Category: Reentry/Formerly Incarcerated

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)

Opinion: Oakland Needs Office of Race and Equity

“Allow ourselves to become comfortable with being uncomfortable”

 By Desley Brooks

It is widely known now that I have called for an office of Race and Equity to be established in the City of Oakland. Voices have risen up across our entire city from residents, community

Desley Brooks

Desley Brooks

organizations, agencies, and other elected officials discussing the need for such an office in our city.

The most resounding voice on the issue is in absolute agreement of a need for an office of Race and Equity. However there are other opinions as well ranging from moderate consideration, outright disagreement, as well as those who are undecided.

Race is a subject that we handle very interestingly in America. It impacts so much of the atmosphere in the worlds of business, politics, education, and family life, whether we admit it or not.

Yet we are largely uncomfortable having meaningful discourse around this thing that is so prevalent in our day-to-day lives. Because we are uncomfortable talking about race, many of us tend to pick a side on an issue concerning race and just stand on that square, unwilling to really hear the perspective of others.

If we are going to address racial inequalities in our city, we are going to have to get comfortable being uncomfortable.

We are going to have to be willing to respectfully listen to the opinions and ideas of others that may not always sit well with us or even stir up emotions of fear, anger, and guilt.

Racial equity is not an issue of politics – it is an issue of humanity that can be addressed through a political process.

I obviously believe in the need for such an office in our city, but I’m not asking anyone to blindly join this cause or agree with me automatically.

I invite all of us to explore the facts and consider the climate in our city as it relates to race and equity in Oakland.

My hope is that we all will allow ourselves to be comfortable being uncomfortable and asking ourselves questions and reflecting personally on our experiences and beliefs relating to race and racism.

Desley Brooks is a member of the Oakland City Council, representing District 6.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, April 11, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

City Council Votes to Protect Businesses in the Path of Coliseum City Project

By Ken Epstein

The City Council voted Tuesday to keep residential development out of the Oakland Airport Business Park, passing the Coliseum Area Specific Plan without the the zoning amendments that would allow market-rate condominiums and apartments to be built in the area.

Dexter Vizinau

Dexter Vizinau

Councilmembers overwhelmingly passed the community-backed motion to preserve the 150 businesses and 8,000 jobs that would have likely have been displaced over time.

Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan said she had heard community members’ concerns that the specific plan could eliminate the business park and that she was backing changes that would protect local businesses and jobs.

“I offered the amendment to remove housing from the (business park) zoning that is before us,” Kaplan said. “I have verified that the development team is fine with the change.”

Backing the amendments to the amendments to the plan developed by staff and consultants, Councilmember Desley Brooks said, “It’s important that we retain industrial land in this city. Loss of jobs happens when industrial lands go away.”

Businessman Dexter Vizinau spoke in favor of the change. “ It’s great to see this project moving forward. It’s about business retention, business expansion and business attraction,” he said.

“Not every kid wants to sell popcorn, clean a bathroom or punch a cash register. We want to make things. We want to build things.”

Rev. Damita Davis-Howard

Rev. Damita Davis-Howard

Also speaking at the meeting were representatives of a coalition of East Oakland residents who are determined that any “New City¨ Coliseum agreement that the council signs with a developer must contain iron-clad community benefits.

Among the groups in the coalition are Oakland Community Organizations (OCO), Just Cause/Causa Justa, East Bay Housing Organizations (EBHO) and Communities for a Better Environment (CBE)

Residents are deeply concerned about avoiding higher rents, providing decent jobs for workers in East Oakland and affordable housing for people who earn less than $50,000 a year.

“The threat of displacement of thousands of residents has not been addressed adequately,” said Rev. Damita Davis-Howard of OCO.

“We need to develop strategies now that will protect residents 10 years from now,” she said. “The project should protect and invest in the exiting culture of our city.”

The city currently has an Exclusive Negotiating Agreement (ENA) with a development team that is working on funding and talking to the Raiders and the A’s.

The ENA expires in August but could be extended.

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)

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)

A Push for Alameda County to Fund Reentry Programs

By Ashley Chambers

A number of local groups are challenging how Allemda County is spending the  millions of dollars a year it has  begun receiving to partially offset the state decision to save money by shifting many inmates from state prisons to local jails.

Keith Carson

Keith Carson

The Urban Strategies Council and a number of other organizations, including the Ella Baker Center through its Jobs Not Jails campaign, disagree with how the funds are divvied up, saying not enough public safety funds in Alameda County go to support individuals reentering society from prison.

The Jobs Not Jails campaign is asking that half of the $34 million a year, or $17 million, go to reentry services.

In a letter to the Alameda County Board of Supervisors, the Ella Baker Center cited statistics that show that a shift in how these funds are invested could reduce recidivism and produce savings for the county.

Over half of the county’s budget – in excess of 60 percent – currently goes to the sheriff’s and probation department.

The  Ella Baker letter also cites statistics that show a decline in the total number of felony arrests in Oakland by nearly 28 percent since 2011 when Assembly Bill 109 was passed to reduce the number of inmates in state prisons.

Prop. 47 was passed last year reducing penalties for some nonviolent crimes from a felony to a misdemeanor and has resulted in further decline in the jail population.

Local organizers say now is the best time for the Board of Supervisors to start shifting how they are spending the money.

Junious Williams

Junious Williams

“The way we’ve operated our system hasn’t worked,” said Junious Williams, CEO of The Urban Strategies Council, pointing to a continuing high recidivism rate in Alameda County.

“There’s too much investment on incarceration, parole, and probation, and it’s not very effective,” he said.

“There is an imbalance in our investments, and that is not very constructive for our society,” Williams added, noting that funds are directed toward enforcement and incarceration rather than reentry programs and supportive services.

Nearly 27 percent of the county’s 2013-14 public safety budget went towards reentry programs.

“What would it mean to invest in more programs and services to help people on probation and that are coming out of prison to be successful?” Asked Williams.

Investing half or more of funds to job training, housing, and wraparound services for the reentry community would not only reduce the number of people going back to jail for a crime committed after their release, but also contribute to safe and strong communities, say organizers.

The Ella Baker letter says: “Jail beds cost nearly $50,000 a year while providing an ‘On the Job Training’ (OJT) employment opportunity costs $4,000 and can provide paid job experience that can lead to a long-term position.”

Supervisor Keith Carson is supporting a proposal to begin directing the funds – $17 million – to community-based organizations that work with the reentry population beginning July 1, 2015.

Ella Baker Center campaigns for "Jobs Not Jails"

Ella Baker Center campaigns for “Jobs Not Jails”

“I think it’s very important that we have community funds,” said Supervisor Carson, “and that 50 percent are spent on reentry programs that are community-based, that are diversified and that work.”

The county recently formed a Community Advisory Board, made up of community members from all five districts who work with the formerly incarcerated. This board will guide the process of how community-based groups are chosen to receive funds for their work to support reentry individuals.

“There are very few community-based groups providing mental health services, drug and alcohol treatment, workforce development,” and other services, Carson said.

“This is really about independent programs that are community-based, since there hasn’t been monies going into that direction, to provide those services for the purposes of serving everybody, including the reentry population,” he said.

He continued, “Now, locally we have an open democratic process to try to figure out how to have the best impact for the reentry population.”

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, March 15, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

 

Protesters Disrupt Alameda County Board of Supervisors Meeting, Demand Services for Formerly Incarcerated

Caption: Local supporters of the Jobs Not Jails campaign shut down the Alameda County Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday, March 3. Those who participated were (left to right): Bill Chorneau from the First Unitarian Church; Judy Belcher, member of the Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club; Rev. Jacqueline Duhart from First Unitarian Church; Zachary Norris, executive director of the Ella Baker Center and Black Lives Matter member; and Gopal Dayaneni, member of Asians for Black Lives and Movement Generation. Photo courtesy of the Ella Baker Center.

Caption: Local supporters of the Jobs Not Jails campaign shut down the Alameda County Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday, March 3. Those who participated were (left to right): Bill Chorneau from the First Unitarian Church; Judy Belcher, member of the Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club; Rev. Jacqueline Duhart from First Unitarian Church; Zachary Norris, executive director of the Ella Baker Center and Black Lives Matter member; and Gopal Dayaneni, member of Asians for Black Lives and Movement Generation. Photo courtesy of the Ella Baker Center.

 

By Ashley Chambers

After months of rallying the community in the Jobs Not Jails campaign, organizers from the Ella Baker Center and nearly 100 community members peacefully disrupted the Alameda County Board of Supervisors meeting in Oakland on Tuesday, March 3.

Chanting “jobs not jails” and “sign the pledge,” the group asked supervisors to sign a promise to support the Jobs Not Jails budget, which would redirect half of the county’s public safety funding in this year’s budget to community services and programs for people returning home from jail.

Protesters included young people, leaders from the faith and labor communities, local community organizations, and activists from Black Lives Matter and Asians for Black Lives.

During the meeting, five individuals – risking arrest – engaged in civil disobedience, crossing the barrier that separates supervisors from meeting attendees and shuting down the meeting for over an hour.

“We’re starting to see more evidence to why less funding should go to law enforcement,” said María Domínguez, local organizer with the Ella Baker Center.

Since the passing of Proposition 47 – which reduced penalties for nonviolent crimes from felonies to misdemeanors – the jail population has decreased across the state, according to reports.

“This is the best time to start shifting how they’re spending money,” she said.

The campaign calls for the county to invest its money in community-based programs that prioritize job training and job creation, education, housing, mental health and substance abuse programs for formerly incarcerated individuals.

At present, the majority of public safety funds is allocated to the sheriff and only  serves to expand the system of incarceration that negatively impacts low-income and minority communities, according to organizers.

Supervisor Richard Valle expressed his support for the Jobs Not Jails budget. Supervisor Keith Carson also supported allocating funds to programs and services but not until next year’s budget.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, March 6, 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)

Oakland City Leaders Pledge to Address Issues of Black Lives Matter Movement

By Ken Epstein

Many Oakland residents are saying that the City Council’s public hearing on critical issues that impact African Americans in Oakland is a good first step.

Photo courtesy of  Photo: Pen Harshaw.

Photo courtesy of Pen Harshaw.

Held last Saturday in City Hall chambers, the packed five-and-a-half hour meeting did not result directly in policy proposals. But it did lay out a call for collective action by councilmembers and city staff on key concerns that a number of them are already working individually to address.

Council President Lynette Gibson McElhaney convened the special hearing on Saturday, Jan. 24, along with Council President Pro Tem Larry Reid.

In an email to community leaders, McElhaney discussed the significance of the hearing.

“The City Council had never undertaken a comprehensive examination of the issues that impact Black lives as we did this past Saturday,” she said.

Lynette McElhaney

Lynette McElhaney

“I want to let you know that thus far, we have received overwhelmingly positive feedback,” McElhaney continued. “Our primary audience – the council members and senior administration – felt that they received comprehensive information and a framework through which to direct their efforts.”

McElhaney said she considers this moment to be an unprecedented opportunity for Oakland to take the lead in dealing with these issues.

“To my knowledge, this was the first time that protesters for any cause were given a welcome mat to bring their grievances directly to the policymakers,” she said.” This is a considerable success for the activists who have sought redress for their grievances.”

Rebecca Kaplan. Photo courtesy sfgate.

Rebecca Kaplan. Photo courtesy sfgate.

Speaking at the hearing, Congresswoman Barbara Lee talked about legislation that Congress can potentially pass, calling on people in Oakland to help create the “street heat” that can make Congressional action a possibility.

“We’ve got to stop this (police violence). It’s time for this to change,” said Lee, calling attention to a bill before Congress that would make it more difficult for district attorneys to use “secret grand jury hearings” to exonerate police accused of killing civilians; and another bill that would stop giving military arms to police departments, “to keep the weapons of war off our streets.”

In an interview with the Oakland Post after the hearing, Councilmember Dan Kalb said he will be working with Alameda County officials to assure that state funds for reentry programs reach the formerly incarcerated for whom they are intended.

Dan Kalb

Dan Kalb

He also said he would work with the citywide police accountability coalition to develop a measure to create a civilian police oversight commission in Oakland, somewhat like what already exists in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

“I want to work on something (now) so that we will be ready to put a measure on the ballot (for the next election),” Kalb said. “I think other council members feel the same way.”

Councilmember-at-large Rebecca Kaplan said, “California continues to lead the world in prison spending and destroys lives, families and communities, without adequately funding real prevention and re-entry services.”

“(Therefore), we have work to do,” she said, calling for the city to adopt policies “to hire more Oakland residents and a more diverse group to our police force. We need to stop arresting and prosecuting people for minor nonsense and end the disparities in sentencing, and the costly war on drugs.”

Photo courtesy of Laura Ming Wong.

Photo courtesy of Laura Ming Wong.

In addition, she said, “We need to take seriously our job creation efforts and the non-profits who administer programs that create jobs, provide economic access and work force training. There’s been a long history in Oakland, and throughout the nation, of destroying black-owned business.”

Kaplan said the city should move ahead on conducting a “legally required disparity study, and take action to make sure local minority-owned businesses get a fair shot at contracts and jobs, and that we truly build a future that values Black lives.”

New Councilmember Abel Guillen said he will be looking at ways to address racial profiling in Oakland, “the

Abel Guillen

Abel Guillen

disproportionate numbers of African Americans and Latinos who are stopped by police.”

In addition he said that as the city hires more police, “We have to make sure that those people that we hire are reflective of the local community.”

The council’s discussion of the issues and proposals for council action will continue at the Feb. 3 City Council meeting.

Next Week, Part II, City Leaders Respond to Issues of  Black Lives Matter Movement

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, January 31, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

Growing Bay Area Movement Calls for End to Mass Incarceration

A daylong summit to discuss ways to work to end mass incarceration and implement restorative justice was held recently in Oakland.

The summit, called “Fruitvale, Florida, Ferguson and Beyond,” was held Nov. 15 at Laney College, featuring a day of workshops about police violence, the criminalization of Black and Brown youth and immigrants, how to keep your children out of jail, knowing your rights, and ways to work to hold the criminal justice system accountable.

The event was sponsored by Oakland Parents Together, the Ella Baker Center, Laney College Ethnic Studies Department, Youth Together, PUEBLO, Black Organizing Project, Just Cause, Love Not Blood Campaign, Black Alliance for Just Immigration, Fellowship of Reconciliation, School Board members Jumoke Hinton Hodge and Rosie Torres and others.

One workshop, “From Oakland to Ferguson: Will the revolution be televised,” used the film “Fruitvale Station,” as a starting point. The movie tells the story of Oscar Grant the day before he was killed by BART police officer Johannes Mehserle in Oakland.

Led by Cephus “Uncle Bobby” Johnson, Beatrice X Jackson, and Dr. Tony Jackson with the Love Not Blood Campaign, the workshop encouraged people to understand their constitutional rights and record any act by the police that violates someone’s rights.

The summit was sparked by a panel discussion featuring Laney College professor of African American Studies La’Cole Martin, who teaches her students about the historical context of mass incarceration.

“This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a boom in mass incarceration. This dates back to the convict leasing system,” said Martin, an alumna of McClymonds High School and UC Berkeley.

“Seeing how in general people of color have been targeted by this system and how there’s a lot of folks who actually gain profit off of our victimization…Being able to make those connections for young people has been very important for me,” she said.

“Most people, when we learn that history, it only, in some ways, infuriates us more, but what do we do with that anger and that frustration? How do we channel it?” Asked Martin.

Another workshop led by the Ella Baker Center talked about how youth and their parents can get involved in justice reinvestment. Through their “50 percent for Jobs Not Jails, Books Not Bars, Healthcare Not Handcuffs” campaign, they are seeking political action to reinvest money from the prison system to fund more programs and services in the community.

California spends $30-40,000 on prisons and only $11,000 per student in the public schools. Currently, there are 2.2 million Americans in prison or jail, according to reports.

“We want people to take away from this a connection to the movement and to the struggle against mass criminalization,” said Henry Hitz, executive director of Oakland Parents Together.

Building on this summit, an even larger conference is planned for next spring.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post,