Legally Speaking With Pamela Price

Pamela Y. Price, Attorney at Law

California State Propositions-November 2020

2020 California Ballot Measures Personified by Alfred Twu
Credit: Alfred Twu

On November 3, 2020, California State Propositions will be decided by voters. Here are Pamela’s Recommendations for the California State Propositions-November 2020. It covers Propositions 14 to 25 with brief summaries and recommendations on how to vote.

Prop. 14: Stem Cell Research Institute Bond Initiative – PYP SAYS YES

A “yes” vote supports issuing $5.5 billion general obligation bonds for the state’s stem cell research institute and making changes to the institute’s governance structure and programs.
A “no” vote opposes issuing $5.5 billion general obligation bonds for the state’s stem cell research institute, which ran out funds derived from Proposition 71 (2004) for new projects in 2019.

Prop 15: Schools and Communities First, Reform Prop 13 – PYP SAYS YES

Prop 15 is a tax reform measure to create a split roll property tax system and spend the revenue increase on education and other public services.

  1. Close property tax loopholes benefiting wealthy corporations.
  2. Cut small business taxes.
  3. Reclaim billions every year to invest in our schools and local communities.
  4. Exempt homeowners, renters, small businesses and agricultural land so they continue to be protected by Prop 13.
  5. Prioritize transparency and accountability by requiring public disclosure of all new revenues and how they are spent.
    Advocates estimate that Alameda County will receive almost $197,000 million in revenue.

Prop 16: Repeal Prop 209, Bring Back Affirmative Action – PYP SAYS YES

Voting “Yes” on Proposition 16 would reverse the ban on equal opportunity policies like affirmative action so that elected leaders can design programs that provide good jobs, better wages, and access to great schools for all Californians.

Prop 17: Allow Parolees to Vote – PYP SAYS YES

Prop 17 will amend the California Constitution so that Californians who have completed their prison term can fully participate in our democracy by restoring their right to vote.

Prop 18: Allow 17-Year-Olds to Vote in Primaries – PYP SAYS YES

Proposition 18 will allow Californians who will be 18 by the time of the general election to vote in the primary election. Voting Yes on 18 allows first-time voters to participate in the full election cycle, and builds a lifelong habit of civic participation.

Prop. 19: Property Tax Transfers, Exemptions and Revenue for Wildfire Agencies and Counties – PYP SAYS NO

California’s Proposition 19 would make various changes to rules that allow Californians who are disabled or older than age 55 to transfer below-market property tax assessments when moving to a new home. These lower assessments could no longer be transferred to heirs once the property owner dies, in many cases. But, while the taxpayer is alive, it would make transferring below market assessments easier by eliminating certain exceptions in current law.

Black and Brown communities are often adversely impacted by generational poverty and face particular challenges to accumulate wealth in America, due to systemic racism and segregation in housing. Proposition 19 may increase the challenges to transferring home ownership to the next generation while maintaining the structural advantages that white Americans enjoy.

Prop 20: Tough on Crime Measure – PYP SAYS NO

Proposition 20 is a “law and order” measure to reverse the criminal justice reforms enacted by AB 109 (2011), Proposition 47 (2014), and Proposition 57 (2016). These three criminal justice reform measures reduced the state’s prison population.
A “yes” vote will create more felonies for which early parole is restricted; recategorize certain types of theft and fraud crimes as wobblers (chargeable as misdemeanors or felonies); and require DNA collection for certain misdemeanors. A “no” vote rejects this attempt to expand incarceration and revive punitive justice in California.

Prop 21: Expand Rent Control – PYP SAYS YES

Proposition 21 will allow for the expansion of rent control throughout California. It will give local governments the power to implement tenant-friendly protections that limit annual rent increases, prevent displacement, and make living in California more affordable for all residents.

Prop 22: Attack by Uber and Lyft on Labor Rights – PYP SAYS NO

Proposition 22 would consider app-based drivers to be independent contractors and not employees or agents. It only applies to app-based drivers for Uber, Lyft and DoorDash. If drivers are considered employees, they are entitled to the protections of minimum wage and benefit laws and workers’ compensation for injuries.

Voting “yes” on this initiative will Uber and Lyft to buy their way out of the law. Other business owners would continue to be subject to Assembly Bill 5 (AB 5). AB 5 was signed into law in September 2019. It makes many people employees who were considered independent contractors before the law changed. The change in the law has had a devastating impact on small businesses, particularly minority and women-owned businesses. Proposition 22 does not help us.

Prop 23: Dialysis Clinic Safety Measure – PYP SAYS YES

The measure addresses much needed safety improvements for patients received dialysis services. A “yes” vote supports this ballot initiative to require chronic dialysis clinics to:

  • have an on-site physician while patients are being treated;
  • report data on dialysis-related infections;
  • obtain consent from the state health department before closing a clinic; and
  • not discriminate against patients based on the source of payment for care.

Proposition 24: Consumer Personal Information Law and Agency Initiative – PYP SAYS YES

A “yes” vote will expand the state’s consumer data privacy laws. It includes provisions to allow consumers to direct businesses to not share their personal information; removes the time period in which businesses can fix violations before being penalized; and create the Privacy Protection Agency to enforce the state’s consumer data privacy laws.

Prop 25: Eliminate Cash Bail – PYP SAYS NO

Proposition 25 is opposed by a broad coalition of criminal justice reform advocates, including Justice LA and Human Rights Watch.

A “yes” vote upholds Senate Bill 10 (SB 10), which replaces cash bail with risk assessments for detained suspects awaiting trials. A “no” vote will repeal SB 10. SB10 was passed into law in 2018 after its backers sold it as the replacement for money bail.

In fact, SB10 was a backroom deal between legislators, judges, and law enforcement unions. While SB10 ends the use of money bail, it allows judges to order “preventive detention” with no avenue for release. The law lacks meaningful due process constraints and uses criteria so subjective that judges can choose incarceration in nearly every felony case (“the Black box”). It gives more power to judges and money to probation departments, without ensuring any reduction in the number of pretrial detainees. Many people will still be incarcerated before their cases are even decided.

Remember: if you vote by mail, sign your ballot envelope!

Post Op-Ed: Stop The Sale

Oakland Coliseum, Credit: Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group

Keep the A’s at the Coliseum

The Oakland City Council is considering whether to sell its half interest in the Oakland Coliseum property to the A’s at the below‑market rate of $85 million.  The Coliseum is some of the most valuable land in the entire Bay Area. This public land should not be handed over without full, public deliberation – especially when the sale would be at a discounted price. At a minimum, the City must require that, if the A’s buy the land, they must actually build their stadium at the Coliseum site.

Oakland Always Gets the Short End of the Deal

Among American cities with major‑league sports franchises, Oakland has ended up on the short end of the stick more than any other – at least financially speaking. The Raiders moved to Las Vegas, leaving behind a $65 million tab for Oakland taxpayers. When the Warriors left for San Francisco, they left us on the hook for $40 million in arena improvements.

The A’s claim their stadium and the proposed gondola-in-the-sky will be privately-financed. The truth is Oakland taxpayers will be on the hook for at least $200 million. That is what the A’s and Mayor Schaaf have said it will cost to upgrade the roads and bridges for the stadium and the environmental clean-up at the Port.

The A’s say that Howard Terminal is an “underutilized” essentially abandoned site that can be partitioned off from the Port. The truth is Howard Terminal is part of the third largest port on the West Coast and the ninth largest port in the country.  It is actively utilized for Port activities, such as trucking, shipping and storage. Fifty railroad trains a day run across Howard Terminal.

Additionally, the Howard Terminal project threatens jobs at the Port which are primarily held by African American residents and union members. The ILWU has a long and treasured history of economic empowerment for Black workers and their families.

East Oakland Is The Best Option

Unlike Howard Terminal, the Coliseum site requires no additional review, has minimal red tape, offers plentiful public transportation options, already has $40 million available for upgrading the BART Station and sits in a part of Oakland that is long overdue for economic stimulus. A recent poll found that 62% of us want the A’s to stay and build a new stadium at the Coliseum.

Keeping the A’s in East Oakland and using a new ballpark as a magnet for a fully realized housing, entertainment and sports complex that benefits the community is the only thing that makes sense.

The A’s claim they will “deliver a bold vision and real benefits specifically tailored to the goals and needs of East Oakland” and “revitalize the Coliseum with new economic, cultural, and recreational programming.”  They say they plan to “accelerate the redevelopment of the Coliseum.”

As a resident of East Oakland for decades, I have not seen the A’s commitment to uplifting East Oakland.  In fact, they have consistently tried to relocate to other places. The A’s have been at the Coliseum since 1968 and billionaire John Fisher has owned the A’s since 2005.  What real benefits “tailored to the goals and needs of East Oakland” have they already provided? Is there a written plan to “accelerate the redevelopment of the Coliseum?”

After a long history of broken promises to East Oakland, how can residents benefit from more empty words and pretty pictures that do not include a new ballpark to anchor revitalization of this community?

The A’s have brought home multiple championships to Oakland during their decades in the Town and have a dedicated fan base here. The City Council should absolutely work to keep the team in Oakland – but not by recklessly giving away public land or millions of taxpayer dollars.

What Can You Do?

If you want to oppose the backroom sale of public land to billionaire John Fisher, e‑mail the Oakland City Council at council@oaklandca.gov.

Emergency Release for Immigrant Detainees

Resolution Calling on Governor Newsom to Exercise Emergency Powers to Release Immigrants Detained in California Detention Centers

WHEREAS, While COVID-19 has already caused significant harm to those living freely in our society, it poses a more severe threat to those who are locked in institutional facilities like immigration prisons and detention centers, where close quarters, lack of resources for basic hygiene, and limited access to health services become breeding grounds for communicable disease that can result in innumerable deaths; and

WHEREAS, During a state of emergency, Governors are empowered to take drastic measures to protect the lives of people in their states, such as seizing control from private hospitals and releasing incarcerated individuals from crowded jails, and just as Governor Newsom has applied his broad emergency powers to impose a shelter-in-place order and close down schools and businesses, he can do so to close immigrant detention centers, many of which are private facilities as well as municipal and county run jails; and

WHEREAS, It is urgent that we protect our most vulnerable neighbors who are trapped in overcrowded detention centers that could become sites of major outbreak and death if we fail to act, and most of the people held by ICE, including very young children, have homes to go to or can access support from the hundreds of community organizations willing to help provide housing;

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, That the Alameda County Democratic Party urges Governor Newsom to use his emergency powers to release all immigrants currently detained in California immigrant detention centers in the interest of public health;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, That the Alameda County Democratic Party also urges Governor Newsom to suspend the transfer of individuals from California state custody to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and halt the expansion of immigrant detention facilities.

Sponsored by: Paola Laverde (AD 15), Bobbi Lopez (AD 15) and Igor Tregub (AD 15)

No Police In Schools

Alameda County Central Committee Resolution Supporting Removal Of Police Officers From School Sites

WHEREAS, public concerns have been raised across our County that the presence of local police officers in our schools is an inappropriate use of public resources which results in over-criminalization of young people and the prevalence and impact of inequitable and inappropriate use of force by law enforcement giving rise to deaths, injuries, trauma, and stress that disproportionately affects marginalized populations is a critical public health issue,

WHEREAS, in Alameda County in 2018, even though Black children were only 10% and Latino/a/x children were only 32% of the youth in Alameda County, Black children were more than 60% and Latino/a/x children were almost 26% of all felony juvenile arrests (a total of 86%), and this racial disparity in juvenile felony arrests in our County is a symptom of the systemic racism that infects our criminal justice system,

WHEREAS, the Alameda County Democratic Party Central Committee recognizes that removing police officers from school sites in our County is an important step in disrupting the school to prison pipeline and the systemic racism which undermines educational opportunities for Black and Brown children and a necessary step to improve public safety, public health and public trust in our County,

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED That the Alameda County Democratic Party Central Committee supports demands by our youth that every school district take immediate steps to remove police officers from school sites and redirect potential cost savings to agencies that are responsible for the health and well-being of families in need, and promote policies that provide mental health services, domestic violence prevention, marriage/domestic partner counseling, gang prevention, anti-bullying programs, substance abuse prevention, parenting skills that include alternatives to physical punishment, and other social services without regard to the gender of the parent;

IT IS FURTHER RESOLVED That the Alameda County Democratic Party Central Committee directs the Chairwoman of our Central Committee to promptly send an official copy of this resolution to the Superintendent, President and Clerk of every school district in Alameda County, the Superintendent, President and Clerk of the Alameda County Board of Education, the President of the California Board of Education and every ex-officio member of this Committee, including the California State Superintendent of Education.

POA Money Banned In Alameda County

Resolution Urging that Alameda County Democrats Refuse Donations from the Alameda County Sheriff and Peace Officer, Deputy Sheriff, and Correctional Officer Associations

WHEREAS, though there are many good officers and prison guards who serve with courage and honor, law enforcement in Alameda County as a whole has a history of racial profiling, discrimination, and violence against Black, Latinx, AAPI, Native American and other communities; and racially biased, militarized policing has been used as a tool nearly 200 years;

WHEREAS, Alameda County’s residents have struggled for decades to ensure that Alameda County law enforcement departments and officers are held accountable to all communities they serve by advocating for reasonable measures such as the community-led Independent Commission on Police Practices to promote responsible, accountable policing and address disparities in policing practices of stops, arrests and use of force, and there has been systemic racism throughout law enforcement, and the law enforcement system is closed, sheltered from public scrutiny and accountability, protected through state law, and in desperate need of reform; and

WHEREAS, the Peace Officer, Deputy Sheriff, and Correctional Officer Associations and the Alameda County Sheriff have been major obstacles to such accountability; and

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Alameda County Democratic Party shall refuse all contributions from the Alameda County Sheriff and Peace Officer, Deputy Sheriff, and Correctional Officer Associations (defined for the purposes of this resolution as those exclusively representing law enforcement and not general unions that may have a small percentage of law enforcement members) and requests that all Alameda County Democratic elected officials refuse such contributions as well and reject the endorsement of such associations;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Alameda County Democratic Party urges that any candidate, including elected officials running for a new or the same office, who has taken money from the Alameda County Sheriff and Peace Officer, Deputy Sheriff, and Correctional Officer Associations since 2018 donates said funds to community organizations that work in Alameda County on issues such as racial justice, criminal justice reform, re-entry services or the empowerment of the Black community, indigenous community and other communities of color, provide a written acknowledgement of this contribution to the Committee at the time that he or she requests our endorsement and pledges not to take any such contributions in the future.

Respectfully Submitted, Soli Alpert (AD15), Andy Kelley (AD15), Paola Laverde (AD15), Bobbi Lopez (AD15), Barisha Spriggs (AD20), Igor Tregub (AD15), Alfred Twu (AD15), Mark Williams (AD20), Pamela Price (AD18)

Stop Covid-19

Alameda County Central Committee Resolution Calling on Governor Newsom to Exercise Emergency Powers to Stop COVID-19 in California Prisons

WHEREAS, COVID-19 has caused significant harm to those living freely in our society, it poses a more severe threat to people locked in California’s correctional facilities where close quarters, lack of resources for basic hygiene, insufficient personal protective equipment (PPE), including sanitizer and hygiene products, and limited access to health services have made these institutions breeding grounds for COVID-19, and thousands of incarcerated people currently face a potential death sentence, and

WHEREAS, the California Dept. of Corrections and Rehabilitations (CDCR) has more than 2,500 active cases of COVID-19 as of June 30, 2020, and the transfer of incarcerated people from the California Institution for Men (CIM) to San Quentin Prison (SQSP) led to an outbreak of COVID-19 at SQSP which went from 0 to 1,080 confirmed cases in less than 30 days, and due to a lack of testing, the true number of COVID-19 cases is likely to be understated, and

WHEREAS, during a state of emergency, Governors are empowered to take drastic measures to protect the lives of people in their states, such as releasing incarcerated people from crowded jails, and the entire California prison system is roughly 137% over capacity, and in particular, the North and West Block at SQSP are at roughly 190% capacity, and transferring incarcerated people around the state between prisons will lead to the spread of the virus and the creation of new prison “hot spots” and is unfair to incarcerated people, their families and loved ones,

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED That the Alameda County Democratic Party Central Committee supports demands from community organizations that CDCR and Governor Gavin Newsom take emergency action to release as many people as possible in order to reduce the prison population and protect incarcerated people from a COVID-19 death sentence, stop transferring incarcerated people from one prison to the other, modify and issue the necessary Post orders to assign correctional staff to work in only one part of every prison to avoid actively spreading the virus across any prison, immediately provide ongoing and adequate testing to 100% of all inmates and correctional staff, provide personal protective equipment (PPE), sanitizer, hygiene products and other essential goods (stamps, envelopes) for free through the end of the pandemic.

IT IS FURTHER RESOLVED THAT this Resolution shall promptly be sent to Governor Gavin Newsom, Governor Newsom’s Criminal Justice Department, the Secretary of CDCR, the Undersecretary of CDCR’s Health Care Services, Assemblymembers Marc Levine, Ash Kalra, and all Assembly Members and State Senators representing Alameda County, and the California Democratic Party.

Op-Ed: Oakland Coliseum Sale

Public Land should not be handed over to a billionaire family without full transparency – especially when selling at a discounted price

Oakland Coliseum Credit: Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group

Municipalities everywhere are grappling with the economic fallout of COVID-19. Oakland is no exception. The city is understandably looking everywhere for ways to fill the budget hole.

But it is gravely concerning that the City Council met behind closed doors last week to hammer out a plan to sell the city’s half of the Oakland Coliseum property to the A’s at the below-market rate of $85 million.

The Coliseum is some of the most valuable land in the entire Bay Area. This public land should not be handed over without full, public deliberation – especially when the sale would be at a discounted price. At a minimum, the city must require that, if the A’s buy the land, they must actually build their stadium at the Coliseum site.

Anything less would be a slap in the face to Oakland residents who do not want their community simply used as a developer’s piggy bank so the team can finance a ballpark and luxury condos on the waterfront or elsewhere. A recent poll found that 62% of us want the A’s to stay and build a new stadium at the Coliseum.

Oakland Always Gets the Short End of the Deal

Among American cities with multiple major-league sports franchises, Oakland has ended up on the short end of the stick more than any other – at least financially speaking. The Raiders were touch-and-go with the city for many years before finally departing for Las Vegas and leaving behind a $65 million tab for Oakland taxpayers. When the Warriors left for San Francisco, they left us on the hook for $40 million in arena improvements.

The A’s have brought home multiple championships to Oakland during their decades in town and have a dedicated fan base here. The City Council should absolutely work to keep the team in Oakland – but not by recklessly giving away millions of taxpayer dollars.

The amount the A’s are offering is far below market value; some are estimating Oakland’s half-interest in the Coliseum site is actually worth as much as $150 million. Having the team buy it to alleviate the city’s financial woes could be a positive move for the city, but only if done right.

In order for this sale to make sense for Oakland, it must include a requirement that the team meet community-driven, minimum-development standards, including a new ballpark at the site to help make up the lost income to the city.

East Oakland Is the Best Option

Unlike the team’s proposed waterfront complex, the Coliseum site requires no additional review, has minimal red tape, offers plentiful public transportation options and sits in a part of Oakland that is long overdue for economic stimulus.

Keeping the A’s in East Oakland and using a new ballpark as a magnet for a fully realized housing, retail and sports complex that benefits the community and those who have stood by the team for so many years is the only thing that makes sense.

As a resident of East Oakland for decades, I have witnessed the glory of sports championships fail to translate to economic growth. After a long history of broken promises to this long-forgotten part of the city, how can residents benefit from more empty words about proposed plans that do not include a new ballpark to anchor revitalization of this community?

It is also critical to recognize that too many jobs at the Port of Oakland, which are primarily held by African American residents and union members, would be lost if the A’s pursue a stadium at the Port of Oakland. It makes no sense to move an economic driver from one neighborhood to a different part of the city – and ruin another economic engine there.

It would be a mistake for the City Council to use the pandemic as an impetus for a rushed backroom deal with no guarantees to this community. We need transparency and equity as well as meaningful contractual requirements to keep the A’s in East Oakland. 

Postscript: If you want to voice your opposition to the backroom sale of public land to billionaire John Fisher, e-mail the Oakland City Council at council@oaklandca.gov.

Follow The Money

#Justice for George Floyd Poster

This week, San Francisco is leaning way forward in criminal justice reform in the wake of the murder of George Floyd.

San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin, joined by Diane Becton, the first Black woman District Attorney in Contra Costa County, George Gascon, the former SF District Attorney and San Joaquin County District Attorney Tori Verber Salazar called for the California State Bar to pass an ethics rule prohibiting prosecutors from accepting political donations and endorsements from law enforcement agencies and police unions.

Wow! This hits home in Alameda County. They decided to “Follow the Money!”

2018 – Follow The Money

In 2018, Republican Alameda County Sheriff Greg Ahern gave $50,000 to a campaign committee supporting incumbent District Attorney Nancy O’Malley.  Ahern has been widely criticized for his cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials. He gives immigration status information on people in the county jail to ICE, and sets releasees up to be picked up by ICE. He also signed a letter in support of Trump’s appointment of Jeff Sessions to Attorney General. 

DA O’Malley is the only check on Sheriff Ahern, a fact that is particularly significant today. You see, Sheriff Ahern just placed Alameda County under curfew and is arresting peaceful protestors everywhere! Under Ahern’s leadership, the Santa Rita County Jail has earned a reputation as “the most dangerous place in the County.”

In 2018, political committees formed by law enforcement unions spent over $200,000 to help DA O’Malley hold onto her seat. Donors included local and state police unions of every size from around the state. Many of them also gave directly to O’Malley’s campaign.

In the last few days of the 2018 campaign, these political committees sent hit pieces with graphic images of child molesters throughout southern Alameda County to scare primarily white folks in believing that I was “soft on crime.” Apparently, it worked.

A Clear Conflict of Interest

Elena "Ebbie" Mondragon killed by Fremont Police in March 2017
Elena “Ebbie” Mondragon, Credit: CBS SF

DA Nancy O’Malley also accepted a $10,000 contribution to her DA campaign from the Fremont Police Officers Association. She received it at the same time she was investigating Fremont officers – including the union president – for the murder of 16-year-old Elena “Ebbie” Mondragon. Naturally, O’Malley cleared all of the officers of any wrongdoing after she got the contribution.

In 2018, Sacramento DA Anne Marie Schubert accepted $13,000 in campaign contributions from the Sacramento police union while she investigated them for the murder of Stephon Clark. Needless to say, her office did not charge any of the officers involved in that killing.

On a press call Monday, Contra Costa County District Attorney Diana Becton acknowledged “We work very closely with law enforcement and we have to evaluate whether some of those same officers have committed crimes. . . . Across California there are dozens of law enforcement unions, representing rank and file police officers, sheriffs’ deputies, and correctional officers. and these unions play a major role in state and even local politics.”

According to courthousenews.com, Becton notes the current rules of professional conduct say elected prosecutors should avoid soliciting support from attorneys representing accused officers, and should recuse themselves from prosecutions that could give rise to a conflict of interest. But they are not precluded from benefiting financially or politically from groups that pay the attorneys’ fees for accused officers.

Too often, prosecutors act as if they are above the law. They rarely recuse themselves. They routinely fight efforts for independent outside investigation of cases where officers are accused of using deadly force.

Police Own Our Cities

Last year, the San Francisco Police Association spent over $700,000 trying to buy the DA election. As I pointed out then, every American city, county and state has a powerful police association, whether it be city police, county sheriff or state correctional officers. They defend crooked cops and threaten elected officials.

Technically, it is a union formed to advocate for better working conditions and pay for officers. In the real world, however, POAs are laser focused on doing whatever it takes to control elected officials. POAs are political action committees that spend millions of dollars every year to influence elections.

In every city, county and state, the POAs band together to reinforce repressive and racist policies. As we can see, these policies undermine the fabric of the community. In every progressive challenge to the status quo, look for the POA to be fighting back and holding the line. Usually in lockstep with the local District Attorney.

Waking Up the Democratic Party

In a real surprise twist, somebody is waking up the Democratic Party. Following the press release by Boudin, Gascon, Becton and Verber Salazar, the California Progressive Caucus took a position. In a call to action, the Caucus said:

“Since the power of the Democratic Party rests in good measure on its ability to raise almost unlimited cash that can be funneled into campaigns, that is where we should start with solutions. We must decline money from law enforcement organizations and stop funneling money to those Democrats that refuse to make Black lives a priority. We must declare loudly when law enforcement organizations are opposing measures to save Black lives and then we must mobilize support to counter them.”

In August 2018, Shaun King lamented the absence of the Democratic Party in the fight for criminal justice reform. He asked “Does the Democratic Party really care about black people or do they just want our votes?” In fact, the Democratic party has been heavily invested in the fight for criminal justice reform. Only on the wrong side of history – on the side of the police.

The California Progressive Caucus knows how to “follow the money.” Calling out centrist Democrats who accept police union money is a welcome development. Too often, police unions have been able to use their money to buy protection for bad cops and repressive policies.

Unfortunately, Alameda County is not alone in trying to protect bad cops and racist practices. Still, as San Francisco and Contra Costa and San Joaquin counties move forward, maybe we’ll take another look around. In the light of George Floyd’s murder, we know that is way past time “wake up. “

Warning: A Dark Piece

Body Bag demonstration outside Trump International Hotel in Northwest D.C
Body Bag demonstration outside Trump International Hotel in Northwest D.C
Credit: Yilmaz Akin / Provided by Subminimal

Warning: this is a dark piece in a dark time.

As I think about what to write this morning, I recognize the need to express the shame, horror and fear of this moment. Almost 100,000 people dead from COVID-19. Millions of people have no way to pay for food or rent. Millions of elders are at risk of death or homelessness. Yet, we cling to the shreds of a dying democracy and a fantasy called “getting back to normal.”

The shame is that we as a nation seem oblivious to the tragedy of so many unnecessary deaths in our midst. Part of struggling to stay sane in this season means trying to maintain some sense of normal life for ourselves and our loved ones. I quote my sister often these days: “You have one job – get through the pandemic!”

Our efforts to maintain stability in the midst of obvious chaos make it appear that we are unaffected by the massive death toll. Yet, we are all affected in some way. Truly, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. observed, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

It may be a relative or friend that you know has COVID-19. You may have a loved one who died from COVID-19 or a loved one you fear may die from COVID-19. We are all affected. But to the outside world, it looks like we are insistent on “getting back to normal.” It seems like we are willing to die for “business as usual.” It is only a facade created to make us all feel better while making us all look worse than we are.

Our National Hypocrisy

The New Jersey Veterans Home in Paramus on Wednesday, April 8, 2020
New Jersey Veterans Home, 4/8/20
Credit: Michael Karas / NorthJersey.com / USA Today Networks

The Memorial Day holiday highlights the hypocrisy of the moment. This is a holiday to commemorate those who died while serving in the military. Politicians preen themselves to acknowledge military service on this day. We are all taught to say “thank you” in the presence of veterans. Yet, last week, we learned that a COVID-19 experiment killed at least 26 veterans receiving care at VA medical centers. Others required ventilators to survive at higher rates than veterans who were not administered the death drug. These veterans died too, at the hands of the military.

Ironically, the experimental treatment imposed on these veterans by our government reminds us of the tragedy of the Tuskegee experiment. From 1940 to 1972, a government study left 399 Black men with untreated syphilis. The government did not tell the men they were being used as guinea pigs. Even when doctors recognized penicillin was an effective treatment in 1945, the “study” continued for another 27 years.

We Are All Expendable

What COVID-19 exposes in America is that we are all expendable. That includes veterans in hospitals, in prisons and without homes. At least 8-10% of those imprisoned in this country are military veterans. One 2012 study found the mortality risk for veterans released from prison is 12 times higher than the general population. No doubt the mortality rates for all returning citizens in the post-COVID-19 season will skyrocket. There is no protection from COVID-19 in prison. As clergy woman Melissa Cedillo notes, “The American prison system today is a new iteration of this long-standing white supremacist goal —  to control and dehumanize people of color, the impoverished, the marginalized.

Outside of prison, COVID-19 is killing Black people at three times the rate of white people. And as Dr. Fauci notes, this is not “news” and there is nothing we can do about it in this moment.

In fact, we are all expendable: veterans, nurses, health care workers, domestic workers, gig workers, low-wage workers, small business owners, homeless people, incarcerated people, Black people, Latinos and Native Americans, all of us. Indeed, in January 2019, according to Forbes magazine, 78% of all American workers were living “paycheck-to-paycheck.” That was last year, before the pandemic hit us. Now, for at least 40 million people, there is no paycheck. No health insurance. No savings, only student loans, enormous medical bills or credit card debt.

A Dark Piece

I warned you – this is a dark piece. This is bearing witness to the collapse of an economic system coming apart at the seams. A democracy that has succumbed to celebrity fascism. A failing education system erected on inequity based on race and social status. Suddenly, the rest of the world considers America “a shithole country.” As writer Marley K. points out:

“America is the rich nation where people can starve to death, children can sleep in cars and no one is bothered by it, where citizens get sick and can’t afford to get well, and where people who work all their lives can’t afford to grow old and die in peace.”

 U.S. Postal Service worker in Los Angeles, California
 U.S. Postal Service worker in Los Angeles, California
Credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images

We face the closure of the Post office, a national institution since 1775 and a place of employment for Black people since the end of slavery. According to writer umair haque, we have actually become “too poor” to save ourselves. And we are still only at the beginning of the pandemic. With states rushing to “re-open” the economy, the death toll will only rise. We are simply not seeing the body bags that were widely displayed on television during the Vietnam War. But people are in fact dying: 100,000 people so far to be precise.

Who Will Make The Change?

We already have the answers. We already know what must be done. It starts with Medicare for All. We must have a guaranteed basic income for all. We must have a Green New Deal. It is up to us to destroy the “inherently unequal” school system that Thurgood Marshall challenged and start over. We must end mass incarceration and dismantle our criminal injustice system. This pandemic must result in a fundamental re-ordering of our priorities and how we pay for them. The question is who among us will be alive to make it happen.

Like I said: “You have one job – get through the pandemic!”

Death in San Leandro

Steven Taylor, Killed by Police  in San Leandro
Steven Taylor Killed by San Leandro Police, April 18, 2020
Photo Courtesy of S. Lee Merritt

Death in San Leandro

I live in Oakland California about 3 miles from San Leandro California. San Leandro is what some call a “bedroom community” to Oakland. It’s a City where restrictive covenants and land use permits were used to stop Black people from moving from Oakland to San Leandro. Local celebrity Brian Copeland tells the story of how he grew up in San Leandro when it was 94% white. Copeland wrote a play and a book about it.

Most folks in the East Bay know San Leandro’s history. So when San Leandro police shot and killed Steven Taylor in a Walmart store on a Saturday afternoon, it was not a surprise. Steven Taylor was allegedly mentally ill, with a diagnosis of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. He appears to be in a mental health crisis when 2 San Leandro police officers approach him. He refused to put down a bat and pulled away as the officers tased him. They then shot and killed him in front of dozens of shoppers. The video shows that an officer actually tased Steven Taylor as he lay on the floor bleeding to death.

This is the second recent police killing in San Leandro. On June 11, 2019, San Leandro police shot Anthony Gomez, an unarmed allegedly intoxicated Latino man. An officer shot him from the street as he stood alone on his mother’s front porch. Officers claimed he had a block of wood in his hand that looked like a gun.

Mental Illness Should Not Be A Death Sentence with Police

There is an increasing recognition that mental illness is a reason to spare people not from responsibility for their crimes but from the ultimate sanction of death. Simply put, a mental health crisis should not be a death sentence.

Gwen Woods and her son, Mario Woods
Courtesy: ABC News

Steven Taylor’s murder in San Leandro is so so reminiscent of the murder of Mario Woods by police in San Francisco.

The same month that San Leandro police shot and killed Anthony Gomez, Walnut Creek police shot and killed 23-year-old Miles Hall. Walnut Creek is another almost all-white enclave in Contra Costa County. Hall’s family members reportedly sought mental health assistance from police in the days before he was shot by two officers who came to his home. Miles Hall was Black.

California’s New Law

In California, a new law changed the standard for use of deadly force, effective January 1, 2020. The law is based in part, on the recognition that “individuals with physical, mental health, developmental, or intellectual disabilities are significantly more likely to experience greater levels of physical force during police interactions, as their disability may affect their ability to understand or comply with commands from peace officers. It is estimated that individuals with disabilities are involved in between one-third and one-half of all fatal encounters with law enforcement.”

The new law allows the use of deadly force by a law enforcement officer only when the officer reasonably believes that deadly force is necessary to defend against an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury to the officer or another person. The impetus for the Legislature to pass the law was the murder of 22-year-old Stephon Clark. Clark was an unarmed Black man shot dead in Sacramento after officers mistakenly thought they saw a gun. He was shot 8 times, including 3 times in the back, in his grandmother’s backyard. Assemblywoman Shirley Weber wrote and pushed for AB392 in response to the murder of Stephon Clark.

Steven Taylor’s murder in my Assembly District 18 provides an early test for the new law. Regrettably, the person in my district who will interpret the new law is District Attorney Nancy O’Malley. DA O’Malley has never prosecuted a cop in Alameda County for murder.

Death in Alameda County

Between 2010 and 2015, at least 6 people died at the hands of police in Alameda County: Hernan Jaramillo, Roy Nelson, James Greer, Kayla Moore, Mark Bennett and Martin Harrison.

Hernan Jaramillo was allegedly having a mental health crisis and begged officers for his life. Video footage was not released by police until 2 years after his death. It shows Mr. Jaramillo pinned to the ground by officers who ignored his cries of “I can’t breathe.” (Sound familiar??) DA O’Malley did not even investigate Mr. Jaramillo’s death because she did not have a policy to investigate in-custody deaths that don’t involve shootings.

In March 2017, Fremont police officers shot and killed Elena “Ebbie” Mondragon, a 16-year-old passenger in a botched police attempt to arrest the driver of the car. Ebbie was shot 5 times with AR-15 styled rifles when plainclothes officers fired into the moving vehicle.

While the DA’s investigation was pending, O’Malley accepted a $10,000 donation from the Fremont police union to her re-election campaign. Shortly thereafter, she cleared the shooters – the Fremont police union president and another officer – of any wrongdoing in Ebbie’s death. She ruled that the shooting was “justified.”

2018 Police Killings in Oakland

In January 2018, a BART police officer ran from the West Oakland BART station onto the street and shot Sahleem Tindle in the back. Tindle was unarmed at the time. O’Malley declined to bring any charges. In March 2020, however, a jury found BART liable for wrongful death and awarded Sahleem Tindle’s family $6.34 million dollars.

In March 2018, Oakland police shot and killed Joshua Pawlik. A federal court monitor ruled that the police essentially executed Mr. Pawlik, when they woke him up and shot him as soon as he moved. Again, O’Malley’s investigation exonerated the officers and she released her report a year later in conjunction with OPD. She released her report on the same day that OPD released theirs with the same conclusion – no fault. The fallout from Mr. Pawlik’s murder ultimately led to the firing of former OPD Chief Anne Kirkpatrick. The settlement of the lawsuit by Mr. Pawlik’s family for $1.4 million is pending.**

The Conflict of Interest

Our experience with DA O’Malley in Alameda County is a clear example of the conflict of interest that district attorneys experience when asked to hold police officers accountable. O’Malley’s investigation of Mr. Gomez’ death is not yet finished almost 9 months after police shot him on his mother’s front porch. Clearly, Mr. Gomez’ death and determining whether police acted justifiably or wrongly is not a priority for DA O’Malley.

Maybe if DA O’Malley had taken the San Leandro police shooting of Anthony Gomez seriously, Steven Taylor would still be alive?

Fortunately, there is a solution. I have introduced a resolution to the Alameda County Democratic Party Central Committee to support Steven Taylor’s family’s call for an independent investigation into his murder. The resolution calls upon the California Attorney General to “investigate, manage, prosecute or inquire about any incidents of use of deadly force by law enforcement officers to ensure that the laws of the State are being adequately enforced and in particular, to ensure compliance with AB392 codified as Penal Code Section 835a.”

The Oakland East Bay Democratic Club, Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club, John George Democratic Club and the Coalition for Police Accountability also support the resolution. It is based on Article V, Section 13 of the California Constitution which allows the Attorney General to supervise and supercede the powers of every District Attorney. The resolution was passed unanimously by the Alameda County Central Committee.**

A Test for California Law

Steven Taylor’s murder will be one of the first cases to “test” the enforcement of California’s new law for use of deadly force. If the Attorney General accepts the call, he could create a statewide standard for police accountability when deadly force is used.

The murder of Steven Taylor happened in our Assembly District 18. Therefore, I called upon the leaders of our Assembly District to support the resolution at the Central Committee. Both Assemblymember Rob Bonta and his former District Director and Alameda City Councilmember, Jim Oddie have a vote. Central Committee member and San Leandro City Councilmember Corina Lopez has already pledged her support of the resolution.

I am hopeful that the leaders of our community and Attorney General Xavier Becerra will be found standing on the right side of justice. Hopefully, accountability for police use of deadly force will be established before another person is killed unnecessarily.

** This piece was updated to reflect that the Alameda County Democratic Party unanimously passed the resolution on May 6, 2020 and that a settlement payment of $1.4 million by the City of Oakland to the Pawlik family is pending.

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