Category: Police-Public Safety

Oakland Steps Out for Faith with a Joyful Noise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Racist Threat at Berkeley High School Sparks Outage, Students Walk Out

Berkeley High School students walked out of classes and rallied at UC Berkeley to protest a racist, terrorist threat. Photo courtesy of Eric Panzer

Berkeley High School students walked out of classes and rallied at UC Berkeley to protest a racist, terrorist threat. Photo courtesy of Eric Panzer

By Ken Epstein

Berkeley High School students walked out of classes, rallied on campus and marched to UC Berkeley yesterday in the wake of news that a racist threat calling for the lynching of Black people was discovered at the school.

Protesters held signs that read: “Black Lives Matter,” “Yup I’m Black,” and “We will not be silent,” among others.

A tweet from one student said, “This happened at our school! When will we as Black Students feel safe?”

A parent tweeted: “Today, my kid texted me that he walked out of class, and I’m proud.”

Berkeley High students rally at UC Berkeley. Photo courtesy of ABC7

Berkeley High students rally at UC Berkeley. Photo courtesy of ABC7.

The racist posting was found by campus security officers Wednesday at about 12:30 p.m. on a computer in the school library.

Written in all capital letters, the post, said: “F**k All the N****rs in the World,” and, “KKK Forever Public Lynching December 9th 2015.”

BHS Principal Sam Pasarow sent an email to the BHS community at 10:24 p.m. Wednesday night notifying the school community about the incident.

“A hateful and racist message was discovered on one of the library computers, containing threatening language toward African Americans,” he said. “The administration is looking into who posted this message, and I urge students, staff, parents and guardians to please contact the school.”

Berkeley High students rally. Photo courtesy aura A. Oda/Bay Area News Group via AP.

Berkeley High students rally. Photo courtesy of A. Oda/Bay Area News Group via AP.

Pasarow called the incident “a hate crime” and assured the community “that we are giving this investigation the utmost attention, as well as involving the Berkeley Police Department.”

According to BUSD spokesperson Mark Coplan, the screenshot was left open on a computer as a displayed image and that there was no hacking involved to change the actual website’s contents.

Students and community members called on the school and district administrators to address the threat of racist violence and accused the district of weak responses to several racist incidents at Berkeley High in the past year.

A statement released Wednesday by Berkeley High Black Student Union said, “We are disgusted by this act of terror … The safety of Black students has been explicitly threatened, and (we) demand that this is addressed immediately by the Berkeley High administration and Berkeley Police Department.”

“In the past, acts of terror committed against the Black student body have been ignored such as the racist statement written into last year’s yearbook and the noose that was found on campus (in Oct. 2014).”

“We will not allow this to be trivialized like these other horrific instances.”

A number of the students were critical of the district’s response to the incident. “This incident happened at 12:30, and I didn’t hear about it till 10:30pm?!,” said one student at the protest who was live tweeting.

According to Berkeley HIgh Principal Sam Pasarow, A 15-year-old student has admitted to posting a racist message that prompted a large student walkout at Berkeley High School. The Oakland Tribune reports Friday (http://bayareane.ws/1NTQHtO ) that the student likely will be turned over to juvenile probation for any charges, a student confessed Thursday and is aware of the fear caused by the racist message.

According to Berkeley High Principal Sam Pasarow, a 15-year-old student has admitted to posting the racist message that prompted the  student walkout. Tthe student likely will be turned over to juvenile probation for any charges.

Said another: “Time and time again the Black community has been threatened, oppressed, and I’m sick and tired. A email is not sufficient.”

The Berkeley NAACP issued a statement calling on the district to launch a serious investigation.

“BUSD must secure all video of the area where this sick picture was posted to identify and punish the perpetrator(s) of this uncivil illogical act,” the statement said. “We need to hear back from the BUSD administration as to (their) investigation plan.”

According to Berkeley NAACP President Mansour Id-Deen, he has been trying for several months to meet BUSD Supt. Donald Evans to discuss allegations of widespread racial discrimination in the district against Black students and employees. But the superintendent has failed to schedule the meeting.

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

The National Lawyers Guild Honors Local Attorney Walter Riley

The National Lawyers Guild honored Oakland civil rights attorney Walter Riley at its annual Law for the People Convention, which was held recently in Oakland at the Marriott Oakland City Center.

Walter Riley

Walter Riley

Riley, who received the Law for the People Award at the convention held Oct. 21-25, was one of eight members and friends of the guild who were recognized for exemplary work and activism that speak to the guild’s mission of human rights over property interests.

Riley grew up in Durham, North Carolina where he experienced first-hand the injustice of the Jim Crow South. His response was to become a young civil rights activist and has continued his activism ever since.

Following years as an organizer, Riley moved back to the Bay Area to become a lawyer.

He is a member of multiple organizations including the National Lawyers Guild and serves on the boards of Global Exchange, Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute, Haiti Emergency Relief Fund, Berkeley Jazz School, and is co-chair of the John George Democratic Club.

He serves on the legal defense teams representing fellow Law for the People Award recipients, the Black Friday 14 and Trayvon 2.

The Black Friday 14 consists of Black, Bay Area social justice organizers and community leaders who responded to Ferguson’s Call for National Action against police brutality and state violence after the non-indictment of Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

On Nov. 28, 2014, the Black Friday 14 chained themselves to two BART trains at West Oakland Station, stopping operations for under two hours.

This action drew public attention to the existing systemic and institutionalized racism. The Alameda County District Attorney’s Office filed trespass charges against the Black Friday 14. BART initially demanded a restitution of $70,000 but after receiving intense pressure, the BART Board of Directors dropped this demand.

The Black Friday 14 continue to fight their charges with representation from fellow Walter Riley among others,

The Black Friday 14 are: Cat Brooks, Rheema Calloway, Robbie Clark, Mollie Costello, Nigel Le’Jon Evans-Brim, Celeste Faison, Alicia Garza, Devonte Jackson, Ronnisha Ann Johnson, Karissa Lewis, Vanessa Moses, Nell Myhand, Neva Walker, and Laila Sapphira Williams. Their legal team consists of Walter Riley, Aliya Karmali, Hasmik Geghamyan, Zoe Polk and Leigh Johnson.

The Trayvon 2, Hannibal Shakur (Lamar Caldwell) and Tanzeen R. Doha, are non-white, Muslim men who were charged by the Alameda County District Attorney’s office in connection with a July 15, 2013 protest of George Zimmerman’s not guilty verdict in the murder of Trayvon Martin.

The District Attorney’s office charged both defendants with felony vandalism despite no evidence they engaged in such conduct. The DA finally dropped the charges for lack of evidence.

Doha has worked actively on questions of race, religion, and colonialism both as a graduate student in the US and as a political organizer in Bangladesh. Shakur was very active in the protests around Oscar Grant’s 2009 murder by police, and continues to work for Black autonomy and self-determination in various collectives in the Bay Area.

The Trayvon 2 legal team consisted of Riley, Gabriela Lopez, and Nadia Kayyali.

Courtesy of the Post News Group, October 28, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

Oakland Anti-Displacement Coalition Says “Speak Out to Stay Put!”

Carroll Fife (top left), a co-founder of the Oakland Alliance, spoke at a workshop on developing an anti-displacement electoral strategy Oct. 17 "Speak Out to Stay Put!"forum in Oakland. Photo b Ken Epstien

Carroll Fife (top left), a co-founder of the Oakland Alliance, spoke at a workshop on developing an anti-displacement electoral strategy Oct. 17 “Speak Out to Stay Put!”forum in Oakland. Photo b Ken Epstien

By Ken A. Epstein

Local organizations took a big step forward last weekend in their efforts to coalesce the growing movement to impact the market-driven wave of displacement that is pushing out local residents and small businesses, fueling criminalization of young people and adults and suppressing Oaklanders’ cultural expression in the parks and churches.

About 500 people squeezed into the West Oakland Youth Center last Saturday for an event called “Speak Out to Stay Put! An Oakland-wide Anti-Displacement Forum,” hosted by over a dozen organizations and endorsed by over 20 groups.

Groups that helped put on the event included: Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN), Causa Justa: Just Cause (CJJC), California Nurses Association (CNA), Community Planning Leaders (CPL), East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy (EBASE), East Bay Housing Organizations (EBHO), East Bay Organizing Committee (EBOC), Oakland Alliance, Oakland Tenants Union (OTU), SEIU 1021 and Women’s Economic Agenda Project (WEAP).

Robbie Clark

Robbie Clark

 The purpose of the forum was enhance connections between the groups that are working against displacement and to deepen the understanding of the complex connections between various aspects of displacement and the variety solutions that organizations that groups are supporting.

“We wanted to come together to unite a lot of the forces who are in motion against gentrification, people who are involved in their neighborhoods or working on a variety of development plans and policies,” said Robbie Clark, regional housing rights campaign lead organizer at Causa Justa, in an interview with the Post.

“We want to broaden how people look at displacement, look at the factors that play into gentrification, plug people into additional ways to fight displacement and expand the strategies they can use,” said Clark

 The day’s workshop topics indicate the breath of the concerns: climate change and displacement, community land trusts for public control of city-owned land, the poor people’s movement to fight homelessness, police brutality and gentrification, the fight for jobs and decent wages for Oaklanders, promoting tenant rights and how to elect public officials who are accountable to residents.

 Clark pointed out an aspect of gentrification that so far have not received much attention are the explosive commercial rental increases that are pushing out small businesses and nonprofits that provide services to residents.

“These small businesses and nonprofits are all part of the neighborhood fabric that holds communities together – businesses and services that people utilize are being threatened,” said Clark.

One of the speakers at the workshop on elections and voting was Carroll Fife, a co-founder the Oakland Alliance, a citywide organization that formed about a year ago.

 Fife said her experience working in Dan Siegel’s mayoral campaign last year showed her, “There is a lot of energy that is untapped in this city – (but) we have to put egos aside. There are lots of organizations that are doing work in silos,” unconnected to each other.

She said the Oakland Alliance is trying to find ways groups can work together, not in interests of one organization, but “for what is good for everyone in the city.”

Dan Siegel, an Oakland civil rights attorney, said that voting is a component of building peoples’ power.

“An electoral strategy by itself will not make change,” but the movement needs to select and elect leaders who will be accountable to the community and the promises they make when they running for office, said Siegel.

“(At present), we see people who say they are going to do this or they are going to do that, but (once elected) they don’t do it,” said Siegel. “Oakland has a city council that has completely checked out on housing.”

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

Oakland Petition: Neighbors Should Not Be Racially Profiling Neighbors

 

Oakland community activist Ann Nomura and her family have begun a petition calling on the City of Oakland and the Oakland Police Department (OPD) to stop posting on a popular social media site that is used by some residents to racially profile their neighbors.

Nextdoor.com, a website and app that bills itself as “the private (online) social network for your neighborhood,” is designed to allow neighbors to share information.

But the design of the Crime and Safety section promotes racial profiling, according to the petition, creating a space for fearful and anxious residents to report on the perceived threat of Black and Latino adults, teenagers and children that the residents see going into nearby houses or walking on the sidewalk.

“The City of Oakland and the Oakland Police Department should stop all posting on Nextdoor.com until the software design flaws, which promote racial profiling on their social media platform, are corrected,” the petition says. “The company should also provide competent oversight and manage Moderators and Leads, so that their product is not used to promote profiling, bias, or hate toward neighbors of color.”

Police contribute postings to the website and monitor residents’ comments.

“Profiling causes real harm to children and families and creates fear and mistrust between neighbors,” according to the petition. “With the exception of unenforced anti-profiling guidelines, Nextdoor.com has taken no meaningful steps to resolve this problem.”

Nomura told the Post she is especially concerned that Mayor Libby Schaaf has made neighborhood crime prevention a major priority of her administration but has not spoken out against the actual threat to the community of neighbors racially profiling neighbors.

“We have Nextdoor.com and other social networking services that make profiling easier, and the city is tacitly approving these frightened responses that are actually just racial profiling,” said Nomura.

There is a feeling among some people that by reporting on what they see in the neighborhood, they are helping to stop crime and that they have the backing of the mayor and OPD, she said.

“What’s entirely absent is the mayor standing up and saying that this does harm,” said Nomura, who lives in the Dimond District of Oakland with her family.

Nomura said she has contacted Mayor Schaaf a half dozen times but has received no response. “Given how important and painful this has been for people in our district, it’s important for Libby to make a statement,” she said.

The petition is available on Change.org at www.change.org/p/oakland-mayor-libby-schaaf-ceo-nirav-tolia-stop-racial-profiling-on-nextdoor-com?

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, October 17, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

 

Is Oakland a “Sanctuary City” for Its Sanctuaries?

Gentrifiers cause the city to use police and fines to punish drummers, churches and creative artists

Drummers of the SambaFunk! Funkquarians perform with members of the public at Lake Merritt in protest. Photo by Tulio Ospina.

Drummers of the SambaFunk! Funkquarians perform with members of the public at Lake Merritt in protest. Photo by Tulio Ospina.

By Ashley Chambers and Tulio Ospina

Black churches in Oakland are being asked to moderate their worship voices after neighbors have made noise complaints to the city about the volume of the gospel that is reaching beyond the church walls.

But these churches are not going to be silent. They are standing together to make a “joyful noise” in the community and demanding that sanctuaries in Oakland be protected.

Pastor Thomas Harris of Pleasant Grove Baptist Church discusses with clergy and Post staff the noise complaints that the church has received from gentrifying neighbors. Photo by Ashley Chambers.

Pastor Thomas Harris of Pleasant Grove Baptist Church discusses with clergy and Post staff the noise complaints
that the church has received from gentrifying
neighbors. Photo by Ashley Chambers.

An unprecedented coalition is coming together between faith-based organizations and arts community activists, such as the Oakland Creative Neighborhoods Coalition and Lake Merritt drummers who are being silenced by Oakland police.

“The institution of the church is one of the foundations of the community,” said Pastor Thomas Harris of Pleasant Grove Baptist Church in West Oakland. The church received a formal complaint in August from neighbors about loud noise during their Wednesday night choir rehearsal.

Although the church attempted to talk with the neighbors and addressed their concerns in a formal letter, that conversation never happened, said Harris.

The City of Oakland sent a letter dated August 31, 2015, alerting the church of the noise complaint and citing Oakland’s Noise Ordinance, Municipal Code 8.18.

However, clergy are concerned that this letter came without any sort of city outreach – no warning, personal visit or discussion with the church relating to the matter.

Anyka Barber

Anyka Barber

“This activity may constitute a public nuisance due to its impact to the use and quiet enjoyment of the surrounding community’s property,” the letter read, signed by Greg Minor, Assistant to the City Administrator.

According to the city’s letter, the church would be fined a $3,529 nuisance case fee as well as civil penalties of $500 a day if the city moves forward with a public nuisance abatement case.

“This letter from the city without any notification is a direct assault on the African American community in Oakland, especially West Oakland,” said Rev. Lawrence VanHook, pastor of Community Church in West Oakland.

Rev. Gerald Agee, president of Pastors of Oakland and pastor of Friendship Christian Church, said, “It seems a little disheartening that people would come into a community without first researching to see if there are things within that community that they would not like, (rather) than to come in and try to change the community based on their likes and dislikes.”

Pastor Harris, along with other local clergy, Oakland NAACP President George Holland, and Post Publisher Paul Cobb met this week to discuss how faith leaders in Oakland can respond to the attack on Black churches.

“We need to organize in the streets to make a joyful noise,” said Cobb, who encourages the city to protect houses of worship and to make Oakland into a “sanctuary for sanctuaries.”

“You (gentrifiers) don’t tell us how to worship. We will not be ashamed of the gospel,” he said.

Churches are planning outdoor worship services in coming weeks, connected with a voter registration drive.

Like the city’s Black churches, the arts community is finding itself threatened by a handful of residents who consider their cultural expression to be a nuisance. Cultural centers that are rooted in Oakland’s diverse cultural history – the Malonga Casquelourd Center, the Humanist Hall and the SambaFunk! Funkquarians – have faced criminal charges and expensive fines, following complaints by a few residents.

About 100 people attended a meeting Wednesday evening at the Asian Cultural Center, organized by the Oakland Creative Neighborhoods Coalition, to discuss how to defend cultural expression.

“We are all neighbors in Oakland. We live, we work, we play together here,” said Anyka Barber, a member of the coalition’s steering committee and owner of Betti Ono, a local art gallery.

“The arts and culture community are what make Oakland known worldwide, and this is a critical moment to take action, to be proactive, well-organized and united in our agendas,” said Barber.

Speakers at the meeting emphasized the common interests of Oakland’s churches and the arts community.

“Let’s just say it. The things happening to Black churches in West Oakland are also happening to artists and residents who are predominantly people of color. These are underrepresented communities, and we are aligned, aligned, aligned in our goals,” said Barber.

At the meeting, Post Publisher Cobb called on “artists, the faith-based community and the media to come together and form a Holy Trinity connection.”

Stressing the need to have power at the ballot box, Cobb said, “We can vote artistically minded and faithful leaders into the city government.”

A multicultural drum circle protest last Sunday at Lake Merritt, hosted by the newly formed Soul of Oakland coalition, drew drummers and performers of different backgrounds from around the East Bay to share their cultural sounds.

Councilmember Desley Brooks spoke to the crowd about the importance of raising their voices to demand strong policies to protect residents’ livelihood and cultures.

“First, they came for the Black people in this city, and they pushed them out one by one. In 10 years, we lost about 10,000 Black residents,” said Brooks.

“Then they came and said that artists couldn’t drum at the park,” she said. “They told the churches that they were too loud.”

“Let them hear you,” Brooks said. “Do not let them silence your voices because we are a powerful people, and all of Oakland should hear us.”

In response to questions from the Post, city communications director and Assistant City Administrator Karen Boyd said the West Oakland church has not been listed as a public nuisance.

“We recognize that houses of worship are an intrinsic and vital dimension of Oakland,” said Boyd. “We are working to revise the language in our courtesy notices to reflect our intent to communicate openly with property owners about any complaints we receive so that issues may be resolved.”

Post Publisher Cobb says the City Administrator’s position does not protect the rights of churches.

“The position taken by the City Administrator doesn’t do anything to protect houses of worship that are in jeopardy,” said Cobb. “We must organize to protect houses of worship—we can’t equivocate on the First Amendment.”

The suppression of church and community cultural expression is closely connected to other aspects of gentrification, says community activist and educator Kitty Kelly Epstein.

“Treating the sounds of Oakland residents’ churches and drummers as a public nuisance is related to producing policies that ignore our demands for affordable homes and jobs that will support our ability to continue to live in this city,” she said.

For updates on the “Sancutary4Sanctuaries” Movement, follow Paul Cobb on Twitter @PaulCobbOakland.

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

California’s New Racial Profiling Law Seen as First Step Toward Police Accountability

California Highway Patrol officer stands outside the office of Gov. Jerry Brown as protestors shouting "Black lives matter!" block the hallway last month demanding approval of AB 953, a bill aimed at reducing racial profiling by the police. Photo courtesy of AP.

California Highway Patrol officer stands outside the office of Gov. Jerry Brown as protestors shouting “Black lives matter!” block the hallway last month demanding approval of AB 953, a bill aimed at reducing racial profiling by the police. Photo courtesy of AP.

 

By Ashley Chambers

A state bill that was signed into law this past weekend will usher in new police accountability reforms requiring California law enforcement to collect and report identity data on police stops in order to address racial profiling.

In the face of continuous pressure from community groups and civil rights activists who occupied the State Capitol rallying in support of the bill, Governor Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 953 (The Racial and Identity Profiling Act of 2015) into law on Oct. 3.

Rev. Ben McBride

Rev. Ben McBride

The bill, authored by Assemblymember Shirley Weber with co-authors Assemblymember Rob Bonta and Senator Holly Mitchell, is designed to combat racial profiling, police misconduct, and help restore trust between police and the community.

Reports show that Black and Latino drivers are pulled over in traffic stops at higher rates than whites, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Black drivers are 31 percent more likely to be pulled over by police than whites, and Latino drivers are six percent more likely than whites, the Washington Post reported.

In Oakland, 55 percent of vehicle stops involved African Americans while they make up only 28 percent of the city population. Whites were stopped in 12 percent of traffic stops by Oakland police but represent 34 percent of the city population.

This new law, although just a first step, hopes to change that trajectory, according to activists.

Rosa Aqeel

Rosa Aqeel

Under the law’s requirements, police and other law enforcement agencies track data from traffic and pedestrian stops, including the race, age and gender of the people stopped, the reason for the stop and result, as well as actions taken by the officer.

Each agency will be accountable to the state Attorney General and will submit an annual report to be reviewed by a 19-member advisory board.

“This precedent setting legislation is historic – it is both a moral and legal victory for our state and our nation,” said Rev. Ben McBride, Director of Regional Clergy Development with PICO California, who was part of the coalition of activists that rallied at the State Capitol for Governor Brown to sign the bill.

“The people have spoken and no longer will we be held hostage by rogue officers and departments who see us as criminals unworthy of human dignity simply by virtue of the color of our skin.”

The Racial and Identity Profiling Act (RIPA) will be one of the first laws to revise the definition of “racial and identity profiling,” based on recommendations of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing and the U.S. Department of Justice. It will prohibit profiling based on race, ethnicity, national origin, age, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, or mental or physical disability.

“It’s a very important first step in creating some transparency and accountability with the way in which law enforcement policies our communities,” said Rosa Aqeel, legislative director with PICO California, one of the co-sponsors of the bill.

“For so many years, folks who live in communities of color have been making complaints on a lot of actions that have led to harassment. Police have dismissed those for years as just being anecdotal,” Aqeel said. “Now, we’re able to see how pervasive racial profiling is across the state.”

Collecting and reporting racial and identity data is just one part of the new law. A RIPA Board will analyze the data and then create solutions to address police violence and unjust policing practices.

Occupying seats on the board will be 19 members representing law enforcement, community organizations, faith leaders, human and civil rights activists, and a university professor specializing in racial and identity equity. One young person, aged 16 to 24, will have a seat on the board as well.

Together, the board will develop guidelines and training for all officers in California, the bill reads, to raise awareness and respect among law enforcement of racial and cultural diversity.

“AB 953 puts California on a path moving from an anecdotal system to one that is data-driven,” said Chauncee Smith, Racial Justice Advocate with the ACLU of California Center for Advocacy & Policy, another co-sponsor of the bill along with the Youth Justice Coalition, Dignity and Power Now, and others.

The board will work in partnership with law enforcement agencies and submit policy recommendations to curb racial profiling.

“The advisory board is a means to the ultimate end,” said Smith. “It is invaluable to ensure law enforcement buy-in on every finding and recommendation from the board.”

It is also important for community members to be actively involved in this process and let their local police departments know that they want to see effective change, Aqeel said.

“Ultimately, it will be up to different communities to take the recommendations from RIPA and see which ones make the most sense for local communities,” she said.

“I think that (AB 953) is a really important first step in the long journey that we have to ensure police accountability,” said Taina Vargas-Edmond, State Advocate with the Ella Baker Center. “We can’t push for policy reforms that will keep our people safer unless we have the data to support and back up what people of color know to be the real experience of our lives.”

“This lets the people know that all of the power is in the hands of the people, in organizing, and in making our voices heard,” Vargas-Edmond said.

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

St. Paul Tabernacle Baptist Church in Bayview Targeted by Hate Crime

By Anh Le

St. Paul Tabernacle Baptist Church in San Francisco’s Bayview District is the latest African American church that has been vandalized, targeted by what appears to be have been a hate crimes.Screen-Shot-2015-09-03-at-8.25.31-AM-620x412-527x350

The church, located at 1789 Oakdale St., just a block from the City College of San Francisco’s Southeast Campus, was vandalized on the evening of Aug. 27 or the early morning hours of Aug. 28.

“The attack on our church, that’s the devil at work. The building does not belong to us.  It’s the Lord’s House,” said Beverly Taylor, who has been a member of the church for many years.

“They attacked the Lord when they attacked the Lord’s House,” she said. “In the Scriptures, the Lord says, ‘A weapon used against me will never stand.  I will repay them.”

Taylor also said that the vandalism against the church impacted the church’s food pantry work, which distributes food to the poor. However, she said that the church will continue its food pantry work, one of its ministries for the Bayview community.

According to Capt. Raj Vaswani of the San Francisco Police Department’s (SFPD) Bayview Station, the police received a call about 5 a.m. Aug. 28.

“I sent my supervisors out to the church,” Vaswani said.  “The (vandalism) had offensive language, the most serious,” he said.

He said that the crime is being investigated by SFPD’s Special Investigations Division.  “We looked at any videos, the premise of the general area, physical evidence.”

“We want to give the church full support, to the people who go there. It’s traumatic, what happened at the church. The church is hurt, the people who go there, their operations. It is a hate crime,” Vaswani stated.

According to Sgt. Tony Damato of the Special Investigations Division, “Somebody broke into the church. (They) spray painted the walls. (They) damaged the sheet rock. (They) ripped the cushions on the pews. Things were tossed around.

“It is being investigated as a hate crime,” he said. “We will look for the individual or individuals who vandalized this church.  When we find that person or the people involved, we will arrest them. The investigation is ongoing.”

Alvie Esparza of the SFPD’s Media Relations Unit said, “The church was broken into. “(There was) painted derogatory language and racist, homophobic, and religious graffiti. (There was) property damage. (There were) vandalized tables, desk, computer.”

“(We) canvassed the area and the building. (We are looking for) the suspect or suspects.  This type of behavior is not condoned in San Francisco,” said Esparza.

According to a report on KTVU-TV, the vandalism at the church included bleach being poured on the cushions of the church’s pews.

SFPD issued a flyer on Sept. 1, to request the public’s help in its investigation. Anyone with information should call the Special Investigations Division at (415) 553-1133.

A fundraiser has been set up to help St. Paul’s pay for repairs.

The fundraiser is being organized by Showing Up for Social Justice (SURJ), a national network of groups and individuals organizing white people for racial justice.

SURJ’s San Francisco chapter is collecting donations to show support for the church. The online fundraiser can be viewed at:
https://actionnetwork.org/fundraising/we-stand-with-st-pauls-tabernacle-baptist-church.

The San Francisco Police Department’s  Anonymous Tip Line is (415) 575-4444. The Case Number is 150753107. Or contact the police department’s  Special Investigations Division
at (415) 553-1133.

Anh Le is a writer and independent journalist.

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

Landmark Victory Curbs Long-term Solitary Confinement in California Prisons

 Family members of prisoners, demonstrators and lawyers celebrated last week's landmark settlement reducing long-term solitary confinement in California prisons. A press conference was held on Sept. 1 outside the state building in Oakland. Photos by Ashley Chambers.

Family members of prisoners, demonstrators and lawyers celebrated last week’s landmark settlement reducing long-term solitary confinement in California prisons. A press conference was held on Sept. 1 outside the state building in Oakland. Photos by Ashley Chambers.

By Ashley Chambers

A landmark victory this week to reduce long-term solitary confinement in California will immediately release up to 2,000 prisoners who have been held in isolation for 10 years or more for alleged gang affiliation.

The settlement in the case of Ashker v. Governor Brown last week is a historic step to reform the practice of keeping prisoners in solitary confinement indefinitely.

The lawsuit was originally filed by prisoners held in Security Housing Units (SHU) at Pelican Bay State Prison, challenging long-term solitary confinement as “cruel and unusual punishment” and as a violation of prisoners’ Fourteenth Amendment right to due process.

Under the settlement, prisoners in solitary confinement for alleged gang affiliation will be released into the general prison population. Some prisoners, depending on their offenses, will enter a two-year, four-step, step-down program to return to the general prison population.

In addition, solitary confinement will no longer be used as punishment for alleged gang affiliation, dramatically reducing the SHU prisoner population in the state.

Nearly 3,000 prisoners are held in solitary confinement in California prisons, the majority of which have been in the SHU for multiple years, some for as long as 30 or 40 years.

Angie Gallegos, whose brother has been in solitary confinement in Pelican Bay State Prison for 26 years.

Angie Gallegos, whose brother has been in solitary confinement in Pelican Bay State Prison for 26 years.

Prisoners in the SHU spend nearly 24 hours a day in small cells, not much bigger than a large bathroom stall and often without windows. They are denied phone calls, physical contact with visitors, and any recreational activities or programs.

Prisoners mobilized hunger strikes in 2011 and 2013, when over 30,000 prisoners protested indefinite solitary confinement.

The prisoners themselves played a critical role in the fight to win this settlement, said Jules Lobel, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), law professor at the University of Pittsburgh, and the lead lawyer on the lawsuit.

Going forward, no prisoner will be held in solitary confinement for more than 10 years, a length of time that many still consider to be a violation of human rights.

“This is something we’ve been waiting for so long. It’s so emotional, I don’t even have words,” said Angie Gallegos, whose brother has been in the SHU for 26 years at Pelican Bay.

“Hopefully next month, we’re going to have our first hug in 30 years,” said Gallegos, speaking at a press conference held on Tuesday, Sept. 1 in front of the state building in Oakland.

Hugo Pinell, who was recently killed in prison, was held in solitary confinement for 46 years, the longest known time a prisoner has ever been held in isolation. Pinell’s life and fight against prison violence was acknowledged at the press conference last Tuesday.

Marie Levin, the sister of one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said her brother has been in solitary confinement for 31 years.

Marie Levin, whose brother has been in solitary for 31 years.

Marie Levin, whose brother has been in solitary for 31 years.

She said she has had no physical contact with her brother during that time. “It will be a blessing to hold him,” said Levin.

She said she hopes that other states will follow California’s example.

“They’re allowing prisoners to have input on the change,” said Levin. “So they’re asking the prisoners what do we need to change, how do we need to do this, what’s effective, what’s not – that’s going to make a difference.”

According to a statement released by the prisoners who are plaintiffs in the case, “California’s agreement to abandon indeterminate SHU confinement based on gang affiliation demonstrates the power of unity and collective action.”

“It is our hope that this groundbreaking (End Hostilities) agreement to end the violence between the various ethnic groups in California prisons will inspire not only state prisoners, but also jail detainees, county prisoners and our communities on the street, to oppose ethnic and racial violence,” the statement said.

The settlement includes the creation of a modified general population unit for prisoners coming out of the SHU, allowing them time outside their cell, family visits, phone calls and other privileges.

“Part of this agreement is that there’s going to be a new facility created for men stepping out of the SHU who’ve been there for 10 years or more,” said Anne Weills, one of the lawyers representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

“There are different categories in this group: some of the men that are coming out, there may be threats against them so we want to protect them,” she said. “Some men will be in the step-down program; some men maybe have committed an offense that would place them in the SHU.”

Prisoners in these new units will have access to educational programming. Lawyers on the case also want psychological and mental health support for prisoners but that is yet to be negotiated, Weills said.

One additional term of the settlement is no retaliation against prisoners based on their conduct, leadership and involvement in this litigation, she said.

“This movement is so important…to give these men a proper setting to grow and to change, and to basically live a halfway decent life in the system,” said Weills.

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

Yuvette Henderson’s Family Demands Answers to Shooting by Emeryville Police

Yuvette Henderson's brother Jameson speaks at Emeryville City Council meeting while Cat Brooks of the Anti Police-Terror Project stands next to him in support. Photo by Tulio Ospina.

Yuvette Henderson’s brother Jameson speaks at Emeryville City Council meeting while Cat Brooks of the Anti Police-Terror Project stands next to him in support. Photo by Tulio Ospina.

By Tulio Ospina

Nearly 40 East Bay residents packed Emeryville City Council this week demanding that city officials urge the Alameda County coroner’s office to release the autopsy report of Yuvette Henderson, who was killed by Emeryville police almost six months ago.

Henderson was killed on Feb 3, when two Emeryville police officers shot her after responding to a report from Home Depot regarding an alleged shoplifting incident.

Store security said the suspect appeared to be armed and had suffered a head injury, requesting an ambulance.

Henderson was pursued by the two police officers, who shot her with multiple weapons, including an AR-15 assault rifle. According to police, Henderson was in possession of a gun but never stated that she aimed the weapon at the officers.

A lot of mystery still shrouds the incident, and the Oakland Police Department, which is heading the investigation of the shooting, and the Emeryville Police Department (EPD) are refusing to release surveillance tapes of the shooting to family members.

On Tuesday, community members spoke one at time, taking up the public comments section of the city council agenda to request the release of Henderson’s autopsy report.

“I’ve talked to the coroner’s office and they told me that they’re not releasing the report because the police department has asked them not to until the police are finished with their investigation,” said civil rights attorney Dan Siegel before the city council.

Siegel announced he would represent Henderson’s family in a lawsuit against the City of Emeryville.

“The withholding of information here is strategic,” said Siegel. “There is a six month deadline to file claims with the city, which is a prerequisite for filing a lawsuit.”

Another demand that community members stressed was the removal of military-grade weapons from EPD, one of which was used when officers fired at Henderson.

“By possessing these kinds of weapons, the police are saying that they are at war with our communities and need military weapons of war to battle them,” said one Emeryville resident.

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