Archive for October, 2018

Opinion: Schaaf’s Leadership of OPD Compels Support of Cat Brooks for Mayor

Cat Brooks (right) speaks at mayoral debate.

By Dan Siegel

Dan Siegel

Mayor Libby Schaaf owns the multiple failings of the Oakland Police Department and must be held accountable for them. Her lack of leadership on the reforms needed in the OPD is one of the primary reasons I support Cat Brooks for Oakland Mayor.

OPD is the City’s largest, most expensive, and arguably most important department. It spends almost half of the City’s General Fund, twice as much as the Fire Department.

The Oakland Police Department has been under the supervision of the federal court since January 22, 2003 because of the City’s failure to remedy systemic police misconduct, including abusing members of the public and racial profiling during traffic stops.

Mayor Schaaf promised during the 2014 campaign that she would meet the court’s demands and end federal oversight but has failed to so. In his September 2018 report, the Court Monitor concluded that OPD’s claims of decreased use of force were flawed because of the Department’s failure to accurately document incidents where officers used force.

On September 25, 2015, Officer Brendan O’Brien committed suicide, leading to the investigation of the sexual exploitation by Oakland and other law enforcement officers of a minor known as Celeste Guap (Jasmine Abuslin). OPD officials downplayed the sexual abuse claims and failed to investigate them properly.

Mayor Schaaf claims that she was not advised about the abuse investigation until March 22, 2016, but her statement can be questioned in light of the routine practice of OPD Internal Affairs officials to advise the City Administrator – and through her the mayor – of much less serious claims of police misconduct.

Months later the mayor finally professed outrage at the officers’ actions. Worse still, Schaaf’s chosen Chief, Anne Kirpatrick, has promoted some of the key administrators found to have covered up the sex abuse scandal.

Schaaf’s pattern of hiding OPD problems continues. Last weekend, after the San Francisco Chronicle exposed OPD’s practice of asking police officer applicants if they had been victims of sexual abuse, Schaaf again expressed surprised outrage and ordered that the practice end.

But complaints about the improper questioning of applicants were raised at City Council meetings months ago. Schaaf is either asleep at the wheel or indifferent to OPD problems until they become public

OPD’s one area of improvement has been the reduction of civilian killings since 2015. Citizen outrage, organized and led by Cat Brooks’ Anti Police Terror Project, deserves more credit for stopping trigger happy officers than any changes made by Mayor Schaaf.

Published October 31, 2018

Attacks on Desley Brooks Are “Shameful and Dishonest,” Say Community Leaders

 “Desley has the courage to speak naked truth to the powerful  people with money who run everything,” says Rev. J. Alfred Smith Sr.

Ken Epstein

Until now, District 6, a largely flatland community in East Oakland, has been generally ignored by downtown gentrifying politicians and their allied developer/financier partners.

Rev. Dr. J. Alfred Smith Sr.

But that is changing as tens of thousands of dollars flow into the district to fuel a campaign of personal attacks and smears designed to unseat veteran Councilmember Desley Brooks, funded by Mayor Libby Schaaf, outside real estate developers and their allied building trades construction unions, according to required Political Action Committee filings.

Many of those who know Brooks and her track record are standing with the council member.

“I support Desley – I haven’t changed,” said Rev. J. Alfred Smith Sr. pastor emeritus of Allen Temple Baptist Church in East Oakland.

Rev. Dr. Harold Mayberry

“No matter what the enemy says, I stand with her because she loves Black people,” said Pastor Smith. “She has never done anything to harm the Black community. She has the courage to speak naked truth to the powerful people with money who run everything.”

“I don’t see the same group crying out to help the jobless and the homeless or to help the neighborhoods in the same way they spend money on downtown (development).

“So, I shall not be moved.”

Brooks’ opponents put out flyers filled with vague and unfounded charges of corruption and dishonesty. But they do not talk about Brooks’ track record.

She has been outspoken in her opposition to police misconduct and racial profiling. She took on powerful interests in her fight for jobs and training opportunities for Black and Latino residents who want to enter good careers in the construction trades.

She opposed powerful businessmen when she worked to pass the city’s cannabis equity ordinance, winning national recognition for her efforts to create opportunities for individuals and communities that bore the

Dan Siegel

brunt of the War on Drugs.

She fought for the resources that have been denied to East Oakland and to create the city’s Department of Race and Equity, part of her effort to end the City of Oakland’s long-term discrimination in contracting against small Black, Latino- and Women-owned businesses.

Rev. Dr. Harold Mayberry, senior pastor of First AME Church Oakland, said, “I live in District 6, and I’ve seen the work that (Brooks) has done. It’s unfortunate that people who don’t even live in the district and in a number of cases don’t even live in Oakland would be attacking a very effective member of the City Council.

“(Brooks’) opponents have not been tested or proven themselves to be productive” Mayberry continued. “I’ve been living here for 23, but I’ve seen nothing like this – it’s a divisive, evil, mean spirited campaign. It’s way over the line.”

Said local civil rights attorney Walter Riley. “It is a smear campaign, full of unjustified attacks on Desley because she has stood up for people in her district. More specifically, she has stood up for Black people in this climate of big money and powerful political interests that are taking control,”

Walter Riley

“They’re coming after her, and we need to defend her,” Riley said, emphasizing that people should not be distracted by Brooks’ past conflicts with people who have disagreed with her.

Dan Siegel, Oakland civil rights attorney and a District 6 resident, said “They are making charges without a shred of evidence, making assumptions, full of a lot of implicit bias.” “An old cliché says that you can tell a lot about a person by their enemies,” he said.

“Desley’s opponents are led by Libby Schaaf, Jean Quan, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Building and Construction Trades unions, which are angry because Desley has demanded that more high paying construction jobs on local development projects go to Black and Brown Oakland residents.

“People need to withhold judgment on the Elaine Brown case, which was lost because of the horrible job done by the City Attorney’s office,” he said. “I am representing Desley in her claim against the City Attorney, and I am confident the facts show that Elaine Brown was to blame in their confrontation.”

“I hope voters in District 6 will focus on the issues rather than the personalities,” said Siegel.

The anti-Brooks Political Action Committees (PACs) are largely funded by three groups: “supporters of Libby Schaaf’s city hall; large unions with mostly suburban, not Oakland memberships; and venture capitalists, developers and real estate investors,” according to an online article “The United Front Against Desley Brooks Part II.”

Published October 28, 2018, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Opinion: “Oakland’s Democracy Is Strengthened by the Re-Election of Councilmember Desley Brooks,” Says Sandré Swanson

Desley Brooks and Sandré Swanson

I was born in the City of Oakland and have devoted my life to public service. I proudly represented the city of Oakland as our California State Assemblymember, Deputy Mayor of Oakland, the Chief of staff for Congresswoman Barbara Lee and a senior advisor to former Congressman Ron Dellums.

The Citizens of Oakland elect their Councilmembers by districts to ensure that their vote determines who will speak for and represent our community. I endorse and support Councilmember Desley Brooks because she has been a clear and effective voice for her district and the underrepresented in our city.

In my career, I have had the honor of meeting many dedicated public servants, and I have seen the challenge and negative effect of big money campaigns to oppose those dedicated public servants.

The people of Oakland’s District 6 should send a clear and strong message that Oakland’s democracy is strengthened by the re-election of Councilmember Desley Brooks, an independent and uncompromising voice for her district.

For the past 16 years, Councilmember Desley Brooks has had a successful record for Oakland. Desley Brooks’ mission to bring representation for historically underrepresented groups and Oakland’s diverse communities into City Hall is her record of service:

  • As rents have skyrocketed, she has passed renter’s protection ordinances and advocated for affordable housing for all.
  • As police accountability and violence has challenged safety in our community, she pushed for an independent police review commission.
  • She stood up for immigrant rights and strengthened Oakland’s Sanctuary City ordinance and opposed illegal ICE raids.
  • To fight joblessness and homelessness, she has set up job training programs that build bridges into the middle class for Oakland’s residents.
  • To make sure Oakland is a fair, equitable place for all, she led the fight to establish the Department of Race and Equity, ensuring that City policies don’t discriminate against minorities and women.

Desley Brooks has worked tirelessly for the communities she represents, and that’s why she has earned the support of her constituents, City workers, firefighters, religious leaders, and others.

It’s why she has earned my support, and it’s why she deserves yours.

Published October 27, 2018, courtesy of the Oakland Post

 

UN Report Says Oakland Guilty of “Cruel and Inhumane Treatment” of Homeless

City bulldozer at Oakland homeless encampment

 

The United Nations Special Rapporteur to the Right to Adequate Housing, Lelani Farha, released her new report on Oct. 19 documenting the “global scandal” of homeless encampments.

In January of 2017, Farha spent time in the San Francisco Bay Area and Southern California to meet with unhoused residents and housed advocates and described the conditions as “cruel and inhumane”.

The only U.S. cities explicitly called out for violations in the UN’s report on global homelessness are San Francisco and Oakland.

She states that while the existence of “informal settlements” are human rights violations due to local government’s lack of will to provide permanent housing to all residents, these encampments are also people’s assertion to their denied human right of housing.

She declares curbside communities are acts of resilience, resourcefulness and ingenuity in the face of dire circumstances.
Rather than criminalize or ignore these settlements, until permanent housing can be offered to all, it is the duty of local governments not to evict curbside communities but to upgrade them and residents of these encampments should participate in all areas of the upgrading, including sanitation, clean water, food services and support services.

Homeless leaders and advocates in San Francisco, Berkeley and Oakland hosted Ms. Farha, including Coalition on Homelessness, Western Regional Advocacy Project (WRAP), East Oakland Collective, Village/Feed the People and First They Came for the Homeless.

Ms. Farha was able to hear and speak directly with people living in encampments and on our streets about the oppression, hatred and police violence they experience every day.
In Ms. Farha’s report she frames the encampments and street dwelling in the United States under the same vein as the informal settlements around the world. Finding that “the scope and severity of the living conditions in informal settlements make this one of the most pervasive violations of human rights globally,” states the report.

The Oakland conditions of discrimination and harassment of encampment residents and punitive denials of access to basic services constitute “cruel and inhuman treatment and is a violation of multiple human rights… Such punitive policies must be prohibited in law and immediately ceased.”

The Rapporteur summed up her visit in California:

“I visited California and saw firsthand the human right violations being experienced by people who are homeless. They are the victims of failed policies—not the perpetrators of crime.”

“That truth is that by any measure — moral, political or legal — it is unacceptable for people to be forced to live this way. Refusing to accept the unacceptable is where we must begin.”

The report is available at https://wraphome.org/research-landing-page/legalresearch/

Published October 27, 2018, courtesy of the Oakland Post

 

Pastors, Black Panther Co-Founder, Residents React to Outside Money Pouring into D-6 Council Race

Community leaders defend Councilmember Desley Brooks’ fearless leadership

Former Black Panther Party leader Bobby Seale speaks at a rally Thursday in front of City Hall, condemning Mayor Libby Schaaf’s fundraising efforts to pump outside money into District 6 to defeat Desley Brooks. Among others who spoke in in favor of Desley’s Brooks outspoken leadership on the City Council in defense of the community were Post Publisher Paul Cobb, Henry Gage of the Police Accountability Coalition, civil rights attorney and District 6 resident Dan Siegel, Rev. L.J. Jennings of Kingdom Builders Christian Fellowship and leaders of the public workers union, SEIU Local 1021. Photo by Ken Epstein

A community coalition comprised of Pastors, former Black Panther Co-Founder, Bobby Seale, Civil Rights attorneys and residents held a press conference this week calling out “money in politics” in the race for Oakland’s District 6 Council seat.

The group is responding to Mayor Libby Schaaf, her big money donors and Building Trade Unions tied to powerful, luxury real estate developers, who are now pouring outside money into the race to unseat District 6 Councilmember Desley Brooks.

Brooks has been a staunch critic of Schaaf and the lack of African American workers employed at construction sites throughout the city.

The community coalition is calling upon Mayor Schaaf and her supporters to immediately cease the outside money they are pumping into the local race and maintain what they deem a “fair and clean” election, free of distortions and attacks.

Mayor Schaaf has a history of mobilizing her base of wealthy donors to target councilmembers who have opposed her policies, including Councilmembers Noel Gallo and Rebecca Kaplan in 2016.

Over one-third of the Independent expenditure aimed at unseating Schaaf’s most vocal critic, Desley Brooks, has come from wealthy donors who have contributed tens of thousands of dollars over the years to the Mayor’s campaign efforts.

Speakers at the press conference, including Black Panther Party Co-Founder Bobby Seale, highlighted what they see as coordinated retaliation against Brooks for the many, community-based positions she has taken in City Hall.

Earning powerful enemies, Brooks has advocated for more inclusivity of the hiring of African-Americans in the powerful, Building and Construction Trades Unions and fought to to establish a Department of Race and Equity, which was initially opposed by the Mayor.

Published October 21 2018, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Are Schaaf Administration and City Attorney Undermining Independent Police Commission?

Mayor Schaaf, City Administrator Landreth and City Attorney Parker failed to respond to Oakland Post’s Questions

City Attorney Barbara Parker, Chief of Police Anne Kirkpatrick, Mayor Libby Schaaf and City Administrator Sabrina Landreth. Photo courtesy of Oakland Magazine.

By Ken Epstein

Back in July when the Oakland City Council passed the enabling ordinance for the Oakland Police Commission—over the strenuous objections of the City Administrator and the City Attorney—it appeared for a moment that the issue was finally settled: commission staff would be independent of the mayor and the mayor’s administration.

In other words, the City Council decided the commission’s staff would report to the commission, not the City Attorney or the City Administrator.

Rashidah Grinage

Based on the Measure LL charter amendment, the City Council passed the ordinance July 10 on a 6-1 vote (with only Annie Campbell Washington voting no). The City contests the council decision, saying its provisions conflict with the City Charter.

Councilmembers rejected the City Attorney’s and the City Administrator’s contention that the City Charter as whole requires commission staff to be controlled by them, not independent of the administration as intended by the charter amendment, which passed two years ago with 83 percent of the vote.

Now, however, the mayor’s administration and the City Attorney are prepared to ignore the City Council’s decision, based on their interpretation of the City Charter, according to members of the steering committee of the Coalition for Police Accountability who met last Thursday with Mayor Libby Schaaf.

“The mayor is siding with the position of the City Attorney and the City Administration, even though the enabling ordinance was passed,” said Rashidah Grinage of the Coalition for Police Accountability.

“Regardless of her opinion, they have to implement what was passed. Period. They are saying they don’t have to abide by it. But their only recourse is to go to court to get an injunction. Otherwise, they have to implement it,” she said.

Henry Gage, a coalition member who attended the meeting with Mayor Schaaf, said “The Mayor seems unwilling to go against the City Administrator and the City Attorney.”

“You’d think once the City Council votes it would be over,” said Gage. “However, what I’ve learned is that if the executive branch doesn’t want to do something, the only real remedy is go to the courts.”

Chair of the Police Commision Thomas Smith, speaking at a City Council meeting, emphasized the need for the commission’s staff to be independent . “Having someone who is not a member of the City

Henry Gage

Attorney’s Office is very important,” he said.

Pamela Drake of the coalition said that what the public is seeing is the latest maneuver in a series of actions the mayor and the administration have taken to weaken the police commission. “They are doing everything they can to undermine an independent police commission,” she said.

Seeking an explanation of the administration’s decision, the Oakland Post contacted the City Attorney, the City Administrator and Mayor Schaaf. By Post deadline, none of them had responded. According to Grinage, the issue of independence concretely comes down to the employment contracts and jobs descriptions of three employees and consultants.

One issue has to do with contracts for the two attorneys who work for the police commission and the Civilian Police Review Agency (CRPA).

“These contracts predate the enabling ordinance, and they have to be rewritten in order to be in conformity with the ordinance. (At present), their supervisor is the City Attorney’s Office, and that is unacceptable,” said Grinage.

The other issue has to be with the position of the inspector general, who has yet to be hired and would work for the police commission.
“They are on the verge of putting out the job announcement for the inspector general,” said Grinage. The question is whether that person will report to the commission or the City Administrator, she said.

“I expect sooner or later that we will wind up in court over this,” said Grinage.

By ignoring the City Council decision, the mayor and the City Attorney are bypassing the requirements of the City Charter, according to Councilmember Desley Brooks.

“The City Charter is clear: The City Council sets the policy of the city, and it is the responsibility of the mayor to implement it,” she said.

Attorney Dan Siegel, who served as Mayor Jean Quan’s legal advisor, said that he has carefully studied Oakland’s City Charter.

“The main takeaway is that the City Attorney does not have an independent role in city government. The City Attorney is lawyer for the mayor, council and departments and has to follow the direction of her employers.”

When various agencies of government disagree, he said, the dispute must often be settled in court.

Mayoral candidate Cat Brooks said, “Oaklanders voted for what they believed would be a community-controlled police commission. The City and the Mayor need to respect the voices of the people.”

“The mayor has tried to prevent the commission from having full autonomy from the beginning,” with her demand to have the authority to appoint three members of the commission, said Brooks.

Attorney Pamela Price, also a mayoral candidate, supports the need for the commission to be an independent body.

“The voters have shown their lack of confidence in the city administration’s willingness to hold the police department accountable,” said Price. “Their intent was clearly to create an independent structure, and that structure should be fully empowered to carry out its function.”

Published October 20, 2018, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Pamela Price Campaign Joins Forces with Jovanka Beckles

Price has been endorsed by Black Democratic Clubs and Dr. H. Geoffrey Watson

 

Jovanka Beckles (fifth from left) and Pamela Price (fourth from right) join with volunteers to talk to voters at East Bay BART stations.

Pamela Price

The Pamela Price for Oakland Mayor campaign has joined forces with the Jovanka Beckles for Assembly District 15 campaign to canvass at BART stations throughout the East Bay, from Richmond to Rockridge station.

Together, volunteers from both teams and the two candidates themselves have engaged with voters.  Jovanka Beckles recently earned the endorsement of Congresswoman Barbara Lee.

“I am excited by the progress of Jovanka’s campaign and the prospect of her victory,” said Price.

“I look forward to having a steady advocate for the people in Sacramento once Jovanka is elected to the State Assembly. I am thrilled that Congresswoman Barbara Lee has stepped up to endorse Jovanka.”

Jovanka Beckles

Meanwhile, Pamela Price has been endorsed by two Democratic Clubs founded by African American activists in the East Bay, the Oakland East Bay Democratic Club (OEBDC) and the Niagara Movement Democratic Club.

OEBDC was founded in the late 1940s to work for Black political self-determination through electoral politics by organizing grassroots coalitions of East Bay African Americans.
The Niagara Movement Democratic Club was established in 1973 to bolster the voice of Oakland’s Black community and ensure equal representation in politics.

Additionally, Price has been endorsed by Dr. H. Geoffrey Watson, longtime community activist and president and CEO of the James A. Watson Wellness Center.

Dr. Watson has spent decades working for healthcare services to meet the needs of the African American community in the East Bay. He has been a pioneer in educating the public about health, wellness, and preventive pathways through the media, having launched and hosted local radio and broadcast television shows, including Health Beat.

Published October 19, 2018, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Open Letter: Who Should Be Making the Decisions, the Residents or Outside Millionaires?

By Desley Brooks

A lot is at stake for District 6 voters in this election. We have serious issues around affordable housing, gentrification, displacement, illegal dumping, blight, and economic development. And, our district needs a representative that can be a voice and a champion on these issues.

I am an independent voice on the City Council to represent you—the community’s interest—not outside interests—and my focus is on delivering results to you and your neighbors on the issues that matter most. I am the only candidate in this race who has a proven track record of addressing all of these important issues.

Over the past couple weeks, my opponents and the Mayor’s millionaire, developer, and real estate supporters have begun spending a lot of dark money to get me out. They are funding negative attack ads against me to distract from the significant issues at stake.

Their goal is to control the City Council, and to do that, they need to remove the few remaining voices standing up for the people. They want to replace me with anybody that will listen to them, especially candidates lacking the experience to be able to be effective at fighting for important issues inside City Hall.

If their money wins the election, District 6’s representative will be accountable to them, not to you.

Right now is a critical cross roads moment for Oakland—and the main question to ask yourself is who should be making the decisions- the people of District 6 or outside millionaires?

For those of you who know me, who have called me directly, emailed me or met me at one of the many events I attend or volunteer at each month, you know I don’t have time for distractions and that I deliver for you directly because the stakes are too high.

I’ve shared where I stand on the issues — and more importantly — my track record of taking them on, on my website.  If you are still not sure, before you decide, please take a look at www.desley4d6.com to see what I have and will continue to accomplish as your Council representative.

From our work to remove abandoned vehicles or tons of illegal dumping off the street, to our work to stabilize housing, stop racial profiling or bring equity and access to the many new jobs passing over our community—I am not going to give up my dedication to working with you for our community.

The dark money in this election will likely outspend my campaign 4 to 1 to attack the work I am proud of, that I have not compromised on, and that you have asked of me.

If you are one of the thousands of constituent calls I have answered over the years, please take a moment to volunteer so we can stop their distraction and misinformation and continue to improve our District.  Can we count on you to join our campaign?

We are walking, phoning and contacting voters to talk about the things that matter.  Please join us.  To learn more about our issue-based campaign or to donate to the campaign go to www.Desley4D6.com.

Published October 19, 2018, courtesy of the Oakland Post

Open Letter: Elect Clarissa Doutherd for School Board, District 4

Doutherd’s opponent, Gary Yee, supported “top heavy administration” and closed the 25,000-student Oakland Adult Education program

Clarissa Doutherd (holding sign) with supporters at Allendale Recreation Center in Oakland.

 

Clarissa Doutherd, who is running for the District 4 School Board, has a son who attends an Oakland public school and is executive director of Parent Voices, a parent-led organization that advocates for public school children and quality early childhood programs.

As leader of Parent Voices, she has balanced and grown the organization’s budget year after year, leading a successful statewide campaign for childcare resources. Doutherd understands what working families need in their schools and encourages them to take charge of their children’s futures.

Clarissa Doutherd

She’s smart and caring – not only for Oakland’s children but for our whole school community.

Endorsed by all of Oakland’s state representatives – Nancy Skinner, Rob Bonta, and Tony Thurmond, Doutherd will be a much-needed breath of fresh air and innovative ideas on the School Board.

At a time when there is a very high rate of teacher turnover, she has pledged to hire and retain the best educators. At a time when budget cuts are constantly demanded, she has pledged to shift funds to the classrooms and away from OUSD’s administration.

Where does her funding come from?  It comes from Oakland families in small donations and from the Oakland Education Association, the teachers’ union.

Her opponent, Gary Yee, is OUSD old school.  He’s been there and done that, and we can see the results.  In 2002, he was elected to the school board to represent District 4.

That year, the district was taken over by the state due to a $37 million budget deficit. Yee continued as a school board member until 2013, when he was named interim superintendent. Throughout that time, Yee led in growing the top-heavy administration at the expense of the classrooms, especially those of students of color.

OUSD emerged from state takeover in 2009 with a huge debt – greater than the deficit that caused the takeover in the first place.  All districts were taking hits that year as a result of the economic recession.

But Yee led Oakland to make the disastrous decision to shut down its thriving Adult Education programs which were serving 25,000 people. Oakland’s most popular Adult Ed programs provided high school diplomas for former dropouts and English as a Second Language for its many immigrants.

Both of these programs served Oakland parents who wanted to better both their lives and the lives of their children.

While neighboring cities like Alameda and Berkeley absorbed some cuts in their Adult Ed programs, they managed to maintain many of their classes and still do to this day.

But in Oakland, neither of these programs have been restored-in a city where they are desperately needed-there are no second chances and thousands of Oaklanders are still unable to get the opportunities they need.

In the 20010-11 school year, OUSD faced a deficit of $18 million and Yee voted for more cuts, including cuts to teachers by imposing a union contract that drove many experienced educators out of our schools.

Later that year, the school board voted to close five elementary schools, including one (Lazear) that reopened as a charter school within weeks.  It remains unclear if any real money was ever saved by school closures, given the burden of expanding other schools and moving students and staff around.

School closures are always associated with loss of students to the district, especially when a charter steps in to scoop up the state attendance dollars.

Gary Yee cannot be counted on to change the culture that preserves OUSD’s top heavy bureaucracy, and he cannot be counted on to understand the needs of today’s struggling families.

Where does his support come from? It comes from GO, a local lobbying group for charter schools, whose major donor is Michael Bloomberg, one of several billionaires who have targeted California, especially Oakland, for takeover by the charter school industry.

 

We cannot afford a return to business as usual. Elect Clarissa Doutherd to the school board for District 4.

Signed:

Pamela Drake, Wellstone, Local Politics Chair

Sharon Rose, BBBON Co-chair

Ellen Salazar, OUSD teacher, ret

Jan Malvin, Educators for Democratic Schools (EDS)

David Weintraub, Chair, Wellstone Education Committee

 

Published October 18, 2018, courtesy of the Oakland Post

 

Hold Sheriff Accountable for Human Rights Violations at Alameda County Jail, Says New Report

 “Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them.”  Hebrews 13:3

Santa Rita Jail, Alameda County

The Live Free Committee of Oakland Community Organization (OCO) released a  report titled “What’s Up With Our Jails?” on Oct. 2, detailing human rights violations  taking place in Alameda County jail.

This important report is available online at www.oaklandpost.org and was published in the Oakland Post.

The 2,600 people held in Alameda County jails daily are our brothers and sisters, fathers, mothers, and neighbors. The jails are ours, as taxpayers and voters, and should reflect our values.

Racial and economic injustices are evident in who ends up in jail. While we work to correct these injustices, our research raises urgent questions about county jail operations:

  • Do our jails meet basic human rights standards?
  • Do we offer persons leaving jail the resources they need to successfully return to our communities?
  • What can we, as a community, do to make a difference?

Who Runs Our Jails?

The Alameda County Sheriff is the elected official with authority over county jail operations. The Alameda County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO), under the direction of Sheriff Gregory Ahern since 2006, also polices unincorporated areas of the county and functions as county coroner.

Sheriff Greg Ahern

The Alameda County Board of Supervisors, also an elected body, is responsible for authorizing the annual ACSO budget and monitoring jail conditions.

Who Is Locked Up?

Alameda County has two jails — the Santa Rita Jail (the larger facility, in Dublin) and the Glenn E. Dyer Detention Facility (a high-rise maximum security jail in Oakland).

In early 2018, the county jails held on average 2,362 men and 236 women daily. The average daily jail population is more than 50 percent African-American, 20 percent Latino, and less than 20 percent white.

Reasons for Incarceration: Only 446 (18 percent) of the 2,598 people held in our jails in early 2018 were actually serving sentences. According to ACSO data from December 2017, of those detained but not sentenced, one-third were bail-eligible.

They remained in custody because they were too poor to afford bail.

Length of Incarceration: Some people are serving sentences of years rather than months in our jails. State prison reforms in 2011 moved many people convicted of nonviolent crimes from state jurisdiction to the counties.

For lower-level offenders, local supervision is supposed to be better than state prison. Yet county jails were never intended for long confinement.

Even pretrial incarceration can take years. In 2013, for instance, Dajon Ford was arrested as a juvenile and spent four years in Santa Rita awaiting trial before community efforts finally won his freedom.

OCO Findings

OCO leaders have heard many complaints about the treatment of people detained in the county’s jails over the years. Based on our research, we find these to be the most serious current problems.

Pregnancy: At Santa Rita, pregnant women are in with the general population unless they ask to be moved to a medical unit, which means isolation 23 hours a day. Multiple sworn testimonies reveal that medical needs for pregnant women are often neglected.

“A very pregnant woman … was in so much pain she could not walk. … Instead of taking her to receive medical care, [deputies] placed her in an isolation cell … [she] began to scream. This went on for hours. … Finally, we could hear the crying of a baby … [she] had given birth, alone,” from a sworn declaration of a woman incarcerated at Santa Rita.

Medical Care: Many lawsuits have been brought against the jails’ for-profit medical care contractors. Sheriff’s deputies are not trained as certified emergency medical responders. In 2015, Mario Martinez died in Santa Rita when deputies ignored cries for help and failed to provide needed medical care.

Food Services: Complaints about poor jail food and kitchen cleanliness — including reports of animal feces and rats — are common. A recent Alameda County Public Health Department inspection found that 24 percent of persons in Santa Rita were not getting their required diets. Canteen food is available, but only to those who can pay for it.

Hygiene Services: Female inmates have testified in recent lawsuits that they cannot get the sanitary supplies they need. During the 2017 hunger strike at Glenn Dyer, inmates complained that they were getting only one set of clean clothes per week.

Isolation: Ten percent of Santa Rita inmates and 20 percent of Glenn Dyer inmates are held in “administrative isolation” — a kind of solitary confinement. Isolation was a major grievance of the Glenn Dyer strikers. Studies have shown solitary confinement can “severely impair prisoners’ capacity for normal human functioning.”

Contact with Family and Community: Family visitation is restricted to 30 minutes. No physical contact is permitted. Visiting hours are available during limited hours, three days a week. The cost of phone and video calls runs about $6 for 15 minutes.

“It kills me mentally to be in jail,” said a young man who was held in Santa Rita.

“A 30-minute visit maximum a week … is not enough. It breaks families. They use visits as punishment, taking visits away,” said two men formerly held in Santa Rita.

Lack of Translators: Although there are bilingual deputies and ACSO has a rulebook in Spanish, there are no dedicated translators on staff. Translation is often done informally among inmates. Language barriers can prevent individuals from participating in programs and services.

ICE and Undocumented Persons: Despite sanctuary policies passed by the Board of Supervisors that restrict contact between ICE and law enforcement, the Sheriff’s Office has posted inmates’ release dates on the internet. This allows ICE to take undocumented persons into custody (even though being held at Santa Rita Jail is not evidence of criminal guilt) and exposes others to harassment or retaliation as they leave the jail.

Release from Jail: People are often released from our jails at night and alone with no more than a BART ticket — without even a few days’ supply of essential medications. Since Medi-Cal benefits are automatically suspended in jail, many people return to the community with no medical coverage.

“They just release you. No referrals. They gave me a $5 BART ticket. I had to walk to the BART station in my [jail] blues,” according to two young men released from Santa Rita.

Re-entry and Rehab Programs: In 2014, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors adopted a re-entry strategic plan to help break the cycle of returning the same people to jail.

The plan, not yet implemented, acknowledges the need to provide inmates with a wide range of services such as housing, health care, mental health and substance abuse services; employment; and education.

Yet rehabilitative programs within Santa Rita Jail remain underfunded and understaffed, serving relatively few inmates effectively. Only the most motivated individuals tend to get the help they need. But society would be better off if everyone received needed services.

They classify people by tattoos, gang, where they’re from. … Couldn’t take college or trade classes in there because of security,” said one young man who had been in Santa Rita.

“There are waiting lists. Everybody is trying to get into a program,” said another young man who did time in the jail.

Our sources report that ACSO’s jail classification system (the way it segregates and houses people for security and other reasons) ends up denying program access to those who need resources the most. (ACSO, unlike state prisons, does not make its classification system public.)

ACSO also routinely excludes formerly incarcerated persons from serving as community program staff and peer mentors within the jail, eliminating another invaluable resource for inmates.

We must reduce the likelihood of people returning to jail. The community has a right to expect that people returning to our families and neighborhoods after staying in our jails will not be worse off than before they were detained.

Community Action Make a Difference

  1. Demand that our jails adopt best practices – changes Alameda County should initiate immediately:
  • Adopt the higher California state prison standards for conditions of confinement, which reflect the needs of inmates held for longer periods.
  • Adopt a supportive model for meeting the critical needs of pregnant women and new mothers.
  • Make the cost of phone calls and jail canteen food affordable for all inmates, as Santa Clara County has done.
  • Prohibit the posting of inmate release information on the internet where it can endanger the lives and safety of those departing custody.
  1. Insist on more effective community re-entry programs.
  • Return to the community is the expected outcome for every person held in our jails. This understanding should drive a comprehensive “needs-based” re-entry plan for each individual. As the re-entry strategic plan adopted by the county in 2014 stated, effective re-entry “begins with assisting the individual at the earliest possible point of contact with the criminal justice system [and continues] through community-based supervision and community integration.”
  • Require A Full Needs Assessment: Every inmate must receive a full assessment of their needs so that they are better prepared to re-enter the community. This means identifying their health, education, housing, and employment needs. Job training and placement are particularly essential to successful re-entry.
  • Release with a Warm Hand-Off: Our jails must ensure that all released individuals have safe transportation, emergency housing if needed and access to critical community services to meet their immediate needs (medical services, mental health care, substance abuse treatment and domestic violence prevention).

Four hours after her 1:30 a.m. release from Santa Rita on July 28, 2018, Jessica St. Louis, 26, was found dead near the passenger pick-up area of the Dublin/Pleasanton BART station, two miles from the jail, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, Aug. 8, 2018.

The county must ensure that Medi-Cal benefits are reinstated at the point of release. San Diego and Los Angeles counties work with the Department of Motor Vehicles so that everyone leaving jail has an ID or driver’s license. Alameda County should adopt this model.

  • Ensure Continuity with Community-Based Providers: On-site and re-entry programs are better run by community-based providers who can offer continuity of services once people are released, rather than by the Sheriff’s Office whose primary expertise is detention and law enforcement.

In its re-entry strategic plan, the Board of Supervisors concurred that a successful return to the community relies on “high-quality, peer-involved and comprehensive” programs and services.

  1. Hold our elected officials accountable and institute community oversight.

The Alameda County Board of Supervisors holds the purse strings of the Sheriff’s Office. Since 2005, the county jail population has declined by 45 percent while the sheriff’s budget for detention and corrections has increased by 92 percent. This large increase in ACSO’s resources raises questions for taxpayers:

How are these dollars being used?

How can money be reinvested in community-based re-entry programs and services?

  • Conduct a financial management and performance audit: The Justice Reinvestment Coalition (a community group that includes OCO) has proposed a Financial Management and Performance Audit to determine how ACSO has used increased resources while its jail population has decreased — and to what effect. The audit is an essential step toward systematic ACSO transparency. We demand that the Board of Supervisors adopt the audit as proposed.
  • Separate coroner duties from the sheriff: In Alameda County, the sheriff is also the county coroner by law. Deaths that occur inside the jails are medically examined by ACSO (including two deaths that occurred within one week in June 2018). Coroner duties must be separated from the Sheriff’s Office.
  • Establish independent oversight: No one can be expected to monitor their own behavior objectively. Los Angeles and Santa Clara counties have initiated independent oversight agencies of their sheriff’s departments. Alameda County should adopt a model of independent community oversight of jail conditions and re-entry programs.

Greater accountability and oversight of the Sheriff’s Office are in the interests of a wide range of stakeholders in Alameda County, including deputies working in the jails.

What’s Next?

The immediate goals of OCO’s Live Free Committee are to guarantee humane jail conditions and to return individuals to the community with the resources to improve their chances for success.

For information about OCO’s jail project as well as sources, methods, citations and notes, see www.oaklandcommunity.org/OurJails  or contact BK Woodson Sr. at servantbk@
oaklandcommunity.org