Archive for June, 2014

Council Members Kill Police Accountability Measure

By Ken A. Epstein

A push by a community coalition asking the Oakland City Council to put a police accountability commission measure on the November ballot was always a long shot.

OPD SWAT Team

OPD SWAT Team

As a result, members of the coalition were disappointed but not discouraged this week when the measure died at the council’s Public Safety Committee, supported only by the committee’s chairperson, District 5 Councilmember Noel Gallo.

“This is a World Series, and that was only game one,” said Rashidah Grinage, executive director of People United for a Better Life in Oakland (PUEBLO) and a leader of the community coalition

Coalition groups, according to Grinage, always knew that resistance from the police union and some members of the council meant that a petition drive to put a charter amendment on the ballot in 2016 was more likely to be successful.

But they decided to try the shorter route because two years is a long time to wait for police reform, and OPD backsliding may become an issue when federal court oversight ends in the near future.

What makes a police accountability commission so crucial, say its supporters, is the proven failure of the city to hold officers accountable for serious offenses against local citizens.

These failures have cost Oakland more than $58 million in police misconduct civil awards in the past decade. Further, OPD has remained under federal court control for more than 11 years, though compliance with the requirement that the department institute constitutional policing practices was supposed to be achieved within five years.

OPD

OPD

The accountability measure proposes to create a commission, made up of residents appointed by the mayor and council members, which would take over the City Administrator’s authority to oversee OPD.

According to the measure’s backers, Oakland’s consistent failure to punish police misconduct can be traced to the City Administrator s overly cozy relationship with the police department and a resulting unwillingness to initiate or uphold discipline against individual officers.

Speaking at the Public Safety meeting, Councilmembers Libby Schaaf and Lynette McElhaney said the council needs more time to consider and revise the measure before sending it to the ballot.

McElhaney said she was working hard to develop and pass a measure in November that will be the successor to Measure Y, the $22 million public safety tax that funds over 50 police officers and a number of youth programs.

“This (police measure) requires the same kind of diligence,” McElhaney said. “I think we owe that to everyone. There are things to that need to be considered. There are numerous questions.”

If people rush ahead without sufficient deliberation, the results can be disappointing, she said. “We (may) think that we’re going to fix something… and it ends up being heartbreaking.”

“I’m not prepared to move this up to the council,” said Schaaf. “Far too many questions have been raised.”

She said she would like the measure to be discussed again by Public Safety, “perhaps in the fall.”

Dan Kalb said he supports the idea of citizen oversight of the police, but “the devil is in the details.”

Police Chief Sean Whent

Police Chief Sean Whent

“This is something we really want to see this year, he said, adding that the measure might have a good chance of winning if it makes the 2016 ballot, a presidential election year. “ I hope we’re going to get there,” he said.

Responding to his colleagues, Gallo argued that council members were not being called upon to agree with the measure but to pass it forward so that Oakland voters can decide.

“The reason I entertained (this measure) is not because I agreed with everything,” Gallo said. “My job is to facilitate. What we have has not worked.”

“I hear that people lack confidence in the City Council and police officers,” he said. “This city has been dysfunctional for a long, long, long time.”

Council President Pat Kernighan attended the meeting to offer, she said, “a different perspective.”

The measure’s supporters place “too much emphasis on the last five to 12 years,” Kernighan said. “We need to acknowledge when progress is being made. We are finally moving forward, and I think we have to give it a chance.”

Asked his position on the measure, Police Chief Sean Whent said, “I don’t think it’s proper for me to take a position one way or another on this.

“I would agree there needs to be (police accountability). I agree that police should be held to a higher standard,” he said, adding that, “We have made significant progress.”

Civil rights attorney and mayoral candidate Dan Siegel, who spoke at the Tuesday meeting, told the Post he believes the council should have let the measure go to the voters.

Oakland police

Oakland police

“I’m really frustrated with members of the council, particularly Councilmember Schaaf, for keeping the people of Oakland from have an opportunity to vote on this thing. It doesn’t mean they have to agree with it.”

“I guess (some) people don’t want to upset the OPOA (Oakland Police Officers Association) and don’t want to take a strong position to make sure the police department is accountable.”

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, June 27, 2014 (postnewsgroup.com)

School District Wants to Sell School Property to Build Apartments

"We are not surplus," said teachers and communit members who went to the Oakland school district's surplus facilities committee meeting Monday night. Photo by Ken Epstein

“We are not surplus,” said teachers and communit members who went to the Oakland school district’s surplus facilities committee meeting Monday night. Photo by Ken Epstein

By Ken A. Epstein

Some teachers and community members are promising to fight an Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) plan to sell the site of Dewey Academy at East 12th and Second Avenue to developers to build a high-rise apartment complex.

“Dewey does not need to be relocated for condos,” said Erica Bryant, a Dewey teacher who spoke Monday evening at the meeting of the “7-11” surplus facilities committee the district set up to advise it on the sale of the property.

The school district wants to sell Dewey to raise money to build a new administration building. The district is also offering a long-term lease to developers for the joint use of three acres occupied by the decrepit Paul Robeson Administration building at 1025 Second Ave., which has been vacant since January 2013 as a result of water damage.

A local developer, Urban Core Integral, has already made an offer to OUSD for the Dewey site and the rest of the property.

The City of Oakland has an Exclusive Negotiating Agreement (ENA) with Urban Core to build a 24-story apartment building on a city parcel by Lake Merritt and next door to Dewey.

Under the leadership of interim Supt. Gary Yee, the development plan is on a fast track. As required by state law for public property sales, the district in May established the 7-11 surplus facility committee.

A Request for Qualifications (RFQ) to seek proposals from developers was issued this week. The deadline for proposals is Aug. 15, and the Board of Education is scheduled to rule on the final proposal on Sept. 24.

Dewey Academy is a continuation high school in Oakland, which for many years has created a nurturing environment where students with academic difficulties – mostly students of color – have a second chance to earn a high school diploma. This year, the school graduated over 130 students.

The district is promising that Dewey’s move will be temporary, offering space at closed schools at Lakeview Elementary or Santa Fe Elementary and at Fremont High. A new school will eventually be built downtown next to a new administration building, said Supt. Yee.

But opponents say these offers are insensitive to the dangers to young people from one part of Oakland traveling to another part of the city that is claimed by a street gang. The opponents also say the move would disrupt the education of students who may already have a history of truancy or other academic difficulties.

Wary that district commitments might not be honored, the school’s supporters note that Supt. Yee is interim and about to be replaced by a newly hired superintendent, Antwan Wilson from Denver.

Words like “’surplus are code words for land grabs and displacement. You guys are in for a fight,” said George Galvis, speaking Monday at the 7-11 committee.

Galvis operates an afterschool program at Dewey and heads an Oakland nonprofit, Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice (CURYJ).

“As a child I already understand all this. These are human beings. This is their education, not just some cell phone you can replace,” said 9-year-old Ayacaxtli, Galvis’ daughter.

Dewey teacher Erica Bryant in an interview with the Post also expressed her reservations that the move would be temporary. People at the school have heard they will have to move before the 2015-2016 school year begins.

“It’s one of my fears, that once we’re out of that space, we’re not going to be able to go back to Dewey.   Our goal is to make sure that we can stay where we are,” she said.

Speaking after the meeting Monday, Supt. Yee said the district is under time constraints to sell property and find a new location for its administration building because insurance is currently paying for a temporary district headquarters in an office building at 11th and Broadway in downtown Oakland.

“We only have 25 months before we have to move,” Yee said.

To raise the money for a new headquarters, the district must examine all the options that are submitted by developers and come to a decision, he said.

“It is really incumbent on me to move forward and provide to the board the options that we have to restore the administrative structure and provide adequate space for our children,” said Yee.

According to city staff, the high rise next to Dewey has not yet been approved. Urban Core Integral has signed an ENA, which means the company still must seek state environmental approvals for the project. The process, including another public hearing, could take until December.

A completed proposal will still have to be approved by the Planning Commission and the City Council.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, June 27, 2014 (postnewsgroup.com)

Councilmember Noel Gallo Takes Heat for Backing Police Accountability Measure

By Ken Epstein

City Councilmember Noel Gallo is coming under a lot of pressure for backing a proposal by a community coalition that wants the City Council to put a charter amendment on the November ballot to create a Public Safety Oversight Commission in Oakland.

Noel Gallo

Noel Gallo

With the support of Gallo, who chairs the council’s Public Safety Committee, and Councilmember Dan Kalb, the resolution cleared the Rules Committee last week and is scheduled to be discussed next week at Public Safety.

While Gallo says he has not heard directly from the Oakland Police Officers Association (OPOA), he is getting the message second hand.

“What I’ve been hearing from colleagues and other people is almost threatening, (saying) how do I dare do what the citizens asked me to do,” said Gallo in an interview with the Post.

He says people are advancing their own “personal agendas. “

“They’re not concerned about the overall direction of the city,” he said. “I’m disappointed about some of the comments I’m getting.”

If a version of the measure passes at Public Safety, it will go to the full council for a vote. But if the ballot measure is not approved by council by the time it breaks for its August recess, the proposed city charter amendment cannot be on the ballot until the next election in 2016.

The proposal is the product of nine months of work by a citywide coalition of police accountability activists, who want to

Barry Donelan,

Barry Donelan,

create a public safety commission that would assume most of the authority over the police department, including discipline of officers, currently in the hands of the City Administrator’s office.

The new commission would combine the staff members and budgets of several existing committees and therefore would not generate new expenses, according to the measure’s supporters.

Rashidah Grinage, a spokesperson the Coalition for Police Accountability that is calling for the charter amendment, says she has heard that the OPOA is threatening not to back renewal of the city’s Measure Y public safety tax in November if the council puts police accountability measure on the ballot.

Barry Donelan, president of the OPOA, says the proposed police oversight would only create unnecessary bureaucracy.

“I think there’s no need for a layer of oversight on top of what we have already,” he said. “I think the city is better served using its meager financial resources to fight crime rather than to create another (committee).”

He said his organization is not part of the discussion over the wording of the new Measure Y but denied that OPOA is saying anything negative about the ballot measure.

“We have not been part of it since day one,” he said, but “anything that puts more resources into (reducing the) high amount of crime in Oakland is a good thing,” he said.

Gallo said that because of the work of Grinage and the Coalition for Police Accountability, he now understands the need to strengthen the city’s oversight of the police department.

Dan Kalb

Dan Kalb

“I’m extremely grateful to Rashidah and all the people who have brought this (measure) forward, he said, because they have forced him to examine the city is doing to provide police oversight and to understand that at present the city is ineffective and failing to deliver on its promise, he said.

Post Publisher Paul Cobb says his has heard that OPOA is opposing the police accountability measure by contacting community members who support it and letting them know of the OPOA’s displeasure.

Cobb said this is similar to the tactic used by former OPOA President Bob Valladon who threatened the late Post Editor Chauncey Bailey when he was investigating corruption at OPD, shortly before Bailey was assassinated in 2007.

Councilmember Lynette McElhney, who serves on the Public Safety Committee, says she opposes putting a police accountability measure on the ballot at this time.

“We need a much more deliberative process than 35 days in examining it,” she said, adding that the community coalition may have been working on the proposal for nine months, but council members have had it only for a couple of weeks.

“I think it can be a diversion to the more important measure, which is the successor to (Measure) Y,” she said. “We should not be focused on anything but the successor to Y.

Lynette McElhaney

Lynette McElhaney

“We need to be focused on the $22 million a year that Y brings to this community,” she said. “I don’t want to talk about any other measure. It would be a disaster if we lost that money.”

Councilmember Dan Kalb, who also sits on the Public Safety committee, likes the idea of having a police commission in Oakland. “I’m aware that they have police commissions in other cities, (and) I generally look favorably to having such an agency here in Oakland.”

He said that he is hearing around City Hall that there is not enough time to discuss the issue and modify it.

“To finish (that work) in time for the ballot may be very challenging,” Kalb said. “But if other council members support it and we can get the right final language, I would support it.”

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, June 21, 2014 (postnewsgroup.com)

OPD Close to Full Compliance on Court-ordered Reforms

But the department still has much work to do to “institutionalize” progress

New officers graduate from Oakland Police Academy

New officers graduate from Oakland Police Academy

 

By Ken A. Epstein

The Oakland Police Department is finally getting close to meeting the federal court requiring it to institute practices and policies that respect the rights of local residents. But the department still has a long way to go to ensure that these changes are “institutionalized,” according to a new progress report by court-appointed overseer Robert Warshaw.

Warshaw, who issued the report on Monday, serves in a dual role – as the monitor who evaluates the department’s progress and the compliance director who works with the department to institute the reforms,

 Robert Warshaw

Robert Warshaw

Federal oversight was a condition of the Negotiated Settlement Agreement (NSA) that resolved the 2003 case of Delphine Allen, et al., vs. City of Oakland, et al., in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, commonly known as the Riders’ case.

“OPD is currently in compliance with the highest number of tasks in the 11-year history of the NSA,” Warshaw said in his report.

“With the chief and his executive team now stably in place, we are optimistic that the department can soon cross the finish line into full compliance with the outstanding six tasks,” he wrote.

“However, the department still has much work to do to institutionalize these critical reforms – and the court will not likely vacate this process until there is demonstrated evidence of sustainable reform.”

Warshaw praised Mayor Jean Quan and the Interim City Administrator for hiring Chief Sean Whent and supporting his efforts to reform the department.

“Mayor Quan was deliberate in the selection process (of the new chief), and she is committed to the collective success and

Henry Gardner

Henry Gardner

individual development of Chief Whent and the members of his Executive Team,” Warshaw said. “In addition, new Interim City Administrator Henry Gardner has demonstrated acute sensitivity to issues of police reform in Oakland.”

Sean Whent

Sean Whent

One of the federal overseer’s ongoing concerns has been the failure of supervisors to hold officers accountable for failing to report misconduct of fellow officers.

“Over the last few weeks, I have discussed with the chief and his executive team ways in which the department can increasingly hold individuals accountable for failing to report misconduct,” said Warshaw, who praised the chief for his hands-on efforts to resolve this issue.

“It is … heartening to learn that Chief Whent personally teaches all new members and employees about the NSA and the confidential reporting process,” Warshaw wrote.

In addition, OPD is now collecting data that allows it to track racial disparities in police stops, but the practice of racial profiling continues to be an ongoing concern, he wrote.

“I commend the department for continuing to improve its practices of collecting stop data … and publicly releasing its stop data report,” Warshaw said. “Yet bias-based policing in Oakland remains an issue that we must continue to address.”

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, June 21, 2014 (postnewsgroup.com)

Defeating Strom

The year we saved the Voting Rights Act

Allen-Taylor

Jesse Douglas Allen-Taylor

By 1980, both the nation and the Senate had changed radically. Republicans had gained control of the Senate in the Reagan landslide election that November, and Thurmond was set to take up the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which had jurisdiction over the Voting Rights Act. More importantly, the act’s critical Section 5 “pre-clearance” provisions were set to expire in 1982.

These provisions were the heart of the Voting Rights Act, and they required states covered by the law — mostly those in the Deep South — to ask for U.S. Justice Department approval before changing election laws. With the Senate in Republican hands and a conservative Republican President Reagan presumably waiting with a veto pen in hand, Thurmond’s road to victory seemed clear and open.

A year and a half after Thurmond declared war on the Voting Rights Act, the Senate voted 85-8 to renew it and the Section 5 provisions, joining the House of Representatives. Thurmond was even one of the 85 aye votes in the Senate. After that, President Reagan signed it into law.

What forced Thurmond to change his position was partially the work of a small group of South Carolina black rights activists who took up the battle and created a statewide movement to save the Voting Rights Act. They were joined by thousands of black South Carolinians who had only recently acquired full voting rights. Together they defeated Thurmond in his own state.

***

On numerous occasions Strom Thurmond publicly declared his reasons for wanting to remove Section 5 from the Voting Rights Act, and no declaration was more plainly made than the one he delivered during a debate with then-S.C. NAACP Field Director Isaac Williams at a public hearing in Columbia in early 1982.

Thurmond - U.S. SENATE HISTORICAL OFFICE

Strom Thurmond

After Williams expressed his support for the extension of the Voting Rights Act, The State newspaper quoted Thurmond as snapping back, saying, “I’m sick and tired of having the Southern states singled out and say we don’t treat blacks right when we do treat them right.”

He added that he was “interested in the reputation of this state” and that it was “unfair” that states under the preclearance provision had no chance under the current law to prove they had mended their discriminatory ways. Thurmond told Williams that if he knew of anyone who had been denied the right to vote in South Carolina in the past 10 years “then you give me his name and I’ll have the Justice Department investigate it.”

Thurmond was a smart man, and so he was probably being a little disingenuous in this argument. After all, in the early 1980s African Americans were not being denied the right to go to the polls in South Carolina. However, many white politicians in the South had manipulated voting districts and election laws in such a manner as to limit the chances of a black candidate winning an election.

Nowhere was that more apparent than in the S.C. Senate. In 1980, that legislative body remained an all-white enclave, largely because of a complicated and convoluted districting plan preventing majority-black districts. But it was also present in jurisdictions like Thurmond’s home county of Edgefield, where no African Americans held elective office despite an almost 50-50 split between black and white residents.

***

In the fall of 1980 I was working as the community education specialist for Palmetto Legal Services in the Midlands. I was also running a black movement news service called Maroon Information Services. As soon as I read about Thurmond’s intent to kill the Voting Rights Act, I was on the phone with friends and associates I had been working with in the black freedom movement.

A week after Thurmond’s declaration, we brought together four organizations — Maroon Information Services, the S.C. Committee Against Hunger, Operation Help (out of the Florence and Pee Dee regions), and the A. Philip Randolph Institute, a black labor organization — to form the S.C. Black Voting Rights Campaign, a group whose purpose was to fight Thurmond and save the Voting Rights Act.

We announced our intentions in a leaflet called “Not One Step Backward” in which we announced our intention to “resist the attacks against black human rights with all of our power.” The leaflet concluded with a direct warning to Thurmond. “Mind, Strom,” the statement said. “We have not forgotten how to struggle.”

We were not the only black group in or around the state making such statements. NAACP Conference of Branches State President Dr. William Gibson denounced Thurmond’s move, and both the Sumter County Public Awareness Association and the Sumter Black Business Association openly opposed Thurmond’s effort.

Late in November, we organized a protest demonstration against Thurmond at the Strom Thurmond Federal Building in Columbia, taping up a “Save the Voting Rights Act” banner and shouting out freedom songs and chants.

The Columbia Record reported that “the situation [at the demonstration] was tense for a short time when federal security officers attempted to dispel the demonstrators … The demonstrators refused to stop the protest, and the security officers made no further effort to break up the demonstration.”

Allen-Taylor speaks at the protest during the S.C. Hall of Fame induction of Strom Thurmond - PROVIDED

Allen-Taylor speaks at the protest during the S.C. Hall of Fame induction of Strom Thurmond.

The Record reported that about 15 people demonstrated for about an hour on that chilly, windy day at the Columbia federal building. It’s probably an accurate number. If we’d pulled that low a number later in the campaign, we would have considered it a defeat. But as the first protest against Thurmond, it more than served its purpose as a return shot in a long war. More protests followed.

But not by the Black Voting Rights Campaign, at least not right away. We wanted something that would not only allow for a wider participation by black South Carolinians in the struggle, but would also demonstrate wider black support for the act than a demonstration.

And so on January 15, the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday, we launched a petition drive for African Americans to express their desire to save the Voting Rights Act.

We kept the petitions as simple as possible, asking people to sign their names and list their hometowns. We set a preliminary goal of 10,000 signatures. On the kickoff day we collected more than 1,000 names towards that goal. By the time the petition campaign ended in late September, we had reached close to 18,000 names representing black South Carolinians.

Meanwhile, Thurmond was already backtracking, declaring that he didn’t want to eliminate Section 5, but, in fairness, he wanted to extend it to the entire nation. Thurmond’s hope, clearly, was that either national election law oversight by the Justice Department would be so unworkable to be ineffective or that the mere proposal of it might cause Congress to eliminate such oversight of the already-covered states.

Thurmond’s strategy did not work largely because it got overwhelmed by fierce black opposition to any weakening of the Voting Rights Act.

***

Petition campaigns are often quick-and-dirty affairs, with signature-gatherers making just enough of a persuasive argument to get a name on the dotted line before moving on.

Our goal in the Voting Rights petition campaign was not to persuade, but to inform. Many local groups and leaders participated in the workshops and petition-gathering activities, including officials with several local branches of the NAACP, the state’s largest and most representative civil rights organization.

Throughout 1981, Voting Rights petition campaign workshops were held in such cities as Charleston, Vance, Great Falls, Rock Hill, Summerville, Orangeburg, Anderson, Florence, Edgefield, Aiken, Sumter, Newberry, Hollywood, and Columbia.

Workshop leaders talked about the golden age of black voting rights and political representation during the Reconstruction years and the bloody, terrorist repression that followed, when black elected officials were either murdered or intimidated out of public office while African-American voters were pushed off the voting rolls by the armed white militias of the 1870s and 1880s.

One of the major white militia leaders, we explained, was South Carolina governor and eventual U.S. Sen. Ben Tillman, a.k.a Pitchfork Ben. It was Tillman who boasted at the 1895 state Constitutional Convention that white South Carolinians took control of the state back from African Americans and white carpetbaggers “by fraud and violence.”

We explained that the acknowledged center of late 19th century anti-black political terrorism in South Carolina was Edgefield, Tillman’s home county. You could hear the murmurs in the crowd. This was where Strom Thurmond was from. Then we turned on the light switch.

One of the men who helped draw up and carry out this campaign of black repression, we explained, was one of Ben Tillman’s closest friends, as well as his personal attorney, J. William Thurmond. There would be a pause and almost dead silence around the room.

William Thurmond was Strom Thurmond’s father. And Strom Thurmond himself, we went on, had said that he learned his first lessons in politics at the feet of Ben Tillman.

Protestors took advantage of every appearance Thurmond made in South Carolina - PROVIDED

Protestors took advantage of every appearance Thurmond made in South Carolina.

There was a direct line, therefore, from the violent overthrow of black voting rights in Tillman’s era — including the assassinations of black elected officials, the burning of homes, and lynchings of African-Americans trying to go to the polls — all the way down to Thurmond’s attempt to gut the Voting Rights Act.

After that, there was little more that needed to be said except where to sign on the petitions and how to get them to their neighbors.

***

With the petition campaign up and running around the state, the members of the Black Voting Rights Campaign decided it was now time for us to take direct action against Mr. Thurmond. And so in the spring of 1981, we made a public declaration that every time Thurmond returned to South Carolina to speak, we would greet him with demonstrations.

Early in 1982, one of the largest such protests was held at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center as Thurmond was being inducted into the S.C. Hall of Fame. We held signs that read “No Honor for Strom” and “Don’t Cut Black Voting Rights,” and more than a hundred demonstrators picketed in front of the building as Thurmond was introduced inside by then-Vice President George W. Bush.

Bush later dismissed the protests as unimportant, telling a reporter for The State newspaper that “I don’t get all uptight about that. I would have felt a little lonely if they hadn’t been there.” But the protest had done its job, garnering headlines in several newspapers around the state and highlighting our continuing fight to save the Voting Rights Act.

The demonstration I remember the most, however, was the one that was aborted before it even got started, and the only protest in which we actually confronted Thurmond himself.

People in Edgefield had told us that the one event the senator could be counted on to attend every year was the graduation ceremony at the majority-black Strom Thurmond High School in his home town of Edgefield. There Thurmond himself handed out diplomas to the graduates.

Along with some folks from the county, we brought a small group of demonstrators out to graduation and set up a picket line on the sidewalk in front of the school. Local law enforcement officials — citing the fact that we had no permit for the picketing — quickly broke the demonstration up.

And so we put our picket signs in the trunks of our cars and went out to the football bleachers for the ceremonies. Thurmond was seated with school dignitaries in a platform just at the edge of the football field, only a few feet from where some of us were seated.

When the ceremonies started and Thurmond began handing out diplomas to the mostly black graduates — in the same manner as an old plantation master might pass out shoes and old clothing once a year to their black field hands and house servants — we started booing and shouting “racist” and “hypocrite” from the bleachers.

It was an unplanned outburst and probably came from us being suddenly so close to our great foe after so many months of stalking him.

An article in The State newspaper afterwards mentioned that “extra law enforcement officers were on hand … because of the demonstration,” including agents from the State Law Enforcement Division. The paper also noted that “the demonstrators were ushered off school property” after the heckling began and reported that “Thurmond ignored the hecklers.”

However, we were there and we saw that Thurmond was at first startled and then angered as he paused, mid-ceremony, at the sound of our booing.

That anger was confirmed later that night when we got back home. A television news report showed a glowering Thurmond slamming his car door on a reporter who had asked the senator what he thought about the heckling. The car door almost caught the out-held microphone in the process.

Clearly, we were getting to Strom.

***

A month after the graduation ceremony, national black leader and South Carolina native son Jesse Jackson returned to Edgefield with more than a thousand followers to march from the school to the county courthouse where he had arranged for deputy registers to sign up unregistered voters.

Jackson was quoted in The State newspaper as saying, “We didn’t come [to Edgefield] as Pitchfork Ben but as citizens asking to share in our government. We don’t want to dominate. We want to participate.” A week later, Jackson held a Voting Rights rally at Greater St. Luke A.M.E. Church in Charleston, telling the crowd of more than 2,000 that “the right to vote is the very essence of citizenship, and therefore is non-negotiable,” according to a Chronicle report.

Newspaper clipping - PROVIDED

Newspaper clipping

By September 1981, we felt we had enough signatures on petitions to present them to the state’s Congressional representatives. We notified local media outlets that we were going to deliver separate copies of the petitions simultaneously to the district offices of each of the six South Carolina members of Congress as well as to Thurmond’s and Hollings’ regional offices.

The morning after what we called Presentation Day, news of the petitions were being reported on in every corner of the state. A few days later, we took a small contingent to Washington D.C. to present a copy of the petition packet to the Congressional Black Caucus during a Voting Rights Act support rally on the Capitol steps.

I was later told that Congressman Harold Washington of Chicago, who was heading up the Voting Rights fight for the Black Caucus, kept a copy of one of the petition sheets in his briefcase.

During House and Senate negotiations over the final version of the bill, anytime Thurmond claimed that black South Carolinians were no longer being prevented from voting, Washington would pull out the petition and reply that “your black citizens seem to think otherwise, senator.” Or at least that’s how the story goes.

***

Despite the occasional displays of anger, the Save the Voting Rights Act campaign did not appear to have any effect upon Thurmond himself. When Jesse Jackson and several black leaders held a 90-minute meeting with Thurmond in Washington a few days after Jackson’s Edgefield march, for example, The News & Courier reported that while the meeting was “amicable … Thurmond was not swayed by [the leaders’] arguments.” But the campaign was having its effect on other South Carolina officeholders.

In a speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate, South Carolina’s junior senator Ernest Hollings urged his fellow senators to support the renewal of the Voting Rights Act as it stood, saying that it was needed because of continued anti-black voting irregularities in South Carolina, including some in Thurmond’s home county of Edgefield in 1980.

Two months later, Gov. Richard Riley issued a statement saying that while he supported in principle some of Thurmond’s proposed amendments to the law, Riley concluded that “as a political realist, I recognize that these amendments to the act are unlikely to occur, and therefore, I would emphasize that in that event, I favor extending the [Voting Rights] Act as is.”

The position of Hollings and Riley in support of extending the Voting Rights Act without weakening amendments was probably expected by Thurmond. Both of the junior U.S. senator and the governor were Democrats, after all, a party that was increasingly dependent upon black votes both nationally and in the South.

However, it was the position of Ronald Reagan, the Republican who Thurmond had helped put into the Oval Office, that must have felt to the senator like a knife in the back. Reagan supported renewing the Voting Rights Act as is with no amendments.

Even worse, Thurmond’s beloved home county of Edgefield was being presented as an example of why the Voting Rights Act needed to remain the way it was. In a September 1981 editorial, The Greenville News reported that “increasingly, the national news focus on the [Voting Rights Act] issue is on Sen. Thurmond, and on his native Edgefield County as an example of why extensions of the act is needed.”

The editorial went on to explain that while the population of Edgefield County was almost equally divided between whites and blacks “to this day there are no non-whites in elective county office. Blacks have repeatedly won county district primaries only to be overwhelmed by a majority white turnout in the at-large elections.”

***

Meanwhile, the largest and most sustained protest demonstration in South Carolina to support the Voting Rights Act was still ahead.

In April 1982, Jackson went to Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) President Rev. Joseph Lowery’s Atlanta church. There Jackson announced that his organization, Operation PUSH, and SCLC were planning a months-long “pilgrimage” through five Southern states in support of the act’s full renewal.

The Voting Rights Pilgrimage began with a march in Alabama and made its way to South Carolina. The S.C. Black Voting Rights Campaign was chosen to co-sponsor the Palmetto state portion of the march.

I remember the two-and-a-half weeks that the pilgrimage passed through South Carolina only as a blur, walking the highways and streets along with several hundred others in the hot spring sun, chanting, shouting slogans, and waving placards at passing cars and gathered citizens along the way.

We entered the state at Edgefield on the first of May and left out Marlboro County 17 days later, stopping for evening rallies in 13 towns and cities, including Beaufort, Charleston, Columbia, and Florence.

***

The pilgrimage marked the end of major action in South Carolina to save the Voting Rights Act, but that was only because victory was in sight. Thurmond himself had all but admitted defeat a month later when, after voting to extend the Act intact,

The State newspaper reported that Thurmond had “said his decision to support the bill was based partly on the incorrect perception that a vote against it was a vote against people protected under the Voting Rights Act.” We’d won the argument.

The State reported that Thurmond was promising “to continue his efforts to improve parts of the measures he believes are unfair to states covered by the law.” In late June, President Reagan signed a 25-year extension of the Voting Rights Act with the Justice Department pre-clearance provisions intact, an extension that exists to this day.

Two years later, we used pressure from Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act to open up the S.C. Senate to its first full contingent of black senators since Ben Tillman and his “Red Shirt” terrorists had run them out a hundred years before. But that’s another story.


About the Author

Allen-Taylor - JOSHUA CURRY

J. Douglas Allen-Taylor is a former full-time black freedom worker and an award-winning journalist, political columnist, historical writer, and novelist.

He had been serving for a decade in South Carolina’s African-American freedom movement when U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond made his famous 1980 pledge to kill the Voting Rights Act. Once Thurmond was defeated and the Voting Rights Act was passed, Allen-Taylor became a lobbyist and an activist in the successful fight to open up the S.C. State Senate to African-American members for the first time since Reconstruction.

Allen-Taylor’s first book, Sugaree Rising, is a historical novel set in the South Carolina Lowcountry during the years of the Great Depression. The story is loosely based on black community resistance to the forced migration of more than 900 families caused by the building of the Pinopolis Dam at Moncks Corner and the creation of the Santee Cooper lakes.

Courtesy J. Douglas Allen-Taylor and the Charleston City Paper.

Teach Tomorrow Oakland Honors Six Veteran Teachers

 Teach Tomorrow in Oakland (TTO)  last Saturday celebrated the first six of its educators to complete five years working  as teachers in Oakland public schools. The program, begun in 2008, is designed to recruit, support and retain the most outstanding teachers who reflect the diversity of Oakland's children. See full story  on pageXX. From left: Claudette Center, Claremont Middle; Dana Kearney, Montera Middle; Precious James, Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary; Jamie Knowles, Ed Brewer Middle; Kia Clark, Edna Brewer Middle; Cicely Day, Place at Prescott Elementary . Photo by Ken Epstein


Teach Tomorrow in Oakland (TTO) last Saturday celebrated the first six of its educators to complete five years working as teachers in Oakland public schools. The program, begun in 2008, is designed to recruit, support and retain the most outstanding teachers who reflect the diversity of Oakland’s children. See full story on pageXX. From left: Claudette Center, Claremont Middle; Dana Kearney, Montera Middle; Precious James, Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary; Jamie Knowles, Ed Brewer Middle; Kia Clark, Edna Brewer Middle; Cicely Day, Place at Prescott Elementary . Photo by Ken Epstein

An initiative established in 2008 between former Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums’ office and Oakland Unified School District to recruit, support and retain the most outstanding teachers who reflect the diversity of Oakland’s children has reached another great milestone.

The initiative – Teach Tomorrow in Oakland (TTO) already has placed over 125 teachers, 86 of whom are still teaching within the district, and is set to place 25 news teachers in classrooms this fall.

TTO celebrated its fifth anniversary on May 31 at the First Unitarian Church in downtown Oakland by recognizing six instructors who have been there since inception of the program.

Teach Tomorrow Oakland Director Rachelle Rogers-Ard explains the program to people considering entering the teaching profession.

Teach Tomorrow Oakland Director Rachelle Rogers-Ard explains the program to people considering entering the teaching profession.

“TTO is excited to celebrate the first six Oakland residents who have completed five years teaching in the district,” TTO Manager Dr. Rachelle Rogers-Ard said.

The teachers who have completed their five-year minimum commitment to TTO and the district are:

Dana Adkins has been at Montera Middle School since the start, taught sixth grade math and science during her first four years. The Oakland native went to Howard Elementary, King Estates Middle School and Skyline High before attending the University of California at Davis.

“I’ve loved math my whole life and I just want everyone else to understand the love,” Adkins said.

Claudette Center describes herself as a consummate reader of all genres. She is an eighth grade history/social studies teacher at Claremont Middle School.

“I am passionate about equity for all, devoted to family and friends, lover of bicycling, skiing, scuba, gardening and sewing,” said the mother of four and grandmother of two.

The Oakland native attended Whittier, Frick, Fremont, the University of California at Berkeley, and Holy Names University. Prior to teaching, Center worked as a social worker for Alameda County’s CPS Crisis Intervention Unit, as a 21-year veteran officer with the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department and as a Real Estate Broker.

Kia Clark graduated from Loyola Marymount University (LMU) in 2006 with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies and with a minor in African-American Studies and Studio Arts. In 2008, she received her Masters in Education from LMU. She graduated from Holy Names high school in Oakland.

“I have a passion for teaching students the skills necessary to become global citizens,” she said.

Cicely Day graduated from Holy Names University with a Bachelor’s in Liberal Studies and Multiple Subject Credential.

“I was born and raised in Oakland and graduated from Castlemont High School,” she said.

Jamie Knowles graduated from Oakland Technical High in 1996.  He went on to receive a Bachelor’s from Eugene Lang College in New York City and a Masters from Teachers College at Columbia University in 2009 before returning to his hometown to begin a teaching career with TTO.

“I am in my fifth year teaching Middle School ELA, and have served various roles at my school, including English Department Head, Family Head, IT Teacher Leader, Girls Basketball Coach, OEA Representative and CRT Trainer,” Knowles said.

Precious James began teaching in Oakland in 2009 at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary. Currently, she teaches a fifth grade class with a science, technology, engineering and science (STEM) concentration.

A graduate of Oakland Tech, James went on to earn her BA in Religious Studies and Math from the University of California at Riverside.

“I believe in teaching ‘by any means necessary’ and work to make sure all of my students’ academic, social and emotional needs are met and satisfied to their specific needs,” she said.

According to TTO’s program Manager Rogers-Ard, the organization’s goal has been about retention, and not singularly focused on recruitment.

“Our focus on recruiting local candidates who reflect the diversity of Oakland’s children and who will make a commitment to teach in Oakland for at least five years has been key in the district,” she explained.

“Providing reimbursements, monthly teacher-led professional development sessions, leadership sessions, and “Men in the Classroom” sessions is the product of years of research around what it takes to retain teachers, but more specifically, teachers of color who are often isolated in classrooms and schools where they might be de-segregating faculty:

For more information, visit TTO’s YouTube channel at http://bit.ly/1s03oGa or website at www.teachtomorrowinoakland.net.

 Courtesy of the Oakland Post, June 18, 2014 (postnewsgroup.com)

Larry Moore’s Three-Decade Fight for Justice

“This adversity has made a stronger individual out of me, and I continue fighting the fight,” Says Moore

Larry Moore

Larry Moore

 By Ashley Chambers

For 29 years, Larry Moore has been struggling to clear his record after a bureaucratic mistake attached another person’s criminal record to his name.

In that time, he has endured what some may view as insurmountable obstacles, but he is still fighting that battle to clear away the barriers stand in the way of him obtaining his teaching credential.

In 1976, Moore had to start fighting for his identity after he was mistakenly associated with another Larry Moore who had been convicted in San Francisco of robbery and burglary. Though he contacted the state Department of Justice repeatedly, It took the DOJ decades to recognize and correct their mistake.

As a result, over the decades-long process Moore faced many barriers with employment and housing discrimination and has had to scramble to provide for his family.

“Each day was a struggle,” he said. “It was a frustrating process, but because I was taught to endure and be resilient, the struggle just made me stronger. That’s why I am still fighting the same fight today that I have been fighting since May 12, 1976.”

With the help of criminal attorney Len W. Holt, Moore’s record was expunged in 2005, clearing his wrongful association with the 1976 crimes, but that was only the first step in the battle to clear his name.

“This error has caused [Moore] great aggravation and distress from the numerous employment opportunities he has lost,” according to a 2012 letter addressed to the state DOJ on Moore’s behalf.

One such opportunity was a job with Head Start. After receiving an official letter of employment, he was indefinitely blocked from working at any Head Start organization due to his “erroneous association” with the 1976 convictions.

He was determined to never give up. “You have to fight for your rights,” said Moore, who over the years has earned a bachelors, masters and doctorate degrees.

“Without having knowledge of what you can and cannot do, your rights will be trampled, and you will be disregarded as a human being,” he said.

Through the advocacy of the East Bay Law Clinic and his lawyer Akila Atkins, the DOJ has rectified its mistake in wrongly associating Moore with the incorrect criminal history. Head Start recently hired him to start working this fall.

However, this mistaken identity may still be haunting Moore. After taking classes to complete his teaching credential last summer, he is still waiting for his state fingerprint clearance, unable to receive his valid credential because of what are labeled as unresolved “issues.” This has affected his employment as an educator with the Oakland Unified School District.

Moore continues to remain optimistic and uses his own experience to show others how to exercise their rights in the criminal justice system.

“This adversity has made a stronger individual out of me, and I continue fighting the fight, not just for myself but for each person I come into contact with who has had his rights infringed upon,” he said.

If Moore ever doubts what his determination has been able to achieve, he can look at the letter he received from his attorney, dated Aug. 17, 2012: “I heard back from the DOJ and received a letter acknowledging that they made a mistake in erroneously associating you with this other man’s case.”

For more information, contact Larry Moore at (510) 228-5696.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, June 14, 2014 (postnewsgroup.com)

Police Oversight Commission Clears First Hurdle

Noel Gallo

Noel Gallo

 

By Ken A. Epstein

A resolution that allows discussion and action on a proposed November ballot measure to create a Public Safety Oversight Commission was approved by the City Council’s Rules Committee this week, which means the measure can be debated and possibly voted on at the council’s Public Safety Committee meeting on June 24.

Council members of the Rules Committee – Dan Kalb, Pat Kernighan and Libby Schaaf – voted at their Thursday meeting to put the measure on the Public Safety’s agenda. District 7 Councilmember Larry Reid abstained.

If a version of the measure passes at Public Safety, it will go to the full council for a vote. But if the ballot measure is not approved by council by the time it breaks for its August recess, the proposed city charter amendment cannot be on the ballot until the next election in 2016.

The proposal is the product of nine months of work by a citywide coalition of police accountability activists, who want to create a public safety commission that would assume most of the authority over the police department, including discipline of officers, currently in the hands of the City Administrator’s office.

The measure is backed by Councilmember Noel Gallo, who chairs the Public Safety committee. The wording of the measure is modeled on the oversight commission that already exists in San Francisco and other cities.

Speaking the Rules Committee meeting Thursday, Gallo said he was asking his fellow council members to put the item on the Public Safety agenda so that “we can accomplish something that is being requested by the citizens.”

Though the city currently has a Citizen’s Police Review Board and Community Policing Advisory Board, he said. “We have to make them more effective.”

“We are not able to accomplish (at present) what we are telling the public these existing bodies are doing.”

Community member Pamela Drake spoke in favor of putting the measure on the agenda. “We need police oversight,” she said. “This can’t go on. It’s time for us to make a change.”

The proposal is supported by the Coalition of Police Accountability, which includes the Oakland-Berkeley chapter of Black Women Organized for Political Action (BWOPA), the Ella Baker Center, the Mentoring Center, Oakland NAACP, People United for a Better Life in Oakland (PUEBLO), Chair of the Measure Y Oversight Committee Jose Dorado, as well an mayoral candidates Dan Siegel and Jason “Shake” Anderson.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, June 13, 2014 (postnewsgroup.com)

Kaplan Jumps into Mayoral Race

By Ken Epstein

Ending months of speculation, Councilmember-at-Large Rebecca Kaplan has joined the crowded field of candidates running to replace Jean Quan as mayor of Oakland.kaplan

With most polls showing her at the head of the pack, she broke the news of her candidacy Wednesday on nightly television news and on Facebook.

“Oakland isn’t ungovernable, just ungoverned,” she wrote on Facebook. “I’m running to provide strong, stable leadership. For safe neighborhoods. For local jobs. For a fresh start for our city.”

She held her official kickoff press conference Thursday afternoon at the corner of 92nd Avenue and International Boulevard, which was strewn with trash and where a dead dog recently remained on the sidewalk for a week before it was picked up by the city.

“We must take action to make sure that everyone in Oakland has their basic needs met,” she said, pledging to make sure that trash and illegal dumping are cleaned up and police respond to 911 calls, as well as to work to bring 30,000 new jobs to the city.

She decided to run, said Kaplan, because she has been frustrated to have the City Council pass legislation to improve the city, only to have the mayor fail to implement the measures.

Besides the mayor, Kaplan faces a number of candidates who are already campaigning hard, including Councilmmember Libby Schaaf, Attorney Dan Siegel, Port Commissioner Bryan Parker, Joe Tuman and Jason “Shake” Anderson.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, June 7, 2014 (postnewsgroup.com)

Gallo Backs Community Call for Police Accountability

By Ken Epstein

Councilmember Noel Gallo is pushing the City Council to consider placing a charter amendment on the November ballot. The measure would create a public safety oversight commission to assume most of the authority over the police department, including discipline of officers, currently in the hands of the City Administrator’s office.

Noel Gallo

Noel Gallo

“There are some legitimate concerns here. – (Many people) in Oakland are talking about how they lack the trust in the City Council to even listen to and talk about their concerns,” said Gallo, speaking Thursday to the members of the council’s Rules Committee, which puts items on council agendas.

Gallo is chair of the council’s Public Safety Committee.

The Rules Committee agreed Thursday to put the item on the June 24 Public Safety Committee meeting agenda only as informational item, which means it could not be passed at Public Safety and sent to the full council.

Councilmember Dan Kalb asked for the matter to be discussed again at next Thursday, Rules Committee meeting, indicating he would support Gallo’s motion, which would allow for possible action on the motion.

Councilmember Larry Reid says he opposes allowing the issue to go to the full council, and Councilmember Libby Schaaf appears to be reluctant.

Oakland Police Officers Association President Barry Donelan attended the meeting but declined to comment.

If it makes the ballot and passes, the oversight commission will combine the staff and responsibilities of the currently existing Citizens’ Police Review Board and the Community Policing Advisory Board. By combining the staff of existing boards, the new commission would not require additional funds.

Barry Donelan, president of the Oakland Police Officers Association

Barry Donelan, Oakland Police Officers Association

To be on the November ballot, the City Council must vote in favor of putting the measure on the ballot before the council breaks in August for its regular summer recess.

The proposal is supported by the Coalition of Police Accountability, which includes the Oakland-Berkeley chapter of Black Women Organized for Political Action (BWOPA), the Ella Baker Center, the Mentoring Center, Oakland NAACP, People United for a Better Life in Oakland (PUEBLO), Chair of the Measure Y Oversight Committee Jose Dorado, as well an mayoral candidates Dan Siegel and Jason “Shake” Anderson.

Rashidah Grinage, PUEBLO’s executive director, spoke on behalf of the Coalition for Police Accountability. “If it’s just an information item, it dies right there,” she said. “If it doesn’t go to the council now, it will not make it to the ballot” until 2016.

Courtesyy of the Oakland Post, June 7, 2014 (postnewsgroup.com)