Legally Speaking With Pamela Price

Pamela Y. Price, Attorney at Law

Month: April 2020

Attorney Larry White Opinion: OPD Reform Was Not Possible Under Chief Kirkpatrick

Coalition for Police Accountability Logo
Coalition for Police Accountability

The following editorial by Larry White, Attorney for the Coalition for Police Accountability was originally published in the Mercury News on March 13, 2020.

Larry points out how former OPD Chief Anne Kirkpatrick’s actions after she was fired confirm that police reform was not possible under her leadership. 

Anne Kirkpatrick was fired from her job as Oakland Police Chief last month by Mayor Libby Schaaf, on recommendation of the independent Oakland Police Commission. The Coalition for Police Accountability called for her dismissal a year ago and the Police Commission had been considering it for months.

Kirkpatrick is not happy; it’s not my fault, she says, it was that greedy Robert Warshaw, the Monitor appointed by the federal judge who oversees the Negotiated Settlement Agreement. He held us back, just so he could make more money.

Essential Background

Some background is essential. The City of Oakland gave to a federal judge ultimate oversight over the city’s police department when it agreed to the NSA in 2003. The arrangement was to last no more than five years and result in real reform of the Oakland Police Department. It’s still going on but the OPD under Kirkpatrick actually went backward in compliance and is doing worse than it did three years ago.

None of it is my fault, Kirkpatrick says. What we really need, is the (Bill Barr and Donald Trump) U.S. Department of Justice to investigate Warshaw, she asserts, because it’s all his fault.

So many things are wrong with this that it’s hard to know where to begin. First, in any well governed city, a police chief, even a former chief, does not involve herself in politics. That’s a dangerous road for a city’s chief law enforcement officer to go down.

And then there’s the fact that the Monitor is not in charge of the NSA, he’s not even a party to the NSA; he’s just an employee of the federal court. But even more alarming is that Kirkpatrick (who has a law degree) doesn’t seem to understand that the judiciary is a separate and independent branch of government.

Calling on the Department of Justice, part of the executive branch, to “oversee the overseer” and to investigate a federal court is directly out of some extreme right wing playbook, something that perhaps Trump might do in the terrifying event that he gets reelected. The Department of Justice cannot “oversee” a federal court–at least not while we still have a democracy.

The parties to the NSA are the City of Oakland, a group of plaintiffs represented by two civil rights attorneys, Jim Chanin and John Burris. They have called for the firing of Warshaw and the City has not tried to end the NSA. At this point the only way it can be ended is if the parties agree that the OPD has complied with the NSA requirements. In order to do that, we need an effective police chief who is actually committed to reform.

Oakland Police Department Chief of Police Anne Kirkpatrick is sworn in by Mayor Libby Schaaf at City Hall in Oakland, Calif. on Monday, Feb. 27, 2017. (Kristopher Skinner/Bay Area News Group)

Oh and one more bit of demagoguery that needs to be called out. Kirkpatrick says that Warshaw had been accused of sexual harassment “yet he was allowed to keep his job.” These charges were investigated and Warshaw was fully exonerated.

Reform Wasn’t Possible Under Chief Kirkpatrick

The NSA process is far from perfect and the sooner it is history the better. But first its goal -reform of the Oakland Police Department – must be met. That could never have happened under Anne Kirkpatrick.

I Feel Like Going On

“Though trials may come on every hand, I feel like going on.” Marvin Winans

The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. with compatriots at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963
The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. with compatriots at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. August 28, 1963. (Photo by © CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

This was a rough week. It started on Saturday, April 4th as I remember the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. That awful night in Memphis traumatized the entire country. It was such a game-changer for me personally. Yet, here we are, some 52 years later and barely a mention of the event that shook America to its core. It seems that the pandemic “trumps” everything.

Fast forward to April 8, 2020 – a day that will live in infamy for me and so many others. The day that Bernie Sanders “suspended” his campaign for the U.S. Presidency.

The end of Bernie Sanders’ campaign marks a sobering reality. The American economy is in shambles. The federal government is under the control of the tangerine reincarnation of Hitler and the federal bench is infested with far-right-wing fanatics appointed for life. For me, the inescapable reality is that the “beloved community” that Dr. King preached about will not come to pass in my lifetime.

It is a sobering thought. Not in my lifetime.

Dr. King’s words from his final sermon on April 3, 1968 rang in my ears all day on April 8, 2020:

“I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the promised land.”

Not in my lifetime.

Biden Is Not Bernie

Even if Joe Biden can hold it together until the election (not a certainty), he seems almost certain to wither under Heir Trump’s blistering attacks. Biden has already promised to veto Medicare for All. He makes this pledge at a time when Black people are dying at three times the rate from COVID-19 than other races. The racial disparities that have always been a matter of life or death for Black folks will continue to flourish in a Biden presidency.

For me, the urgency of a Bernie Sanders presidency was exactly the urgency to address the health gap, the wealth gap, and the justice gap that is the reality for far too many Americans and particularly Black people. These are not issues that Joe Biden has pledged to address. Nor does he even appear capable of addressing.

It is well known that Black women in America are three to four times more likely to experience a pregnancy-related death than white women. That well-known fact is perfectly ok in Trump’s America and it will continue to be so in Biden’s America.

On the day I heard the bad Bernie news, I was already enraged by reports that Black Americans are dying from COVID-19 at catastrophic rates compared to our percentage of the population and other races. In March 1966, at the convention of the Medical Committee for Human Rights (MCHR) in Chicago, Dr. King noted that “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health is the most shocking and the most inhuman because it often results in physical death.”

Dr. King would be devastated by what is going on in Chicago today, and reflected across this country. Death is the most “brutal consequence” of racialized injustice.

Painful Brutal Consequence

Racial differences in health care, particularly the treatment of cancer, is very personal to me.

In 2012, my Dad died at Jewish Hospital in Cincinnati Ohio from small cell lung cancer. The treatment and care he received at Jewish Hospital was painfully substandard.

We got the lung cancer diagnosis on a Friday and he died four (4) days later on Tuesday. He was never transferred or treated in the oncology unit. They said they did not have enough beds. The IV medication was applied sparingly during the last four days of his life. We were not given proper instructions on how to use the respirator and hence, we did not use it while he desperately struggled to breathe the entire last weekend of his life. In the minutes before his heart stopped, they couldn’t get the dialysis machine to work. In the meantime, the deadly toxins stimulated by the chemotherapy treatment they gave him exploded in his blood.

As his kidneys failed and the cancer took his life away, I watched helplessly as the nurse struggled (unsuccessfully) to make the dialysis machine work. My father was not a priority that day and he died.

“I Feel Like Going On”

I admit, after fighting for civil rights for more than 50 years, I’m tired. I’m frustrated by the America that writes a bad stimulus check to Black folks over and over again. I’m angered by politicians that make false promises to get our votes and then runnnn back to the comfortable lily white world where they live. I am outraged by those who turn a blind eye to poverty, homelessness and injustice.

Still, I feel like going on. I know that this pandemic will end. I don’t know when it will end. Don’t know how. We know that when America gets a cold, Black folks get pneumonia. But this too shall pass. I know that. And today, I feel like going on.

You see, the history of Black people in America has given us tenacity, resilience, courage in the darkest hour, faith in God and hope for tomorrow. We are the survivors of the Middle Passage. My people were “built for slavery and killt for bravery.” And we’re still here.

Even knowing that the beloved community will not likely come to pass in my lifetime. I won’t get there with you. But I feel like going on.

Bishop Marvin Winans Sings “I Feel Like Going On”

A Luta Continua.

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