Category: Ferguson/Black Lives Matter

Commentary: Oakland Needs a Department to Address Institutionalized Injustice

By Kitty Kelly Epstein

Two-thirds of the people who live in Oakland are not white and Oakland has a long history of struggle for racial justice.

Dr. Kitty Kelly Epstein

Dr. Kitty Kelly Epstein

Yet the situation of most whites is quite different from the situation of many Latinos, African-Americans, Asians and indigenous people.  In fact, Oakland has the seventh worst income inequality of any major city in the country. (Statistics on wealth gaps for Asians and indigenous groups are not available from those doing these calculations.)

We need to put changing this at the center of the city’s efforts. In the one place where we have some real power, local government, we need to say that we understand institutional racism still exists and we want to do something about it – officially

It won’t be easy. The whole country is full of policies that uphold racism, but there is a lot more we could do if we focused and strategized, especially on the policies and practices that produce the racial wealth gap.

We need a city Department of Race and Equity because the racial wealth gap in the U.S. is 13 to 1 between the median white and the median African-American family and 10 to 1 between the median white and the median Latino family.

These gaps in wealth and income result from a national history of overt and covert racial discrimination – slavery, U.S. seizure of Mexican land, share-cropping, red-lining; English-only policies; bracero programs; immigration policies and a thousand other events and policies.

And these gaps contribute to housing, health, and policing inequities as well. Here are just a few current local specifics which a department of Race and Equity might look into:

African Americans are 28 percent of the Oakland population. Yet they were hired for only 5 percent of the hours on city-funded construction projects last year;

Latinos are 41 percent of Oakland students, but only 13 percent of its teachers. A city department would, of course, need to work collaboratively with the school district if it were to help in rectifying this imbalance.

Oakland is lauded for multi-cultural music and art. Yet city support for minority-owned venues is often lacking;

Oakland has lots of new fancy restaurants, but not many Black or Latino or Asian folk earn the fancy tips at the front-end of these houses.

Some city departments seem to have many employees of every ethnicity. Yet the department that plans the city’s economic future seems to be overwhelmingly white.

The last “disparity study” commissioned by the city showed statistically significant underutilization of “minority” owned and women owned firms in both construction and professional services contracts.   There was also a significant underutilization of Asian, Latino, and African-American firms in construction sub-contracts.

Non-white contractors have reported a good-old-boys network, difficulty in receiving information on the bid process, difficulty in obtaining financing, and other issues.

Oakland is blessed with dozens of activist and non-profit organizations that work on these issues, but we often feel that we are fighting a multiple-headed beast, winning in one place, only to lose again when someone forgets that a new policy or procedure is supposed to be in place.

We need an official department in city government that is responsible for caring whether two-thirds of the residents receive the same economic, political, and social benefits as the other third.

We need a Department of Race and Equity

Kitty Kelly Epstein, PhD is author of “Organizing to Change a City” (2012), Peter Lang, and host of Education Today on KPFA 94.1 FM.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, May 16, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

Protesters Shut Down Council Meeting , Demand Affordable Housing Not Luxury Apartments

Jos Healey was one of the spekers on the bullhorn when protesters  shut down the City Council meeting Tuesday. Photo by Ken Epstein

Jos Healey was one of the speakers on a bullhorn Tuesday when protesters shut down the City Council meeting. Photo by Ken Epstein

 By Ken Epstein

Oakland City Council chambers became ground zero for protests against gentrification and displacement this week as young activists chained themselves together to keep the City Council meeting from taking place, instead holding a rally for several hours in the chambers to voice their anger and frustration with the city’s leadership.

At the close of a public hearing on the proposed city budget for next year, but before the city council meeting could get underway, activists entered the well area behind the low barrier between the council dais and the public.

Some chained themselves together, standing in a line below the shocked council members. Others produced a bullhorn and began speaking about their issues and invited others to speak.

Many members of the audience stood, chanted and shouted in solidarity with the protesters. Police made no moves to intervene, but police and security attempted to keep more people from entering the chambers.

While people spoke, a projector flashed the group’s issues on an overhead screen:

“You can fight city hall,” “Development without displacement;” “A people’s budget, not a policing budget;” and “Public service, not lip service,” the projected signs said.

The focus of the protest was the seeming willingness of most council members to vote Tuesday night to approve the sale of a one-acre, city-owned parcel on East 12th Street across from Lake Merritt to build a 24-story luxury apartment building.

The proposed building includes no affordable housing and will have a median rent of $3,150 for a one-bedroom apartment, making the units affordable only to households that make $120,000 or more a year, according to activists who say the median household income in Eastlake around the proposed building is $38,363.

The coalition against the high rise is led by a neighborhood group, Eastlake United for Justice and includes Causa Justa/Just Cause, East Bay Housing Organizations, Black Seed, SEIU 1021, Oakland Rising, and the Oakland Tenants Union.

Calling for public land to be used only for affordable housing and other public needs, the groups are concerned that the development will lead to displacement of working class residents on the east side of Lake Merritt, as well as the development’s inadequate community engagement process.

At a rally in front of City Hall before the council meeting, members of Eastlake United for Justice and others spoke about their concerns.

Huan Bao Yu spoke at a rally in front of Oakland City Hall Tuesday opposing the E. 12th Street highrise. Mari Rose Taruc held the bulllhorn. Photo by Ken Ken

Huan Bao Yu speaks at a rally in front of Oakland City Hall Tuesday opposing the E. 12th Street highrise. Mari Rose Taruc held the bulllhorn. Photo by Ken Epstein.

“We are here because there are people in there (City Hall) who are trying to sell out our land,” said Josh Healey, also part of the Eastlake group.

“We’ve been here to talk to the mayor and city council, and they haven’t been hearing us,” he said.

Mari Rose Taruc, also of the Eastlake neighborhood group, said, “Oakland is 62 percent renters. We don’t want luxury condos at Eastlake. We want affordable housing.”

Asked Huan Bao Yu, a senior citizens speaking for Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN), “Who is (this development) for? “Is it for us? No, it’s to kick us out.”

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, May 9, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

 

Commentary: Longshore Union Shut Down Port of Oakland to Protest Police Killings

Members of Longshore union ILWU Local 10 and community members march  on May Day, May 1,, from the Port of Oakland to  the Oscar Grant Plaza at Oakland City Hall to protest police murders of Black and Brown people across the country. Photo courtesy of Kelly Johnson Revolutionary Photography.

Longshore union ILWU Local 10 and community members march on May Day, May 1, from the Port of Oakland to Oscar Grant Plaza at Oakland City Hall to protest police murders of Black and Brown people across the country. Photo courtesy of Kelly Johnson Revolutionary Photography.

 

 By Stacey Rodgers

Stacey Rodgers

Stacey Rodgers

On Friday, May 1 – International Workers Day, about 2,000 people came together to march and protest the unjust murders of mainly Black and Brown people in the U.S. at the hands of police.

The event, “Labor Against Police Terror,” drew labor unions and community groups to the Port of Oakland.

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 10 led the day of action marching from the Port of Oakland to Oscar Grant Plaza (at Oakland City Hall).

Thus us the first time in U.S history that a labor union had initiated a protest against the police.

ILWU has a long and proud history of participating in actions against social injustice, starting with its formation during the San Francisco strike of 1934 where two workers were killed by police.

Other actions have included anti-apartheid actions against South Africa, shutting down the Port of Oakland in 2010 in support of justice for Oscar Grant, and protest of Israeli Zim ships.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was made an honorary member of Local 10 just six months before his death.

The impetus behind the May Day 2015 action was the murder of Walter Scott in Charleston, South Carolina.

Scott was related to several Charleston longshoremen of the International Longshoreman Association (ILA) Local 1422.  ILA Local 1422 and ILWU Local 10 have a strong history of solidarity.

Both locals are predominantly Black and have supported each other in actions throughout the years.

In addition, Local 10 has suffered its share of police terror.  In 2012, Jerimiah Moore was killed by Vallejo police, and last year Pedie Perez was killed by Richmond police. Both are families of longshoremen.

During April’s Local 10 executive board meeting, a motion was made to support the Charleston longshoremen in whatever action they choose to seek justice for Walter Scott.

A amendment to the motion was made that ILWU Local 10 hold its monthly stop work meeting on May 1, effectively shutting down the Port of Oakland and march and protest the senseless murders of mainly Black and Brown people by police.

The motion passed at the general membership meeting two days later.

With two weeks to plan and implement the march, the call went out to other unions and community groups. The response was far better than expected.

Several unions joined in solidarity, as did various community groups in and around Oakland.

The rally started at Berth 62 at the port.

The march, led by the Local 10 drill team, began at 10 a.m. wound through the Acorn community of West Oakland and ended with a rally at Oscar Grant Plaza.

The goal of the protest was to call attention to the onslaught of police killings and demand that that killings must stop and those responsible be held accountable.

ILWU recognizes its role in the community and knows that when labor disrupts commerce, the 1% will listen and act when their bottom line is affected or threatened.

Workers, union and non-union alike, must come together to take the lead in these actions and exert their rank and file power and not rest upon elected officials.

For far too long the labor community has been silent on these issues and now is the time to renew our role in making things better.

An injury to one is an injury to all.

 Stacey Rodgers is a member of the ILWU Local 10 Executive Board.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, May 9, 2015 (www.postnewsgroup.com)

 

UC Berkeley Black Students Face “State of Emergency”

The Black Student Union led a blockade of a UC Berkeley campus cafe on Dec. 4 in solidarity with the nationwide Black Lives Matters movement. Photo by Rasheed Shabazz

The Black Student Union led a blockade of a UC Berkeley campus cafe on Dec. 4 in solidarity with the nationwide Black Lives Matters movement. Photo by Rasheed Shabazz

By Rasheed Shabazz

Rasheed-Haas-headshotBlack students at UC Berkeley, saying they are facing isolation, alienation and oppression, are demanding the university’s administrators implement major changes to address the hostile campus climate at the nation’s most prestigious public university.

Following years of dwindling Black enrollment numbers and multiple surveys suggesting Black students are subject to racism on campus, the Black Student Union released a list of demands to Chancellor Nick Dirks.

“Black students, staff, and faculty on UC Berkeley’s campus are in a state of emergency requiring immediate attention,” said Gabrielle Shuman, co-chair of political affairs for the Black Student Union (BSU).

Black student leaders first met with Chancellor Dirks and Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Claude Steele to demand changes on Feb. 13.

The demands include the creation of a resource center, increased staffing for recruitment and retention of Black students, two Black psychologists, advisors for Black student athletes and recruitment of more Black graduate students and faculty.

Students have demanded the creation of a resource center named after Mississippi human rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer. The symbolic demand that received the most media attention is the renaming of Barrows Hall after former political prisoner Assata Shakur, currently living in exile in Cuba.

Admissions and enrollment of Black undergraduate and graduate students at UC Berkeley is abysmal. Currently, a little more than three percent of UC Berkeley students are Black.

The BSU has called for the hiring of staff in the admissions office to recruit Black students, as well as doubling the budget for the Getting into Graduate School (GIGS) program, a program to increase enrollment of underrepresented groups.

The few Black students attending the campus report the highest levels of disrespect, stereotypes and an anti-Black campus climate, according to multiple surveys. Black staff and faculty also report similar disrespect.

Nearly half of Black students have reported being disrespected due to their race, according to the surveys.

After a cardboard effigy was found hanged at Sather Gate before a December Black Lives Matter protest, Chancellor Dirks first pledged to work with Black students.

An anonymous queer, Black and people of color collective later took credit for the political artwork. For many Black students, the incident echoed a 2012 incident when a fraternity’s Halloween display included the mock lynching of a zombie.

In a response to student demands, Dirks said the treatment that Black students report is deplorable.

“Too many students have told us about being excluded from study groups, ignored during class discussions, verbally harassed at parties and social events, and feeling, in a general sense, vulnerable, isolated, and invisible,” Dirks said in a letter to the BSU following a trip to Asia. “This is something we deplore.”

Chancellor Dirks said he plans to develop “a major campus initiative” to increase Black staff, faculty and student numbers, but students are skeptical.

“Black people have been oppressed by this university since its creation,” student government candidate Alana Banks, an Oakland native and BSU member and current. “The fact that we have to come up with demands for long-overdue support, to us, is a testament of our condition,” she said.

Students later met with Steele and Gibor Basri, vice-chancellor of equity and inclusion, on March 6, according to the BSU, but he did not respond before their deadline. When Dirks did, BSU said he did not address each of their demands, including the call to rename Barrows Hall.

In December, the BSU blockaded a campus café for four-and-a-half hours after the non-indictment of the police officers who killed Eric Garner and Michael Brown.

Black students have also been active in the recent “Black Brunch” protests in Oakland and Berkeley and hint the possibility of direct action if their demands are not met.

“We will persevere until Black students get what we need and deserve,” said Shuman.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, April 3, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

 

State of Black Oakland (SOBO) Holds “People’s Assembly”

State of Black Oakland, March 28. Photo by Rasheed Shabazz.

State of Black Oakland, March 28. Photo by Rasheed Shabazz.

By Rasheed Shabazz

Hundreds of Black activists, educators, entrepreneurs, healers and artists convened last weekend for “a People’s Assembly” to discuss and strategize solutions to improve life for Black Oakland.

The enthusiastic daylong “State of Black Oakland (SOBO) gathering was held Saturday, March 28 at Geoffrey’s Inner Circle in downtown Oakland.

The assembly was a “listening space” where a coalition of Black-led organizations called on attendees to discuss what needs to be done to improve the lives of f Black people in the city.

Over a quarter of Oakland’s Black population left the city since 2000. Organizers wanted to bring Black people together to build on Oakland’s unique contributions to the Black Power Movement.

“It’s really important to remember that Oakland was the epicenter of the Black Power Movement on the West Coast,” said Liz Derias, co-convener of SOBO and an organizer of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement.

One of the discussion circles at the State of Black Oakland, which was held at Geoffrey's Inner Circle on March 28. Ovr 500 peeople attended the day, according to event organizers, to discussion solutins to the challenges facing Black residents of Oakland. Photo by Rasheed Shabazz.

One of the discussion circles at the State of Black Oakland, which was held at Geoffrey’s Inner Circle on March 28. Over 500 peeople attended the day, according to event organizers, to discuss solutions to the challenges facing Black residents of Oakland. Photo by Rasheed Shabazz.

The legacy of the Black Panther Party and other Black “do-for-self” organizations was evoked throughout the day.

“We say Black Lives Matter, but we have to have some Black Power to enforce it,” said Community Ready Corps (CRC) Founder Tur-Ha Ak. The assembly focused on CRC’s Nine Areas of Self-Determination: economics, politics, education, health, family, media, art, traditions and ways, and self-defense.

The common thread between all of the areas was Black self-determination.

During three facilitated sessions, attendees joined smaller discussion-circles to talk about solutions in the nine areas. Within the circles, participants discussed their experience within that area and explained what “self-determination” looked like within that context, and shared potential solutions.

In the area of economics, attendees talked about past and possible solutions, such as a Black business listing, food and housing cooperatives, changes in Black consumer spending and workforce training for the tech economy.

The media session, facilitated by Cat Brooks, co-chair of the ONYX Organizing Committee, discussed the need to challenge negative images of Black people in media and the need for Black ownership of media outlets and cultural spaces.

The self-defense session focused on broadening the notion of what self-defense means. “Self-defense is not only individual or physical, but it is collective and connects to all the other areas”, Ak said.

Participants discussed the need for Black people to protect themselves from what CRC defines as “primary predators”  – white supremacy – and “secondary perpetrators” – so-called ‘Black-on-Black crime’.

Organizers noted that this first “State of Black Oakland” builds on a history of collective convening of Black people in the Bay Area to assess the status of Black folk.

During the 1970s, annual “State of the Race” conferences regularly convened in the Bay Area following the 1974 Pan-African Congress in Tanzania.

Reflecting on SOBO, Oba T’Shaka, professor emeritus of Africana Studies at San Francisco State University, said, “It’s very positive. It builds on the Black Lives Matters Movement and is pulling in people from different walks of life.” He added, “The democratic way has been consistent with our culture.”

Organizers see this assembly as part of a process to develop a Black “People’s Agenda.” Event organizers did street outreach in the weeks ahead of the event to get input from Oakland residents. The plan is to host two more assemblies this summer, in West Oakland and East Oakland, analyze the information within the nine areas, and develop an agenda.

SOBO was organized by a coalition of organizations, including Eastside Arts Alliance, Black Organizing Project, All-African People’s Revolutionary Party, African American Studies at Merritt College, Onyx Organizing Committee, the Community Ready Corps, Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, and Race for the Times.

For more information about SOBO, visit Facebook.com/sobo2015 or email stateofblackoakland@yahoo.com.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, April 3, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

New City Report on Protest Arrests Raises Ferguson-like Concerns

Standing at the podium during the City Council's public hearing were (L to R): Karissa Lewis, Black Radical Farmer, Black Friday 14; Robbie Clark, Black Friday 14, Black Lives Matter; Mollie Costello, Black Friday 14, Alan Blueford Center for Justice; Nell Myhand, Black Friday 14; and Cat Brooks, ONYX, Black Power Network, Black Friday 14. Photo by Ken Epstein.

Standing at the podium during a recent public hearing at City Hall  were (L to R): Karissa Lewis, Black Radical Farmer, Black Friday 14; Robbie Clark, Black Friday 14, Black Lives Matter; Mollie Costello, Black Friday 14, Alan Blueford Center for Justice; Nell Myhand, Black Friday 14; and Cat Brooks, ONYX, Black Power Network, Black Friday 14. Photo by Ken Epstein.

By Ashley Chambers

A new city report highlighting how Oakland police responded to protests in the city last year – sparked by the failure to indict police officers in killings of unarmed Black men by law enforcement around the country – has raised concerns of Oakland residents.

According to the report recently released to the public by the Oakland Police Department (OPD), 23 protests took place between Nov. 24 and Dec.31 last year, resulting in 116 arrests and 230 citations issued.

The Alameda County District Attorney’s office has charged 14 protesters from cases reported by OPD, which is nearly half of the charges against protesters in Alameda County during the same time period. There are still ongoing investigations.

As of March 24, 2015, “We have charged 39 individuals from cases brought to us by Oakland PD, Berkeley PD, BART PD, CHP Oakland and the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office with incident dates between Nov. 24 and Dec. 31,” said Rebecca Richardson, Communications and Publications manager at the D.A.’s office, in an email to the Post.

This number also includes the 14 Black Friday protesters who shut down service at the West Oakland BART station on Nov. 28, 2014.

Community members are questioning why the report does not provide a breakdown of arrests, citations and charges based on race.

“I hope we go back to this issue to talk about some of the inequities that happened during those demonstrations,” an Oakland resident said at a recent City Council meeting.

“One of the questions I get about this from constituents is, where are the police to fight crime when they’re being redeployed to demonstrations,” said Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan. She also suggested that the city “look at bringing civil enforcement actions against those who engage in destruction…so that we can sue them civilly for the costs” of the damage they’ve caused.

Cat Brooks, co-chair of the Onyx Organizing Committee and one of the Black Friday 14, agrees that “For that report to mean something or to be able to be utilized by community, it would need to be disaggregated by race.”

“What I’m betting that we’re going to find is that the vast majority of folks that had charges actually brought against them were people of color,” Brooks said.

“If you look at the Black Friday 14, an all-Black planned and executed action – we are being prosecuted, and they’re refusing to drop the charges and pushing the issue,” Brooks continued.

“Whereas, we knew before this report that there were protesters who utilized a diversity of tactics that resulted in property damage etc., who were also white, who are being released with a slap on the wrist,” she said.

“It just continues the conversation about the racial disparity and inequity in Oakland,” Brooks said.

The concerns of local business owners were also raised at the City Council meeting, including those whose establishments were damaged during protests. One of the cases reported by OPD involved an individual charged with vandalism, the report shows.

“What this shows is that there were a couple dozen criminals who committed violent acts against either fellow residents or small businesses and were arrested, and some will be prosecuted,” said Councilmember Dan Kalb.

He continued: “That’s how it should be, in contrast to the 97 or 98 percent of legitimate protesters who were marching passionately with a very righteous and very important message to share. I just want to highlight that dichotomy because it’s very important that we continue to acknowledge that.”

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, March 28, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

Support Grows for City of Oakland Department to Address Racial Inequality

By Ashley Chambers

A number of community leaders are speaking out in support of a new city department designed to decrease inequities and racial barriers in city policies and operations, such as housing, development contracts, employment, and education.

Desley Brooks

Desley Brooks

The proposal to create a Department of Race and Equity in the City of Oakland, developed and led by Councilwoman Desley Brooks and supported by several councilmembers, seeks t address some of the main issues are frequently being raised by Oakland residents: gentrification and the lack of affordable housing, jobs at city-funded projects and access to city contacts, environmental and air quality, as well as other health conditions in minority and disenfranchised communities.

“We think about gentrification and displacement, and we think about the role that the city plays in perpetuating the invasive class remake of our city,” said Robbie Clark, housing rights organizer with Causa Justa: Just Cause.

“We know that a department like this is at the core of the types of change that we need to see on a local level to stop that tide of displacement and to stop gentrification from continuing to happen,” Clark said.

The department would answer directly to the City Administrator and would be implemented as soon as December of this year – if approved by the City Council.

The department would provide education and technical support to city staff and elected officials to address systemic racism in city operations “with a focus on how the city does business, including human resources, contracting, access, funding and decision-making,” according to the proposal.

“The city spends enormous amounts of money on development in Oakland. Twenty-eight percent of the people who live in this city are African American, yet they get only five percent of the hours on those jobs,” said Kitty Kelly Epstein, an education professor and member of OaklandWorks.

“What happens when you don’t have anything specifically devoted to dealing with an issue as major and primary and hurtful as racism in this society is, people get afraid to bring it up,” Kelly Epstein said.

“If we do the work of actually allocating and designating a department to that work, then people won’t be shut down when they want to bring up the fact that there is great inequity,” she said.

There is the notion that there are two Oaklands, residents have said: one has access to minor investment from the city, declining jobs and parks and schools that are closing operating limited resources. The other Oakland has access to better schools, parks, greater investments that benefit the community and more responsive government.

Imagine East Oakland’s Havenscourt neighborhood compared to the Glenview. Some neighborhoods require a bus ride or long drive to complete such daily tasks as grocery shopping or going to the bank.

“There’s no way that a city should be able to develop, do any type of business and not represent the citizens that live right there,” said Esther with Communities for a Better Environment (CBE). “It’s time for all of us to step up, be responsible and understand that we need to start leading with our hearts before our pockets.”

“There is an urgency with respect to people of color being able to have equal participation in this city,” said Councilwoman Brooks.

In response to inquiries of how much it will cost to operate this new department, Brooks said, “Think of the costs that communities have suffered for far too long not being able to participate fully in the government that they pay into. When do they get that return in dividends?”

“We will have to look like we have looked for other things that have been unbudgeted and find a way to make this happen. I would hope that we don’t just look at the dollars and cents, but we will look at truly moving a full community forward,” said Brooks.

Some of the organizations supporting the Department of Race and Equity are Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), East Bay Asian Youth Center (EBAYC), East Oakland Building Healthy Communities, Oakland Community Organizations (OCO), ONYX Organizing Committee, and People United for a Better Life in Oakland (PUEBLO).

The proposal will go to the City Council on March 31.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, March 28, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

City of Oakland Considering New Department to Address Racial Inequality

By Ashley Chambers

In the wake of protests and national actions against the discriminatory treatment of people of color by law enforcement, the City of Oakland is looking at a proposal to establish a Department of Race and Equity that would ensure “fair and just” treatment by and city and in the community.

Desley Brooks

Desley Brooks

Councilmember Desley Brooks developed the proposal and is leading the efforts t to create the department, which would report directly to the City Administrator.

If approved by the City Council this month, Oakland would be one of few U.S. cities with their own racial equity departments.

Cities that have already set up such departments include Seattle, WA; Portland, OR; Minneapolis and Saint Paul, MN; and Madison, WI.

The city report notes that Oakland remains a city where minorities are a majority. “Today, approximately one in two students in Oakland’s public schools are students of color,” according to the report.

As minority communities continue to grow, the Department of Race and Equity would ensure that city policies reflect fairness for all residents and that people of color gain equitable access to opportunities such as contracts in economic development projects, education, the justice system, housing, employment and job training.

In order to achieve racial equity in city government, it is important to “move beyond ‘services’ and focus on changing policies, institutions, and structures” to close the racial gap, according to Julie Nelson, director of the Government Alliance on Race and Equity, an expert who was consulted in the development of the proposal.

Nelson was formerly director of Seattle’s Office of Civil Rights, which has been around for decades. She recently presented a report, “Tools and Strategies for Government to Advance Racial Equity,” at Oakland’s Life and Enrichment Committee.

“Whether it’s public works, housing…there are opportunities to advance racial equity. It needs to be integrated into the routine operations of the city. That won’t happen without intentional planning,” Nelson said in an interview with the Post.

During her presentation, she said cities must be proactive in addressing inequities with clear goals and objectives, and develop successful tools to implement racial equity strategies.

Ten years ago, the Seattle Race and Social Justice Initiative was created to address specifically institutionalized racism in city government. Looking at policies that perpetuated access for communities of color, Nelson says the numbers now are higher than they were before the initiative was passed.

Oakland could become a city that is on the forefront in addressing racial inequality by ensuring that city policies and programs reflect fairness for all residents. If approved, the department would be implemented as soon as December of this year.

The potential costs and staffing requirements of the department so far have not been specified.

The Life Enrichment Committee will hear another report on the Department of Race and Equity on March 24.The City Council is expected to vote on the proposal on March 31.

 Courtesy of the Oakland Post, March 6, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

Berkeley City Council Approves Investigation of December Protests, Bans Tear Gas, Baton Strikes

March to Berkeley City Council meeting. Photo by Judith Scherr

March to Berkeley City Council meeting. Photo by Judith Scherr

By Judith Scherr

Two months after Berkeley police injured peaceful protesters with batons, tear gas and projectiles, some 150 activists led by Berkeley High, Berkeley City College and UC Berkeley Black student unions, took the Black Lives Matter message to the streets Tuesday, marching from the Cal Campus to the city council meeting at Old City Hall.

Moni Law, beaten by police Dec. 6, speaks at meeting. Photo by Judith Scherr

Moni Law, beaten by police Dec. 6, speaks at meeting. Photo by Judith Scherr

The council got the message.

In a series of unanimous votes, the council approved a temporary ban on police use of tear gas, projectiles and over-the-shoulder baton swings for crowd control; asked the Police Review Commission to review both specific tactics used by police at the December protests and general crowd control orders; directed the city manager to write policy for police cameras; and affirmed Berkeley support for national Ferguson Action demands.

“This is what democracy looks like – when the people of Berkeley come out on the streets and demand their elected representatives take action,” said Councilmember Jesse Arreguin, speaking at a rally at Old City Hall before the meeting.  Arreguin authored most the policies the council approved later.

Also addressing the rally, Berkeley High senior Kadijah  Means talked about “what militarization looks like in our community.”

“ It’s not just about tear gas or AK 47s,” she said. “It’s about militarization as a mind set. It’s about cops believing we’re not all part of the same community. Because if they thought they were part of the community, we wouldn’t have the unjust deaths that we do.”

Kadijah Means, from the Berkeley High Black Student Union, speaks at rally. Photo by Judith Scherr

Kadijah Means, from the Berkeley High Black Student Union, speaks at rally. Photo by Judith Scherr

Inside the council chambers, several dozen speakers lined up to urge council approval of measures to hold police accountable for their actions at the December demonstrations protesting police immunity in the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson and Eric Garner in New York.

“’I found myself, a Black woman, targeted by officers,’” said Associated Students of the University of California Senator Madison Gordon, reading a letter from an unnamed friend.

“’I found myself bearing the brunt of a beating of a baton across my chest and torso…I was gassed and fell to the ground coughing….The system that promised to protect me, had failed me so horribly and for what?  A peaceful demonstration to display my discontent for this system that continues to display violence and criminal acts on my people every day.’”

Andrea Pritchett from Copwatch said she had requested police operational plans for the demonstrations, but much of the response was blacked out.

“The police department is saying they redacted certain parts of the plan for security procedures,” Pritchett said. “They contain ‘intelligence information.’ My friends, that’s what a militarized police department does.”

Councilman Max Anderson speaks at Rally. Photo by Judith Scherr

Councilman Max Anderson speaks at Rally. Photo by Judith Scherr

Chamber of Commerce CEO Poly Armstrong, one of three speakers urging opposition to the measures, asked the council not to take crowd control tools away from police were they faced with another “civic uproar.”

“As the voice for business in Berkeley, Berkeley businesses would feel extremely uncertain if there were no way for police to protect the people of Berkeley and their businesses downtown,” she said.

The police chief was absent, though he generally attends council meetings when police matters are discussed. City Manager Christine Daniel told the Post he wasn’t asked to attend because he wasn’t required to give a report.

A police spokesperson told this reporter in December that aggressive police tactics responded appropriately to protesters, some of whom had thrown objects such as bottles at police. However, one public speaker called this “collective punishment.”

A unanimous council approved asking the city manager to write a plan within three months for implementation of police body and vehicle cameras, although some public speakers had expressed skepticism. In a recent Emeryville police shooting, the officer’s body camera was off and in the case of Eric Garner, the police officer who choked him was not indicted even though the choking was caught on camera.

The council unanimously affirmed the Ferguson demands that include strict limits on transfer of military equipment to local law enforcement and repurposing funds for alternatives to incarceration.

The council unanimously approved the Police Review Commission conducting an independent review of the December protests and a general review of related crowd control policies, with councilmembers underscoring the PRC needs to use its power to subpoena documents and testimony.

And the council approved the interim ban – to be re-evaluated after the independent review — on police use of tear gas, projectiles and certain baton strikes when dealing with mostly peaceful protesters.

Addressing the young people at the meeting, Councilmember Max Anderson said, “You’re part of a struggle along a continuum. You’re part of an effort to ensure the basic principles of this country are upheld.

“We’ve arrived at a point where an inordinate amount of power resides with the police department and their representatives; we arrived at this because we believed they would always have our best interests to protect and serve the general public. That hasn’t borne itself out. And you’re response is appropriate, courageous and has to be ongoing.”

Courtesy of the Berkeley Post, February 14, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

City Council and Mayor Pledge Actions to Reduce Systemic Racial Injustice

District Attorney O’Malley Speaks at Council Meeting

By Ken Epstein

The Oakland City Council this week continued to come to grips with issues raised at a recent public hearing “on racial inequality within the economic and criminal justice systems.”

Rebecca Kaplan

Rebecca Kaplan

Recommended by Council President Lynette Gibson McElhaney, the discussion was placed on the agenda to allow councilmembers to continue their discussions on concrete policy

changes they want to implement in the wake of the public hearing on Saturday, Jan. 24 that addressed the loss of Black lives and impact of violence on the community.

The hearing was planned in consultation with a number of activists.

In an interview with the Post this week, Mayor Libby Schaaf praised the council and McElhaney for their leadership on these issues.

“I intend to work with the council to implement the recommendations that come from their deliberations. I think these public discussions are very healthy for the city.”

 

Alameda County D.A. Nancy O’Malley speaks at Oakland City Council Meeting.

Councilmembers Abel Guillen and Annie Campbell Washington said they wanted to work with Councilmember Desley Books, who is pushing to establish a Department of Race and Equity in the city.

“It’ a piece of work I’d like to get heavily involved in,” said Campbell Washington. The existence of such a department would encourage the city council at every meeting to look at issues from the point view of race and equity, she said.

Councilmembers Rebecca Kaplan, Dan Kalb and Guillen are calling for the Oakland Police Department to hire more local residents and ensure that the new hires are more reflective of the composition of Oakland communities.

Over 1,000 Oakland residents have applied for OPD jobs in the last three years, said Kaplan, and only 35 have been accepted.

Kaplan also urged the council and city staff to move ahead with a “disparity” study, called for by City Charter and already funded by the council.

Noel Gallo

Noel Gallo

The previous study found that city grants and contracts were going to “white men and that women-owned and minority-owned businesses were dramatically underrepresented.”

“(The study) is about five years overdue at this point,” she said.

Kaplan also criticized “differential outcomes in prosecutions.”

“Black people get longer sentences (when they are) prosecuted for the same offenses,” Kaplan said. “That includes demonstrators (who face) differential enforcement. I want to ask that (issue) be looked at as well.”

Speaking at the meeting, District Attorney Nancy O’Malley disagreed with comments about racial disparities in prosecutions.

“I’m very data driven, (and) nothing has shown up to be true about that (allegation),” she said.

Libby Schaaf

Libby Schaaf

However, she said the “dialogue that is being raised up is very significant, and it is a moment that we should not let pass us by.”  Her office wants to look at “what we can do to empower young people who find themselves on the other side of the law.”

More diversion programs that create education and job opportunities for youth are a necessity, she said.

In addition, O’Malley said her office has formed a working group on “fair and equitable policing and prosecution (that will) look at our practices.”

Both Councilmembers Noel Gallo and Dan Kalb have committed themselves to working on proposal submitted by the Coalition for Police Accountability to place on the November 2016 ballot an independent civilian oversight panel that would have the power to investigate and discipline police misconduct.

Lynette Gibson McElhaney

In addition to coordinating the various efforts of some of the councilmembers, McElhaney said she is working to establish a “citizens’ human rights commission, (as) an ongoing way for the community to stay involved.”

McElhaney told the Post she is also working to revive the joint city-school district Education Partnership Committee, which will examine ways to dismantle the “school to prison pipeline.”

Mayor Schaaf told the Post that she was excited to meet with Rev. Jesse Jackson to support his work “to uncover the outrageous disparity and lack of minority hiring” in the tech industry.

“We have a chance to apply pressure to oppose the lack of diversity and to correct it,” she said.

Annie Campbell Washington. Photo Courtesy East Bay Express.

Annie Campbell Washington. Photo Courtesy East Bay Express.

She said that she wants to fully implement community policing in Oakland, which means that the public should have full access to the footage produced by police body cameras.

Mayor Schaaf also wants police to walk beats and get to know community members.

“I want to emphasize that I want them getting out of their cars,” she said.

Post publisher Paul Cobb said he hopes the City Council Ethics Commission would examine the role of the City Attorney’s office for its role in not helping the city speed up its implementation of federal Judge Thelton Henderson’s orders to improve OPD.

Courtesy of the Oaland Post, February 7, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)