Category: Commentary

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

 

Opinion: We Have a Moral Imperative to Fight for Children Who Have Been Taken From Their Parents

By Cat Brooks

At the U.S.-Mexico Border, thousands of children have been stolen from parents fleeing horrific conditions in their home countries – conditions that have been greatly influenced by US policy and practice.

They risk life and limb and endure horrific conditions in the hope of capturing a sliver of the American “dream”. What greets them instead is an American nightmare.

Cat Brooks

Though mounting public outrage forced Donald Trump to sign an Executive Order to end family separations, thousands of young people remain warehoused in cages with up to 20 children in one cell, too young to comprehend what is happening, where their parents are, or what is coming next.

What’s more, ending family separations just means holding families in prisons together.  That is not an acceptable answer either. Incarceration is not Immigration reform.

Losing a parent as a child is devastating. I know. When I was eight years old, my father’s struggle with substance abuse landed him in prison.

I knew something significant in my life was shifting, but I wasn’t really clear about what it meant until my aunt said to my granny, “we need to figure out when we’re going visit Leonard … but not you Cat … he doesn’t want you to see him in there.” My body went numb, tears welled and devastation took over. I had no say. No power. He was just gone.

Of course, there were phone calls and letters, but my daddy’s arms could not be felt through the telephone. To this day, when I replay that moment with my aunt, tears come and my throat constricts. It’s difficult to breathe.

At least I had my mother’s comfort and the safety of sleeping in my own bed.

The children is US detention facilities, however, sleep on mats in cages filled with other youths who have been torn from their families. Some of these children, particularly those who speak languages indigenous to areas south of our border, are unable to communicate with those caged beside them.

And it is policy that the detained children cannot be consoled when they cry. Phone calls are being planned to connect children to parents, but officials don’t know  which facilities to call.

What is happening in this country is inhumane. Unacceptable. Disgusting.

As a descendant of slaves, deep within my DNA lies the emotional memory of our children being ripped from our breasts and sold on auction blocks. The trauma lives on and manifests itself in generation after generation of Black families.

This country is creating an entirely new generation of traumatized human beings who will be scarred for the rest of their lives.

We have a moral imperative to not sit idly by as this President enacts programs that resemble chattel slavery. We do not have the luxury to think that this does not impact our communities. We are obligated to scream loudly about human rights violations and to create a groundswell of resistance.

The word “Resist” trended across social media when Trump was elected. Now is the time to put words into action. Trump and political pundits say this is the law. Unjust laws are made to be broken, ignored, violated and rebuked.  This is the history of resistance in America.

What can you do? Donate to an organization doing the work. Head to the border and stand in solidarity. Talk to every neighbor on your block. Use social media platforms to amplify your voice. Get busy. Stand for the people. Do it right now. Lives are on the line. Justice is on the line. Humanity is on the line.

See you in the streets.

Cat Brooks is a candidate for mayor of Oakland.

Published June 30, 2018, courtesy of the Oakland Post

City of Oakland and Local Businesses Must Hire Oakland Now, Say Community Leaders

Speakers at the Post Salon on jobs for Oakland residents were ( L to R): Gay Plair Cobb, CEO of the Oakland Private Industry Couuncil; Alicia Contreras, executive director of the Spanish Speaking Citizens' Foundation; Margaret Gordon, co-founder of the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project (WOEIP); Rebecca Kaplan, Oakland City Councilmember: and Caroll Fife, OaklandWORKS. Photo by Ken Eptein

Speakers at the Post Salon on jobs for Oakland residents were ( L to R): Gay Plair Cobb, CEO of the Oakland Private Industry Couuncil; Alicia Contreras, executive director of the Spanish Speaking Citizens’ Foundation; Margaret Gordon, co-founder of the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project (WOEIP); Rebecca Kaplan, Oakland City Councilmember: and Caroll Fife, OaklandWORKS. Photo by Ken Eptein

By Ken Epstein

A seemingly declining jobless rate masks the actual reality in Oakland where 19 percent of the city’s residents live in poverty, and many Oaklanders are being forced out of the city due to a lack of decent paying jobs, combined with out-of-control rent increases.

The issue of joblessness and what city government and local businesses can do right now to hire Oakland was the subject of a recent Oakland Post Salon, where a panel of community leaders discussed how residents can push for solutions to the continuing unemployment crisis.

“We need to call on every employer in the city to hire people from Oakland – an Oakland opportunity challenge so every business can be proud to say, ‘We hire Oakland,’” said Carroll Fife, a member of the OaklandWorks coalition and one of the speakers at the Sept. 27 Post salon.

The opportunity challenge, backed by a growing coalition of organizations, will encourage Oakland’s businesses and restaurants to hire Black and Latino residents and follow up with meetings with owners, as well as public protests, if necessary.

OaklandWorks also wants the city to enforce its local hiring policies on city-funded construction projects. Such a policy was passed during the administration of Mayor Ron Dellums but never implemented by city staff.

“We have a 50 percent local hire ordinance – We want contractors to recognize those priorities,” said Fife.

Gay Plair Cobb, CEO of the Oakland Private Industry Council, moderated the panel and pointed out the realities of joblessness in Oakland.

“We’re talking about the lost, the last, the lonely and the left out – homeless people, the formerly incarcerated, displaced workers, younger and older workers who face age discrimination, those displaced by technology, those who face the barriers of physical limitations and immigrants,” said Cobb.

“All these groups represent the absolute urgency of what is happening and what is not happening,” she said.

Oakland’s official unemployment rate is 12.5 percent, higher than many other places, but the real unemployment rate is probably double that amount, because there are many people who stopped looking for work and are no longer counted, according to Cobb.

“Unemployment for African American youth and Latino youth is off the charts,” she said.

She said federal funding for job training and placement has been declining, but Oakland, unlike nearby cities, fails to invest any funds from its budget to support the programs that are carried out solely by nonprofit service providers.

Compounding the problem, Cobb said, the city spends one-third of its federal job funding for administrative overhead – to pay for city staff instead of putting the money onto the street to help the unemployed.

Another speaker, City Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan, said creating jobs for Oakland residents needs to be a city priority.

“Our job is to lift up those who are struggling,” she said.

Kaplan said she authored a resolution that requires a Disparity Study, which will show what companies are receiving City of Oakland contracts. Though the resolution was passed and funded a year ago, the study still has not been completed, she said.

“We still need the administration to actually complete the Disparity Study,” she said.

The last Disparity Study, completed over seven years ago, showed, “When (city) contracts go out, they overwhelmingly go out to a handful of white-owned, male businesses, (not) anyone outside the favored few,” said Kaplan.

Kaplan supports removing the oversight of federal job funds from the city, to hire an outside agency that will carry out the oversight more effectively and efficiently.

“Federal money for job training needs to be used for job training, not for administrative overhead,” she said.

Speaker Alicia Contreras, executive director of the Spanish Speaking Citizens’ Foundation, emphasized the common fight of Blacks and Latinos, immigrants, people with disabilities and LGBT workers.

“We have to break barriers,” she said. “When we get all these minorities together, we are not a minority any more. We are a majority. We are all connected. That is the key for Oakland to move forward.”

Margaret Gordon, co-founder of West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project (WOEIP), said West Oakland residents had been promised jobs on the Oakland Army Base development, but they have not materialized.

“We still have to have a mechanism to connect the jobs to those who are most in need of those jobs,” said Gordon.

For more information, go to Oakland-WORKS on Facebook.

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

What Local Parents and Teachers Can Learn from Finnish Schools

By Dr. Kitty Kelly Epstein

We’re kind of stuck in a rut in U.S. schools.   A lot of our kids are not very happy at school. And a lot of U.S. schools opened last week without enough teachers.

Dr. Kitty Kelly Epstein

Dr. Kitty Kelly Epstein

No school system is perfect, but the Finnish system lets us know that things can be different. I interviewed one of the leaders of their system, Pasi Sahlberg, and discovered the following:

Finnish scores on international comparison tests (PISA) are much higher than the U.S. on both mathematics and reading. For example, the U.S. scored 26th in math; Finland has been in the top 10 for the past decade.

All schooling is free in Finland. No one pays for education – even higher education.

Their main focus is on equity. All children get equitable services and care. And there is not a big gap between the academic performance of higher and lower income students.

They want children to be happy and excited about school and to be confident in themselves.  Everyone gets quality, play-based pre-school. They have music and art and sports. They focus on cooperation more than competition

They don’t use standardized testing on the kids all the time: the international comparisons (given once every few years) and one test at the end of high school are the only “standardized” tests they take.

This is interesting, and I just learned about it: They provide the kind of services that we call “special education” to about half the kids in the country, but no one is identified as “special ed.”

They believe that the labeling hurts students, and it shouldn’t be called “special” because most kids get something “special” according to their particular needs.

Teachers are much more highly trained and get responsibility, respect and support.

I have been told that the things they do wouldn’t work here, because we have more diversity. I don’t believe that. What we have is more racism.

I’m sure there is personal racism in Finland, but American structural racism is tightly built into the school system along with the racial wealth gap, because of historic and current U.S. policy.

Nothing’s “perfect.”  And I don’t think any system can be transplanted somewhere else. But happiness, equity, no profit-motive & less standardized testing would sure help our schools.

Has the Finnish system always been like this? No. People struggled for it, and after it had been in place for a few years the PISA test results came out, showing that their more equitable systems did better than school systems, like the U.S., that are oriented toward tests and inequity.

There are now graphs that show through international comparison that school systems with more equity also have more excellence in performance!!

This includes Cuba, some provinces in Canada and others. There is a new book coming out in the spring that shows these comparisons.

You can listen to an interview I did with a leading educator from Finland,Pasi Sahlbergm at  https://kpfa.org/program/education-today/

 Courtesy of the Post News Group, September 5, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

Commentary: Insurgents Trump and Sanders Send a Message

By Jesse Jackson

This has been insurgent summer in presidential politics. Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have soared. They are raising issues that politicians in both parties can no longer duck.

Insurgent candidates gain traction when their campaigns resonate with voters. When I ran in 1984 and 1988, my campaigns surprised pundits because I was speaking to what many Americans felt.

Jesse Jackson visits Street Academy

Jesse Jackson visits Street Academy in Oakland

Reagan’s conservative reaction was on the march; Democrats were tacking to the right. But many Americans were left out of the equation. Workers suffered as jobs were shipped overseas.

The working poor suffered as investments in housing, health care, education and more were slashed. Many were dismayed at Reagan’s reckless new Cold War, and his idiotic covert war on Nicaragua.

Both parties had embraced top-end tax cuts, deregulation and corporate trade policies. Both supported apartheid South Africa and called Mandela a terrorist. Neither could see that Israeli security depended upon Palestinian statehood.

Democrats decided that they had to compete to be hawkish on foreign policy, corporate on domestic policy and timid on social policy.

My campaigns exploded in the vacuum. And while we didn’t win, we changed the agenda. A boycott was imposed on South Africa over Reagan’s veto. Congress ended support for the contras of Nicaragua. Years later, U.S. policymakers belatedly embraced the two-state solution in the Middle East.

And Bill Clinton ran on Putting People First, calling for tax hikes on the rich, investment in education, national health care and labor rights in trade accords.

In this election, Sanders and Trump have raised fundamental issues that challenge a bipartisan consensus that does not work for most Americans.

The first of these is the corrupting effects of big money in our politics. Sanders, funding his campaign with small donations, warns of the perils of big money directly. Trump, using his fortune to declare his independence, scorns his opponents as “puppets” of their donors.

Politicians in both parties better wake up: Clean up our politics or lose the respect of your voters.

The second issue is our corporate trade policies that are racking up deficits of $500 billion a year while shipping good jobs abroad and undermining wages here at home.

Sanders correctly indicts these policies as rigging the rules against American workers. Trump makes our “bad deals” a centerpiece of his appeal. The next president will have to change course, or this protest will grow.

A third issue is America’s endless wars. Both Sanders and Trump emphasize that they opposed Bush’s invasion of Iraq from the start. Both counsel caution about more interventions in Syria, Ukraine and Iraq.

Both are appealing to the vast majority of Americans who do not believe the U.S. can afford to police the world.

A fourth issue is taxes. Sanders tells billionaires “enough is enough.” He calls for raising taxes on the wealthy and shutting corporate loopholes to invest in rebuilding the country, making college free for all, expanding Social Security and investing in children.

Trump is more confused, but he earns applause for insisting that hedge fund billionaires should pay their fair share of taxes.

For years we’ve had paralysis in Washington on the key issue of immigration. Millions of undocumented workers live in the shadows, exploited by callous employers.

Sanders seeks a solution that will bring the country together; Trump has slanderously chosen to drive us apart. He’s tried to make immigration a Mexican issue, but that ignores reality. Threatening the largest deportation — 11 million people — in world history isn’t about Mexico; it’s about who we are.

Clearly we are paying a huge price for the cowardice of politicians unwilling to address this issue sensibly and that has to stop.

Single issues like these are markers for the bigger reality. This economy doesn’t work for most people. The rules are rigged to favor the few. Big money corrupts our politics to defend their privileges. Americans are looking for a new deal here at home.

Sanders and Trump, of course, are stark contrasts. Sanders is a thoughtful progressive; Trump an entertainer, offering postures, not policies. Sanders calls for a popular movement to transform America; Trump argues voters should trust him to do it.

But on right and left, among Republicans and Democrats, more and more are unwilling to accept politics as usual. Too many people are left out of that arrangement. The two major parties will have to change, or they are likely to be changed by voters who have had enough.

 Courtesy of the Post News Group, September 4, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

Academics at Mack Are Back

By Ben Tapscott

Ben Tapscott

Ben Tapscott

McClymonds High school has reestablished educational equity byoffering the same courses as other high schools in Oakland.

The New McClymonds Committee has fought for the past five years to correct the disparities.

The curriculum of the “School of Champions” has been restored to the high standard of the early days. West Oakland parents, alums and Mack supporters should be proud of their accomplishments. We are proud that we can finally announce that we are back academically.

The school now has advanced placement (A.P.) courses to better prepare students for college.

I am requesting that parents and guardians consider placing their children at McClymonds High this year. I would like to see an increase of 200 new students this school year.

I want to commend the New McClymonds Committee, which was formed on Oct. 20, 2011. You “fought the fight,” and you won.

This year, we formed a West Oakland Educational Committee, May 30, 2015, to improve education for all the children in Wes Oakland. These two committees will meet the third Thursday of each month at McClymonds at 6 p.m.

All are invited.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, September 4, 2015

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)

 

Commentary: Practice Restorative Justice to Shut Down Mass Incarceration

Students in restorative Justice program

By Troy Williams

According to the American Civil Liberties Union the school-to-prison pipeline is a name for the policies and practices that push our nation’s schoolchildren, especially our most at-risk children, out of classrooms and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems.”

Students tracked into prison from an early age when they attend schools with inadequate resources, overcrowded classrooms, a lack of qualified teachers, insufficient funding for counselors, zero tolerance, and reliance to handle classroom discipline for teachers.

Fania Davis operates a restorative justice program for students in the Oakland Unified School District. Photos courtesy of Yes! Magazine.

Fania Davis operates a restorative justice program for students in the Oakland Unified School District. Photos courtesy of Yes! Magazine.

But there is hope.

For a successful alternative, look at restorative justice programs that are being practiced in Oakland and other cities.

For years Fania Davis, co-founder and executive director of Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth (RJOY), has been a pioneer in the restorative justice process teaching Oakland children how to communicate their emotions and respond to wrong doing in a way that doesn’t harm themselves or the community.

On Sunday, July 19, RJOY held a fundraiser. I watched nearly a dozen boys and girls sat in a circle with actor and activist Danny Glover, discussing the impact of trauma in their lives.

With nearly 100 adults watching, the young participants expressed fears of having to live in a community surrounded by violence.

“Someone got shot on the street I walk down everyday, one young person.

“The other day I was beat up, stomped out and knocked unconscious by grown men,” said another boy.

“I need a job so I don’t wind up on the street,” a third youth said.

I was impressed by their ability to identify their emotions and communicate them. But I was even more impressed by their resolve to rise above the violence and be of support to each other.

I wish I had their strength, resolve, and insight when I was their age.

The group was lead by a young woman who presented like a seasoned facilitator. Another young lady seemed to play the role of big sister to the group. Several young men expressed how valuable her advice was and that her ability to be a good listener had helped them through a particular traumatic event.

Restorative Justice is rooted in the practice of indigenous cultures that sought to repair harm by inviting the people affected by crime to dialogue together.

Attention is given to community safety, the victim’s needs, as well as opportunities for accountability and growth for the offender.

Based on this event alone, it is clear that Restorative Justice is a model that works and needs to be expanded throughout the community.

But for those of you who need statistical data, here is an example.

At present, seven out of 10 people who parole return to prison within the first three years. But   Restorative Justice programs reverse the percentages. Seven out of 10 participants stay out of prison.

So the answer is clear: if you want to shut the prisons industrial complex, down then practice restorative justice.

 Courtesy of the Post News Group, August 15, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

 

Commentary: Police Who Kill Must Be Held Accountable

By Cat Brooks

In the early morning hours of June 6, Demouria Hogg, a Black man and father of three, was sleeping in his vehicle on the Lakeshore exit off the 580 Freeway.

Cat Brooks

Cat Brooks

Concerned that he might be injured, a community member called paramedics.

Upon arrival, paramedics saw a gun on the passenger seat and summoned police to the scene. Police spent over an hour attempting to wake Mr. Hogg. They shot beanbags at the car, deployed a loudspeaker, shone bright lights into the windows; he never so much as flinched.

Under these circumstances, a reasonable presumption would have been that Mr. Hogg was seriously injured and needed help. Instead, police broke the car window, and when Mr. Hogg woke with a start, they shot him.

He was awake less than a minute before being killed.

Two weeks ago, unarmed Richard Linyard was fleeing from police. He, too, wound up dead. OPD’s story is that he wedged himself between two “structures” and asphyxiated.

The family of Mr. Linyard is challenging OPD’s version of events and is demanding an independent autopsy.

Recently, at national conferences that were reported on local news, the Oakland Police Department and Mayor Libby Schaaf lauded OPD’s officer training, claiming improvements in officers interactions with community members.

Prior to Demouria’s murder, they publicly celebrated the fact that OPD hadn’t killed anyone in two years. But they failed to mention that in the first six months of 2015, over 100 complaints of police harassment, misconduct and abuse were reported by Oakland residents to the Community Police Review Board.

In addition, community members had been killed by other law enforcement agencies in Oakland while OPD officers stood by, such as in the cases of Jacorey Calhoun and Guadalupe Ochoa.

And the city leaders failed to mention their recent assault on Black women and children who were peacefully marching to demand an end to the war on the lives of Black women.

We were pushed, screamed at and snatched off the street. I personally had a police officers’ forearm on my throat until the third time I told him, “I can’t breathe”.

Following the murder of Demouria Hogg, the community demanded an independent investigation and release of the surveillance tapes to the family.

These demands continue to be ignored.

If OPD wants to inspire trust in the community, a good first step would be to respond to community demands. If OPD officers are positive they “followed procedure,” why are they afraid of an independent investigation?

Training is not enough.

The only way police officers will stop utilizing brute force and executions as a means to “enforce the law” with Black people is when they are held accountable through fair and transparent investigations by outside investigators.

Officers who profile, beat or murder citizens must be punished with terminations, suspensions without pay and imprisonment.

As it stands now, the officers of the Oakland Police Department, like officers in every police department across the country, know with certainty that as long as their victim is Black or Brown, their bosses, elected officials and the courts still believe that those lives don’t matter very much at all.

Cat Brooks is an actress, activist and founder of the Anti Police-Terror Project. She is co-chair of ONYX and a member of Black Lives Matter-Bay Area. She lives in West Oakland with her family. You can follower her on Twitter @CatsCommentary.

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

Commentary: Oakland Needs a Department to Address Institutionalized Injustice

By Kitty Kelly Epstein

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

Dr. Kitty Kelly Epstein

Dr. Kitty Kelly Epstein

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We need a Department of Race and Equity

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

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