Category: Uncategorized

Despite Opposition, Council Members Will Discuss “Cover-Up” of OPD’s Violation of Sanctuary City Status

Did Mayor Schaaf block City Council discussion of ICE raid to shield Police Chief´s false statements?

Full discussion set for Dec. 5 Public Safety Committee meeting

 

Students from Aspire Lionel Wilson Preparatory Academy in Oakland spoke at Tuesday evening’s Public Safety Committee, asking the city to uphold its Sanctuary City commitment. “We have a right to demand the truth,” said Jackie Moreno, a student at the school. Photo by Ken Epstein.

 

By Post Staff

Oakland City Councilmembers Desley Brooks and Rebecca Kaplan, seeking information and accountability, last month called for a staff report to be discussed at the Public Safety Committee on the controversial actions of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that took place in West Oakland on Aug. 16

Brooks and Kaplan, as well as many members of the public, had expected the discussion to be held Nov. 14 at Public Safety, but the item was pulled at last week’s Rules and Legislation Committee by Councilmembers Annie Campbell Washington and Abel Guillén.

Some are voicing concerns that the item may have been pulled by Mayor Libby Schaaf’s administration as an attempt to short circuit the current internal investigation of the Chief of Police.

The Rules Committee, which normally sets the agendas for council committees, had originally scheduled the item for a hearing at Public Safety for Tuesday, Nov. 14.

An independent investigation conducted by the Oakland Privacy Commission had concluded that several false statements were made by Oakland Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick about the incident and the OPD’s assistance to HSI/ICE had constituted a violation of sanctuary city policy.

“There has been a significant amount of concern with respect to the raid that took place.  The events surrounding the ICE operation were especially troubling because the City Council has set a sanctuary policy that bars any city employee, including police, from assisting federal immigration agents when they are enforcing civil immigration laws,” said Councilmember Brooks.

Asked by the Post for a comment on the mayor’s possible involvement in pulling the item off the calendar, spokesman for Mayor Schaaf Justin Berton responded.

“It is simply untrue,” he said.

Councilmembers Guillén and Campbell Washington did not respond to the Oakland Post’s request for a comment.

At Tuesday’s Public Safety Committee meeting, Guillén did not explain his position.

According to reports, officials made public statements incorrectly alleging the undocumented immigrant who was detained by ICE was wanted in connection with a criminal matter and that the issue had to do with human trafficking. These allegations seem not to be based on the facts that are known so far.

Oakland police officers performed traffic control duties during the Aug. 16 raids, according to reports.

Many remain unclear as to why the item was taken off calendar.

However, the actions of the mayor and city administration fit a pattern, according to some. City Hall observers say this current dispute is an egregious example how the mayor and city administration respond to City Council decisions they do not like. They do not say anything, they just do not carry out those resolutions.

Staff had already completed a report for the Public Safety Committee item and published it on Legistar for public noticing and were prepared to report on it. Neither the City Attorney’s office nor Oakland Police Department staff had requested that the item to be pulled.

According to Councilmember Brooks, the rationale for pulling the discussion from the agenda was that the issue had been forwarded to OPD’s Internal Affairs Department.

However, the report’s sponsors say the report does not appear to interfere with the investigation. The report asks for facts and to reaffirm that the City of Oakland is a Sanctuary City that will not use any of its resources to assist with “ICE” or “HSI” requests.

“There is no justifiable reason for pulling the item,” said Brooks, speaking at the Public Safety Committee meeting.

“I think it’s inappropriate to try to hide this report and vital that we clearly protect our community from “ICE,” said Kaplan.

Earlier this year, Councilmember Kaplan authored legislation to cut ties between OPD and ICE, and on July 18, the City Council unanimously passed the resolution.

This directive was not adhered to, she said.

The Brooks and Kaplan request for information included:

A chronological timeline and review of the Aug. 16 HSI/ICE raid;

The date the OPD/ICE Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was officially terminated; and

Any and all Oakland police department involvement in, and tasks, at the HSI/ICE West Oakland raid on Aug. 16.

Despite the cancellation of the agenda item, Kaplan and members of the community went ahead with a discussion of the controversy at this week’s Public Safety meeting.

Councilmember Brooks, who heads the Public Safety Committee, has joined with Councilmembers Kaplan and Gallo to submit a resolution that strongly reaffirms Oakland as a Sanctuary City and prohibits city agencies from working with ICE.

“It is vital that we not allow this incredibly important issue to be swept under the rug. The (issue) was cancelled, no reason was given,” said Kaplan.  “We are a sanctuary city – we do not collude with ICE.”

Councilmembers, including Guillén, voted to hold a full discussion of the issue of at the Dec. 5 Public Safety Committee meeting.

Ken Epstein contributed to this article.

Published November 18, 2017, courtesy of the Oakland Post

 

Community Objects to Privately Funded OUSD Enrollment Reform

By Ken A. Epstein

Members of the Board of Education and community activists are raising concerns about how Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) Supt. Antwan Wilson is funding the overhaul of the school enrollment process.

preferred photo

Shanthi Gonzales

The process is being paid for and staffed by outside agencies that have a direct stake in the adoption of the proposal to make a choice of charters schools an equal part of the publically funded school enrollment system.

According to district spokesman Troy Flint, the $300,000 utilized to develop the “common enrollment proposal and conduct public outreach was donated by an organization called Educate78 – set up in Oakland by pro-charter organization New Schools Venture Fund.”

“We chose the name “Educate78” because the city of Oakland is 78 square miles, and our mission is to ensure that every student, in every neighborhood of Oakland, has access to world-class public schools. We will do this through informed giving and strategic initiatives,” according to a posting on the New Schools Venture Fund Website.

Roseann Torres

Roseann Torres

The Venture Fund is a nonprofit that started out channeling philanthropic donations to charter schools and “now invests in a range of education groups and businesses …entering into a partnership with a new venture capital fund that could result in millions more in financing,” according to an article in the New York Times.

In an interview with the Post, Flint said the funders were unlikely to contribute more money to the project if the board decided to move ahead on reforming the enrollment process without including charter schools in the mix.

Flint also told community members that the Oakland Public Education Fund, which is connected to OUSD, would be unlikely to raise $1.2 million to institute enrollment reform, if this proposal is not approved by the board.

“The $1.2 million … would only be raised if common enrollment is approved,” Flint wrote in a Dec. 2 email.

According to Flint, Educate78, not OUSD, has hired senior staff from Institute for Innovation for Public School Choice (IIPSC) to work on the proposal. IIPSC developed Common Enrollment in New York, New Orleans, Denver and other cities.

Under the Common Enrollment plan, parents can submit six choices from among charter and district schools, and a “computer algorithm” will assign them to one of the six schools.

The OUSD administration says the plan, which it named ¨Better Enrollment Oakland,” will increase transparency and efficiency, streamlining a bureaucratic process that currently requires parents seeking admission to charter schools to apply to each school separately, along with applying to OUSD.

Supt. Antwan Wilson

Supt. Antwan Wilson

School Boardmember Shanthi Gonzales, speaking at Wednesday night’s board meeting, asked staff to prepare a report on the potential impact of Common Enrollment, whether the loss of students to charter schools in other cities has led to declining resources for public schools, school closings and the layoffs of school employees.

She objected to how the administration is moving ahead on enrollment reform.

“It’s deeply problematic that we didn’t do an open call for anybody (in the community) to participate in this,” she said. “It was privately organized (and) funded by private dollars (that) led the planning process.”

“These are our public schools,” she said. “I don’t think people who potentially have other agendas (should be) shaping our public policy.”

Gonzales said it is wrong to rely on private funds from groups that say they are going to withdraw their support if the board does not vote for their proposal.

Boardmember Roseann Torres spoke Monday at a community meeting, saying the district needed to reform its enrollment system but opposed promoting charter schools charters.

“Doing this together (with charters) is completely nonsensical,” Torres said. “Why should I advertise for the other guy?”

Dan Siegel, a former member of the school board and former OUSD general counsel, said he was shocked by the administration’s complicity with charter organizations.

“I am astounded by the openness of the administration’s attitude on this issue,” he said. “It’s one thing for the school district not to interfere with the development of charters schools. It’s another thing altogether when you have the administrators of the public school system supporting the destruction of that very system.”

Siegel said the board has to have the courage to tell Supt. Wilson that “this is a bad proposal and something we don’t want to do.”

The rhetoric of the pro-charter groups like New Schools Venture Fund does little to calm community concerns.

“The time is right to focus on Oakland,” the Venture Fund says on its website. “The city’s robust and vibrant community of educators, innovators and social entrepreneurs is growing. We have an inspiring new leader in OUSD Superintendent Antwan Wilson, who shares our vision of putting results before ideology in service of all students.”

The fund says its partners include Great Oakland (GO) Public Schools and Lighthouse Community Charter School. Its supporters include the Rogers Family Foundation.

The school board is tentatively scheduled to vote on the common enrollment proposal in January.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, December 5, 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)

Churches, Community Unite Against Coal in Oakland

Speakers at a community coal meeting included (L to R): Pastor Ken Chambers of West Side Baptist Church, Margaret Gordon of the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project, and Will Scott, program director of California Faith Power & Light. Photo by Ashley Chambers.

Speakers at a community coal meeting included (L to R): Pastor Ken Chambers of West Side Baptist Church, Margaret Gordon of the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project, and Will Scott, program director of California Faith Power & Light. Photo by Ashley Chambers.

By Ashley Chambers

Community members and faith leaders held a public meeting this week to oppose the export of coal from a terminal at the City of Oakland’s Oakland Army Base development project.

“The community of West Oakland has high health risks for asthma, cancer and other health challenges that continue to plague our community,” said Pastor Ken Chambers of West Side Baptist Church, who is a cancer survivor, speaking at the meeting Monday held at his church.

One speaker, Margaret Gordon, of the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project (WOEIP), said the coal trains from Utah would reverse the improvements in air quality the city has made over a number of years.

Pastor Chambers is part of a group of at least a dozen other churches and organizations represented at the Monday meeting, including Pastor Curtis Robinson of Faith Baptist Church and Will Scott of California Interfaith Power & Light – that are pushing back on this proposal to bring coal to Oakland.

The community meeting came in the wake of a lengthy and heated public hearing held last month by the City Council, which brought out opponents and supporters of the coal terminal.

At that meeting, a number of church leaders said the supported the terminal because it would mean jobs, and those who spoke in opposition said bringing coal to Oakland would expose the community – especially West Oakland, which is already challenged with high asthma rates – to greater health risks.

The proposal by Terminal Logistic Solutions (TLS), with the backing of Oakland Army Base developer Phil Tagami, suggests transporting coal in covered cars to reduce the amount of coal dust from spilling out during transit.

However, these measures would not be effective in eliminating this health risks to Oakland and nearby communities, according to those at the

“Because of the wind at the bay, it could carry this coal (dust) to Emeryville, Berkeley and the Oakland hills.”

“This is bigger than West Oakland. We are organizing citywide support from every council district to stand up against this environmental injustice,” he said.

While Council President Lynette Gibson McElhaney has not taken a position on the proposal, she spoke at the meeting, saying the city’s limited authority in written into development contract with Tagami.

In June 2013, “When we adopted that development agreement, we pretty much set in stone the current existing regulatory environment. It gives a developer certainty,” said McElhaney, whose district includes West Oakland.

Basically, the agreement limits the city from making changes to certain rules and regulations to the developer.

“But we do preserve, at all times, (the right) to amend or change any regulations as it relates to public health and safety,” McElhaney added.

“We’re hoping that Council President McElhaney and the full council will step in and champion this issue for environmental justice in the City of Oakland,” said Chambers.

The City Council is scheduled to make a decision on the project in December.

Another community meeting is planned for Monday, Nov. 16 at 6:30 p.m. at West Side Church, 732 Willow St., Oakland.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, October 29, 2015 (postnewgroup.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 Bans Grand Juries in Police-Involved Deaths

The ban is not a significant change to the pre-existing process, say civil rights experts

Protesters blocked streets after the announcement of a grand jury decision not to indict officer Darren Wilson in the shooting deth of Micahel Brown in Ferguson, Mo. Poto courtesy of AP/Jeff Reberson.

Protesters blocked streets after the announcement of a grand jury decision not to indict officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Micahel Brown in Ferguson, Mo. Photo courtesy of AP/Jeff Reberson.

By Tulio Ospina

Public reaction was enormously positive last week when California became the first state to ban the use of grand juries in police-involved killings, but civil rights experts say the change is not significant.

Signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, the law – Senate Bill 227 – strips prosecutors of the option of allowing secret grand jury proceedings to decide whether or not to press criminal charges against local, state and federal law enforcement officers who commit violence against civilians.

John Burn, Oakland civil rights attorney

John Burn, Oakland civil rights attorney

The use of grand juries in these cases has come under severe public scrutiny last year after local police officers in Ferguson and Staten Island were not indicted for causing the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, sparking protests across the country.

Under the new law, prosecutors will solely be responsible for weighing evidence against law enforcement and deciding whether to file criminal charges, that is, whether to take the complaint to a preliminary hearing.

Unlike grand juries, preliminary hearings are presided over by a judge and the prosecutor presents live witnesses and evidence that are subject to cross-examination by the defense.

It is then up to the judge to answer whether there is enough probable cause that a crime was committed by the defendant.

All preliminary hearings are open to the public, whereas grand jury proceedings are held behind closed doors and rarely are the proceedings made public if the jury votes not to indict.

Walter Riley (right) attended rally where Jeralynn Blueford (speaking) addressed supporters demanding justice for Alan Blueford. Photo courtesy of Workers World.

Walter Riley (right front) attended rally where Jeralynn Blueford addressed supporters demanding justice in the police killing of her son Alan Blueford. Photo courtesy of Workers World.

The California District Attorneys Association and the California Police Chiefs Association opposed the ban, while many civil rights workers say the banning of grand juries in these cases is a small step in the right direction but not enough to ensure that just decisions be made.

John Burris, civil rights attorney in Oakland, says the ban is not a significant change to the pre-existing process and will not secure more appropriate criminal prosecutions of police officers when deserving.

“The real issue is and has always been from the DA’s office because they make the decision on whether or not to indict,” said Burris.

Natasha Minsker, director of the ACLU of California Center for Advocacy & Policy

Natasha Minsker, director of the ACLU of California Center for Advocacy & Policy

“Now they don’t have the option of grand juries, which had transparency issues, but the local DAs in California rarely if ever used grand juries to begin with.”

According to Alameda County Assistant District Attorney Teresa Drenick, her office “does not use grand juries in these matters.”

In the widely publicized case of the killing of Oscar Grant, BART officer Johannes Mehserle was indicted through a preliminary hearing and found guilty of second-degree murder.

Assistant DA Drenick also has stated that there are times when grand juries are vital, such as in cases where witnesses and victims need to testify safely behind anonymity without threat or intimidation.

Contra Costa County District Attorney Mark Peterson said the ban on grand juries was a mistake and would not yield more transparency, contrary to the law’s intention.

“The district attorney always had the power to make criminal charges, and then a judge decides whether to indict,” said Peterson. “But a grand jury allows a community of 19 or so people to hear the charges, weigh the evidence and make the decision.”

“I admit they don’t return non-indictment transcripts to the public, but if that’s the concern, then just make those grand jury transcripts public,” said Peterson.

According to Walter Riley, a criminal defense and police misconduct attorney in Oakland, it is an important step for more transparency in the process, even if it does not mean that there will be more appropriate prosecutions.

Like other civil rights attorneys, Riley criticizes the “strong connection between the DA and the police, who work very close together.”

“As a result of working together, they don’t do a very good job of prosecuting police officers,” he said.

Three years ago, Riley spoke out against the Alameda County prosecutors’ decision not to press criminal charges against Oakland Police officer Miguel Masso in the shooting death of Alan Blueford.

The prosecutors decided that Masso had acted in self-defense and would not face criminal charges, a decision Riley questioned after examining the police report.

To solve the alleged biases between district attorneys and law enforcement, Burris says assigning independent prosecutors appointed by the attorney general to investigate police shooting cases is the essential next step.

Natasha Minsker, director of the ACLU of California Center for Advocacy & Policy, said “proposed legislation for independent prosecutors was killed by law enforcement lobbyists earlier this year.”

AB 953, a bill addressing the problem of racial profiling, is set for a vote in Senate, said Minsker. “Over 100 community groups and organizations, including #BlackLivesMatter, are supporting it but it’s facing very strong opposition from law enforcement.”

“We really need to push legislature to back necessary bills (like this one),” said Minsker. “Otherwise we won’t end police discrimination.”

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

Post News Group Reporter Tulio Ospina Arrested in Ferguson on Anniversary of Mike Brown’s Death

Ferguson protestors express their anger at St. Louis County police on the one-year anniversary of Mike Brown's death. Rick Wilking/Reuters.

Ferguson protestors express their anger at St. Louis County police on the one-year anniversary of Mike Brown’s death. Rick Wilking/Reuters.

By Tulio Ospina

Post intern Tulio Ospina was in Ferguson, Mo. this week where he was filming for a documentary on the Black Lives Matter movement and reporting for the Post News Group on the one-year anniversary of the shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown, which sparked an international movement that is still going strong today.

 Ospina says he was arrested in an illegal sweep on Monday, Aug. 10 that caught up 150 people across St. Louis County.

As my fellow arrestees and I shuffled into the Buzz Westfall Justice Center in Clayton, Missouri, my most pressing thought was the removal of my plastic cuffs which had been tightly zip-tied to my wrists for over six hours.

Tulio Ospina after his release from St. Louis County jail.

Tulio Ospina after his release from St. Louis County jail

The 63 of us were only now arriving at the St. Louis County Jail to be booked for the night after being jumped around to different locations all evening. It was a little past midnight and I tried not to think about how slowly the hours were dragging by.

As a member of the press and cinematographer, I was tasked with documenting the various actions and demands of grassroots organizations along with the responses of police to their acts of civil disobedience.

What I witnessed and experienced was both awe-inspiring and harrowing.

Married couple Brittany Ferrell and Alexis Templeton reflect a young generation of warriors risking their lives as they pit themselves against a notoriously violent police department.

They are both in their mid-20s and have dedicated their lives to obliterating racist police terror and empowering their local communities.

As co-founders of a grassroots organization in Ferguson called Millennial Activists United, they helped organize the shutting down of an interstate highway on Monday that blocked traffic for 20 minutes.

This was where we were arrested.

As the group of protestors was returning to their parked cars in a parking lot off the highway—following police orders to disperse—they suddenly found themselves ambushed as officers charged at the scattered crowd and arrested every single person present.

Many were unnecessarily tackled, dragged on the ground and hauled out of their vehicles despite having been ordered to leave and complying. This was 12 hours after St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger declared a state of emergency.

It is clear to me that one year after the killing of Michael Brown, after the youth-led Ferguson uprising that caught world’s attention and after the scathing Department of Justice report on oppressive policing and ticketing methods, St. Louis County is uninterested in change.

What has changed from when we witnessed the wholesale abusive treatment of innocent protestors, pedestrians and members of the press?

Back then, the world watched as a monstrous militarized police force terrorized unarmed civilians.

Now, we can see that law enforcement has chosen to take illegal preemptive methods to avoid another public embarrassment by sweeping as many people off the street as possible to ensure there be no news stories to tell.

As I sat in the sterile St. Louis County Jail at three o’clock in the morning, I met Cece, a 12-year-old girl seated on the plastic bench across from me.

Cece told me she was arrested while crossing the street in Ferguson in compliance to police orders to disperse. “I told them I was 12 years old so that they wouldn’t slam me on the ground,” she said.

The bored and jaded look on her face as she sat in jail said it all.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, August 14, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

Pope Francis Returns to South America, Calling for Climate Justice for the World’s Poor

He says government should include indigenous groups, people of African descent, women in decision-making

Pope Francis arrives in Ecuador. Photo courtesy of the Guardian

Pope Francis arrives in Ecuador. Photo courtesy of the Guardian

By Tulio Ospina

Pope Francis arrived in Ecuador on Sunday, visiting his home continent for a three-country tour that includes Bolivia and Paraguay.

The pope’s visit to Quito—Ecuador’s capital city—attracted over one million people who traveled from across the country and camped out overnight to get a good view of the pontiff.

Ecuador's President Rafael Correa, right, welcomes Pope Francis upon his arrival at Quito Airport, Ecuador, Sunday, July 5. Photo courtesy of Fox News

Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa, right, welcomes Pope Francis upon his arrival at Quito Airport, Ecuador, Sunday, July 5. Photo courtesy of Fox News

The pope, who is Argentinian, had been expected to address the exploitation of the Amazon—the planet’s most ecologically important rainforest—following the release of his extensive encyclical on the environment.

The encyclical reveals his deep scientific, economic and social knowledge surrounding the causes and effects of “the harm we have inflicted on [the planet] by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her.”

In accordance with Francis’ concern for the poor, the encyclical asserts that while human-induced global warming—based on “a very solid scientific consensus”—concerns all people, “its worst impact will probably be felt by developing countries” and the world’s neediest populations.

Pope visits nursing home in Quito, Ecuador. Photo courtesy of the New York Times

Pope visits nursing home in Quito, Ecuador. Photo courtesy of  the Associated Press.

Known informally as “the pope of the poor,” his visit to the region has focused on a message that uplifts family values, communal love and unity.

“The people of Ecuador are beyond excited and pleased, the majority of them being Catholic,” said Azalia Cruz, a Post correspondent in Quito. “In Quito, it was extremely cold, and it was raining a lot when he arrived. Despite this, thousands of people gathered to greet the Pope.”

In one of Latin America’s oldest Catholic churches, Francis pressed a variety of issues,

Addressing ecological concerns, he reminded the Ecuadorean people that “when exploiting Ecuador’s natural resources, the focus should not be on instant gratification” and that appropriate environmental caution and gratitude must be paid when managing these resources.

“Groups of environmentalists opposing petroleum extraction in the Amazonian Yasuní National Park were trying to get a letter to the pope to get a statement out of him,” said Cruz.

These groups have come together in protest to Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa’s intention to open the park’s untouched interior for oil extraction, which will strongly affect the lives of the region’s indigenous tribes and the environment around them, as it has in the past.

Over many years, Ecuador and it’s peasant and indigenous populations have been involved in ongoing international legal battles with Chevron, accusing the oil company of deliberately dumping more than 18 billion gallons of toxic wastewater and 17 million gallons of crude oil and leaving behind hundreds of open pits filled with hazardous waste.

Courtesy of the Post News Group, July 12, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

 

 

 

Oakland Must Enforce Police Accountability, Says 100 Black Men

Public Safety Committee will discuss proposals on Tuesday

Some of the poposals would protect the right of residents to film police and encourage them to do so. Photo courtesy of defendingdissent.org.

Some of the poposals would protect the right of residents to film police and encourage them to do so. Photo courtesy of defendingdissent.org.

By Ashley Chambers

The Oakland City Council’s Public Safety Committee next week will discuss a set of police accountability reforms that were proposed by 100 Black Men of the Bay Area during the wave of national outrage generated by the killing of Walter Scott by a police officer in April in South Carolina.

Frank Tucker

Frank Tucker

Among the recommendations are psychological screenings of new officers, enhanced police training in use of force, investigating and publicizing officer misconduct and legal protections of the right to record law enforcement.

100 Black Men says these new policies or laws would improve safety of all citizens, particularly African Americans, who to according to city statistics have much higher rates of interaction with Oakland Police than other racial groups.

“The major objective is to overcome the systemic problems that we see in law enforcement, which has led to the rash of murders and abuse of African Americans in general, and specifically a disproportionate volume of African American men,” said Frank Tucker, president the local chapter of 100 Black Men.

“We need policy change to make an impact and reduce the amount of killings of Black men by law enforcement,” he said. “We’re hoping that it becomes a national movement across the country in the other 106 chapters.”

Dan Kalb

Dan Kalb

The proposals that will be discussed at the committee meeting call for the city to end the criminalization of victims in officer-involved shootings, adopting a policy on the release of criminal and personal information of officers involved in cases of excessive use of force; adopt legislation requiring psychological testing and screening of newly hired officers, and testing of all sworn personnel every five years; adopting policies requiring the police department to train officers more effectively to avoid the use of force, especially lethal force.

Other proposals include: adopt legislation to eliminate the concealing of investigations into police officer misconduct; mandatory firing and criminal prosecution for failure to report and/or disclose officer misconduct, and for providing false information in all cases of use of force by police; adopt legislation to send law enforcement video and dash cams to the cloud in real time, to prevent tampering of evidence; establish a “Do Shoot” campaign encouraging the public to record police stops and arrests as a form of self-defense.

The committee will also consider adopting an ordinance establishing the right to photograph, video, and/or audio record police and peace officers, as well as require a warrant before a police officer can obtain someone’s camera, phone, or other recording device.

City Councilmember Dan Kalb, a member of the Public Safety Committee, told the Post he is happy to support the ordinance to establish the right for people to record police officers.

“It’s another thing to walk up to a police officer and stand in front of them and stick your camera in their face so they can’t do their job,” Kalb said. “As long as they’re not getting in the way of the officer doing their job,” I’m all for that.

However, Kalb says he is not sure what the council can do to alleviate the problems related to police patterns of concealing investigations into officer misconduct and the criminalizing of victims of officer-involved shootings,

“OPD officers are trained and told that reporting misconduct is what they’re supposed to do. I’m not sure what we as a council can do to make sure that officers report misconduct about other officers,” he said.

He also says the city is in discussion about upgrading the police body camera system to secure video evidence.

Tucker said that 100 Black Men believes that action on these recommendation is urgent.

“Every minute that we delay in taking action, we take the risk of another African American life being senselessly lost,” he said. “If we can get these policies in place, we’re positioned to save lives.”

Chapters of 100 Black Men have introduced similar proposals in San Francisco and will do the same in Berkeley and Richmond.

The Public Safety Committee is scheduled to meet Tuesday, July 14 at 5 p.m. at Oakland City Hall.

(postnewsgroup.com)

Healthcare Racial Disparities Persist Despite ACA

More Californians than ever before have health insurance, but coverage isn’t care, and the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has magnified the deep racial, ethnic and cultural disparities in accessing quality health care in California.

Gary Delgado

Gary Delgado

Latino and African Americans especially remain heavily uninsured and struggle to receive health care.

Language and cultural barriers, lack of Internet or an email address, a lack of experience in using health insurance, a shortage of doctors and clinics in poor and rural communities, and high costs are preventing many from receiving health care and medications.

A new report “Breaking Barriers: Improving health insurance enrollment and access to health care in California,” reveals a deep divide between social class, income, culture and ethnicity emerging under the state’s Covered Care.

New report: "Breaking Barriers"

New report: “Breaking Barriers”

“It’s unconscionable that so many have been left out of something as basic as the chance to enjoy good health,” said Gary Delgado, author of Breaking Barriers. “Lack of Internet access or speaking another language is not a reason to be locked out of a health system that purports to be open to all.

“Obamacare did not cause the widespread racial disparities we found, but neither did it solve them. Now we have to take them on directly,” said Delgado.

“Breaking Barriers” is a year-long study that includes a survey of nearly 1,200 low-income people in 10 states in Spanish, Cantonese, and English. They were contacted at food banks, health clinics, and homeless centers.

Alfredo DeAvila did surveys and interviews for the Breaking Barriers California report.

“If the ACA is going to be successful, we need to help people transition not only into the health insurance system, but also into the health care system,” he said. “We must invest in public education about how to get ongoing preventive care.”

The Korean America community, especially seniors are struggling because of costs, said DJ Yoon, executive director of NAKASEC (National Korean American Service and Education Consortium.)

“California can be a leader in assuring quality health care for all people. We have let people of color again slip through the cracks in our system, we can do better – and here is a roadmap for how we get there,” said Delgado.

Key recommendations in the report include:

Improve language access. Make provider directories available in multiple languages and list addresses, phone numbers, languages spoken, hospital affiliations, and specialties;

Simplify the insurance-shopping experience. Make cost information transparent and communicate clearly about deductibles, co-pays, and preventive services that are included;

Covered California should enforce and impose penalties on insurers who do not reduce racial health care disparities within required timeframes;

Assure that primary care providers are within 30 minutes driving or public transit time. Enrollees who must travel further should be offered free transportation;

Expand school-based health centers, especially in medically underserved communities;

Address underlying causes of poor health, especially in poor communities, (mold, infestations, domestic violence) Expand medical-legal partnerships as an avenue toward addressing poor health in low-income communities;

Reinforce the ACA-mandated “well-woman preventive” care and provide education about the value of preventive care for all. Ensure that all plans include reproductive health care services.

The full Breaking Barriers in California report is available at http://allianceforajustsociety.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/BBReport_CALIF.pdf