges carry far less severe punishment than felony charges.  Misdemeanor convictions can include unsupervised probation or no jail time.  Felonies usually include some type of prison or jail time and significant restrictions of your constitutional rights, including the right to vote.  Dan Black is not charged with any felonies.  He is not charged under California’s human trafficking law.  This is very strange.

Proposition 35 – Californians Against Sexual Exploitation Act

In 2012, California voters passed Proposition 35.  The law passed by a huge margin. 81.3% of voters said yes.  Prop. 35 is intended to fight commercial sex trafficking, particularly as it affects minors.  It changed the law to include more crimes in the definition of human trafficking, increase penalties for trafficking, provide more services for victims, change evidence rules in trafficking cases, require law enforcement training in human trafficking, and expand requirements for sex offenders.  As a result of the voters, Prop. 35 includes a violation of Penal Code Section 266.

Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley was a major supporter of Prop. 35.  Yet, none of the Bay Area police officers who sexually exploited Jasmine face charges under Prop. 35.  Not a single one.  This is the worst sex scandal to ever rock Bay area police departments.  This scandal cost Oakland 3 police chiefs in nine days.  These crimes will cost the City of Oakland and the County of Alameda millions of dollars.  Yet, none of the police officers charged in Alameda County are facing sex trafficking charges.  Not a single one.  It is as if Prop. 35 does not even exist.

Prosecutorial Discretion and Overcharging Crimes

What makes this situation even more bizarre is that prosecutors routinely overcharge defendants.  The practice of overcharging has become one of the hallmarks of our criminal justice system – a way to ensure that the system can actually function.  The only way the Courts can handle the number of cases charged by prosecutors is by getting plea bargains.  If every criminal defendant insisted on going to trial and refused to “take a deal”, the system would totally collapse.

In his book Why Innocent People Plead Guilty, Jed S. Rakoff writes that “our criminal justice system is almost exclusively a system of plea bargaining, negotiated behind closed doors and with no judicial oversight. The outcome is very largely determined by the prosecutor alone.”

There are no written regulations controlling the prosecutor’s exercise of his charging power in California or anywhere else in the United States.  There is no established or meaningful process for appealing the prosecutor’s exercise of his charging power. The result is that an estimated 95% of all criminal cases end with a plea bargain.

Credit: New York Review of Books

Jed Rakoff cites the case of Brian Banks from Long Beach, California.  Banks, who had been a high school football star with a scholarship to USC at the time of his arrest, served five years in prison for rape and kidnapping charges.  Brian did not actually commit the crime.

 

Brian Banks accepted a plea bargain under the advisement of his original lawyer.  He was freed in 2012 through the efforts of the Innocence Project.

Comparing Brian Banks’ case to Daniel Black’s case may seem like comparing apples to oranges.  But the real difference is that Brian Banks was charged and convicted of a crime he did not commit, while Dan Black is not charged at all with crimes he admits he committed.  Is this a case of “white privilege” or “badge privilege?”  Something is definitely wrong with this picture.  The artist in Alameda County is our District Attorney.

Calling Social Engineers

Calling Social Engineers

Charles H. Houston (1895-1950) said a lawyer is either a social engineer or a parasite on society.  On Monday, January 30, 2017, Mr. Trump fired a social engineer.

Credit: Wikipedia

Her name is Sally Yates.  She was the Acting Attorney General of the United States.  The statement that triggered Mr. Trump’s rage describes her constitutional role:

“My responsibility is to ensure that the position of the Department of Justice is not only legally defensible, but is informed by our best view of what the law is after consideration of all the facts.

 

In addition, I am responsible for ensuring that the positions we take in court remain consistent with this institution’s solemn obligation to always seek justice and stand for what is right.  At present, I am not convinced that the defense of the Executive Order is consistent with these responsibilities nor am I convinced that the Executive Order is lawful.

Consequently, for as long as I am the Acting Attorney General, the Department of Justice will not present arguments in defense of the Executive Order, unless and until I become convinced that it is appropriate to do so.”

America’s Private Prisons for Immigrants

This is not the first time that Sally Yates took a principled position on behalf of the American people.  In August 2016, Ms. Yates instructed Justice Department officials to either decline to renew the contracts for private prison operators when they expire or “substantially reduce” the contracts’ scope. The goal is to reduce and end the federal government’s use of privately operated prisons.  These prisons are used exclusively for non-citizen inmates.

Yates’ action follows the Office of Inspector General (OIG) report on federal private prisons.  The OIG found federal private prisons have higher rates of assaults and deaths under questionable circumstances, problems with contraband, low quality food and medical care.  These problems are reported in multiple exposes in Mother Jones and the Nation. These are the same prisons Mr. Trump will use to house immigrants targeted for deportation.

As a result of the Trump Executive Order on immigration issued on January 27, 2017, students, visitors and green-card-holding legal permanent United States residents from seven countries — and refugees from around the world — were stopped at airports in the United States and abroad.  Some refugees were blocked from entering the United States and sent back overseas.  Some refugees stopped at airports with no place to go would be detained.  That’s why Americans and lawyers descended upon major airports.  People who had committed no crime but had no place to go would be taken to federal private prisons.

Being A Social Engineer

It is a good time to be a civil rights lawyer.  Around the country, lawyers are organizing and galvanized to be social engineers.  It means that we, like Sally Yates, will uphold and defend the Constitution as a part of our regular day job.  Not just on holidays. The fight is clearly on.  Michael Moore warns that Mr. Trump has started a bloodless coup.

By changing the laws, firing lawyers and senior staff and giving legal authority to his advisors with the stroke of his pen, Mr. Trump is clearly taking control of the Executive branch.  With three Supreme Court nominations within his reach, he will soon control the United States Supreme Court.  Under a far right Supreme Court, our role as civil rights lawyers will likely be rendered obsolete in federal Courts.  Our role as social engineers may be the only way left to practice civil rights law in America. Thankfully, Charles Hamilton Houston, in his life’s work, has already given us the precedent to follow.

Why Are They Marching?

Why are They Marching?

I’m standing at the corner of Ninth and Fallon in downtown Oakland.  My phone rings and its Amy, my elderly foster mother in Cincinnati.  “Why are they marching?” she asks.  Another friend reports that her mother asks her in a not-so-nice tone “Did you wear a vagina on your head?”  So, not everybody “got the memo!”

So why did we march, by the millions here and around the world.  The “official” goal of the day was “to stand together in solidarity for the protection of our rights, our safety, our health, and our families — recognizing that our vibrant and diverse communities are the strength of our country.”  That’s the memo I got for the Women’s March in Oakland.  And so, more than 100,000 people had a peaceful march through Oakland.  Yes, we stood and we walked in solidarity.

A Beautiful Sight to See!

It was a beautiful sight – to see my beloved awesome beautiful Oakland community once again on the right side of history.  And the signs said it all.

“Keep those Bad Apples Out of the Cabinet.”

“The Children Are Watching.”  “Resist Fear, Assist Love!”

“You can’t comb over misogyny.”

“I Love Nasty Women!”

“ACA saved my life!”

“We won’t go back to the Dark ages.”

“A woman’s place is in the resistance.”

“Make America Read Again!”

 

“From Class to Crass!”     “Our rights are not up for grabs, neither are we!”

“Black Lives Matter!”  Someone simply said “Ugh!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There was music and drums and tamborines.  We danced, we chanted, we marched.  There was exceedingly warm comaraderie, respect and appreciation for everyone around you.  It felt like love overflowing. And yes, those little pink hats were everywhere, symbols of a woman’s vagina.  When I asked the man standing next to me what they meant and he told me, all I could say was “I knew that.”

Why Does It Matter?

So, the question is why does it matter that millions marched around the world.  We are now in the midst of the Trump “deconstruction” of America.  Executive orders are literally flying out of the White House.  Threats of ridiculous policy initiatives have now become law.  Trump is doing everything he can to divide America.  The “haves” are going to have it their way.  The rest of us will have to figure it out on our own.

What the Women’s March says to each of us is that we are not on our own.  It does not matter if you are Mexican or Muslim, you are not going to be left on your own.  It does not matter if you are homeless or homebound, you are not going to be left on your own.  It does matter if you are a military veteran, you are not going to be left on your own.

It matters whenever you say “NO” to fascism, racism, sexism and tyranny.  Mr. Trump’s pen cannot change our vision for the future of our children and our nation.  His tweets cannot change our commitment to keep Dr. King’s dream for America alive.  While Trump honors the murderous legacy of President Andrew Jackson, let us remember the magnanimous leadership of President Barack Hussein Obama.

The Children Are Watching!

In the week of celebrating Dr. King’s birthday, I kept reading  his “Letter from A Birmingham Jail.”  Dr. King reminds the white clergymen that”injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”  He reminds them that “everything Hitler did in Germany was ‘legal’ and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was ‘illegal.”  He reminds them that “the goal of America is freedom” and “if the inexpressible cruelties of slavery could not stop us, the opposition we now face will surely fail.”

As we move forward this year, the marches will sustain and strengthen the work of those who commit themselves to the ongoing struggle for social justice.  As an activist whose entire life was transformed by “the struggle,” I know the power of seeing millions of people marching for what they believe in.  Let us continue to beat the drums for justice.  Let’s keep marching for our lives and the lives of our children!  The children are watching!

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.

Compassion of Our Hearts

Compassion of Our Hearts

I love Thanksgiving.  I try to live my life in a spirit of gratitude.  I really appreciate that we dedicate time in our lives every year to be thankful for our blessings.  I am so thankful for my life.  I have lived a miracle and “He didn’t have to do it.  It could have been me outdoors or in jail,” and I know it.  I often remember to be thankful that I am not living on a hill in Haiti.  Current events make me thankful that I am not living under a building in Aleppo, Syria.

thankful-forThis year I am most thankful for forgiveness, for friends who “prayed me through” a very challenging transitional year, for new love and for something called s-a-b-b-a-t-i-c-a-l which I did “my way.”

Compassion in Our Lives

We all can be especially thankful for the compassion in our lives.  As I look around, I am surrounded by friends who show compassion every day.  I am so thankful for my sister Tonsa who takes really good care of my Mom, Mildred.  My foster sisters Gina, Rendi and Virgie took great care of my foster mother Alice. They kept her for more than a decade, long after Mama could no longer speak or move. My cousin Bonita was the solid rock of compassion for my Aunt Eleanore and Uncle John.

It warms my heart to have so many friends who have done the same for their loved ones.  My friend Hope dedicated her life to taking care of her parents, Lela and Ivan.  Since Lela passed, Hope continues to shower compassion on Ivan.  My friend Torrey showed compassion to her mother Mary for years, long after Mary forgot who Torrey was.  Torrey said “she thinks I am just a nice lady who comes to visit her.”

The compassion that my friends demonstrated for their loved ones is so inspiring.  Fania and Angela‘s gentleness with their mother Sallie B. was phenomenal. It has been my privilege to watch daughters like Dianne, Faye and Deborah take care of their mothers, Frances, Imogene and Irene. My friend Shirley‘s steadfast commitment to her Dad, Pops, before he died was comforting to us when Shirley suddenly passed away.

Compassion Knows No Lines

Compassion is not limited by gender.  My cousin Shawn‘s commitment to his mother, Sharon, was unwavering as she battled breast cancer.  How well Antwon cared for his Mother in her last days is one of the most endearing stories about him.  It was my privilege to watch my friend Marshall act with total commitment to his Mother in her final years. My friends, Darryl, Douglas and Duane each showed the same compassion for their mothers in their illnesses when they needed it most.  These are truly men of honor.

My friend Charles continues to honor his mother by taking care of his aunts.  Bishop Macklin‘s concern for his ailing mother touches the heart of every member of our congregation. My godbrother Jay stepped up right away when my foster Mom Amy fell ill and needed 24-hour care. Jay and his wife continue to be there for Amy every day.

Compassion In Action

In law, it is often hard to remember that a law firm is a business. “Beating the drum for justice” is hard work and expensive.  It is very hard to accept that we can not help everybody.  But, it was compassion that moved me to help clients like John Bumphus and Abner Morgan, Deanna Freitag and Tonsa B. What I received in return for that “help” has been life-changing courage and compassion. It was compassion that led me to step off my sabbatical and go to Stuart Florida to rescue Jasmine from jail and bring her home.

In this season, I am reading “Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson.  The painful truths of our broken justice system grieve the heart. Our criminal justice system is truly an instrument of evil.  Our lack of compassion for children tried as adults and condemned to life in prison is appalling.  The failure of compassion for women who ended up in abusive relationships and then prison is beyond frustrating. Our willingness to accept the death penalty regardless of a person’s guilt or innocence is profoundly disturbing. As Bishop Desmond Tutu pointed out, it’s “as if America’s soul has been put on trial.” Bryan Stevenson‘s compassionate heart is a light of hope for all of us.

In Bay Area politics, we have a rising star in Lateefah Simon.  We are all so proud of her. Her life’s work is rooted in compassion.  I know that her “popularity” is rooted in compassion.  Many people came to know her because of her love for Kevin Weston. The battle she and Kevin fought to save his life touched all of our hearts. Our compassion for this brilliant young couple flooded Facebook. Out of compassion for them, our spirits soared. Our hearts were opened. We were united in community by compassion.

The Greatest Gift of All

As you experience this Thanksgiving, regardless of your circumstances, try to remember that the greatest gift of all is love.  “So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (I Corinthians 13:13.)  I really appreciate the people in my life and our world who show compassion for others.  As I move forward in my life, I pledge to more consistently practice “random acts of kindness.” Remember that your greatest legacy may be how you showed compassion for someone else.

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