Anger Grows in Wake of Police Killing of Mario Woods

Video reveals six officers shot man with knife up against the wall

Demonstrators hold signs demanding Justice for Woods and Chief Suhr's ouster outside of a crowded police commission hearing inside city hall Wednesday. Photo courtesy of AP.

Demonstrators hold signs demanding Justice for Woods and Chief Suhr’s ouster outside of a crowded police commission hearing inside city hall Wednesday. Photo courtesy of AP.

By Tulio Ospina

Hundreds of protestors crowded into a San Francisco police commission meeting at City Hall Wednesday night, demanding the firing of SF police Chief Greg Suhr and calling for officers involved in the shooting death of Mario Woods to be charged with murder.

Woods, a 26-year-old Black man, was killed by police last Wednesday in San Francisco’s Bayview Hunter’s Point, a predominantly Black neighborhood.

Multiple videos captured by bystanders show Woods, a stabbing suspect, cornered against the wall of a building holding what police say is a knife and surrounded by six officers, who all have their guns drawn and pointed at him.

As Woods attempted to walk away from the group of officers, one moved to block his path and the officers fired their weapons at close range while he was still leaning against the wall, ultimately killing him at the scene.

The officers fired at least 15 times. Several bystanders say Woods was experiencing a mental breakdown.

Since his death, Bayview residents and activists from around the Bay Area have held various actions, protesting the officers’ failure to de-escalate the situation, racist policing in a city whose Black population has dwindled to three percent and Chief Suhr’s apparent lack of truthfulness in his defense of the shooting.

The day after the shooting, hundreds of community members attended a candlelight vigil at the site where Woods was killed and held a protest on the streets with specific demands.

The demands include firing all officers who discharged their weapons and charging them with murder, that San Francisco pay for a federal and independent investigation into Woods’ death and the firing of Chief Suhr “for failure to effectively do his job.”

After watching the shooting video, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee released a statement saying what he saw was “very upsetting” and “raised a number of questions,” pushing for the police department to implement more training.

Meanwhile, Chief Suhr is claiming that had the officers been equipped with Tasers, they would not have shot Woods to death while he was wielding a knife.

On Friday, residents packed a town hall meeting hosted by SFPD where they heard Suhr justify Woods’ death, saying the officer feared for his life and for the safety of bystanders when he fired his gun.

Residents responded to Suhr’s explanation with jeers of disbelief.

“(Attorney General) Kamala Harris is going to have to step in and oversee this investigation because these people (the police department) will not investigate themselves,” said Minister Christopher Muhammad at the town hall meeting.

“These officers shouldn’t get paid vacation. That’s the quickest way to get a vacation is to shoot a brother. These officers must be charged with murder,” said Muhammad.

Monday night, the San Francisco NAACP also held a crowded meeting at Third Baptist Church to address the latest officer-involved shooting in San Francisco where many compared the shooting to a firing squad execution.

At City Hall on Wednesday, community members say they were barred from entering the main chambers and forced to wait outside the room where they chanted loud enough to be heard inside the meeting.

Since the shooting video’s release, several activist organizations have come out against Woods’ death and police response to their actions.

An open letter from several immigrant rights groups, including Causa Justa: Just Cause, Centro Legal de la Raza, Asian Law Caucus and National Day Laborer Organizing Network, said, “We are outraged by the killing of 26-year-old Mario Woods in the Bayview District last week.”

“Further, we are profoundly troubled by the apparent lack of transparency and truthfulness in police accounts to date of the shooting,” said the letter.

The letter mentions an analysis of the shooting video done by KQED, which contradicts claims by Chief Suhr that officers opened fire only after Woods made a threatening movement towards the officer with his arm.

A joint statement endorsed by the Black Student Union at the University of San Francisco (USF), La Raza Law Students Association and the Black Law Student Association at USF also called the killing of Mario Woods “unlawful.”

This use of unnecessary lethal force, and subsequent denial of fault by the San Francisco Police Department, epitomizes the failure of American policing that has become the spotlight of protest in communities around the country,” said the statement.

The office of civil rights attorney John Burris, which represented the family Oscar Grant’s family, will be representing the family of Mario Woods.

The officer-involved shooting has gained national media attention, with prominent New York Daily News reporter and activist Shaun King writing a sobering article about Woods’ killing.

“Robert Lewis Dear, the Planned Parenthood shooter (who is white), was arrested without even being punched,” writes King. “He allegedly shot five officers, killed one, killed a young mother and killed an Iraq war veteran. Police, though, found a way to take him into custody alive.”

“While many white mass murderers, like (Charleston shooter) Dylann Roof and Robert Lewis Dear, are taken alive by police, Mario Woods was shot down by cops who appeared to just want the situation to be over with,” he writes.

John Burris has created a website on the shooting death of Mario Woods which is at viewed at http://johnburrislegal.com/justice4mar

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

In Face of Community Pressure, D.A. Drops Case Against Black Friday 14

 

Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley finally dropped criminal charges against the Black Friday 14 after a year of public pressure and several mass demonstrations.

The Black Lives Matter protestors had chained themselves to a BART train at the West Oakland station on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, last year to “draw attention to the war on Black lives in the Bay Area,” according to a statement released at the time by the group.

Instead of going through with the convictions, both parties agreed to a “restorative justice process” in which the activists acknowledged the impact of their actions to public transportation.

“We acknowledge that the BART protest on Friday Nov. 28, 2014 conveyed an important message,” said the statement that the 14 protesters agreed to sign. “The method in which it was carried out impacted the Bay Area and was a violation of the statue governing the safe and efficient operation of public transportation.”

The settlement was mediated by civil rights attorney Eva Paterson, president of Equal Justice Society, who had pushed hard for DA O’Malley to drop the charges and started a petition that was widely circulated.

Many observers were shocked that O’Malley refused to end seeking criminal convictions even after the BART board had decided not to press charges against the protestors.

As a result of her inaction, labor unions representing thousands of union workers across the Bay Area pulled their support for O’Malley, and the Alameda Labor Council decided against giving the district attorney an award she was supposed to receive.

The Pastors of Oakland also called for the charges to be dropped.

A number of demonstrations in the last few months have demanded that the district attorney drop the charges.

In November alone, there were three large protests leading up to the one-year anniversary of the Black Friday action. Union leaders occupied O’Malley’s office during a Fight for 15 minimum wage protest.

Cultural activist organizations building an altar for slain Blacks and 14 interfaith leaders were arrested after holding a sit-in at the Oakland courthouse.

“Our criminal case is over, but the war on Black lives remains,” Black Lives Matter’s Bay Area chapter said in a press release.

“On the shoulders of our ancestors and with support of Asians for Black Lives, Bay Area Solidarity Action Team, and broad coalition of legal, faith, labor, and social justice allies — we will keep fighting for all Black lives.”

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, December 10, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

Berkeley NAACP Calls on BUSD to Investigate Discrimination Against Employees, Students

Berkeley High School

Berkeley High School

By Ken Epstein

Manour Id-Deen, president of the Berkeley NAACP, met recently with Berkeley Unified School District Supt. Donald Evans to discuss allegations that the district is failing to address complaints of discrimination against Black students, teachers and non-teaching staff in the district.

Berkeley Schools Supt. Donald Evans

Berkeley Schools Supt. Donald Evans

The NAACP also wants the district to assign a qualified instructor to teach African American Studies classes at Berkeley High School.

Id-Deen met with Supt. Evans on Nov. 18, where the NAACP president discussed 17 issues, focusing on four that he said call for immediate action.

Following the meeting, Id-Deen sent a letter to the superintendent, dated Nov. 20, saying the district should hire an outside agency, Mason Tillman, to “investigate allegations of age discrimination, racial discrimination, disproportionality in discipline, hiring and promotional practices.”

Mansour Id-Deen, Berkeley NAACP president.

The letter asked BUSD to investigate allegations of improper designation of Black students in special education and disproportional suspension of Black students.

Also of immediate concern is the failure to hire a credentialed instructor to teach courses in Berkeley High’s African American Studies Department.

Courses in the department have not had a credentialed instructor since the beginning of the school year. To resolve the issue, the NAACP says the district should hire retired BUSD history teacher Valerie Trahan.

Another immediate concern is the district’s Berkeley Peer Assistance and Review (BPAR) program, which is used to evaluate poorly rated teachers and can result in dismissal.

Id-Deen called the BPAR program ¨discriminatory and draconian.”

“The NAACP believes an immediate suspension of the program is in order,” he said in the letter.

Finally, the NAACP connects the district’s administrative failures to the Board of Education.

“The checks and balances of the system appear to not provide acute transparency or consistency in the execution of Board Policy and the (Education) Code…. It’s incumbent on the board to create staff policies to ensure that its policies are adhered to.”

Id-Deen told Supt. Evans that said his organization is committed to working to resolve these issues.

“The Berkeley BAACP is willing to meet with you to discuss remedies to the many pressing issues affecting the Berkeley Unified School,” Id-Deen said. “Immediate action is required.”

Courtesy of the Post News Group, December 5, 2015 (Postnewsgroup.com)

Neighborhood Coalition Awaits City Council Decision on East 12th Street Development

A rendering of the E. 12 Street Coalition's housing proposal.

A rendering of the E. 12 Street Coalition’s housing proposal.

By Tulio Ospina

The East 12th Wishlist Design Team, supported by the neighborhood coalition Eastlake United for Justice, has submitted a proposal to build a 100 percent affordable housing development on the contentious East 12th Street Remainder parcel by Lake Merritt.

Early in November, the neighborhood team decided to partner with Satellite Affordable Housing Associates (SAHA), an affordable housing developer that has built several projects throughout Oakland, including a senior center not too far from the parcel.

The team’s proposal, developed with extensive community input, includes 98 units of exclusively affordable housing, small commercial enterprising space, rooftop gardens and a safe pedestrian pathway connecting the property to Lake Merritt.

The proposal is for a low-rise building, unlike the high-rise tower proposed for the site that was defeated earlier this year by community opposition.

“We see this as becoming a home for low-income Black and Brown families here in Oakland,” said Katie Loncke, an organizer with the East 12th Wishlist coalition

Meanwhile, UrbanCore—the company behind the previous high-rise proposal—has partnered with the East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation (EBALDC) and resubmitted a new proposal to the city that would still include a high-rise tower of market-rate housing in addition to a smaller adjacent building of affordable housing units, said members of the Wishlist Design team.

“It’s a tiny affordable housing box being overshadowed by a luxury tower,” said Loncke. “It reminds me of the “poor door” buildings in New York where low-income people are told to go through one door while the wealthy go through another.”

The Post contacted UrbanCore, which was unwilling to share details about its proposal.

The City Council is expected to make a decision on which housing proposal to accept in January.

According to Loncke, the council will look at the proposals’ number of units, the developers’ experience, cost efficiency and community benefits and then decide based on their own criteria which project is the best fit.

On Nov. 20, the community group hosted a “guerilla art” exhibit wherein they reached out to 11th graders at Coliseum College Prep Academy in East Oakland and asked them to contribute a series of murals depicting gentrification.

“It was amazing to see how the students made the connections between gentrification and other global issues without ever using words,” said Loncke.

“These young artists really understood the effects that gentrification and displacement have on Oakland’s low-income communities of color,” she said.

Oakland is now ranked the nation’s fifth most expensive rental market, with Black and Latino residents being some of the hardest hit by the city’s affordability crisis.

According to city statistics, the number of Black residents in Oakland decreased by nearly 40 percent between 1990 and 2011.

“We are saying that if you want to consume Oakland’s murals, music and film, Black and Brown people have to come along, too,” said Brytannee Brown, an organizer for the art installation.

“Black and Brown youth and families are being pushed out of Oakland every day by skyrocketing housing costs. We refuse to become cultural artifacts,” she said.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, December 5, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

 

Community Objects to Privately Funded OUSD Enrollment Reform

Oakland Board of Education membrs (L to R): Shanthi Gonzales, Aimee Eng, Jumoke Hinton Hodge, Nina Senn

Oakland Board of Education membrs (L to R): Shanthi Gonzales, Nina Senn, Jumoke Hinton Hodge, Aimee Eng. Photo by Ken Epstein

 

By Ken A. Epstein

Members of the Board of Education and community activists are raising concerns about how Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) Supt. Antwan Wilson is funding the overhaul of the school enrollment process.

The process is being paid for and staffed by outside agencies that have a direct stake in the adoption of the proposal to make a choice of charters schools an equal part of the publically funded school enrollment system.

According to district spokesman Troy Flint, the $300,000 utilized to develop the “common enrollment proposal and conduct public outreach was donated by an organization called Educate78 – set up in Oakland by pro-charter organization New Schools Venture Fund.”

“We chose the name “Educate78” because the city of Oakland is 78 square miles, and our mission is to ensure that every student, in every neighborhood of Oakland, has access to world-class public schools. We will do this through informed giving and strategic initiatives,” according to a posting on the New Schools Venture Fund Website.

The Venture Fund is a nonprofit that started out channeling philanthropic donations to charter schools and “now invests in a range of education groups and businesses …entering into a partnership with a new venture capital fund that could result in millions more in financing,” according to an article in the New York Times.

In an interview with the Post, Flint said the funders were unlikely to contribute more money to the project if the board decided to move ahead on reforming the enrollment process without including charter schools in the mix.

Flint also told community members that the Oakland Public Education Fund, which is connected to OUSD, would be unlikely to raise $1.2 million to institute enrollment reform, if this proposal is not approved by the board.

“The $1.2 million … would only be raised if common enrollment is approved,” Flint wrote in a Dec. 2 email.

According to Flint, Educate78, not OUSD, has hired senior staff from Institute for Innovation for Public School Choice (IIPSC) to work on the proposal. IIPSC developed Common Enrollment in

New York, New Orleans, Denver and other cities.

Under the Common Enrollment plan, parents can submit six choices from among charter and district schools, and a “computer algorithm” will assign them to one of the six schools.

The OUSD administration says the plan, which it named ¨Better Enrollment Oakland,” will increase transparency and efficiency, streamlining a bureaucratic process that currently requires parents seeking admission to charter schools to apply to each school separately, along with applying to OUSD.

School Boardmember Shanthi Gonzales, speaking at Wednesday night’s board meeting, asked staff to prepare a report on the potential impact of Common Enrollment, whether the loss of students to charter schools in other cities has led to declining resources for public schools, school closings and the layoffs of school employees.

She objected to how the administration is moving ahead on enrollment reform.

“It’s deeply problematic that we didn’t do an open call for anybody (in the community) to participate in this,” she said. “It was privately organized (and) funded by private dollars (that) led the planning process.”

“These are our public schools,” she said. “I don’t think people who potentially have other agendas (should be) shaping our public policy.”

Gonzales said it is wrong to rely on private funds from groups that say they are going to withdraw their support if the board does not vote for their proposal.

Boardmember Roseann Torres spoke Monday at a community meeting, saying the district needed to reform its enrollment system but opposed promoting charter schools charters.

“Doing this together (with charters) is completely nonsensical,” Torres said. “Why should I advertise for the other guy?”

Dan Siegel, a former member of the school board and former OUSD general counsel, said he was shocked by the administration’s complicity with charter organizations.

“I am astounded by the openness of the administration’s attitude on this issue,” he said. “It’s one thing for the school district not to interfere with the development of charters schools. It’s another thing altogether when you have the administrators of the public school system supporting the destruction of that very system.”

Siegel said the board should find the courage to tell Supt. Wilson that “this is a bad proposal and something we don’t want to do.”

The rhetoric of the pro-charter groups like New Schools Venture Fund does little to calm community concerns.

“The time is right to focus on Oakland,” the Venture Fund says on its website. “The city’s robust and vibrant community of educators, innovators and social entrepreneurs is growing. We have an inspiring new leader in OUSD Superintendent Antwan Wilson, who shares our vision of putting results before ideology in service of all students.”

The fund says its partners include Great Oakland (GO) Public Schools and Lighthouse Community Charter School. Its supporters include the Rogers Family Foundation.

The school board is tentatively scheduled to vote on the common enrollment proposal in January.

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

Environmental Groups Withdraw Lawsuit, Give City Opportunity to Stop Coal

port-of-oakland_Russell-Mondy_flickr-blog

By Tulio Ospina

Environmental groups represented by Earthjustice have withdrawn their lawsuit against the City of Oakland and a group of developers led by Phil Tagami’s CCIG for failing to conduct an environmental review of the possible impacts that exporting coal through Oakland’s former Army Base would have on adjacent communities.

Earthjustice, on behalf of the Sierra Club, Communities for a Better Environment and the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, had filed a California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) action because the original CEQA review of the new Army Base development, performed over a decade ago, did not include an analysis of the impact of the transport of coal.

Shortly after submitting the CEQA challenge to Alameda County Superior Court, however, the City of Oakland filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, claiming that the city had not yet taken any action or claimed any position on the coal deal that could be legally challenged.

According to Irene Gutierrez, an attorney at Earthjustice’s California regional office, new information revealed in the city’s motion to dismiss has clarified the city officials’ position on the coal to the petitioners.

This prompted the environmental groups to take a step back to allow the city to continue its own review.

“We drew the lawsuit without prejudice, which means we have the right to return to court at a later date if we so choose,” said Gutierrez. “We will be following closely what the city is doing and trust that it will keep communities’ interests at heart.”

Currently, city staff is performing its own review of the health and safety impacts that transporting coal through the Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal (OBOT) would have on surrounding neighborhoods and the environment.

The result of this review will end in a final city council vote to determine what action the city will take to either prevent or regulate shipments of coal coming through Oakland.

The city also has the option of requesting an environmental review similar to the CEQA action, although it is unclear whether their environmental review would potentially halt the entire Oakland Army Base construction project, which would have been the result of Earthjustice’s CEQA challenge.

After reading the city’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit, environmental groups learned that the $250 million terminal development’s $53 million in matching funds that would be coming from Utah, where the coal is mined, was pursued by CCIG “without city support, knowledge or involvement,” according to the papers filed by the city.

In exchange for the $53 million in funds, the developers had promised the Utah counties shipping rights to at least 49 percent of the bulk terminal’s annual shipping capacity, potentially making Oakland the largest coal export city in California, according to Earthjustice’s press release.

Furthermore, it was revealed that the funding from Utah still needs to go through various levels of approval there and is being fought by a Utah chapter of the Sierra Club.

“What they’re trying to send over to Oakland is money slated for remediation and mitigation of the effects of the coal mining industry in Utah,” said Gutierrez. “It’s supposed to stay in Utah to help communities effected by mining and is not meant to come here.”

The city also made clear that it is still evaluating actions it may take to regulate the export of coal, such as requiring additional permits, passing new legislation that would apply to the project or requiring an environmental review.

“Up until September, city councilmembers and the city itself didn’t seem to be making firm statements about things like funding, coal or future discretionary permits,” said Gutierrez.

“Now that there is no more pending litigation, we are hoping for there to be more open communication with councilmembers, and we’re looking forward to hearing more about what precisely is on city council’s mind,” she said.

Before setting off for Paris to attend the global warming climate conference, Mayor Libby Schaaf doubled down on her position against exporting coal through Oakland, reiterating the city’s ability to declare coal a health and safety hazard in order to set regulations.

Originally, city councilmembers had chosen Dec. 8 as the deadline to make a final decision, but that date has been pushed back to February of next year in order to give city staff take more time to evaluate the alternatives.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, December 5, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

Community Objects to Privately Funded OUSD Enrollment Reform

By Ken A. Epstein

Members of the Board of Education and community activists are raising concerns about how Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) Supt. Antwan Wilson is funding the overhaul of the school enrollment process.

preferred photo

Shanthi Gonzales

The process is being paid for and staffed by outside agencies that have a direct stake in the adoption of the proposal to make a choice of charters schools an equal part of the publically funded school enrollment system.

According to district spokesman Troy Flint, the $300,000 utilized to develop the “common enrollment proposal and conduct public outreach was donated by an organization called Educate78 – set up in Oakland by pro-charter organization New Schools Venture Fund.”

“We chose the name “Educate78” because the city of Oakland is 78 square miles, and our mission is to ensure that every student, in every neighborhood of Oakland, has access to world-class public schools. We will do this through informed giving and strategic initiatives,” according to a posting on the New Schools Venture Fund Website.

Roseann Torres

Roseann Torres

The Venture Fund is a nonprofit that started out channeling philanthropic donations to charter schools and “now invests in a range of education groups and businesses …entering into a partnership with a new venture capital fund that could result in millions more in financing,” according to an article in the New York Times.

In an interview with the Post, Flint said the funders were unlikely to contribute more money to the project if the board decided to move ahead on reforming the enrollment process without including charter schools in the mix.

Flint also told community members that the Oakland Public Education Fund, which is connected to OUSD, would be unlikely to raise $1.2 million to institute enrollment reform, if this proposal is not approved by the board.

“The $1.2 million … would only be raised if common enrollment is approved,” Flint wrote in a Dec. 2 email.

According to Flint, Educate78, not OUSD, has hired senior staff from Institute for Innovation for Public School Choice (IIPSC) to work on the proposal. IIPSC developed Common Enrollment in New York, New Orleans, Denver and other cities.

Under the Common Enrollment plan, parents can submit six choices from among charter and district schools, and a “computer algorithm” will assign them to one of the six schools.

The OUSD administration says the plan, which it named ¨Better Enrollment Oakland,” will increase transparency and efficiency, streamlining a bureaucratic process that currently requires parents seeking admission to charter schools to apply to each school separately, along with applying to OUSD.

Supt. Antwan Wilson

Supt. Antwan Wilson

School Boardmember Shanthi Gonzales, speaking at Wednesday night’s board meeting, asked staff to prepare a report on the potential impact of Common Enrollment, whether the loss of students to charter schools in other cities has led to declining resources for public schools, school closings and the layoffs of school employees.

She objected to how the administration is moving ahead on enrollment reform.

“It’s deeply problematic that we didn’t do an open call for anybody (in the community) to participate in this,” she said. “It was privately organized (and) funded by private dollars (that) led the planning process.”

“These are our public schools,” she said. “I don’t think people who potentially have other agendas (should be) shaping our public policy.”

Gonzales said it is wrong to rely on private funds from groups that say they are going to withdraw their support if the board does not vote for their proposal.

Boardmember Roseann Torres spoke Monday at a community meeting, saying the district needed to reform its enrollment system but opposed promoting charter schools charters.

“Doing this together (with charters) is completely nonsensical,” Torres said. “Why should I advertise for the other guy?”

Dan Siegel, a former member of the school board and former OUSD general counsel, said he was shocked by the administration’s complicity with charter organizations.

“I am astounded by the openness of the administration’s attitude on this issue,” he said. “It’s one thing for the school district not to interfere with the development of charters schools. It’s another thing altogether when you have the administrators of the public school system supporting the destruction of that very system.”

Siegel said the board has to have the courage to tell Supt. Wilson that “this is a bad proposal and something we don’t want to do.”

The rhetoric of the pro-charter groups like New Schools Venture Fund does little to calm community concerns.

“The time is right to focus on Oakland,” the Venture Fund says on its website. “The city’s robust and vibrant community of educators, innovators and social entrepreneurs is growing. We have an inspiring new leader in OUSD Superintendent Antwan Wilson, who shares our vision of putting results before ideology in service of all students.”

The fund says its partners include Great Oakland (GO) Public Schools and Lighthouse Community Charter School. Its supporters include the Rogers Family Foundation.

The school board is tentatively scheduled to vote on the common enrollment proposal in January.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, December 5, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

Oakland Schools’ PR Chief Receives New $192,000 Contract

By Ken Epstein

Isaac Kos-Read, chief of Communications and Public Affairs for the Oakland Unified School District, recently signed a $192,000-a-year-contract, extending his previous contract for two years.

Isaac Kos-Read

Isaac Kos-Read

When he was hired last school, his salary was paid by the Oakland Public Education Fund, which has an office in the school district headquarters and is associated with GO (Great Oakland) Public Schools and the Rogers Foundation, both of which are proponents of charter school expansion in Oakland.

Kos-Read’s two-year contact was renewed in June, split between OUSD funding and a grant from Kaiser Foundation. He previously worked as director of External affairs at the Port of Oakland and was a public affairs consultant for the Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce.

He serves as the “chief public affairs and communication strategist for the district,” according to the report on the board website written by Jacqueline Minor, the district’s general counsel.

In the last year or so, the district communications’ staff has grown from one or two to a staff of eight – including four people who works in communications and four who work in community engagement.

These staff members have been busy this school year during intense teacher contact negotiations and angry community reactions over the possibility that Castlemont, Fremont and McClymonds High schools could be converted to charter schools.

Community engagement staff have also had to respond to concerns and some opposition to the the building of a districtwide commercial kitchen at the site of Foster Middle School, the rebuilding of Glenview Elementary School and the construction of a new district headquarters at Second Avenue and East 10th Street.

Troy Flint, who is part of the district’s communications staff and serves as OUSD spokesman, told the Post earlier this year that Kos-Read plays a crucial role at the school district.

“Isaac brings substantial experience and expertise in Public Affairs and Communications, areas where the district has suffered from lack of capacity for years,” Flint said. “The marginal benefits of adding someone of Isaac’s talents yields benefits far beyond the cost in terms of increased ability to interact with diverse stakeholder groups, identify community concerns, and deal with those issues effectively.”

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, November 14, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

 

Oakland Steps Out for Faith with a Joyful Noise

The city of Oakland has long been considered the citadel for progressive civil rights and political movements involving activism for racial and social inclusion and equity.

 In response to neighbors’ complaints about the loud sounds of music coming from churches, ministers and churches called for a public demonstration of respect for its churches instead of using the police and fines to punish their congregations.

More than 30 pastors stood in solidarity with Pleasant Grove Baptist Church. They were joined by city and county officials along with the SambaFunk! drummers, church choirs, gospel soloists and Black Arts groups.

True to its radical and revolutionary roots, Oakland is redefining respect for religion. Ministers called for the city to declare itself, to be a sanctuary city for its sanctuaries.

The First Amendment and religious freedom were embraced by a coalition that included the Oakland NAACP, the Post News Group, Baptists, Methodists, Muslims, Mormons, COGICs, AME, Catholics, the Black Arts Movement, Soul of Oakland, Oakland Private Industry Council, Pastors of Oakland, Baptist Ministers Union, Seventh-day Adventists and many others.

The event took place Saturday, Nov. 7 in front of the Pleasant Grove Baptist Church on Adeline Street in West Oakland. It was the response to a city noise complaint against Pleasant Grove that kicked off the current solidarity movement.

Speaking at the event, Amos Brown of the Third Baptist Church in San Francisco said his church has faced similar attempts to silence worship.

He told the crowd that earlier this year “two rogue cops” entered his church one afternoon to tell parishioners to quiet down during a service, where a gumbo band was playing in honor of a church member who had passed away.

But he told the police: “We are going to sing, we are going to shout. We’re going to let nobody tell us to shut up.”

The arts community and the religious community are coming together, said Theo Williams of the SambaFunk! drummers, who performed at the event.

“We came here to stand with you in solidarity,” he said. “This is monumental.”

Said Mayor Libby Schaaf, who spoke after Theo Williams, “This city has some strong roots, and these roots are in our faith community and our arts community.”

“My city has some SambaFunk!,” she said.

City Councilmember and Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan, who is a rabbi, urged people to raise their voice and sing out in praise.

“It is a miracle that we are still here to sing praises,” said Kaplan, referring to the holocausts faced by Black people during the Middle Passage, Jews during World War II and indigenous people in the United States during the Trail of Tears.

“We give thanks that we have survived to this day,” she said. “Let us use this as a force to unite.”

Bishop Joseph Simmons of Greater St. Paul Baptist Church praised church and community members who have spoken up about attacks on the right to worship.

“I want to thank the people who complained because your complaints made us stand up,” he said.

Rev. Ray Williams of Morning Star Baptist Church said people have to stand up to forces that want to push them out of the city.

“We used to steal away to Jesus to worship,” he said. “(But) we aren’t going to steal away anymore. We’re here to take back what gentrification has taken away from us.”

“We need our council members to have the courage to challenge chase bank for reneging on it’s promise to Oakland,” said Post publisher Paul Cobb.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, November 13, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

Racism in Berkeley Schools “Has Been Tolerated for Too Long,” Say Community Leaders

Berkeley High School students walked out of school Nov. 5 after a racist, terrorist threat was discovered on campus. Photo courtesy of NBC Bay Area.

Berkeley High School students walked out of school Nov. 5 after a racist, terrorist threat was discovered on campus. Photo courtesy of NBC Bay Area.

By Ken Epstein

Tensions remain high at Berkeley High School in the wake of a student walkout sparked by the discovery in the school library of a written lynching threat against Black students.

Last Thursday’s walkout, which was supported by most of the school’s 3,000 students, drew national media attention. But Black students and community leaders are concerned that now that the immediate incident seems to be resolved, the district wants to go back to business as usual – ignoring the pattern of racist threats at the school and the ongoing discrimination and racial disparities that are plaguing the Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD).

Mansour Id-Deen, Berkeley NAACP president.

Mansour Id-Deen, Berkeley NAACP president.

The district has announced that a 15-year old student has admitted responsibility for writing the terrorist threat on the school computer. However, school officials have not said what will be done to punish the student or what steps will be taken to reduce the level of hostility to Black students on campus.

BUSD is still undecided on what form the punishment should take, according to district spokesperson Mark Coplan, who said the punishment could range from restorative justice, which focuses on rehabilitating the perpetrator through community service, to expulsion.

The student’s punishment will be determined through a confidential process in order to protect the student’s identity.

Berkeley Schools Supt. Donald Evans

Berkeley Schools Supt. Donald Evans

Speaking at a press conference last Friday, members of the Berkeley NAACP and its youth council announced that they would not allow racial justice issues to be swept under the rug.

“I hope the school board understands how serious this is,” said Rayven Wilson, a NAACP Youth Council member. “The Black community sees this as a threat. This is not a joke. We need you to understand our pain is real.”

Moni Law, Youth Council advisor, pointed out that the latest threat follows two incidents at Berkeley High last year – a noose that was found hanging on a tree and racist comments that were printed in the school yearbook.

“This behavior has been tolerated (for) too long,” Law said.

In an interview with the Post, Berkeley NAACP President Mansour Id-Deen says he wants to work with the district to reduce the ongoing discrimination that impacts Black employees, students and parents in the school district.

Id-Deen said he has been meeting with teacher and classified employees who said they are facing discrimination and harassment at work.

“They have gone to the administration to get the issues resolved,” he said. “The administration, instead of assisting them, has retaliated against them in different ways.”

Id-Deen said he has been trying since June too meet with BUSD Supt. Donald Evans, but no meeting has ever been scheduled.

When the City of Berkeley faced similar issues, it agreed to hire an independent company to handle the employee complaints, he said. “We want them to provide an outside firm to investigate the allegations of employees and put forth solutions.”

Looking at student achievement, he said he was concerned that the data shows that Black students are not doing well in the district, but BUSD is “not doing anything to address that issue.”

Further, in the last six years, Black student enrollment has fallen from 40 percent to 19 percent districtwide, but 60 percent of the students who are suspended are Black, he said.

A number of community people are also concerned about the survival of the African American Studies Department at Berkeley High, which has not had a qualified teacher since the beginning of the school year.

“The Berkeley NAACP strongly encourages the board, in collaboration with the superintendent, to use your powers to fill the vacancy (in African American Studies),” Id-Deen wrote a letter to the superintendent and board, dated Oct. 30.

He said that a highly qualified African American studies teacher who retired from Berkeley High last year, Valarie Trahan, has volunteered to come back to teach the classes but has been ignored by the district.

Berkeley schools Supt. Evans, in a May 19 letter to Berkeley NAACP President Id-Deen, addressed the issues of alleged “unfair and discriminatory hiring and promotional practices within BUSD.”

“It is troubling to hear that some of BUSD staff have come to you with their concerns, as that indicates they may not have felt confident in our ability to resolve their concerns, “ wrote Evans.

“I look forward to hearing more from you on this matter,” he wrote. “This is a critical issue to address for the well-being of our staff and students.”

As of this week, President Id-Deen said Supt. Evans still has not contacted him to schedule a meeting.

Members of the Berkeley NAACP are urging people to come to the Berkeley school board meeting to call on the board to protect the the future of the Black Studies Department at Berkeley High.

The school board meeting will be held Wednesday, Nov. 18 at 6:30 p.m. at 1231 Addison St. in Berkeley.

Courtesy of the Post News Group, November 13, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)