Legally Speaking With Pamela Price

Pamela Y. Price, Attorney at Law

Category: Black Lives Matter Page 1 of 2

The Record Player Answer

Joe Biden at the Democratic Debate delivers the record player answer
Joe Biden at the Democratic Debate, September 12, 2019. Credit: ABC News/Screenshot

There are so many things wrong with Joe Biden’s record player answer, I hardly know where to begin. But I am a trial lawyer. So when I hear a strange answer, my first response is check what was the question. So, here’s the actual question:

“But as you stand here tonight, what responsibility do you think Americans need to take to repair the legacy of slavery in our country?”

Again, I’m a trial lawyer. So, there are 4 correct answers to any question:
“Yes,”
“No,”
“I don’t know,”
“I don’t remember.”

Biden did not pick one of those 4 answers. He could easily have said, “Yes, I think Americans need to take responsibility to repair the legacy of slavery and here’s what I think we need to do.” Or “No, I don’t think Americans need to take responsibility to repair the legacy of slavery. And let me tell you why not.” Instead, he started rambling.

This Is What He Said

Well, they have to deal with the — look, there’s institutional segregation in this country. From the time I got involved, I started dealing with that. Redlining banks, making sure we are in a position where — look, you talk about education. I propose that what we take is those very poor schools, the Title I schools, triple the amount of money we spend from 15 to $45 billion a year. Give every single teacher a raise, the equal raise to getting out – the $60,000 level.

Number two, make sure that we bring in to help the teachers deal with the problems that come from home. The problems that come from home, we need – we have one school psychologist for every 1,500 kids in America today. It’s crazy.

The teachers are – I’m married to a teacher. My deceased wife is a teacher. They have every problem coming to them. We have – make sure that every single child does, in fact, have 3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds go to school. School. Not day care. School.

We bring social workers in to homes and parents to help them deal with how to raise their children. It’s not want they don’t want to help. They don’t – they don’t know quite what to do.

Play the radio, make sure the television – excuse me, make sure you have the record player on at night, the – the – make sure that kids hear words. A kid coming from a very poor school – a very poor background will hear 4 million words fewer spoken by the time they get there.

How Did He Ever Get There?

So, it started with institutional segregation and ended with shaming Black families for not knowing “quite what to do” when it comes to raising children.

Now, I’m the first to acknowledge raising kids is hard, for some of us the hardest thing we’ve ever done. Every gray hair on my head has nothing to do with trying cases for 30 years – I owe them all to raising my own daughter Malika.

I’m also clear, however, that the challenge to raise independent productive and kind children has little to do with your race, class or education. Indeed, suicide rates for young people in America are soaring in recent years. And, how many mass shootings in the last 30 years in America have been carried out by Black teens? To my knowledge, the mass school shooters are almost uniformly white male teenagers. Most of them came from so-called “good homes” which is code for straight white married parents.

But I digress. The point is that Biden’s answer that Black lives are still undermined by the legacy of slavery because we don’t know quite how to raise our kids is stupid and insulting. And it’s not even responsive to the question.

The question, again, is what responsibility do Americans bear, not Black people. While most commentators focused on “the record player answer,” woke Black folks heard the implicit bias and victim-blaming.

The Legacy of Slavery

News alert Mr. Biden: Black people are not responsible for America’s racism.

Black people are responsible for the incredible wealth that America enjoys today. 250 years of free slave labor, another 100+ years of extreme exploitation of labor, and the last 50 years of second-class citizenship (being locked out of equal access to education, affordable housing, health care, high-paying jobs) has all helped white Americans tremendously. Everything Black people have achieved in America came at a premium. In the last 100 years, we paid more for loans, housing, transportation, food, health insurance, health care, education, you name it.

On the flip side of that same coin, in the past 400 years, whites have enjoyed what we refer to today as “white privilege.” Starting with the Land Act of 1820 which made it possible for settlers to move west through the 1950s, whites received massive government subsidies for housing, transportation, health care and education.

Whites enjoy preferential treatment in the enforcement of the law and the administration of justice. This fundamental principle is embedded in the pillars of the justice system. White privilege is reflected in the arrests, charging, prosecution and incarceration of Black people everyday in every state, county and community in America.

Joe Biden either doesn’t know our history or he doesn’t really care to address it. Maybe he really does not understand what is now commonly referred to as “the wealth gap.” The fact that an average white family has 41 times more wealth than the average Black family, that 72% of while familes own their homes compared to just 44% of Black families, and the average white worker earns 30% more than the average Black worker – did not just happen overnight or by happenstance.

The Record Player Answer?

Biden could have at least tried to be consistent. He could have repeated his statement from 1975 (which was the preface to the question):

“I don’t feel responsible for the sins of my father and grandfather, I feel responsible for what the situation is today for sins of my own generation and I’ll be damned if I feel responsible to pay for what happened 300 years ago.”

But it’s no longer “politically correct” to shield oneself with the mantle of white privilege. To be fair, a recurring theme in Barack Obama’s major speeches on race as President was the “moral shortcomings” of the Black family. In his work “The Black Presidency,” author Michael Eric Dyson calls out this message in the few times that Obama talked to the nation on race in America. (See Chapter 6, “Dying to Speak of Race”.)

Perhaps Joe Biden “helped” Obama write those speeches. I don’t know. What I do know is that just like Black people should not tolerate “victim blaming” by Obama or before him, Bill Cosby, we damn sure should not tolerate it from Joe Biden.

It’s also simply not acceptable to equate poverty with Black people. Even Black people who have been financially or professionally successful still experience the demeaning face of racism daily. Black people are disproportionately poor due to America’s racism. But poverty is endemic to capitalism in America. Income inequality between the wealthiest 1% of the country and the rest of us (the 99%) has increased dramatically in recent years. This national crisis was highlighted in the Occupy Movement in 2011 while Joe Biden was Vice President.

Biden’s assumption that the only poor people in this country are Black people is an antiquated view of our current situation, consistent with someone who thinks we still have record players.

The question is “what responsibility do you think Americans need to take to repair the legacy of slavery in our country?” The record player answer does not even come close to looking like an analysis of the problem. Joe Biden needs to study the history of racism in America and the continuing inequities (including those he fostered), then try to answer the question. Until he does that, Black folks in particular would be wise to consider the alternatives.

As Maya Angelou taught us, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”

Only 16 Votes

Credit: Gabriella Angotti-Jones for The New York Times

Tiffany Caban’s Election – Part 1

Tiffany Caban is losing her election to Queens District Attorney by only 16 votes. Only 16 votes could decide the race. The criminal justice system in Queens impacts 2.4 million people. The race highlights the dangers of “provisional ballots” and the power of absentee ballots.

Election officials initially tossed out an estimated 2,500 provisional ballots. Some people registered too late to vote in the primary election. Others moved and did not re-register in time. Some voters forgot to sign and swear they were registered Democrats. On the flip side, usually the most reliable and conservative voters cast absentee ballots. Absentee voters vote early and those votes usually decide the race. That conventional wisdom may prove true in Queens.

What’s At Stake in Queens

Tiffany Caban’s race for District Attorney has captured the attention of the nation. Her story, in case you missed it, is an original American story. She’s young, a mere 31 years old, of Puerto Rican descent, a former Public Defender and the first in her family to graduate from college. Bringing all of her real life and world experience, she put together a broad coalition of progressives, formerly incarcerated folks, sex workers and undocumented immigrants.

New York based Working Families Party, Real Justice PAC, Color of Change, Our Revolution and Democrats for Socialist America (DSA) also supported Tiffany. Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krashner, Singer John Legend, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, former NY gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon and the New York Times newspaper all endorsed Tiffany.

Only 1 major labor union endorsed Tiffany Caban.

According to the New York Times, the Queens District Attorney’s office is woefully out of step with the community it serves. The office features high racial disparities in prosecutions and routine violations of the right to counsel. It has no dedicated unit to address wrongful convictions and no oversight of abusive landlords.

Who is Melinda Katz?

Melinda Katz, Tiffany’s opponent, is an established player in New York politics. Melinda has been the Queens Borough President for 6 years. She will be termed out when her term expires in 2021. She is running for her 6th elected office in 25 years. In her long political career she has not shown any interest in criminal justice reform. She has not led any challenges to mass incarceration in New York.

In 1995, Melinda voted as a member of the New York State Assembly to reinstate the death penalty. On the City Council, she voted to increase penalties for low-level offenses and create a new category of crime (gang recruitment). She also favors increased police surveillance in city schools. Every elected member of Congress from New York except one, and NY Governor Andrew Cuomo endorsed Melinda.

Not surprising, big labor unions like SEIU, Teamsters, Firefighters and the building trades all support Melinda Katz. Melinda has no courtroom experience even though she is a lawyer. Her last real gig was as a lobbyist for real estate clients at Greenberg Taurig. The firm has a scandalous history, including a$7.6 million fine in 2006 levied by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation to settle allegations that the firm helped cover up a bank’s financial misconduct. Greenberg is also Rudy Giuliani, former NY mayor and current Trump surrogate’s old law firm.

The Democratic Party Favorite

Here’s how one local writer described Melinda’s ties to the Queens Democratic Party:

Katz has also cemented her ties to the Queens Democratic Party, which is often criticized as one of the last bastions of calcified political power in the city. The Party protects and promotes its own and, in any race, brings to bear a large cadre of local, state, and national elected officials that originated from its ranks or owe it some allegiance, as well as the allies of those officials, other local party officials like members of the state committee, political club members, and others.

The Queens Democratic Party was previously headed by Congressional representative-turned-lobbyist Joe Crowley, who lost to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and has been fundraising for Katz.”

According to one commentator, Melinda Katz ran on the traditional campaign of fear and racism. As she notes, “Law-and-order feminists have long used the idea of professional white women’s safety and reputation against young women activists of color.” Yet, she’s ahead by only 16 votes.

The Wrong Side of History

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?”

The reality, reflected in the Queens DA race, is that the Democratic Party is very much present. On the wrong side of history. This was obvious in the 2018 Alameda County District Attorney race. According to the local Democratic Party Chair, Robin Torello, incumbent DA Nancy O’Malley “fights for our Democratic values of justice, equality and civil rights everyday.”

Credit: Pamela Price for District Attorney 2018

Every one of O’Malley’s answers are inconsistent with the California Democratic Party platform. Nonetheless, the Alameda County Democratic Party Central Committee, the Sierra Club and Senator Kamala Harris all endorsed O’Malley. After that, less than 100 days after winning re-election with financial and logistical support from the Democratic party machine, O’Malley endorsed the anti-choice Republican candidate for State Assembly over a Democrat. Fortunately, the Republican lost her seat.

Only 16 Votes

I pray that Tiffany Caban can get at least 17 more votes. Still, the hard lesson for progressives is that we have to “flip” the party. We have a chance to do just that in Alameda County in March 2020. If you are not a registered Democrat, you must re-register and do it early.

One estimate is that a million independent voters (registered as “no party preference”) in California risk not being able to vote for president or local Democratic party representatives in the March primary. In other words, independents who want to change the status quo in March 2020 best re-register to vote as a Democrat. You can change it back later.

In California, the drop dead date to re-register to vote by mail in the primary is January 15, 2020. So, you can only vote by mail for local Democratic party officials if you are a registered Democrat by January 15, 2020. If you want to vote in person, the final date to re-register to get a Democratic ballot is February 17, 2020.

Across the country, we see this is where “the petal meets the metal.” We really need everyone to “#DEM-ENTER” ASAP.

If you can please help Tiffany pay for the recount in the Queens DA race, go to her webpage at cabanforqueens.com and make a contribution. Tiffany is a corporate-free candidate.

Biden’s Baggage

Credit: Rex/Shutterstock

I started writing Biden’s Baggage weeks ago. At the time, there seemed to be just a trickle of information about his record on issues that are pivotal in this election. Issues of endless wars, mass incarceration and criminal justice reform, race and gender equality are all in play in the 2020 Presidential election. Suddenly, what was a trickle of bad news for Biden became an avalanche.

At the first televised Democratic debate, Biden did little to stem the tide of bad press. He seemed to fumble his answers on his 2002 Iraq war vote. He could not defend his opposition to integration and cozy relationships with segregationists. Three issues not even addressed in the debate are Biden’s leadership in creating mass incarceration, his inconsistent support for a woman’s right to choose and his dastardly treatment of Professor Anita Hill.

Why Are We Here?

This is Joe Biden’s third run for President. He first ran in 1988 and dropped out in disgrace after being accused of multiples instances of plagarism. Biden ran again in 2008 and dropped out after the Iowa Caucus. He won less than 1% of the delegates there. According to the Washington Post, it was a year in which voters said they were seeking change and Biden “struck Iowans as a little too familiar, fixtures of a Washington establishment that had grown stale from years of gridlock and partisan infighting.”

Joe Biden’s current cache stems solely from his role as Vice President to Barack Hussein Obama. But let’s be clear: Obama’s candidacy was so extraordinary and inspiring, we could care less who he picked as his Vice President. President Obama had a blank check. He could have written in Bozo the Clown and we would have said okay. Certainly Biden did not disappoint as the Vice President. But make no mistake about it: Barack and Michelle Obama excelled as the first couple and they didn’t need Joe Biden to do it.

Too Much to Overcome?

To be fair, Joe Biden is known as an ardent advocate for middle class America and the rights of workers. Since 2015, he has supported the ideas of free college and $15 hour/minimum wage. He introduced the first-ever climate bill in 1986 and understands that climate change is an existential threat to our future.

Still, while Joe Biden wants to talk about his achievements as Vice President, he has all this baggage. Indeed, the rest of us are looking at his record in the U.S. Senate. Biden voted for the Iraq war in 2002. Some consider that vote his “blackest mark” in his foreign policy past, and an “Achilles’ heel” of his candidacy. Based on blatant lies about “weapons of mass destruction,” the war cost us more than a trillion dollars and plunged Iraq into a devastating civil war. Biden apparently knew it was a lie but went with it anyway.

The Author of Mass Incarceration

Joe Biden has a long record of leadership creating the mass incarceration that continues to decimate Black and Brown communities. Over a 10-year period, Biden wrote multiple “measures to increase incarceration and prisons. He advocated for tougher prison sentences for drug offenses, particularly crack cocaine, despite its inherent racist impact.

In 1984, Biden worked with racist segregationist hero Sen. Strom Thurmond to expand federal drug trafficking penalties and civil asset forfeiture. Biden wrote and sponsored the 1986 crime bill that created sentencing disparity between crack cocaine and powder cocaine. In 1989, he delivered a drug policy address that called for more police, more prosecutors and longer sentences. Biden helped write the 1994 federal crime bill that increased sentences and funding for state prisons. He sometimes refers to it as “the Biden Crime Law.

The Enabler of Clarence Thomas

Biden claims that he “did everything in my power to defeat Clarence Thomas.” The actual history is very different. It has long been known that Biden cut a deal with Republican Sen. John Danforth, Thomas’ main sponsor, to end the 1991 confirmation hearings quickly. Biden told a group of women legislators that he had promised Danforth “in the men’s gym that this would be a very quick hearing.”

Former Rep. Pat Schroeder (D-Colo.) and six other female Democrats asked Biden to conduct a complete investigation and delay Thomas’ confirmation. Instead, Biden kept his word to Danforth. Biden refused to allow three other women who would have corroborated Anita Hill‘s testimony to testify. Schroeder says “[T]o have railroaded that through and not listen to the other three women and let his colleagues absolutely tear [Anita Hill] apart was absolutely horrible.” Anita Hill believes that the #METOO movement might have begun in 1991 if Joe Biden had done his job. Anita has “made it clear that Biden is not her candidate for President.”

Pro-Choice or Not?

In this time, a woman’s right to choose what to do with her body is being taken away. Joe Biden is seen by many as “the unreliable pro-choice advocate.” Here’s why:

1970s-80: Biden voted for the Hyde Amendment which bars federal funding of abortions

1977: Biden supported the toughest anti-abortion measure ever – an amendment to deny abortions in cases of incest and rape

1981: He proposed the Biden Amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act which continues to bar U.S. aid from being used for biomedical research related to abortions

1982: He voted in favor of a constitutional amendment to allow states to overturn Roe v. Wade

1983: Biden voted five times to bar the Federal Employees Health Benefits program from funding abortions for federal employees

1988: He voted against adding a rape and incest exception to the Hyde Amendment

As late as 2003, Joe Biden’s score on support for abortion rights by the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL) Pro-Choice America was only 36%. It improved to 100% in more recent years, starting in 2006. The question is whether we can count on him to fight the battle for a woman’s right to choose or will he revert back to “states’ rights?”

A Supporter of “States Rights”

In fact, on Thursday, June 27, 2019, Joe Biden reverted to “states’ rights.” When challenged by Sen. Kamala Harris about his opposition to busing to integrate schools, Joe went back to his roots: “states’ rights.” The unmasking of Biden’s baggage on the issue of race is now complete.

Biden led the fight against school busing for at least a decade. He sponsored numerous measures to stop busing, working with notorious racist segregationists. In 1975, after Sen. Jesse Helms‘ amendment failed, Biden crafted his own bill to bar federal funds to help school districts integrate.

Sen. Edward Brooke (R. Mass.) (Credit: Getty Images)

Sen. Edward Brooke, the first Black man elected to the U.S. Senate after Reconstruction, called Biden’s bill “the greatest symbolic defeat for civil rights since 1964.”

Joe Biden’s baggage is real and should weigh heavily in any consideration of his candidacy for President. We owe those who fought on the right side of history to make the country a better place at least that much. #BlackWomenLead

The 2019 CDP Chair Race Ends

The 2019 CDP Chair race ended last Saturday. The CDP did not elect Kimberly Ellis to be the first Black woman to lead the party. The CDP delegates voted overwhelmingly to elect Rusty Hicks. What are we to make of this conclusion?

California or Calabama?

Among Black folks, California has earned the nickname “Calabama.” It means that far too often, Black people in California face the same deep racism they face in the South, in places like Alabama. As I watched the racial divide exposed in San Francisco last weekend, I was reminded of the struggle that Fannie Lou Hamer fought against the Democratic Party in 1964.

In 1964, Hamer helped co-found the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP). The regional Democratic party was racist and all-white. Hamer traveled with her delegation to the 1964 Democratic National Convention to stand as the official delegation from the state of Mississippi. Her plea to be recognized by the DNC went viral within a few days. It fell on deaf ears.

The DNC did not officially recognize the MFDP until the 1968 Convention.

At the CDP convention in San Francisco, I attended the Black Women’s Meet-up from 5-7. I don’t recall seeing any white women there. Later, from 10-12, I attended the New Girls Network reception. I counted less than 2 handfuls of Black women. I was greatly disturbed by how comfortable most of the white women appeared to be with the obvious absence of Black women. I’m not even sure that KE was invited to speak there.

Clearly, if every woman delegate had voted for KE, she would have easily won. But clearly, that did not happen. Full consideration of the culture of sexual misconduct and racial discrimination inside the CDP took a back seat to another agenda. That agenda was to preserve the privilege of white men in charge of the party. And it clearly appears that too many white women were ok with that. Much as they voted overwhelmingly for Roy Moore in Alabama despite the evidence that he molested teenage girls. What should have been a referendum on the white male patriarchy in charge of the CDP was weaponized against the Black male Chair candidate and otherwise ignored.

Who is Rusty Hicks?

Rusty Hicks seems like a nice fellow. But as I noted before the election, Rusty Hicks comes out of the same cesspool of sexism and white privilege that birthed Eric Bauman. Rusty is a longtime LA labor leader who worked closely with Bauman for the last 14 years. When Eric resigned in disgrace, it seems that his LA supporters came up with a replacement.

So now, Rusty Hicks is the face of the CDP. In his endorsement of KE, Jon Katz, the President of the Santa Monica Democratic Club, said “After extensive conversations with Mr. Hicks, I worry that his vision of the party would serve the protection of our elected officials above the need to push those elected officials to take bold stances and enact legislation that the grassroots of the party put them there to do.” 

So How Did Rusty Win?

How Rusty won an election that seemed like it was KE’s to lose will be debated for at least the next two years. We know that the elected officials went all out in January to reclaim the ADEM seats. Some believe the defeat of progressive ADEM slates by hand-chosen surrogates for the electeds in January cost KE the election.

For the first time in recent memory, the CDP Labor Caucus endorsed a candidate for Chair – Rusty. The motion to endorse created a huge uproar in the Caucus. The Labor Caucus, like many other Rusty supporters, was blind to the implications of its conduct. In rushing to push Rusty into the chair seat, labor crushed the hopes of any woman who believes after 128 years, it is long past time to have a Black woman chairperson. Labor failed to consider that a woman is far better equipped to redeem the party’s reputation from the sexually predatory conduct of Eric Bauman than an Eric Bauman surrogate.

As CDP Chair, Rusty will have to reassure Black people that Black women do matter to the CDP and change the culture of sexual abuse allegedly tolerated by the Party leadership. We will tolerate no less than that. The real question is whether labor or the electeds will support him in that quest as vociferously as they supported him in the Chair race. How they answer that question may well determine whether Democrats defeat Trump in 2020.

Time to “Bern” America

Black American Soldiers In Vietnam (1971)

This coming Saturday April 27th, I will co-host a bilingual house party with Andrea Luna for people to learn more about Bernie Sanders campaign for President and sign-up to volunteer. After much soul-searching, I have decided and declare that I’m all in for Bernie Sanders.

“The Fierce Urgency of Now”

Killer Mike caught my attention when he asked the question on the Real – do you like and respect Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.? His analysis is that Bernie’s agenda most closely matches the agenda of Rev. King.

In the years right before he died, Rev. King talked about the need to transform America. In his book “The Black Presidency” Michael Eric Dyson reports a conversation in 1966 where Rev. King told his advisors that “[t]here must be a better distribution of wealth, and maybe America must move toward a democratic socialism.” We know that King was murdered as he was organizing the Poor Peoples March on Washington, and unifying people across race, religion and class with the goal of eradicating poverty in America. Rev. King did not live to see the March. He knew that his days were numbered. One of his most famous statements is “the time is always right to do what’s right.”

In America today, there is no time to wait. Certainly not for anyone who cares about Black people. In 1966, Rev. King declared that “Of all the inequalities that exist, the injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhuman.” According to a 2016 Kaiser report, Blacks have significantly higher death rates than Whites for diabetes, heart disease and cancer. HIV and AIDS diagnoses rates among Blacks between ages 13-64 are more than eight and ten times higher than that for Whites. The death rate for HIV is eight times higher for Blacks compared to Whites.

The Kaiser study also found that in 2014, 71% of Whites were insured privately and only 21% had Medicaid or public insurance. By comparison, 51% of Blacks had private insurance, and 37% had Medicaid or public insurance. We know that the substantial gains made under the Affordable Care Act are being wiped out by Trump.

In 2019, Black women are disproportionately suffering high and increasing infant and maternal mortality rates. In 2019, too many people in America of every race and gender have to choose between filling a prescription or buying food. The high cost of health insurance means that many people simply cannot afford health care. In fact, medical debt is the number one cause of bankruptcy.

Enter Bernie Sanders, a Democratic Socialist. Bernie is undeniably the leader on national health care reform. The California Nurses Association and National Nurses United went to the mat for him in 2016 because of his position on health care reform. Every other candidate today is sailing in his wind and mimicking his commitment.

In 2009, the Democratic Party abandoned single-payer, and even as late as 2017, many House Democrats did not support Medicare for All.

Consistent Values & Commitment

Bernie Sanders has been consistent on health care reform, civil rights and opposition to war, some of the biggest issues we face today. He has a plan to address the epidemic of gun violence in this country, an issue that I care deeply about.

Bernie Sanders Arrest In Civil Rights Demonstration – Chicago (1963)

Bernie’s arrest during a 1963 civil rights protest of segregation in Chicago schools when he was a student at the University of Chicago resonates deeply with my personal history. At the University of Chicago, Bernie was a leader of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), a major civil rights group and led protests over racial inequality.

As a Senator, Bernie voted against the Iraq War in 2002 and warned of “unintended consequences.”

As the conscience of the country, in 1967, Rev. King condemned the Vietnam War and warned about “the Casualties of the War in Vietnam.” As a result he was labeled “an enemy of the State” and ridiculed on all sides.

My True Confessions

One, I am not an original “Berniecrat” from the 2016 presidential campaign. Two reasons: (1) I was dealing with seismic shifts in my personal life in that season; and (2) an elderly White male senator from Vermont was not someone who caught my attention in time for me to do anything to help him.

Two, I knew Hillary Clinton was a deeply flawed candidate. I witnessed how she and Bill treated Lani Guinier and Marianne Wright Edelman. I witnessed Hillary’s complicity in the Monica Lewinsky episode – how they treated “that woman.” I watched the proliferation of criminal injustice laws and new unfair tax burdens imposed on victims of unlawful discrimination under the Clintons’ leadership. I watched how they ran against Sen. Obama. I heard Bill’s racist comments and Hillary’s disappearing-reappearing Southern drawl.

Three, I went “hard to the paint” to elect Barack Hussein Obama as the first Black president. In 2008, Hope Young and I went to ground zero – Dayton, Montgomery County Ohio – and walked, talked and worked to the point of exhaustion. Election night, as we eagerly watched the results coming in and started to party to Michael Jackson’s Man in the Mirror, I confessed to my friends that my greatest joy in my commitment to Obama was not about him, but the fact that Michelle Obama – a Black woman – was going to be the First Lady. 

The Time Is Right Now

As we move forward in 2019, the time is now and there is a fierce urgency. My father often said “time waits for no man.” The California primary is less than a year away. Yes, I need Bernie to call out sexism and racism more, and to focus on equity in addressing the impacts of centuries of racial inequality. But, I appreciate his consistency and I hate hypocrisy.

At the end of the day, I agree with Killer Mike (and Nina Turner and Danny Glover): “we need the total antithesis of what we say we don’t like about Donald Trump.” We need more than simply “any functioning adult” to help us get out of the mess we are in. I believe that loyalty to the legacy of Rev. King requires all out support to elect Bernie Sanders in 2020.

Whether or not you are sure about what to do in this moment, I urge you to attend one of the many house parties taking place on Saturday, April 27th around the country. Go to map.berniesanders.com to find a house party near you! Don’t wait – get it done now. “The time is always right to do what’s right.”

A Luta Continua!

A Tale of Twin Cities

On July 6, 2016, Philando Castile was shot driving while Black outside of St. Paul, Minneapolis. Officer Jeronimo Yanez shot him five (5) times. Philando’s murder was witnessed by his girlfriend and his 4-year-old daughter in the back seat.

Credit: Stephen Govel Star Tribune

Fast forward to June 16, 2017.  A Minneapolis jury acquits Officer Yanez of Philando’s murder. On July 15, 2017, barely a month later, Minneapolis police officer Mohammad Noor shoots Justine Damond, a White woman from Australia.  Ms. Damond calls the police to report a possible rape occurring outside of her home. When the police arrive, she goes outside in her pajamas to talk to them. As she stands on the driver’s side of the police car talking to the driver, Officer Noor shoots across the front seat, past his partner through the open window. He shoots Ms. Damond in the stomach and she dies on the scene.

Not surprisingly, Ms. Damond’s murder has sparked international condemnation, particularly by the Australian Prime Minister.  You see, we are among the most deadly countries in the world when it comes to gun violence. So, this type of crime in Australia is extremely shocking. The idea that the police “shoot first and ask questions later” seems incredible in most countries around the world.

Valerie Castile, Philando Castile’s Mother and Don Damond, Justine Damond’s fiancé, embraced at the Peace and Justice March for Justine on July 20, 2017

These two tragic deaths in the twin cities are interrelated. In both cases, the victim did not pose a threat of harm to the officers.  Still, it is likely that the officer who shot Justine Damond will claim that he feared for his life, just like the officer who shot Philando Castile. And, it is also likely that Officer Noor will not be found guilty of any crime, just like Officer Yanez. It seems that even when police officers are charged, it is still really difficult for prosecutors to get a conviction.

How Did One Murder Lead to Another?

Dr. Martin Luther King said it best: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

And so it is that the murder of a Black man laid the foundation for the murder of a white woman. Indeed, the inability of the community to hold a police officer accountable for the death of a Black man created the permissive climate for another officer to murder a White woman. Suddenly, everyone in Minneapolis-St. Paul is “caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.” Now the truth is revealed. The use of deadly force by police officers in America against citizens is out of control. And when we allow police officers to target and terrorize communities based on race, religion or wealth, no one is safe.

It would not surprise me if Officer Noor thought that Justine Damond was Black.  The Yanez acquittal verdict certainly told everyone in the Twin Cities (and indeed the nation) that Black lives do not matter. For Officer Noor to pull his gun, shoot across the front seat of the car and out of the window to kill an unarmed woman in her pajamas, speaks volumes about public safety in that city. It clearly confirms that public safety does not exist in that community.

Nor can it exist in any community where the rights of everyone are not respected and protected. This is a hard lesson that we all should learn from this tale of Twin Cities.

Why I’m Running For DA

My friends’ first question is not why am I running for DA. The first question is “have you lost your mind?”  No, I have not lost my mind.  I know who I am and I know why I’m running.  So here it is.

No Police Accountability

Exhibit ACourt-Appointed-Investigators-Report-on-City-of Oakland’s Response to Allegations of Officer Sexual Misconduct.  This scathing report exposes the total lack of accountability we have in Alameda County for police misconduct. It is particularly disturbing because OPD is under a consent decree that requires the Criminal Investigation Division (CID) Commander to inform the DA of possible criminal conduct by officers. Yet, neither the City Attorney nor the District Attorney have taken any responsibility to enforce this provision of the Consent Decree. This persistent problem has cost our City millions of dollars.

Our DA says she had no knowledge of the investigation of police sexual exploitation going on right under her nose. The Court’s report verifies this claim. Nancy O’Malley had no idea that sex trafficking by the police was happening in Alameda County. It has been reported that two investigators in her office were part of the problem. She says she was completely unaware of the ongoing investigation until she read about it in the newspaper. To me, that is a gross dereliction of duty on her part.

When Officer Brendan O’Brien killed himself in September 2015 and left a note, he was still under suspicion of killing his wife. The question is why the DA did not ask “what’s in the suicide note?

Courtesy: Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images

The Court report leaves no doubt that various members of OPD, certainly including former Chief Sean Whent, the Internal Affairs Division and CID Commanders engaged in obstruction of justice. When asked if she intended to investigate anyone for obstruction of justice, DA O’Malley said flatly “no.” Surely, this is why OPD felt completely comfortable covering up these crimes. There simply is no history of accountability for police officers in Alameda County.

“Is this because I was little?”

The Court finds that OPD did not properly investigate because of “an implicit but evident bias against the victim.” The report says “put simply, CID and IAD wrote off this victim.” Regrettably, I observed a similar bias in the DA’s response. While our County’s female leaders did not come right out and blame the victim, no one acted like they gave a damn about Jasmine. It was as if her exploitation was not taken seriously. Ultimately, the DA left Jasmine to languish in a Florida jail for 17 days.

Sept. 9, 2016. (AP Photo/Terry Chea)

When DA O’Malley famously announced “I would charge these officers but I don’t have a witness,” Jasmine was facing a felony and 15 years in prison. She was tricked into going to Florida in the first place by the Richmond Police Department.

The fact is the Richmond police sent DA O’Malley’s star witness across the country. Richmond PD placed Jasmine in a situation where she was held against her will, assaulted and arrested because she wanted to come home.  If I were the DA, I would absolutely demand a thorough investigation of possible witness tampering. I would absolutely do everything in my power to hold whomever sent my witness to Florida accountable. More importantly, I would do everything in my power to bring her home. The same bias that OPD exhibited was obvious in the DA’s response to Jasmine’s incarceration in Florida – they wrote her off.

No Criminal Justice Reform

In 2014, Proposition 47 passed in Alameda County by almost 74% of the voters. We recognize that we cannot solve our problems by locking everyone up. DA O’Malley vigorously opposed Proposition 47.  She called it “a frightening fraud with irrevocable and far-reaching consequences.” How can we expect her to implement legislation she considers “a frightening fraud?”

In 2012, California voters passed realignment legislation to reduce the numbers of people in prisons and bring them home. The measure, Proposition 36, passed in Alameda County with 78.6% of the vote.  Yet, in 2016, DA O’Malley proposed to spend only $1.72 million of her $73 million budget on re-entry services.

In 2015, the DA’s office prosecuted almost 41,000 adults and 1001 juveniles.  Ninety-three percent (93%) of the adult cases reviewed for charging resulted in some type of prosecution. So, if you get arrested in Alameda County, there is a 93% chance that you will be prosecuted for something. In contrast, Homeless Court meets six times a year and helps about 300 people a year.

The vast majority of the prosecutions (59% – almost 29,000 cases) were for misdemeanor crimes. The misdemeanor numbers include thousands of women arrested for prostitution. In 2015, the Safety Net Program – a program to create a safety plan for at-risk and high-risk victims of commercial sexual exploitation – only reviewed 83 cases.

The New Jim Crow in Alameda County

In 2015, almost 1500 juvenile cases were presented to the DA. Of those 1,001 (67%) resulted in prosecutions. Felony arrests of African-American kids were a startling rate of 25 per 1,000 compared to 2.3 per 1,000 for White kids. Only 112 kids were referred to a restorative justice program. Only 80 kids participated in our Collaborative Mental Health Court. In 2014, Alameda was one of only 9 counties in the State where the DA only charged Black or Latino kids as adults. “The New Jim Crow” is alive and well in Alameda County.

Why We Have to Make A Change

We have got to change the picture of justice in Alameda County. The days when the DA can “talk the talk” and not “walk the walk” have to be over. As Adam Foss says, we need prosecutors who want to change lives, not ruin them. We need better public safety outcomes. Alameda County has the 4th highest homicide rate for young people (ages 10-24) in the State. Whatever she’s doing is not working.

Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions are about sending folks back to jail.  Since 2012, we have rejected that approach in Alameda County. We want to bring people home and rebuild families and restore our community. We want to end the horrendous racial divide that has infected our judicial system. We want to treat and teach our kids how to be kids. That’s how we need to spend our money – by investing in our people. We need Justice Done Right in Alameda County.

Stop The Violence Now

A Department of Violence Prevention in Oakland

On Tuesday, May 16, 2017, starting at 5:30 p.m. the Oakland City Council will decide a question of urgent priority. The question is whether to establish a Department of Violence Prevention (DVP).

Or whether to accept Mayor Libby Schaaf‘s goal to reduce violent crime by a mere 10% using the same old failed methods. A coalition of community groups along with Councilmembers Lynette McElhaney, Larry Reid and Rebecca Kaplan are calling for people to show up at the Oakland City Council meeting. If you cannot make the meeting, you should contact Councilmembers Dan Kalb, Abel Guillen, Annie Campbell, Noel Gallo and Desley Brooks.

Why This, Why Now?

It’s 1999.  I’m standing in front of City Hall with my two young grandsons. Both of them are still in elementary school. We are part of the Acts Full Gospel Church‘s weekly rallies against gun violence in Oakland. The faith community wants the killings in Oakland to stop. We want City Hall to take action to stop the violence in Oakland.

In 2001-2002, there is a rash of killings of young Black men in a part of Oakland known as “Ghost Town.” I sue the City on behalf of the family of 21-year-old Chance Grundy. A man murdered Chance because Chance witnessed a murder and cooperated with the police. The police let it be known that Chance was a cooperating witness. The murderer let it be known that he wanted Chance to “sleep with the fishes.” We lose the case. It turns out that (in real life, not like in the movies) the police have no duty to protect witnesses even when they know the witness is in danger.

Fast forward to January 11, 2013.  My friend Brenda Harbin‘s beloved grandson, Ken Harbin, Jr. is shot and killed. Four people are killed that day in Oakland. In the wake of Ken’s murder, we stand on street corners with Soldiers Against Violence Everywhere (S.A.V.E.). Once again, we ask the City to take action to stop the violence in Oakland.

Every grandmother and mother’s nightmare, the loss of a beloved child.  A dream struck down and unfulfilled by a senseless act of violence.

America’s Gun Violence Problem

America’s “gun culture” is totally unique. We own way more guns privately than other countries, and we have the highest gun ownership per capita rate in the world. Gun violence has long been deemed a public health crisis. A March 2016 study in the American Journal of Medicine found that 90% of all women, 91% of children under 14 , 92% of youth aged 15 to 24 years, and 82% of all people killed by firearms in the world were from the United States.

In 2010, the number of homicides by guns in the U.S. was at least 9,960. The Centers for Disease Control reported 11,078 firearm-related homicides that year. By comparison, there were only 173 gun homicides in Canada, 155 in the United Kingdom, 158 in Germany and 142 in France. Sweden had only 30 homicides by gun. Japan had only 11 people killed with guns.

Credit: Ma’ayan Rosenzweig/ABC News

Currently, the U.S. is ranked 4th out of 34 developed nations for the incidence of homicides committed with a firearm.  A young man here aged 15–24 is 70 times more likely to be killed with a gun than his counterpart in the eight largest industrialized nations in the world. These include the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Japan, Canada, Italy and Russia.

In 2015, there were 372 mass shootings and 33,636 deaths due to firearms in the U.S. That same year, guns were used to kill only about 50 people in the U.K. More people are killed with guns in the U.S. in a day (about 85) than in the U.K. in a year.

The Race-Based Rationale for Guns

Efforts to control guns in America have stumbled on the “right to bear arms” clause in the Second Amendment to the Constitution. What is often overlooked is the history of the Second Amendment. It was added as a compromise to protect the slave patrols in the South. The Founders knew the militias were necessary to keep the slaves under control. The Supreme Court has interpreted and protected the Second Amendment regardless of the consequences.

In 2002, Michael Moore wrote, produced, directed and narrated Bowling for Columbine.  The film highlighted the racist underpinnings of the Second Amendment. However, the Film’s main point, that our violent crime rate is substantially higher than other nations, seems to have been lost over time.

Support the Department of Violence Prevention

Gun violence in Oakland has remained steady.  In 1999, the County Board of Supervisors passed a strong gun control law. The Board reacted to a “rash of gun-related violence” in Alameda County. The Board found that “gunshot fatalities are of epidemic proportions in Alameda County.” That law was immediately attacked based on Supreme Court decisions. While the case was pending, the County retreated and announced that gun shows would be allowed on County property.

Our Mayor opposes the proposal to create a Department of Violence Prevention (DVP). We need to support the goal to reduce homicides by 80% and achieve an 80% clearance rate within 3 years. The Mayor wants to increase funding for law enforcement,  but “budgets are statements of priorities.” Our priority has to be to reduce gun violence, domestic violence and commercial sexual exploitation of our children.

We need the DVP. Let’s make 2017 the year that we cure the disease of preventable violence and death in Oakland. We cannot expect different results by doing the same thing over and over again.

Trump’s Secret Assault

I’m sitting and waiting for the healthcare vote. I’ve watched nervously over the last few days as the forces of Trump gathered in secret.  It is clear they intend to deliver a savage blow to healthcare in America. As a result, it is clear that now, more than ever, we need single payer healthcare in California.

The Healthy California Act – SB562

SB562 is a Senate bill in the California State Legislature that proposes to provide free healthcare for all Californians. Single-payer health care is a system in which the government, rather than private insurers, pays for all healthcare costs. Healthy California is a campaign of over 4 million Californians committed to guaranteeing healthcare for the residents of our state.

 

In a 2003 study, Americans spent 7.2% of our Gross Domestic Product (GPD) on health care. By comparison, it found that citizens in Europe, Japan, New Zealand, Canada and Australia spent less than 2.6. Their healthcare costs were covered by their governments. A 2010 study found that Americans continue to spend way more on our healthcare than other similarly-situated countries.

Source: Wikipedia/Sugar Baby Love

Our failure to provide universal healthcare in America also hurts our financial status in the world. A comparison of our credit rating to other countries with universal healthcare makes it clear we need single payor healthcare.

Source: Huffington Post

SB562 is a Senate bill in the California State Legislature that proposes to provide healthcare for all Californians. On April 26, 2017, the California Legislature moved SB562 forward. It would provide full healthcare coverage for all Californians. The advances from Obamacare would be folded into the new system. It will eliminate “co-pays” “out-of-pocket costs” and “deductibles.” These are the private expenses that are driving all of us to the poorhouse. SB562 will lower prescription costs which really hurt people when they are sick and need help the most.

Reproductive Injustice

According to the U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services, the infant mortality rate is one of the most widely used measures for the overall health of a community. Leading causes of death among infants are birth defects, preterm delivery, low birth weight, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), and maternal complications during pregnancy. Infant mortality continues to be a major problem in the U.S. although the rate is dropping.

In Alameda County, 619 babies died prematurely between 2006-2012, compared to 56 in Marin.  Alameda County’s infant mortality rate is consistently higher for Black and multiracial women than women in other ethnic groups. It is 3 times higher for Black families as white families in Alameda County, and almost that high in Contra Costa County.

West Contra Costa County became a medical desert in 2014 with the closure of Doctor’s Medical Center. Residents of 8 cities, Hercules, Pinole, San Pablo, El Sobrante, El Cerrito, Albany, Richmond, Kensington and the surrounding incorporated areas have to travel to Berkeley or Oakland for emergency medical care. The current crisis in West County is the result of decades of racial injustice in healthcare and other social services in Contra Costa County.

Studies also show an increase in pregnancy mortality rates in recent years. Again, Black women are dying at significantly higher rates:

  • 40.4 deaths per 100,000 live births for black women
  • 16.4 deaths per 100,000 live births for women of other races
  • 12.1 deaths per 100,000 live births for white women

Reproductive Injustice is still pervasive in our healthcare system by race and gender.

The Urgency of Now!

These statistics make it clear that NOW is the time for universal healthcare.  That the fight for single-payer healthcare is a social, racial, gender and economic justice issue.  Having free access to quality healthcare is one of the pressing human rights fights of our time.  Indeed, lives are at stake and every day counts! I urge everyone to join and support the Campaign for a Healthy California!  #HealthyCA

Justice-By-Geography

My mouth fell open when I read this! Shocking! In Alameda County? It surprised me and not much about our judicial system surprises me.

The Prosecutor’s Power to Charge Children

In 2016, California voters passed Proposition 57. It passed in Alameda County by an overwhelming 77% majority.  One of the main changes in the new law is to eliminate the prosecutor’s discretion to charge children between 14 and 18 as adults. It repealed California Proposition 21, which was passed in March 2000. Proposition 21 gave prosecutors the authority to decide whether to try a child as an adult.

In a “direct file” case, the prosecutor had the sole authority to decide whether to charge a child as an adult. Under the old law, the decision had to be made within the first 48 hours of an arrest. As a result, prosecutors often had minimal information about the circumstances of the crime or the child. In addition, there was almost no opportunity to interview key witnesses before making the decision.

At the same time, placing a child in the adult prosecution track has dire consequences for his or her “rehabilitation.” First of all, children are five times more likely to be sexually assaulted in adult prisons than in juvenile facilities. Furthermore, children are up to 36 times more likely to commit suicide after being housed in an adult jail or prison than those in juvenile facilities.

Disparity Gap in the Rates of Direct File

Fortunately, organizations like the W. Haywood Burns Institute, the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice and the National Center for Youth Law sounded the alarm on this practice.  Based on their research, they concluded that prosecutors were charging kids as adults at alarming rates. The prosecutor’s power to charge kids as young as 14 as adults was completely unregulated in California and most of the nation. Not surprisingly, the practice primarily impacts kids of color who were 90% of all “direct filed” cases.

These youth law advocates conducted a comprehensive survey and comparison of California counties. They found that the type of justice you receive in the juvenile system depends on where you live – hence, justice by geography! Furthermore, since 2003, there has been a growing disparity gap in the rates of direct file prosecutions of children by race in California.

Statewide numbers reveal that in 2014, for every White child charged as an adult, there were 3 Latino and 11 Black kids. What is shocking to me is that in Alameda County, prosecutors did not charge a single White kid as an adult in 2014.  Yet, in the same year, Alameda County prosecutors charged 14 Black or Latino kids as adults. Alameda is one of the nine counties in the State where only Black or Latino youths were subject to direct filing.

The Road to Recovery

Our road to recovery from juvenile injustice in California is likely to be long and difficult. With the passage of Prop. 57, the decision to prosecute a child as an adult is now decided by judges. Those of us who question the wisdom of this approach wonder whether we are going backward instead of forward. We know that in real world, judges have usually supported prosecutors.  Indeed in Alameda County, most of the sitting judges were prosecutors. So, some of us are concerned that “the fox is already in the henhouse.”

The response to our concerns was that the judge must make his decision in public and give a statement of reasons for the decision. Now, the prosecutor must make a motion to transfer a child to adult court. The judge must hold a hearing and evaluate whether the child should be tried as an adult. The hope is that increased transparency will lead to more accountability and better outcomes for kids.

In the meantime, it is unclear whether any of the kids charged, convicted or sentenced under the old law are entitled to relief.  In fact, once they were charged as adults, they were subject to the same pressures to plead guilty as adults. According to the AG’s records, 88% of the kids charged as adults are convicted and sentenced as adults.

Can We Save Children We Already Condemned?

Kurese Bell in San Diego County is a case in point. Kurese was only 17 when he and a friend, 18-year-old Marlon Thomas, robbed two marijuana dispensaries. At the second one, they unintentionally got into a shootout with a security guard inside the building. Eighteen year old Marlon was killed. Because Marlon’s death occurred during a robbery, 17-year old Kurese was charged with murder as an adult. Kurese was convicted in January 2017, after Prop. 57 became effective. If he is sentenced as an adult, he is not likely to have a parole date for 25 years.

Kurese’s case was a “direct file.” Ironically, the District Attorney of San Diego is the only DA in the State who supported Prop. 57. San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis is a former Juvenile Court Judge.  She says that she believes that a judge should hear both sides as to why a juvenile should be treated as an adult.

Earlier this year, Kurese’s lawyer, Patrick Dudley, took the courageous step of asking the Court to apply Prop. 57 retroactively to Kurese’s case.  The motion was granted!  The judge applied Prop. 57 and granted Kurese a transfer/fitness hearing in which the presumption is that Kurese is “fit” for a juvenile court disposition.  The prosecution must prove that he is not. A hearing is scheduled for May 12th.

Whether we will see similar steps to achieve justice in Alameda County by applying Prop. 57 retroactively remains to be seen.  Certainly, given our history of racial disparity in charging children, justice would appear to demand it.

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