Category: Uncategorized

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

 

Opinion: Oakland Needs Office of Race and Equity

“Allow ourselves to become comfortable with being uncomfortable”

 By Desley Brooks

It is widely known now that I have called for an office of Race and Equity to be established in the City of Oakland. Voices have risen up across our entire city from residents, community

Desley Brooks

Desley Brooks

organizations, agencies, and other elected officials discussing the need for such an office in our city.

The most resounding voice on the issue is in absolute agreement of a need for an office of Race and Equity. However there are other opinions as well ranging from moderate consideration, outright disagreement, as well as those who are undecided.

Race is a subject that we handle very interestingly in America. It impacts so much of the atmosphere in the worlds of business, politics, education, and family life, whether we admit it or not.

Yet we are largely uncomfortable having meaningful discourse around this thing that is so prevalent in our day-to-day lives. Because we are uncomfortable talking about race, many of us tend to pick a side on an issue concerning race and just stand on that square, unwilling to really hear the perspective of others.

If we are going to address racial inequalities in our city, we are going to have to get comfortable being uncomfortable.

We are going to have to be willing to respectfully listen to the opinions and ideas of others that may not always sit well with us or even stir up emotions of fear, anger, and guilt.

Racial equity is not an issue of politics – it is an issue of humanity that can be addressed through a political process.

I obviously believe in the need for such an office in our city, but I’m not asking anyone to blindly join this cause or agree with me automatically.

I invite all of us to explore the facts and consider the climate in our city as it relates to race and equity in Oakland.

My hope is that we all will allow ourselves to be comfortable being uncomfortable and asking ourselves questions and reflecting personally on our experiences and beliefs relating to race and racism.

Desley Brooks is a member of the Oakland City Council, representing District 6.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, April 11, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

Oakland Unified’s Administration Bypasses School Board to Hire Jackson for $30,000 Per Month

By Ken Epstein

The Oakland Unified School District administration bypassed Board of Education approval in order to pay Lance Jackson $30,000 a month to oversee the district’s multimillion dollar construction program, the Oakland Post has learned.

Jacqueline Minor

Jacqueline Minor

While the district is conducting a search for a new person to head the work, Jackson is overseeing OUSD’s construction programs and repairs, maintenance and custodial services.

Uncertain that the Board of Education would be willing to vote for the $30,000 a month interim contract for Jackson, the administration has decided to pull the contract and instead to pay the consultant out of the ongoing contract the district has with Jackson’s company, Seville Group Inc.

Jackson is Chief Operating Officer of Seville, a construction management firm that provides oversight of OUSD construction projects.

The Post recently reported that Jackson was hired for the interim position at a rate of $360,000 a year – more than double the $156,000 a year received by former chief of construction management Tim White. Jackson’s annual salary is higher than the $280,000 annual salary that Supt. Antwan Wilson receives.

Passed by the board under Acting Supt. Gary Yee, the district’s $10.9 million contract with Seville was approved to provide program management services for Measure B and Measure J and capital projects on behalf of the district in the Division of Facilities Planning and Management.

Lance Jackson

Lance Jackson

The term of the contract commenced on Aug. 14, 2013 and concludes by Dec. 31, 2015. Seville received $4 million from the district in 2014.

Raising questions on the details of the agreement with Jackson, the Oakland Post asked the district administration what will happen to the Seville staff working in the district and the work they were doing when that money is transferred to cover Mr. Jackson’s pay.

In response, district spokesman Troy Flint said, “When working on large projects of the kind SGI (Seville) handles for OUSD, there’s flexibility to adjust, in fact, it’s a necessity. Lance’s contract is not going to impact the work delivered or the manner in which it’s delivered as, relative to our agreement with SGI, it’s a small piece of the pie.”

In response to the question whether the agreement with Seville allows for the company to head up the facilities department, Flint said, “There’s not explicit wording in the contract to cover this specific circumstance, but the general language of the contract indicates that decisions can be made as needed to facilitate SGI’s successful management of the projects under its scope–and this falls under that consideration.”

The Post also emailed several questions to Jacqueline Minor, head of OUSD’s Legal Department.

“Can you please tell (the Post) what is your legal rational for your decision“ when Minor approved or advised the administration to pull that contract and to instead pay Mr. Jackson from the district’s ongoing contract with SGI?”

In addition, the Post asked: “How do you respond to the public perception that the decision appears to be a way to circumvent the decision-making power of the governing board?”

Minor did not respond.

 Courtesy of the Oakland Post, April 3, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

Oakland School District Faces Conflict Over Teacher Pay and “Redesign” of Five Schools

Members of the McClymonds High School community attended Wedesday's school board meeting, asked to be given information about what is planned for their school and saying they want to be inlcuded in making the changes. Photo by Ken Epstein

Members of the McClymonds High School community attended Wedesday’s school board meeting, asked to be given information about what is planned for their school and saying they want to be inlcuded in making the changes. Photos by Ken Epstein

By Ken Epstein

The Oakland Unified School District’s three new school board members and newly hired superintendent have taken their positions just as two of the district’s most protracted conflicts are coming to a head: poorly paid teachers are demanding decent pay and job security, and communities at five schools are fed up with district-led reorganizations that have repeatedly disrupted and destabilized their schools over the last decade.

Most everyone agrees that Oakland’s teachers desperately need a raise. According to the teachers’ union, they are the lowest-paid in Alameda County and lowest-paid in the nine-county Bay Area.

Teachers rally in front of school board meeting Wednesday.

Teachers rally in front of school board meeting Wednesday.

As a result, the district has a 20 percent turnover rate each year, meaning the schools are stuck on a treadmill, hiring and recruiting mostly inexperienced teachers.

Angry teachers came out in force Wednesday night, marching down Park Boulevard to rally and speak at this week’s Board of Education meeting at La Escuelita Education Center.

In protest, teachers at many schools are staging a slowdown, called “work to rule,” coming at the beginning of the school day and leaving when school ends, not giving or correcting homework or doing any of the myriad other tasks they generally do.

The district is offering a 10 percent raise over three years – 3 percent this year, starting in January; 3 percent next January; and 4 percent the following year, depending on the funds that come from the state.

Oakland Education Association (OEA) President Trish Gorham says the mid-year 3 percent raise this year does not keep up with the 3.25 percent other Bay Area teachers have received this year.

“That just makes us fall further behind,” she said.

Supt. Antwan Wilson responded to teachers at the meeting and in an email to the school community.

“We need to finalize these negotiations so that we can focus all of our energy on the work that is before us to ensure quality schools for all – and there is a lot of work to do,” he wrote.

“I remain committed to making Oakland the leader in attracting, retaining and rewarding the best talent,” he continued. “While this vision cannot be achieved overnight, it is possible.”

He pointed to the constraints the district is facing. “We can’t forget that California remains 46th out of 50 states in per pupil spending.” Further, he said the district still has to give $6 million per year to the state to repay the $100 million bailout OUSD received when it went into bankruptcy and was taken over by the state in 2003.

In addition to salaries, OEA President Gorham says teachers are concerned about the district’s desire to weaken teacher transfer provisions in the contract, allowing the administration to unilaterally and involuntarily remove teachers from schools and weaken seniority rights to open positions.

The three high schools facing “redesign” this year – Fremont, McClymonds and Castlemont – were reconstituted three years ago, and every teacher had to reapply for their job.

Now the district is going to do it again, Gorham said. “Where is the analysis of what they did then? What is going to happen to the teachers who don’t want to leave their school sites and are forced to leave?”

The administration and the school board have admitted that they have to do a better job explaining their plans to “transform” five “failing” schools this year – Brookfield Elementary and Frick Middle schools, in addition to the two East Oakland and one West Oakland high schools.

There is general agreement that Oakland’s schools must make deep changes in order to improve graduation rates and post-secondary admission rates, particularly for African American and Latino students.

But that is where the consensus ends. A group of students from Fremont High and other schools came to this week’s board meeting to oppose the administration’s plan. A group from the McClymonds community called on the district to explain what it is planning and to include the community in making the changes.

The districts plan calls for an open competition period to submit school redesign proposals, starting in February. Charter schools and other outside organizations are eligible to apply to run the schools.

This approach was adopted by the school board in 2013 and re-approved in 2014 under the leadership of then Board President David Kakishiba and acting Supt Gary Yee. Supt. Wilson was hired to implement it.

District spokesman Troy Flint told the Post that no school would be forced to become a charter over community opposition. If a school is opposed to “the idea of charter, it would naturally follow that a charter proposal would not prevail in the selection process at that particular school,” he said.

State law permits groups of parents or teachers at individual schools to apply to become a charter, said Gorham. But the district is adopting an approach that does not exist in the law: open up a competition for charters to submit applications, and the board and superintendent will make the decision.

According to Gorham and others, the district plan dooms the existing schools. “If you publically call them ‘failing schools,’ how many parents are going to enroll their kids in the schools next year?”

“It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. You destabilize, reconstitute, and then you convert to charter,” said Gorham.

Instead, a number of the opponents of the plan say the district should listen respectfully with the school communities, find out what they need, and pour in resources and other support to make them schools that students want to attend and where parents want to send their children.

Flint denied that anyone at OUSD referred to the schools as failing.

“I’m not aware of anyone publicly referring to these schools as ‘failing schools.’ Perhaps this was mentioned at a meeting I didn’t attend, but that’s not what we’ve been saying in our official communications,” he wrote to the Post. “We do refer to patterns of relatively low academic performance and under-enrollment.”

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, January 31, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

San Jose Cop on Leave After Posting Twitter Death Threats

Phillip White, a 20-year veteran police officer, is shown here in October teaching a class of fifth graders in San Jose. Photo Courtesy of the San Jose Mercury.

Phillip White, a 20-year veteran police officer, is shown here in October teaching a class of fifth graders in San Jose. Photo Courtesy of the San Jose Mercury.

San Jose police officer Phillip White was put on leave Monday after posting a series of death threats to Black Lives Matter protestors on his personal Twitter account.

An online petition at change.org that demanded his firing had received 5,000 signatures in less than a day. Menlo College, where the officer was an assistant basketball coach, cut ties with him.

The 20-year veteran officer’s most racist tweets read, “Threaten me or my family and I will use my God given and law appointed right and duty to kill you. #CopsLivesMatter” and “By the way if anyone feels they can’t breathe or their lives matter I’ll be at the movies tonight, off duty, carrying my gun.”

Demonstrators marched on San Jose police headquarters Thursday to demand the city fire Officer Phillip White. Photo courtesy Jennifer Wadsworth, San Jose Inside.

Demonstrators marched on San Jose police headquarters Thursday to demand the city fire Officer Phillip White. Photo courtesy Jennifer Wadsworth, San Jose Inside.

The officer was rebuked by San Jose police Chief Larry Esquivel, who said in a statement that White’s posts do not reflect “the thoughts or feelings” of those on the force.

The police union spoke out against the posts but did not mention White by name.

“Offensive, disrespectful and inappropriate social media comments have no place in the public discourse surrounding the tragic loss of life from recent officer involved incidents,” according to a statement. “We condemn these comments.”

Mayor-elect Sam Liccardo said he would support firing White

“(He) undermines everything that our officers are working to accomplish in our police department to build relationships with trust in our community, and I’d support the chief taking any and all disciplinary actions, including termination, to ensure this kind of conduct does not continue,” he said.

Growth Is Exploding in Oakland, Say Developers

 Local business people packed into the grand ballroom in Oakland Marriott City Center last Friday to hear Mayor Jean Quan, Mayor-elect Libby Schaaf and a panel of five major Bay Area developers talk about the development free-for-all that is beginning to unfold in Oakland.

The event, called “Oakland Structures,” was sponsored by the San Francisco Business Times at a cost of $70 a head and was billed as offering insight on the big changes that are coming to the city.

“Investors are converging on Oakland in unprecedented numbers, and it’s a pivotal time for the city. Oakland can no longer be considered to be on the ‘verge,’” according to the announcement for the event.

Claremont Lanai Tower (rendering)

Claremont Lanai Tower (rendering)

Remarkably for Oakland, African Americans and Latinos were absent from the speakers’ platform and few in number in the ballroom.

Beside the present and future mayors, speakers included Michael Ghielmetti, president of Signature Development Group, which along with a major Beijing investor, is building 3,100 units of market-rate housing on the Embarcadero in Oakland; and Floyd Kephart, chairman of the Renaissance Companies, Inc., who hopes to build the massive Coliseum City project near the Oakland Airport.

Other Bay Area developers who shared their views on Oakland’s future and their projects were Michael Cohen, co-founder and principal of the Strada Investment Group; Phil Kerr, president of the Northern California City Ventures; and Scott Smithers, managing principal of Lane Partners LLC.

“We are hungry for development after winning the Nov. 4 election,” said Mayor-elect Schaaf, in an interview with the SF Business Times a few days after the election.

“However, we also have tremendous needs. We are an old city, and we have incredible deferred maintenance,” she said, emphasizing developers have to expect to pay city fees.

She told the developers at the Business Times event that her goal is to create “predictability and clarity” for development projects in the city, hire “kick-ass (staff) who get things done” and make the City of Oakland “the least irritating government possible.”

Uptown Station, formerly the Sears building (rendering).

Uptown Station, formerly the Sears building (rendering).

Floyd Kephart said that he represented a number of investors who want to build the Coliseum City project, which has been proposed but not yet approved by the city.

The project has already stirred concerns among city residents – some who want to assure that jobs and housing go to local people and others who say that the project as proposed would create a destructive, not constructive, presence in the city.

“I don’t know what the future will bring, but I know it’s coming,” said Kephart, who said that he and the financiers he represents would like to go ahead with the full project that has been proposed by city staff and consultants.

“We don’t know exactly what form it will take,” he said, but the city has created a great proposal. “We’re not trying to change that. We’re trying to implement that.”

As proposed, the huge complex would contain new stadiums for up to three teams, 1.9 million-square-feet of retail and office space, several hotels and restaurants and

Brooklyn Basin (rendering)

Brooklyn Basin (rendering)

entertainment.

“All of us (financiers) live on demographics” who base their decisions looking at the trends, Kephart said. “I represent 40 private equity hedge funds. Private capital goes where the opportunities are.”

“There is no doubt that capital is coming here,” he said. ”The question is whether it will build the future “ that Oaklanders want.

This development is going to take time, Kephart said. “It’s a process, and it never comes out the way” people expected it would be at the beginning of the process.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, December 15, 2014 (postnewsgroup.com)