Category: Reentry/Formerly Incarcerated

Port of Oakland Passes Groundbreaking Jobs Policy

 

After 21 months of negotiations with the local community, the Port of Oakland Board of Commissioners voted Thursday to approve a “Good Jobs” policy on the Port’s new state-of-the-art warehousing complex.

Community groups say this be one of the most equitable job policies in the warehousing and logistics industry, setting a standard for online retailers like Amazon. And because it provides pathways to good jobs for primarily low-income people of color, it begins to curb economic inequality and structural racism.

A number of environmental groups asked the Port Commission to the delay the vote, but the commission voted unanimously to approve the lease.

Calling for postponement was a group of regulators, local, regional and national environmental advocates who requested the commission delay accepting this lease until port staff engages in good faith negotiating on the environmental elements of the new warehouse. The environmental group says it is committed to jobs but just as committed to clean air and healthy neighborhoods in West and East Oakland and the 880 corridor.

During the campaign for the jobs policy, a demonstration was held at the Port of Oakland focusing on a Ban the Box policy, and many formerly incarcerated workers testified at the Port Commission. Photo courtesy of EBASE.

So far, the port has agreed to discuss the group’s environmental concerns but never scheduled meetings, according to the environmentalists.

The warehouse development sits on the port’s side of the former Oakland Army Base – a massive, incredibly valuable, publicly-owned property. OaklandWorks and Revive Oakland, a coalition of community, labor, and faith groups, led the negotiations with the Port and won an even stronger agreement than its 2012 deal on the city-owned part of the Army Base.

With the rise of online retailers like Amazon, jobs in warehousing and logistics – or “goods movement” – have become increasingly common. These jobs are typically low-paying and often part-time, temporary, and/or subcontracted.

The new port warehouse jobs policy establishes a model that other cities could follow, including living wages; limitations on the use of temporary agencies; equal protections for subcontracted workers; and one of the strongest Ban the Box policies in the country.

“As the port becomes a gateway for the booming tech, online, and app-centric economy, we are creating policies that lift low-income workers and communities of color,” said Jahmese Myres, Revive Oakland Coalition Director.

“With racism and economic inequality on the rise during the Trump Era, we are helping to ensure that low-income people of color have good jobs and can stay in their homes,” she said.

Cities across the country recently submitted proposals to lure Amazon to build their new headquarters in their areas. The bidding war outlined community giveaways rather than what the company could do for cities struggling to create living wage jobs with benefits that would allow workers to afford housing and provide for their families.

This comes at a time when low-income communities of color are increasingly being pushed out of many urban areas due to the high cost of housing and the lack of opportunity for formerly incarcerated workers.

However, the port agreement can serve as a model for how community driven negotiations result in better outcomes for workers and residents, particularly people of color who have been shut out of good jobs.

In addition to living wages, the agreement would mandate local hire, equal protections for subcontracted workers, and one of the strongest “Ban the Box” policies in the country. The latter curtails discrimination against the formerly incarcerated, who are disproportionately people of color.

“With one of the strongest Ban the Box policies in the country, the Army Base redevelopment is standing against discrimination, employment inequality, and the racial injustices that we face daily,” said Saabir Lockett, a formerly incarcerated Oakland resident.

“Policies like this create a more sustainable relationship between employers and local residents, giving more of us the chance to provide for our families with dignity,” said Lockett.

Published November 11, 2017, courtesy of the Oakland Post

East Oakland Organizations Unveil New Grassroots People’s Agenda

Speakers Tuesday evening at the East Oakland Congress of Neighborhoods rally at Oakland City Hall were (L to R): Mercedes De La Torre of Communities for a Better Environment, Andre Spearman of Oakland Community Organizations and Vernetta Woods, Oakland Community Organizations Photo by Ken Epstein.

East Oakland residents gathered in front of city hall his week to unveil a community-created East Oakland People’s Agenda.

The agenda, based on community needs, was created Sept. 30 at a Community Assembly of the newly-formed East Oakland Congress of Neighborhoods, attended by Oakland residents who live in communities between Lake Merritt and the San Leandro border

The release of the agenda on Tuesday, Nov. 7 was intentional—one year ahead of the 2018 elections— announcing residents’ determination to vote for candidates and ballot measures that align with their agenda.

“We are inspired by the hundreds of East Oaklanders who made our Community Assembly such a fantastic success,” says Sonya Khvann, an EBAYC leader and resident of District 2. “We are ready to fight for the agenda that we created there.”

The East Oakland Congress of Neighborhoods is an umbrella organization formed by six of East Oakland’s most prominent community organizations, whose members are fed up with a lack of action on extremely pressing problems in East Oakland—including housing and homelessness, fears about immigration raids, illegal dumping, gun violence and the street-level sex trade, air quality and the lack of green space, school quality and safety, and good jobs for the unemployed.

Beginning in January, members of East Oakland Congress of Neighborhoods will start a process of research and trainings to prepare residents to advocate effectively for the People’s Agenda.

“We are in this for the long haul,” says Andre Spearman, a leader with Oakland Community Organizations (OCO) and District 5 resident. “We are serious about building the power we need to be in charge of our communities.”

Evangelina Lara, an EBAYC organizer and a District 2 resident, says the purpose of the Congress is to provide East Oakland with the same kind of clout that more affluent neighborhoods have. “We represent the East Oakland majority,” said Lara. “Politicians are on notice that they need to respond to OUR agenda.”

“Residents from all four East Oakland City Council Districts came together to create this agenda,” says Alba Hernandez, an OCO organizer and a District 6 resident. “Our members are working together to make it come true.”

Published November 10, 2017, courtesy of the Oakland Post

 

Congress of Neighborhoods Seeks Community Power in East Oakland Flatlands

Esther Goolsby of Communities for a Better Environment (CBE) spoke last Saturday at the first community assembly of the Congress of East Oakland Neighborhoods. Photo by Ken Epstein

 

By Ken Epstein

Hundreds of local residents packed into an elementary school gymnasium last Saturday to attend the kickoff gathering of the East Oakland Congress of Neighborhoods taking the first steps to bring together the kind of flatland coalition that can force public officials to take the needs of their communities seriously.

The meeting, held at International Community Schools at 2825 International Blvd., was organized by some of the strongest community-based organizations in East Oakland: Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), Just Cause: Causa Justa, Communities for a Better Environment (CBE), East Oakland Building Healthy Communities, EBAYC and Oakland Community Organizations (OCO).

The main purpose of Saturday’s meeting was to create a common vision for going forward.  To develop this vision, participants attended one of nine workshops: fair share of city services, including ending illegal dumping; homelessness, displacement and affordable housing; community peace and safety; holding elected officials accountable; creating a clean healthy environment; jobs, including jobs for youth and the formerly incarcerated; quality education; big development projects, such as the A´s stadium; and immigration.

Leading the meeting were representatives of East Oakland neighborhoods San Antonio, Fruitvale, Elmhurst and Sobrante Park.

In an interview with the Oakland Post, Vernetta Woods, a leader of Oakland Community Organizations (OCO) who lives in District 7, says she believes the event will build more unity and a more powerful voice for East Oakland residents.

For her, the main issue is education, the failure of the Oakland public schools.

“We’re coming. People power is here,” she said.  “We need thousands to come together on this thing, not just one race or one organization. If that happens, we can make changes.”

Teresa Salazar, a leader of Just Cause: Causa Justa who has lived in the San Antonio area for 23 years, explained the different organizations that are working together are creating a “stronger power.”

“Rent is increasing. Is that the New Oakland – a lot of people living under the bridge?”  She asked.

“At International (Boulevard) and 15th (Avenue), there is a lot of prostitution – Is that the New Oakland?

“No, Oakland needs a big change,” said Salazar. “Everybody needs to participate, to organize for change, for there to be a New Oakland.”

The Congress of Neighborhoods plans to release its “East Oakland Community Agenda” Tuesday, Nov. 7 at 5:30 p.m. outside City Hall.

For more information, email Nehanda Imara at nehanda@eastoaklandbhc.org or Alba Hernandez at alba@oaklandcommunity.org

Published October 8, 2017, courtesy of the Oakland Post

“Unite Against Hate,” Say East Bay Leaders

East Bay leaders speak at a press conference Tuesday, prolcaiming that local communities are united against against hatred and bigotry and committed to nonviolence. Left to Right: Supervisor Keith Carson, Congresswoman Barbara Lee, Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín, Senator Nancy Skinner, Assemblyman Tony Thurmond and Assemblyman Rob Bonta. Photo by Ken Epstein.

 

By Ken Epstein

Congresswoman Barbara and other East Bay political leaders held a press conference at Berkley City Hall Tuesday to condemn hatred, bigotry and violence as local communities prepare for white supremacists rallies planned for Saturday in San Francisco and Sunday in Berkeley.

“President Trump has emboldened white nationalists, but we must hold steadfast to our progressive values as a community, regardless of the challenges,” said Congresswoman Lee.

“We cannot allow anyone, certainly not the president, to roll back the clock on progress. We must stand united against hate,” she said.

Growing up in the South, she said, “I have seen the kind of world these demonstrators want to create.”

Joining Congresswoman Lee at the press conference were Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín, Senator Nancy Skinner, Assemblyman Tony Thurmond, Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson and District Attorney Nancy O´Malley.

Some protesters are planning to confront the white supremacists in downtown Berkeley. Others are calling for a rally, supported by labor, faith-based organizations and Democratic clubs, in another part of Berkeley to demonstrate the Bay Area’s commitment to oppose racist terrorism.

Berkeley Mayor Arreguín urged people not to to confront the white supremacists.

He underscored the city´s support for free speech for all points of view but drew a distinction between those who want to express themselves and those who come to town seek to terrorize the community.

“We are working to keep our public safe,” he said. “We are not going to allow bigotry and hate in our community.”

Organizers of the rallies in San Francisco and Berkeley claim they are not white supremacists, but according to Mayor Arreguín the discussion on social media about the events indicates otherwise.

Senator Skinner announced she is introducing a bill to strengthen California´s anti-hate crime laws calling on local, state and federal law enforcement to treat white supremacists as terrorists and direct law enforcement to use all available options to prosecute members of these groups.

“If their intention is to terrorize our communities, it makes sense to prosecute them as terrorists,” she said.

Local branches of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) issued a statement distinguishing between free speech and marching with guns and other weapons with the intent to commitment violence.

“Thee ACLU of California fully supports the freedom of speech and expression, as well as the freedom to peacefully assemble,” the statement from directors ACLU’s Northern California, Southern California and San Diego chapters says.

“If white supremacists march into our towns armed to the teeth and with the intent to harm people, they are not engaging in activity protected by the United States Constitution. The First Amendment should never be used as a shield or sword to justify violence.”

A large coalition of groups and individuals is holding a “Bay Area Rally Against Hate,” which is not organized to physically confront the white supremacists.

According to the rally announcement, “fascists and white supremacists are meeting in Berkeley to try to intimidate us and incite violence. We’re meeting near UC Berkeley campus, blocks away and on the other side of the downtown, to speak to each other about the world we want. Join us, bring snacks, bring signs.”

The rally, hosted by Unite for Freedom Right Wing Violence in the Bay Area, will be held Sunday, 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., at Crescent Lawn, Oxford and Addison streets at UC Berkeley.

Published August, 25, 2017, courtesy of the Oakland Post

New Citizens’ Police Commission Could Become Among Strongest in Nation

 OccupyOaklandStrikePolice

 

By Post Staff

A selection panel made its final choices this week for the city’s new citizens’ police commission, established by an overwhelming vote in November, which will have significant power to investigate and punish police misconduct and help set policies for the Oakland Police Department.

Four commissioners were picked Monday by the selection panel. Three additional members were appointed by Mayor Libby Schaaf. Two alternates, one picked by Mayor Schaaf and one selected by the panel, were also named.

Edwin Prather

Edwin Prather

Originally, almost 150 Oakland residents applied to be on the commission. The selection panel ultimately interviewed 28 finalists.

A number of observers have argued that Oakland’s police commission, which has the power to fire the police chief and recommend a pool of finalists to replace the chief, could end up being one of the strongest in the nation.

According to Rashidah Grinage of the Coalition for Police Accountability, “The selection panel was absolutely stunned” that so many applications were turned in, including 50 that came in on the last day.

The members of the panel had a huge amount of work  sorting through the applications and contacting references, she said. “(But) I think they came out with an absolutely great group of people. I think they did a fabulous job.”

The idea of utilizing a selection panel composed mostly of residents, not politicians, to pick the members of police commission “has never been done before” anywhere in the nation, she said.

Once the City Council comes back from recess in September, it will have to vote on confirming the commissioners, giving the public a chance to weigh in, she said.

Regina Jackson

Regina Jackson

The City of Oakland also has to hire two positions that were budgeted to staff the work of the commission.

“I think by October the police commission should be ready to start work,” said Grinage.

Panel appointees:

Mubarak Ahmad works for AC Transit. He coaches little league baseball and is a basketball coach for Montera Middle School.  He is the father of six children and six grandchildren.

Jose Dorado, an Oakland native, runs a tax and bookkeeping business in the Frutivale District. He is the longtime leader of Maxwell Park Neighborhood Council, which works on public safety issues. He also served on the Measure Y oversight committee.

Jose Dorado

Jose Dorado

Ginale Harris lives in East Oakland. She currently works as a San Francisco deputy court clerk. She has worked as a probation and parole advocate helping formerly incarcerated people. In 2012, she served on SFPD Chief Greg Suhr’s violence prevention committee.

Mike Nisperos, who was raised in Oakland, has served as an Alameda County prosecutor and an associate in the John Burris law firm handling police misconduct cases. He authored the Oakland Mayor’s 2001 Public Safety Plan. He has been arrested by OPD four times.

Alternate Maureen Benson is a 17-year Oakland resident. She has worked as an Oakland teacher and principal.

Mayoral appointees:

Edwin Prather is an attorney in San Francisco. He has worked with the Asian Law Caucus and for the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office.

Thomas Smith serves as the political action chair of the Oakland NAACP. He previously worked as a management consultant for McKinsey and Company. He helped set up a charter school in Massachusetts and was on the board of a charter school in Oakland.

Regina Jackson serves as president and CEO of the East Oakland Youth Development Center (EOYDC).
Alternate Andrea Dooley is an attorney and an arbitrator who has worked at Kaiser Permanente.

Published August 17, 2017, courtesy of the Oakland Post

 

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)

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)

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)

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

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

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

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

 

By Ashley Chambers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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)