Category: Restorative Justice

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

 

Gentrification Threatens Oakland Churches and Artists

Coalition of faith-based, housing and cultural groups join to protect sacred spaces, say speakers at Post Salon

Speakers at the Oct. 25 Post Salon at Geoffrey’s Inner Circle were (L to R): Pastor Thomas Harris, Pleasant Grove Baptist Church; Pastor Phyllis Scott of Tree of Life Empowerment Ministries; Anyka Barber, owner of Betti Ono gallery; Theo Williams, SambaFunk!. and co-moderator Pastor Debra Avery. Photo by Tulio Ospina, First Presbyterian Church. Photo by Tulio Ospina

Speakers at the Oct. 25 Post Salon at Geoffrey’s Inner Circle were (L to R): Pastor Thomas Harris, Pleasant Grove Baptist Church; Pastor Phyllis Scott, Tree of Life Empowerment Ministries; Anyka Barber, owner of Betti Ono gallery; Theo Williams, SambaFunk!; and co-moderator Pastor Debra Avery, First Presbyterian Church. Photo by Tulio Ospina

  By Ken Epstein

Oakland and other Bay Area cities are in the throes of a market-driven surge in evictions and rent increases, as long-term residents, small businesses and nonprofit agencies are being pushed out of their communities at an increasingly feverish pace.

Tensions are reaching a flashpoint in Oakland, where veteran residents are finding that a handful of gentrifiers  – perceived as acting out of a sense of entitlement – are trying to suppress the culture and religious worship that many see as the expression of life and breath.

At the heart of the conflict are two incidents that have become emblematic of the deepening tensions.
One of the incidents occurred in August when a resident called 911 to complain about an evening church choir practice at Pleasant Grove Baptist Church in West Oakland, which received a city letter threatening penalties.

The second occurred in September when a resident approached drummers at Lake Merritt, tried to take away their drumsticks and called police to press assault charges against the musicians.

Exacerbating tensions, the city has seemed to side with the complainers – by threatening the church with penalties and filing charges against two of the drummers – though all charges were ultimately dropped this week.

Many residents see a double standard on the part of city agencies, which rarely respond when neighbors complain about a crack house next door or when garbage and other trash are piling up on their block.

These were concerns raised last Sunday, when residents, members of church congregations and cultural workers packed into a space at Geoffrey’s Inner Circle in downtown Oakland for a community discussion led by a panel of religious and arts’ leaders about how to come to grips with the current threat.

“(Our) church has been there over 65 years, and Wednesday night is choir rehearsal,” said Pastor Thomas Harris of Pleasant Grove.

“We were shocked, stunned when we heard that we were a nuisance in the community,” he said.  “We want to embrace change, (but) we also want the community to realize there is a tradition.”

Pastor Harris said he was also surprised by the widespread support his church has been receiving.
“I didn’t know this was going to take off like this,” he said, adding that he has heard from someone in Colorado, who told him, “We can’t hear you – you’re not loud enough.”

“I can’t believe all this is going on,” Pastor Harris said. “ If I’m the instrument to be used to make a change, I’m ready to be used.“

Co-moderator Pastor Debra Avery of the First Presbyterian Church of Oakland emphasized the connections between the churches and cultural expression, saying, “The church and the artists belong together.”

Another speaker, Theo Williams, is head of the drumming group SambaFunk! Funkquarians and co-founder of the Soul of Oakland coalition.

“We are all in this this together – this monster is coming to devour our community and devour our soul, ” he said.   “Just know we are standing with you. It is our job to come together now, not to look at our differences,” he said.

Drumming is rooted in African culture, Williams said, and, “We go to church almost every day of the week (somewhere in the city), and you are saying that it is going to be prohibited and restricted – that is our culture.”

Williams said the city should pass an ordinance to protect its cultural institutions. New residents who are moving next door to churches and cultural spaces should know they are protected by law.

The city should also eliminate policies that penalize or undermine cultural spaces.  “It’s time to look through all the municipal codes,” he said.

Pastor Phyllis Scott of Tree of Life Empowerment Ministries said churches receives complaints because, “We do a major work the city does not do. We feed the hungry, and we have HIV testing.”

Some people are complaining because they don’t want the “flood of homeless people coming into the neighborhood,” because the churches are feeding those who are in need, she said.

Anyka Barber, co-creator of the Oakland Creative Neighborhoods Coalition and owner of the Betti Ono art gallery, explained she was born in Oakland and is committed to fight for the city’s cultural identity.

“It is my responsibility as a native, as a business owner (and) as a mother to step up,” she said. “There is no disconnection between the churches and the cultural workers. Everything I know I learned in church.”

Barber called for the city to reestablish its Cultural Arts Commission, “made up of residents who really represent our interests.”

She criticized the city’s process for creating a downtown development plan. “This planning process is not indicative of the community,” she said. “A lot of people feel like it should be scrapped and start all over. That’s my sense of it.”

Post publisher Paul Cobb, co-moderator of the event, called on the City Council to pass a “Church Pride Day” to acknowledge the churches, “so Oakland can be a sanctuary city for our sanctuaries.”

City development plans should include a “faith-based zone,” where affordable housing can be built around the churches, he said.

“The city needs a master plan for downtown that protects all the nonprofits, community groups and small businesses that are being pushed out because of gentrification,” Cobb said.

He also suggested putting out a national call for people to come to Oakland to hold sit-ins and picket lines at some of some of the city’s hip new restaurants that do not hire Black workers, “to integrate the jobs in these new restaurants in the same manner that we integrated southern lunch counters and restaurants in the 60s.”

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, October 30, 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 Residents Push City Council to Protect Renters and Homeowners Who Are Being Driven from the City

 A panel of experts spoke at the Oakland City Councl's  housing crisis public hearing on Wednesday evening. Left to right:  Muntu Davis, Alameda County public health director; Kalima Rose, senior director of the PolicyLink Center; Edward Del Beccaro, Transwestern; and Alma Blackwell, Oakland Housing Rights Organizer at Causa Justa: Just Cause. Photo by Tulio Ospina.

A panel of experts spoke at the Oakland City Councl’s housing crisis public hearing on Wednesday evening. Left to right: Dr. Muntu Davis, Alameda County Public Health director; Kalima Rose, senior director of the PolicyLink Center; Edward Del Beccaro, Transwestern; and Alma Blackwell, Oakland Housing Rights Organizer at Causa Justa: Just Cause. Photo by Tulio Ospina.

By Ken Epstein

Angry, desperate and determined residents filled city council chambers Wednesday evening for a public hearing that had been called to discuss Oakland’s housing crisis, demanding that councilmembers move beyond talk to take immediate action to protect them from the runaway housing market that is driving Oaklanders from their homes and the city.

Pressured by speaker after speaker and some on the council, councilmembers ultimately voted unanimously to adopt an action roadmap that will provide a framework for them to deal with many aspects of the crisis.

Tenants spoke about rents being raised and being evicted after decades in the same apartment. A few said they were already packed and preparing to move out of the city.

A woman talked about losing her home and being forced to live in her car, while one man said that he has been fighting illegal rent increases and landlord harassment for five years.

The focus of the hearing was a document called “A Roadmap Toward Equity: Housing Solutions for Oakland, California,” a comprehensive set of proposals to protect residents from displacement and to build more housing that Oakland’s low- and moderate-income residents can afford.

The plan was developed by city staff and the nonprofit organization PolicyLink after 18 months of research, examining what other cities are doing and evaluating the experiences of existing City of Oakland policies, programs and laws.

The roadmap’s many proposals include strengthening code enforcement to require landlords to maintain their units in habitable condition, a rent control ordinance to replace the existing one that tenants’ rights supporters consider ineffective and free legal support for the thousands of tenants who are evicted each year, often illegally.

Housing activists told a Post reporter that they were happy the document had passed but saw the unanimous vote as a small first step – the priorities in the plan have yet to be adopted.

While the council is sounding like it is willing to fight for residents, many of the housing activists are concerned that the council as a whole does not have a good track record on protecting tenants or assuring that new projects require developers to build affordable housing units.

Over the last decade, the City Council has repeatedly failed to muster the five votes needed to pass a number of the ordinances and policies that are now in the road map.

The council has repeatedly voted to support developers with little or no guarantees of affordable housing. Ordinances are passed frequently that have no budget to pay for staff to implement or enforce them.

Sometimes, staff failed to implement council decisions.

Councilmember Desley Brooks underscored the urgent need to take immediate and decisive council action.

Brooks proposed a motion for the full council to discuss and vote to fund a program to provide for rapid housing relocation money for tenants who are evicted and to help low-income home owners with loans to pay for code violations and retrofits.

The funds would also pay for outreach to support the enforcement of the city’s minimum wage ordinance.

Brooks’ motion, jointly seconded by Councilmembers Dan Kalb and Rebecca Kaplan, will be discussed by the full council on Oct. 20.

Brooks also called on the council to take steps to guarantee that the city signs contracts with local businesses that hire Oakland residents.

“We can look at our contracting process and give Oaklanders contracts,” she said. “We have to save ourselves. We have to grow businesses in our communities.”

Brooks said the roadmap contains many proposals that can make a difference in the coming years, but the council needs to focus first on those that can be done right away.

“We have to look at how we can assist people staying in place,” she said.

“We have everything we need, right now, right here in order to address this problem,” Brooks said. “We don’t have the luxury of working on one thing at a time. We have to work on many things at the same time.”

Kaplan said the council should look at steps right away to relieve the plight tenants are facing.

“We have people kicked out of their homes today, many in ways that are illegal,” she said. “We have a relocation assistance ordinance that is not effective – it is confusing.”

The city can make the ordinance more consistent with a high enough dollar amount to make sure it really helps people with their relocation expenses, she said.

In addition, she said, landlords can be required to pay $5,000 to $10,000 per unit for tenant relocation. Such fees would discourage landlords from evicting tenants to re-rent apartments at a higher rate.

Mayor Libby Schaaf, in a statement released Wednesday, discussed the work of the mayor’s housing cabinet, which she formed to propose concrete steps to deal with the crisis.

“I am working on strategies to immediately stabilize neighborhoods and protect existing residents by converting market-rate housing to affordable, as well as longer-term measures to build new housing at all income levels,” she said.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, October 4, 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)

 

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)