Archive for August, 2015

Ferguson, Missouri Judge Throws Out Arrest Warrants; Local Activists Say Change in Oakland Courts Long Overdue

By Ken Epstein

A new municipal court judge in Ferguson, Mo. this week announced he was withdrawing all arrest warrants issued before Jan. 1, 2015, taking an action that should be duplicated and expanded by courts in Oakland and other cities across the country, according to local anti-mass incarceration and civil rights activists.

Appointed in June as municipal court judge of Ferguson, Mo,  i   Donald L. McCullin formerly served as circuit judge of the 22nd Judicial Circuit  for September1999 to 2011, when he retired. Judge McCullin earned a law degree from St. Louis University Law School (SLU) where he has served on the Dean's Council. He is a member of the Missouri, Illinois, and California bars. Besides private practice, he served four years as managing attorney for the United Auto Workers Legal Services Program and 11 years with Anheuser-Busch Companies as Director of Diversity and Compliance. He served two terms as president of the Mound City Bar Association and Regional Director of the National Bar Association.

Appointed in June as municipal court judge of Ferguson, Mo, Donald L. McCullin formerly served as circuit judge of the 22nd Judicial Circuit from 1999 to 2011, when he retired. Judge McCullin earned a law degree from St. Louis University Law School (SLU) where he has served on the Dean’s Council. He is a member of the Missouri, Illinois, and California bars. Besides working in private practice, he served four years as managing attorney for the United Auto Workers Legal Services Program and 11 years with Anheuser-Busch Companies as director of Diversity and Compliance..

Many of the warrants were for unpaid fines or failure to appear in court for traffic violations.

“The Ferguson court took a significant step in trying to undo years and decades of a cycle of poverty and incarceration in that city, though it is certainly not all that needs to be done,” said Zachary Norris, executive director of Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in Oakland, which has been involved in campaigns against mass incarceration.

Under the court order issued by Ferguson Judge Donald McCullin on Aug. 24, the conditions of pre-trial release were modified, and defendants will be give new court dates along with alternative dispositions, such as payment plans, community service or commuting fines for people without money.

Zachary Norris, executive director of Ella Baker Center for Human Rights

Zachary Norris, executive director of Ella Baker Center for Human Rights

“Many individuals whose license has been suspended will be able to obtain them and take advantage of the benefits of being able to drive,” said McCullin. “Moreover, defendants will not be (denied) pre-trial release because of inability to make bond.”

In addition, if arrest warrants were issued for a minor traffic violation, the defendants will not be incarcerated but instead released on their own recognizance.

All active warrants more than five years old will be withdrawn. In cases where a person’s driver’s license was suspended solely for failure to appear in court or pay a fine, the license will be reinstated pending final disposition.

The judge’s ruling is in part a response to a scathing Department of Justice report in March that found Ferguson’s police department and municipal court targeted low-income and minority residents with tickets and fines for minor offenses in order to raise revenue for the city.

According to the DOJ Report, more than 16,000 people, equal to 70 percent of Ferguson’s population, had outstanding arrest warrants at the end of last year.

While the judge’s action was a significant step forward, according to Norris of Ella Baker Center, the reform could not have been won without grassroots activism.

Walter Riley

Walter Riley

“It was a hard-fought victory that comes as a result of community struggle,” said Norris, who said the Organization for Black Struggle in the Saint Louis area made the withdrawal of warrants one of its central demands.

“The Organization for Black Struggle has been advocating for changing several of these policies that effectively result in debtors prison (for the poor),” he said.

The practice of issuing warrants amounts to a “money-making scheme” that is common in California, affecting as many as one out of six drivers, he said.

“Traffic courts drive inequality in California,” he said, referring to the case of one woman who had a $25 traffic ticket and as result of penalties, ultimately owed $2,900.

The woman lost her license and her job, ending up on public assistance, he said. “She was consigned to an unending cycle of poverty and incarceration.”

In Oakland, Norris continued, “We need to end the practice of suspending licenses for traffic tickets, taking away people’s way to continue with their jobs.”

The city also needs “deep and meaningful pretrial reform,” said Norris, noting that 75 percent of people in the Alameda County jail have been convicted of nothing.

“They are charged with something and can’t make bail,” which means they lose their jobs and have their family relationships disrupted, he said.

Local judges should take up the challenge to make these same reforms, said Oakland civil rights attorney and activist Walter Riley.

“Oakland judges need to look at this kind of example,” he said. “The judge in Ferguson has recognized some of the inequities and has taken the responsibility to do something about it.”

This cycle of arrests, fines and jailing are an element of mass incarceration, said Riley, the continuous adverse impact of the criminal justice system of people without money, particularly on African Americans.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, August 30, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

 

Joys and Struggles of Public School Teaching, Discussed at Post Salon

Educators who spoke at last Sunday's Post Salon were (L to R) Dr. Kimberly Mayfield, Francisco Ortiz and Dr. Kitty Kelly Epstein. The event was held at Geoffrey's Inner Circle in downtown Oakland. Photo by Jaron Epstein.

Educators who spoke at last Sunday’s Post Salon were (L to R) Dr. Kimberly Mayfield, Francisco Ortiz and Dr. Kitty Kelly Epstein. The event was held at Geoffrey’s Inner Circle in downtown Oakland. Photo by Jaron Epstein.

By Post Staff

About 70 people attended the Post newspaper’s most recent Salon to discuss the joys of teaching in the public schools and the policy barriers facing U.S. education

Speaker Francisco Ortiz is a popular teacher in Contra Costa County, the same district where he attended school.   He talked about his personal difficulties of being a Spanish-speaking student without enough Latino teachers.

He also talked about his curriculum, which includes the autobiographical story, “The Circuit,” his love of teaching and his father’s encouragement to pursue a career as an educator.

Kitty Kelly Epstein is a college professor, an author and an activist. Her presentation focused on the built-in racism of the U.S. system and its early roots in Oakland, the first place that used the racially biased group I.Q. tests created in 1916 by Stanford professor and Eugenics supporter Lewis Terman.

Dr. Epstein explored the growing movement of opposition to profit-oriented educational companies and to the new breed of standardized tests they promote.

Dr. Kimberly Mayfield is the chair of the Education Department at Holy Names University and one of the authors of Diversifying the Teacher Workforce.

She had encouraged people interested in becoming teachers to attend the Salon in order to participate in the discussion and to hear about the Teacher Apprentice Program (TAP), which recruits and supports local, diverse teachers as they move into teaching.

Her presentation focused on the joy of teaching and the barriers facing Black, Latino indigenous and Asian people attempting to enter the field.

Dr. Mayfield said that the TAP program, based at Holy Names University in Oakland, is designed to helps prospective teachers overcome the hurdles that keep them from entering the profession.

For information on the TAP program, call Stacy Johnson at (510) 436-1195 or email sjohnson@hnu.edu

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, August 29, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

 

We Must Speak Up” for Racial Justice, Say Teen Leaders and Rep. Barbara Lee

Calling for Black-Brown unity, a youth said, “The system has us pinned against each other.”

Jose Alejandre speaks at the Community Forum on Racial Justice on Aug. 18 at Brookins AME Church in Oakland. Photos by Ashley Chambers.

Jose Alejandre speaks at the Community Forum on Racial Justice on Aug. 18 at Brookins AME Church in Oakland. Photos by Ashley Chambers.

 

By Ashley Chambers

“In order to improve race relations in America, we must speak up. Comfortable silence has gotten us nowhere,” said Alomar Burdick, one of the young panelists speaking at the Community Forum on Racial Justice on Aug. 18 at Brookins AME Church in Oakland.

Stressing the need for community and action, three young people led the discussion, sharing their outlook on race in America and ways that people can work together against racism.

“In order for us to speak up, we must replace comfortable silence with verbal discomfort, and we must take action,” said Burdick, who works with the Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Center.

Congresswoman Barbara Lee hosted the forum and participated in the panel, along with Oakland Councilmember Desley Brooks.

Another young panelist stressed the importance of knowing and embracing one’s identity.

“What I think is really important is to really know where we’re trying to go,” said Adeniji Asabi-Shakir, of Young, Gifted and Black.

“I would like to find a way to be able to…thrive and speak pride openly,” added Asabi-Shakir.

Another young panelist emphasized that in order to make strides in fighting the system of racial injustice, Black and Brown communities need to work together.

“The system has us pinned against each other – its divide and conquer. Our kids are growing up alongside each other and don’t understand each other,” said Jose Alejandre.

“I want to put a call out to community members to lead by example to show the kids that we can build up Black and Brown communities in East Oakland, wherever we are,” he said.

“If we don’t do it now, the separation between Black and brown (people)…will get bigger and bigger.”

The discussion addressed the impacts of institutional racism, pointing to racial disparities that exist in education, criminal justice, housing, jobs and other areas.

Studies show that African Americans are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of whites.

A recent Department of Education survey highlights inequities in the education of Black preschool kids. While Black children, ages 2 to 4, are only 18 percent of students in preschool, they make up 40 percent of the number of the kids that are kicked out of preschool.

“How do you suspend a preschool baby from school? There’s something wrong,” said Congresswoman Lee.

“Everywhere you look in American society, you’ve got issues around structural and institutional racism,” she said

It is especially important, said the congresswoman, that we “really not allow people to say we’re playing the race card if we want to talk about race. We have to talk about public policies and structures and funding policies in a way that includes race.”

Lee said she is pushing legislation to reverse these disparities, including language to address the expulsion of Black preschool children.

She is also pushing for legislation to increase police accountability, end racial profiling and address inequalities in school funding, job training, re-entry programs, violence prevention and apprenticeships for youth.

Councilmember Desley Brooks recently led a fight to establish a Department of Race and Equity in the City of Oakland, which the city approved this summer.

“This (department) is about truly looking at the policies and procedures of the city and changing them,” she said.

The new department, expected to start by December, will address systemic inequities in city policies and practices – such as housing, jobs, contracting, and employment.

Congresswoman Lee will hold additional forums in the future throughout her congressional district.

For more information, visit Rep. Barbara Lee on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, August 29, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

 

McClymond High Alumni Meet with OUSD Supt. Antwan Wilson

OUSD Supt. Antwan Wilson met with of the McClymonds High School community. (L-R): Deacon Thomas Angelo, Ed.D., Sylvester Hodges, Supt. Wilson, Tina Dright and George Randolph. Photo b Ken Epstein

By Ken Epstein

A group of McClymonds High School alumni, who have advocated for their school for years, met Thursday afternoon with Oakland Unified School District Supt. Antwan Wilson in his office to discuss their concerns and find out what the district’s plans are for the future of the school.

“I look forward to10 years from now when future generations” are attending and graduating from the school, Wilson said.

“I have zero intention of closing the school,” he said “I’ve heard that rumor, and it’s a lie. I‘ve spent zero time talking about that.”

Wilson said the name of the school is not going to change. “There is no school that can match McClylmonds” in terms of achievement, he said.

“And what’s unique to McClymonds is the level of multi-generational pride I see.”

He said he would continue to push to improve the school curriculum, introducing an “early college” program where students can complete a year of college while still in high school.

He also says he has plans to encourage more families to send their children to the school and is already investing to improve the facility.

The McClymonds alumni representatives who met with Supt. Wilson were Deacon Thomas Angelo, Ed.D., Sylvester Hodges, Trina Dright and George Randolph.

They alumni told the Post they they planned to hold future meeting Supt. Wilson to discuss the implementation of the plans for the school.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, August 27, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

Fourth OPD Officer-Involved Shooting Death Since June

An Oakland police officer who had responded to a distress call for physical assault on Thursday, Aug. 27 ended up fatally shooting the physical assault suspect after he allegedly attacked her with a metal chain, Oakland police say.

The confrontation took place at around 8:30 a.m. by MacArthur Boulevard and Van Buren Avenue, near Lake Merritt.

According to OPD Chief Sean Whent, the officer was driving away from area when the suspect stepped in front of her police car and prevented her from moving. The officer then got out of her vehicle and the man started swinging the metal chain at her.

She was struck multiple times in the head with the chain before drawing her gun and shooting the man, said Whent.

The officer was taken to the hospital where she was treated for head trauma. The man was reportedly pronounced dead at the scene.

Oakland police are investigating the incident and have yet to determine whether the officer’s use of force was justified and say the department has footage of the encounter from the officer’s chest camera.

When asked why the officer had not used her Taser instead of her gun, Whent said that using a Taser in this situation would be inconsistent with officer training.

“We instruct our officers to only taze if there is a lethal option as a back-up,” said Whent. Because the officer was alone, such support was not available, he said.

At the press conference, OPD spokesperson Johnna Watson said paramedics were immediately called to the scene to treat both the officer and the suspect. But it is still unknown how much time had passed after the shooting until the man was treated.

Nayomi, a witness who spoke alongside Cat Brooks of the Anti Police-Terror Project on KPFA radio, said she arrived on the scene just after the man had been shot. She says she saw a Black man lying facedown on the ground and an officer bleeding from her head nearby who was surrounded by two or three officers.

According to the witness, the man was twitching and visibly alive for several minutes after police arrived and closed off the area. She claims the man was never given medical attention.

“The whole time the man was convulsing and bleeding on the ground. Nobody helped him,” she said.

“What we know from witness accounts is that the brother did swing at the officer and that he had no other weapon,” said Brooks on the radio program.

It is still unknown whether or not the man had mental health issues, as some community members who knew him have claimed.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, August 27, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

Community Proposes Alternatives to E. 12th Street Luxury Tower

Neighbors submit their suggestions for what should be constructed on the East 12th Street parcel at the Wish List event hosted by the Eastlake United for Justice neighborhood coalition on Sunday. Photo by Luke Newton.

Neighbors submit their suggestions for what should be constructed on the East 12th Street parcel at the Wish List event hosted by the Eastlake United for Justice neighborhood coalition. Photo by Luke Newton.

By Tulio Ospina

Nearly 200 community members attended the East 12th Street Wish List planning event in front of the Kaiser Convention Center on Sunday to collectively brainstorm proposal ideas for how the East 12th Street parcel could be utilized.

The event, held Sunday, Aug. 23, was hosted by Eastlake United for Justice, a group of neighbors from the East 12th Street community who led the fight against the construction of a luxury apartment tower by Lake Merritt that the Oakland City Council was poised to approve in July.

According to the group’s Facebook page, the purpose of the event was to “discuss with the community how the prime piece of public land can best be used for public good.” The gathering featured live performances, served food and had activities for all ages.

D. Alwan, a member of Eastlake’s Affordable Housing and Anti-Gentrification Committee, programmed the Imagine & Design tent, where community members were invited to provide feedback on the city’s management of certain issues and give suggestions for how the city could improve its services to residents.

“We asked people about eight questions for feedback around what they loved about Oakland and concerns they have, the kinds of businesses and services that folks want and the kind of community spaces people need,” said Alwan.

The neighborhood organization collected nearly 400 responses, with plans to share them publicly.

“These few hundred responses are the first time that the community’s feedback has been asked for in a proactive way,” she said. “The first time that community members were invited to come and talk and share and imagine.”

According to Alwan, issues of housing affordability and health were the most prevalent concerns among neighbors.

In terms of criticisms, community members overwhelmingly cited the city “prioritizing developers over its constituents” and its low-income housing communities.

Meanwhile, Alwan counted nearly 70 proposal ideas from community members for what could be constructed on the East 12th Street parcel.

In general, most proposal ideas were presenting affordable housing, safe passage for pedestrians from the lake to the site, a place for green space for community gardens and public housing for elderly folks, young children and immigrant families, said Alwan.

The next goals for Eastlake United for Justice are to transcribe the proposals and make visual representations that will be available to developers and, eventually, the city to review.

“The ideal situation is that a proposal will come out of this,” said Alwan. “We’re up against the city’s lack of will for a participatory process. No city representative attended the planning process and there have been no inquiries about what the feedback was,” she said.

At Sunday’s event, two members of the Oakland Unified School District announced their plan to submit a proposal to build affordable teacher housing on the East 12th Street site and to build new facilities for Dewey High School.

“Whoever gets the chance to move forward with their proposal, I very strongly encourage them to work with the community to fulfill the public’s desires,” said Alwan.

“This is public land being paid for by tax-payer dollars and the community should be in a leadership position to determine its outcome.”

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, August 27, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

Hack the Hood Grads Have Much to Offer Tech World

 

hack the hood

By Ashley Chambers

High school senior Jayshaun Thomas can show just about anyone how to create a website.

“It’s easy to teach,” he said at the Hack the Hood summer boot camp graduation on Aug. 12 at Impact Hub in Oakland.

Thomas was one of 46 graduates who completed the six-week boot camp, where young people learned coding and web design and gained skills to enter the tech industry.

Since 2013, Hack the Hood has trained low-income young people of color how to design websites for small businesses in their community. Last Wednesday, the largest group of students graduated from the program.

The training not only helped students learn impressive skills but also helped boost their self-confidence.

“I’m learning to better communicate with people,” said student Raeshonna Smith.

“The thing that stuck with me was the people here; I could just act myself,” said Thomas, who aspires to be a clothing and web designer. “I like doing websites, and going through and actually coming up with my own type of creations. I want people to see what I can create.”

Jayla Johnson created a website for local nonprofit, Scientific Adventures for Girls using Weebly, which features a slideshow of young girls experimenting in the company’s STEM programs on the site’s home page.

Johnson says she was excited to see the results of her hard work. “Hack the Hood showed me how big technology is to everyday life,” Johnson said.

And the world is ready for what these young technology innovators will create next.

Stewart Butterfield, CEO and founder of Slack – a messaging app – and Erica Baker, release engineer with Slack, provided valuable advice to the new graduates.

“There are issues unique to your community that haven’t been addressed yet…so make or do stuff that you want, and people will come to you,” said Butterfield.

Engineer DeVaris Brown encouraged students to “be an example of excellence.”

“Be proud of your diversity,” said Brown, who has spoken around the world about technology being accessible to everyone. “Be an example for your peers in your community.”

One student, Norma, who is an immigrant, courageously shared her story of overcoming her personal obstacles.

She said her Hack the Hood instructor, Damon Packwood, helped her look beyond the barriers against her and explore the opportunities. “Who knows, I could be an expert at coding,” she said.

Hack the Hood co-founders Susan Mernit and Zakiya Harris look forward to expanding the program this fall with a pilot project at MetWest High School.

For more information, visit www.hackthehood.org.

Photo caption: Hack the Hood graduated its largest group of 46 students from the 2015 Summer Boot Camp on Wednesday, Aug. 12 at Impact Hub in Oakland. 2015 graduates were: Ben Ampon, Adrian Anderson, Quentin Booker, Reetah Boyce, Kevin Butler, LeAnn Chingcuangco, Ashton Ealy, Charles Killian, Alpha-Oumar Cisse, Myles McConico, Qadir Muhammad, Ambrocio Pablo, Ishmael Rico, Joshua Solorzano, Raeshonna Smith, Elias Ramirez, Daniel Alvarado, Ishmael Bayley, Chadwick Butler, Nathan Craner, Renee Creer, Basheer Dalil, Ty Delaney, Abel Gaim, Daniel Gaim, Rose Hamilton, Rachel Harper, Sennua Hunter, Kevin Mills, Eric Nobles, Milan Perkins, Cary Proctor, Norma Soto, Jayshaun Thomas, Marcello Thompson, Ulysses Waddy-Smith, Vanson Le, Eddrena Hall, Jayla Johnson, Vu Le, Taylor Noel, Dulce Palacios, Abel Regalado, and Xaria Thompson. Photo by Ashley Chambers.

Is America Hearing the Message Resonating from Behind Prison Walls?

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

By Troy William

Commentary

Troy Williams

Troy Williams

After reading articles written by Richard Johnson (in the Post newspaper), watching the impact of violence on communities across America, the release of hundreds of formerly incarcerated men, and having several online conversations using social media sites like Facebook – I can’t help but wonder if America is hearing the message resonating from within the walls of prison. If you listen close enough, you will hear the affirmation of thousands of modern day slaves bellowing from throughout the new plantation.

With a voice of transformation they are chanting, “Forgive us? We have awoken and are returning to reclaim the dignity we once allowed to be taken. It’s time for change.”

Using examples from his life, Mr. Johnson has advised youth to avoid prison, community to return to family roots, the world to learn from media hypocrisy and Donald Trump and to study the history of Mexicans in what is now called America.

As reported by The Post News Group, “The prison letters from Richard Johnson’s Soledad Prison cell are being reprinted, posted on Facebook and even cited in some sermons throughout the Bay Area.”

It is very important that we as a community capitalize on this positive influence coming out of prison from men like Richard Johnson. Let’s us use his voice, pay attention to his influence and even his alleged ties to the Black Guerilla Family (BGF), to achieve positive change in our community.

On one hand many youth are not listening to their parents, and they do not trust the police for advice. But the moment I, or any other formerly incarcerated man, walk into juvenile hall or speak to youth on the street, there is an instant connection.

The credibility of someone who has been-there-and-done-that spreads far and wide. We are living signpost that read, “Wrong way! Do not enter. Return to you roots!”

On the other hand many Americans are shouting for the end of mass incarceration. Yet, I believe some are still missing an important ingredient in that solution.

We march in the streets and turn to books written by authors who have never spent a day inside the prison system, yet we consider them experts on the issue. We value them for the books they have read, research they have conducted, and data they have compiled – perhaps rightfully so.

Yet many of us still overlook the direct experience of those who have spent decades living inside the prison industrial complex.

How would you feel listening to someone who has read a lot of books about America, never actually lived here, but believes their research supersedes your direct experience of America?

And instead of attempting to learn from your perspective, they insist they know better because they read about it in a book.

This has been the gist of a few of my social media conversations. This is why I am urging readers to value the experiences of others, ask questions, and attempt to understand the prison system from an inside perspective.

If we truly want to end mass incarceration, we have to eliminate the mindset that believes mass incarceration is a solution for crime as well as the mindset that believes crime is a solution.

In order for this to happen, all stakeholders must be seated at the table.

Courtesy of the Post News Group, August 23, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

 

California Bans Grand Juries in Police-Involved Deaths

The ban is not a significant change to the pre-existing process, say civil rights experts

Protesters blocked streets after the announcement of a grand jury decision not to indict officer Darren Wilson in the shooting deth of Micahel Brown in Ferguson, Mo. Poto courtesy of AP/Jeff Reberson.

Protesters blocked streets after the announcement of a grand jury decision not to indict officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Micahel Brown in Ferguson, Mo. Photo courtesy of AP/Jeff Reberson.

By Tulio Ospina

Public reaction was enormously positive last week when California became the first state to ban the use of grand juries in police-involved killings, but civil rights experts say the change is not significant.

Signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, the law – Senate Bill 227 – strips prosecutors of the option of allowing secret grand jury proceedings to decide whether or not to press criminal charges against local, state and federal law enforcement officers who commit violence against civilians.

John Burn, Oakland civil rights attorney

John Burn, Oakland civil rights attorney

The use of grand juries in these cases has come under severe public scrutiny last year after local police officers in Ferguson and Staten Island were not indicted for causing the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, sparking protests across the country.

Under the new law, prosecutors will solely be responsible for weighing evidence against law enforcement and deciding whether to file criminal charges, that is, whether to take the complaint to a preliminary hearing.

Unlike grand juries, preliminary hearings are presided over by a judge and the prosecutor presents live witnesses and evidence that are subject to cross-examination by the defense.

It is then up to the judge to answer whether there is enough probable cause that a crime was committed by the defendant.

All preliminary hearings are open to the public, whereas grand jury proceedings are held behind closed doors and rarely are the proceedings made public if the jury votes not to indict.

Walter Riley (right) attended rally where Jeralynn Blueford (speaking) addressed supporters demanding justice for Alan Blueford. Photo courtesy of Workers World.

Walter Riley (right front) attended rally where Jeralynn Blueford addressed supporters demanding justice in the police killing of her son Alan Blueford. Photo courtesy of Workers World.

The California District Attorneys Association and the California Police Chiefs Association opposed the ban, while many civil rights workers say the banning of grand juries in these cases is a small step in the right direction but not enough to ensure that just decisions be made.

John Burris, civil rights attorney in Oakland, says the ban is not a significant change to the pre-existing process and will not secure more appropriate criminal prosecutions of police officers when deserving.

“The real issue is and has always been from the DA’s office because they make the decision on whether or not to indict,” said Burris.

Natasha Minsker, director of the ACLU of California Center for Advocacy & Policy

Natasha Minsker, director of the ACLU of California Center for Advocacy & Policy

“Now they don’t have the option of grand juries, which had transparency issues, but the local DAs in California rarely if ever used grand juries to begin with.”

According to Alameda County Assistant District Attorney Teresa Drenick, her office “does not use grand juries in these matters.”

In the widely publicized case of the killing of Oscar Grant, BART officer Johannes Mehserle was indicted through a preliminary hearing and found guilty of second-degree murder.

Assistant DA Drenick also has stated that there are times when grand juries are vital, such as in cases where witnesses and victims need to testify safely behind anonymity without threat or intimidation.

Contra Costa County District Attorney Mark Peterson said the ban on grand juries was a mistake and would not yield more transparency, contrary to the law’s intention.

“The district attorney always had the power to make criminal charges, and then a judge decides whether to indict,” said Peterson. “But a grand jury allows a community of 19 or so people to hear the charges, weigh the evidence and make the decision.”

“I admit they don’t return non-indictment transcripts to the public, but if that’s the concern, then just make those grand jury transcripts public,” said Peterson.

According to Walter Riley, a criminal defense and police misconduct attorney in Oakland, it is an important step for more transparency in the process, even if it does not mean that there will be more appropriate prosecutions.

Like other civil rights attorneys, Riley criticizes the “strong connection between the DA and the police, who work very close together.”

“As a result of working together, they don’t do a very good job of prosecuting police officers,” he said.

Three years ago, Riley spoke out against the Alameda County prosecutors’ decision not to press criminal charges against Oakland Police officer Miguel Masso in the shooting death of Alan Blueford.

The prosecutors decided that Masso had acted in self-defense and would not face criminal charges, a decision Riley questioned after examining the police report.

To solve the alleged biases between district attorneys and law enforcement, Burris says assigning independent prosecutors appointed by the attorney general to investigate police shooting cases is the essential next step.

Natasha Minsker, director of the ACLU of California Center for Advocacy & Policy, said “proposed legislation for independent prosecutors was killed by law enforcement lobbyists earlier this year.”

AB 953, a bill addressing the problem of racial profiling, is set for a vote in Senate, said Minsker. “Over 100 community groups and organizations, including #BlackLivesMatter, are supporting it but it’s facing very strong opposition from law enforcement.”

“We really need to push legislature to back necessary bills (like this one),” said Minsker. “Otherwise we won’t end police discrimination.”

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, Aug. 22, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

Oakland Police Release Video footage in Two Police Involved Deaths

Jessica Gatewood, mother of Richard Wilks

Jessica Gatewood, mother of Richard Wilks

 

In an unprecedented move, the Oakland Police Department this week released body camera evidence to some representatives of the media but not to the general public in two police involved deaths, hoping to clear up what they consider “misinformation” that is circulating in the community about how the two young men died.

One of the two videos, viewed by the Oakland Post and some other media representatives at OPD headquarters on Wednesday morning, shows the killing of 28-year-old Nathaniel Wilks last week, who was driving a car that was wanted in connection with an armed robbery in July.

Oakland Police Chief Sean Whent (left) and Lt. Ronald Holmgren speak Wednesday at press conference. Photos by Ken Epstein

Oakland Police Chief Sean Whent (left) and Lt. Ronald Holmgren speak Wednesday at press conference. Photos by Ken Epstein

Wilks was shot by three officers after he ran away from police and then turned and ran toward them, with a what may have been a gun in his hand, which was pointing forward but not aimed at police.

The other video, which was edited, showed the police searching for Richard Linyard in East Oakland last month, who they say was eventually found wedged between two buildings and unresponsive.

The video showed the search for Linyard and cut to him wedged between the buildings. He appeared unresponsive, but the video did not show how he was removed.

Results of an autopsy are not available, and there is no official cause of death. Police say there were no external signs of a beating.

On Tuesday, OPD offered to allow families of the two young men to come to police headquarters to view the videos. Nathaniel Wilks´ family did the watch video of his shooting, but Richard Linyard’s family refused, according to police.

Wilk’s mother Marcia Yearwood, her son’s three-month-old daughter in a carrier by her side, spoke to the press Wednesday afternoon.

Marcia Yearwood, mother of Nathaniel Wilks

Though she had seen the police video, she was not convinced that the shooting was necessary.

“I still have a lot of questions,” she said, explaining that she was still in a state of shock. “He was a very intelligent young man. He was a family man. I want justice for him.”

OPD Lt. Roland Holmgren was the one who showed reporters the video. He narrated the department’s viewpoint and answered questions as the clips were played.

When Wilks ran toward officers, he had an object in his hand that was pointed in officers’ direction but not aimed at them. However, he could have fired at police from that position, Holmgren said.

“It’s a very dangerous scene,” he said.

Cat Brooks, who stood by his mother at the press briefing, said police could have found an alternative to killing Wilks.

“I don’t care what the brother did. He didn’t deserve to die,” said Brooks, who added that in Oakland and across the nation too many Black men and women are shot down in the streets by police and never live to be tried in a court.

Cat Brooks, founder of the Anti Police-Terror Project

Cat Brooks, founder of the Anti Police-Terror Project

In the case of Richard Linyard, age 23, who died on July 19 near 64th Avenue and International Boulevard, the video footage does not prove what they police say it proves, according to his mother Jessica Gatewood, who spoke at a press conference Thursday at City Hall

She says she believes police were involved in his death. From what she has heard, she said, “the film stops – the video stops” and does not show how her son died.

“I want justice. Richard did not have to die,” she said, adding that police called her to say they wanted to provide her with information about what had happened to her son but instead “harassed” her for evidence, wanting the password to her son’s cell phone, which is still in their possession, along with his car.

The release by OPD of body camera videos has released concerns new approach – showing the video to some media and to families of the deceased.

Chief Sean When said in a press conference Wednesday after the release of the videos that the department was attempting to strike a balance between the public’s right to know what happened and “at the same time preserving the integrity of our (ongoing) investigation.”

“We are in uncharted waters,” said Whent, who added that the process would evolve.

Some media outlets were upset that they had not been invited to the viewing, and attorney Jim Chanin, who is involved in the federal oversight of OPD, believes the police department may be violating the First Amendment by selectively making the tapes available to the public.

The whole thing isillegal, and even if weren’t, it is certainly morally repugnant,” he said. “I don’t think the state should have that power, that the First Amendment should apply to some and not to others.”

“Records are either completely confidential or completely public,” he said, and police should not have the right to decide which media receive information.

Police accountability activist Rashidah Grinage said the Oakland City Attorney should be involved in crafting a policy that sets parameters for the release of body camera videos.

A city policy should take into account of privacy issues and the need to protect ongoing investigations, she said. “But we can’t be improvising. There should be a clear policy, and it should be writing.”

“If we don’t it that way, it creates suspicions,” Grinage continued. “And the whole point was to remove suspicions.”

Cat Brooks of the Anti Police-Terror Project, said she felt the release of the videos to family members and the media was a step in the right direction.

“I think they’re responding to community pressure,” she said, adding that the city and police department should adopt a policy of releasing video footage of shootings with 48-hours to families and the media.

In many cases, she said, family members do not want the deaths of their loved ones going viral, replayed endlessly on television and social media.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, August 22, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)