Legally Speaking With Pamela Price

Pamela Y. Price, Attorney at Law

Author: pypriceesq (Page 1 of 4)

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.

Prosecutorial Accountability In Action

Prosecutorial Accountability In Action

A cultural shift is happening across the country.

On Wednesday, June 14, Contra Costa County District Attorney Mark Peterson pled guilty to one felony and resigned.  Many of us started calling for his resignation and prosecution in January. It only took six (6) months for it to become reality.  Prosecutorial accountability in action!

Why Peterson Had to Go

In May, a civil grand jury recommended that Peterson be removed from office.  The grand jury relied upon the fact that Peterson misappropriated tens of thousands of dollars in campaign money.  But, Peterson has done more than steal $66,000 over the last five years. Peterson represented an old way of thinking about criminal justice that is not in line with the people who live in Contra Costa County.

Mark Peterson advocated against criminal justice reform at every turn. Voters in Contra Costa County voted overwhelmingly in favor of Prop. 36, Prop. 47 and Prop. 57. These bills all helped relieve the overburdened California prison system.  In 2012, Peterson opposed Prop. 36, which reformed California’s draconian three-strikes law. He told the Mercury News that the 3 Strikes law “gives prosecutors a powerful bargaining position.” He also opposed Prop. 47 and Prop. 57.

Peterson is both ignorant and dismissive of the structural racial inequities in the criminal justice system.  After the grand jury failed to indict Darren Wilson for murdering Michael Brown in Ferguson, Peterson wrote “All Lives Matter,” and argued that “crimes are perpetrated disproportionately by poor people of color.

As the District Attorney, Peterson decided to charge Black children in Contra Costa County as adults 12 times more often than white kids. While African Americans make up 9.6 percent of the total county population, they represent 41 percent of the juvenile probation population. Peterson regularly overcharged and prosecuted Black, Latino and poor women for petty theft crimes while excusing his own felonious conduct.

The Flip Side of Unequal Justice

While Peterson has showed a disdain for the people he represents and serves, he has shown favoritism to bad actors in law enforcement. He conducted the most perfunctory investigation of the Richmond police officers who were allegedly complicit in a massive sex trafficking ring.  He initially refused to prosecute any of them.

Peterson turned a blind eye to the community’s concerns about sexual exploitation and obstruction of justice. The Richmond Police Department initially denied and later admitted that it arranged to transport the 19-year-old survivor-victim witness to Florida.  Once there, she was promptly arrested, charged with a felony and incarcerated facing a possible 15-year sentence under extremely dubious circumstances.  Peterson’s office made no effort to assist me in securing her release from jail or returning her to California.

Peterson’s 2014 investigation of the murder of Richard “Pedie” Perez, an unarmed man shot by Richmond Police Officer Wally Jensen, was so flawed that the family and much of the community remains outraged that a murderer may have gotten away. There is compelling evidence that Officer Jensen initiated a physical confrontation by repeatedly tackling Pedie. Pedie was unarmed and intoxicated. After tackling Pedie, Jensen backed up, pulled his gun and shot Pedie three times, killing him.

Peterson also refused to investigate whether the West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD) was defrauded in connection with a $1.6 billion school construction bond program. There is compelling evidence that the WCCUSD provided contractor SGI with rent-free office space, a 10 percent markup on general contracting reimbursements and reimbursement for office furnishings, supplies and cellular service. An investigation also found that SGI received substantial increases in pay, averaging 69 percent, when 10 or 20 percent would have been reasonable.

The Michael Gressett Scandal

In 2015, Peterson rehired his friend and supporter, Deputy DA Michael Gressett. In 2008, Gressett was charged with a violent sexual assault against a female co-worker involving an ice pick and a handgun. Eventually, Contra Costa County paid $450,000 to settle the victim’s civil case for rape. She accused Gressett of sodomy and false imprisonment. The criminal case against Gressett was dismissed on a technicality. Later, the Attorney General’s office decided not to refile the criminal case because the victim had moved to Florida and refused to return to California to testify against Gressett.

How The Community Brought Him Down

Peterson’s downfall was the culmination of months of organizing and a community that “woke up.” Citizens, everyday people became aware of his actions and rejected his reasoning. First it was activists holding a public trial in front of his office in January. Peterson was “found guilty” on a 7-count indictment. To his credit, County Supervisor John Gioia stood up to represent the interests of his community and called for Peterson’s resignation.

Then it was the civil grand jury recommending his removal. Next, it was a vote of no-confidence by the prosecutors’ union. Local editorial boards called for his resignation. Most people were absolutely appalled by the fact that Peterson intended to run for re-election.

Peterson’s resignation is a victory for the people of Contra Costa County. The community found its voice and used its voice to reject lawlessness by its chief law enforcement officer.  Peterson’s prosecution proves that law enforcement officials can be held accountable under the law.  All it takes is a will to look, speak up and act out! #Stay Tuned & StayWoke.

 

The Politics of Trust-Part 2

In December 2016, as I prepared to take my seat as an elected member of the Alameda County Central Committee, I expressed my intention to serve based on the inspiring messages from “the Politics of Trust.”  Fast forward to June 2017. The California Democratic Party is experiencing a “Politics of Trust” moment as the battle for Chair of the Party continues.

The Audit & the Challenges

Joey Smith, Kimberly Ellis, Pamela Price (2016 CDP Convention)

On May 22, 2017, a small crew of folks gathered in the office of the California Democratic Party. We were there to start an “audit” of the ballots cast in the CDP elections. I served that first day as a legal observer on behalf of the Kimberly Ellis campaign. Others also stepped up that day and later in the week to support Kimberly’s effort to ensure fairness and transparency in our election.

Everyone should support that effort. Fair (open and free) elections are supposed to be the hallmark of a democratic society. Without getting into specifics, the questions for our CDP elections is both how the votes were cast and who actually voted. These questions have also prompted challenges in two other Officer positions and a majority of the Regional Director positions.

The CDP bylaws provide for a challenge based on a violation of the CDP bylaws. The CDP’s Compliance Review Commission has six (6) members. This Commission has the power and authority to take such actions as are necessary to provide a fair and just remedy including, but not limited to, the holding of new elections.

The Ellis challenge is firmly grounded in a tradition of democratic demands for election fairness. I learned “election protection” firsthand in 2008 when along with thousands of lawyers, I volunteered to observe the presidential election.  Because Barack Obama’s candidacy was so earth-shaking, many people feared the election would be stolen away. Lawyers from everywhere traveled thousands of miles to cover the entire country. We were there to ensure fairness and transparency.

Fairness & Transparency in Elections

Long before Barack Obama, however, “outsiders” learned that having eyes on the process makes it harder to hide election fraud. His adopted hometown, Chicago, is the perfect tale of election fraud and election reform. The famous Chicago political machine engaged in every form of trickery from 1928 until the 1980s. In 1983, Mayor Harold Washington created the city’s first Freedom of Information law, allowing journalists and others to obtain and analyze election records.

As one writer points out, our electoral system is widely viewed as an anomaly in the western world today because of persistent problems, such as reliability of voting machines; frequent bureaucratic incompetence; the lack of uniform standards from state to state, or even county to county; the systematic exclusion of millions of formerly incarcerated citizens; and the tendency of election officials to adopt rules that benefit their party over democracy itself.

These problems are rooted in a political system designed to guarantee rich White male supremacy. Women, Black people and poor White men were intentionally excluded from the right to vote from the beginning. As a result, our history has been about some of us fighting to overcome ingrained privilege while others fight to preserve it. Furthermore, it seems as long as we struggle to infuse the political system with integrity, it gives free reign to people who plan to cheat and unfairly influence the process. I suspect that California State Senator John Vasconcellos was right that we have to change the basic calculus of politics.

The Politics of Trust

This is a large moment in history for the California Democratic Party.  The headquarters in Sacramento is dedicated to working people in California. The walls are decorated with commemorations to the lives and legacy of Congressman Phil Burton and his wife, Sala Galante Burton. Notably, Sala’s perspective seems especially relevant in this moment. According to Sala, “politics is everybody’s business. The air you breathe is political—it isn’t just a game for certain people. We must all be vigilant in terms of whom we elect to office, vigilant in terms of our civil rights and liberties.”

Credit: LA Times

I’m sure Sala Burton is smiling down on Kimberly Ellis and thanking her and her supporters for their vigilant demand for fairness and transparency in this election. After all, the CDP is the largest state democratic party in the country.

 

If the Compliance Review Commission does not pull out all the stops to benefit democracy over intra-party loyalty, it will be exposed for all to see. All eyes are watching. Hopefully, these Commission members appreciate their singular role in resolving not only the challenges, but also restoring trust in the process. I hope they are people of courage and integrity. “The Politics of Trust is demanding more and better from each and all of us.”* #StayWoke!

*   Taken from www.politicsoftrust.net (Accessed 12/2/14)

What The H**l Happened Down There?

The Question – What the H**l Happened Down There?

Me at the CDP General Session on Sunday!

What the hell was going on down there? That was actually the question. “Down there” is Sacramento, California, and yes, it was wild!

The upheaval within the Democratic Party came home to California this past weekend. The deep discontent that I saw simmering just below the surface at the CDP Convention last summer in San Jose blew up the house in Sacramento.

And it seems the party leadership never saw it coming. So when it happened, they had no idea how to deal with it.

This weekend, Eric Bauman became the Chair of the California Democratic Party. His mission, “should he decide to accept it,” is to repair the breach of trust and unify the base. It is his mission, his job, his responsibility. It’s why he now will get paid “the big bucks.”

So, why all the fuss? What the hell happened down there?

My Report on the Convention

So what happened (from my view) is that the delegates had a clear choice between (a) someone relatively new to the party and (b) someone who had waited years for “his turn.” A choice between (a) an outsider with a track record of recruiting and training women to successfully run for office and (b) the ultimate insider who presides over a party chapter with a history of exceptionally low voter turnout.

Kimberly Ellis

It was a clear choice between (a) someone who managed to unify Berniecrats and Hillary supporters, and (b) someone who will have a very difficult time gaining the trust and support of new people who came alive in the party because of Bernie Sanders.

 

An obvious choice between (a) an energetic smiling young Black woman and (b) a somewhat “entitled” middle-aged gay man. Their positions remind me a lot of the contest Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in 2008.

I know some people want to make Kimberly “an angry Black woman.” And some perceive Eric as “your mean older brother.” Their personalities was not the deal-breaker for me, anymore than their age, race or sexual identity. Make no mistake. I supported Kimberly Ellis for Chair. What mattered most to me were two things: (a) who had the best vision for the future of the Democratic Party; and (b) who had conflicts of interest that might impact his ability to advocate for the needs of everyday people. Kimberly’s message about redefining what it means to be a Democrat was inspiring, particularly in light of the party’s failures for at least the past two decades.

Fortunately, the contest was not simply a case of “identity politics.”  It is well known that many Black politicians do not support Kimberly. Most notably the Chair of the CDP African-American Caucus. I know gay men who did not support Eric. Still, it troubles me that Black women have the highest voter turn-out as Democrats (meaning we are the backbone of the Democratic Party), yet, we do not have a single Black woman in charge of a statewide Democratic Party. Not here, not there, not now, not ever. This is a big problem for the Democratic Party.

Who Turned Off the Mike on Auntie Maxine?

Then there was the insulting treatment of senior political matriarch, Congresswoman Maxine Waters. On Saturday night, as Kimberly’s candidacy was going down in flames, a young white man decided to interrupt Maxine Waters’ speech. In full view of the African-American Caucus. He was completely un-intimidated. He stepped up to the Congresswoman and told her to stop talking. She just happened to be giving her bad report on No. 45. And talking bad about No. 45 “for real.” It seems that the young man could not take it. So he just walked up and interrupted her. When she would not stop talking, he turned off her mike.

What really scares me is that if he wanted to harm her, he could have. Maxine Waters is an America icon. She is currently serving her 13th term in Congress.  She was elected in 1990. Congresswoman Waters has served on the Democratic National Committee (DNC) since 1980. She was a key leader in five presidential campaigns: Sen. Edward Kennedy (1980), Rev. Jesse Jackson (1984 & 1988), and President Bill Clinton (1992 & 1996).  Before she went to Congress, she spent 14 years in the California State Assembly.

In the California Assembly, “Auntie Maxine” as she is fondly called, served as the Democratic Caucus Chair and is credited with pushing some of the boldest legislation California has ever seen. She lead the fight for divestment of state pension funds from South Africa. She authored landmark affirmative action legislation; the nation’s first statewide Child Abuse Prevention Training Program; the prohibition of police strip searches for nonviolent misdemeanors; and the introduction of the nation’s first plant closure law.

Outrage and Accountability

The way that this man boldly stepped up and interrupted Auntie Maxine was absolutely shocking. I seriously doubt that he would have stepped to Congressman Paul Ryan or Congressman Kevin McCarthy in such a way. Certainly, he would not have turned off the mike while either one of those Congressmen was still speaking. The entire African-American Caucus is outraged by such blatant disrespect. Even those of us who were not there. The video is quite alarming!

So, one of Eric Bauman’s first tests on accountability to the party is how he responds to the complaint lodged by the African-American Caucus. Mr. Bauman not only has to address the outrage of Kimberly’s supporters (who booed him from the floor on Sunday and then walked out), but also the outrage of those who have love and respect for Auntie Maxine.

Mr. Bauman needs to get busy right away! Otherwise, he may never gain the credibility he needs to lead us in the fight against Trump!

 

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!

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.”

“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!

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