Legally Speaking With Pamela Price

Pamela Y. Price, Attorney at Law

Category: Race Discrimination Page 1 of 3

Oath Keepers In Alameda County

Oath Keepers Booth at Urban Shield Event in Castro Valley, 2017
Oath Keepers Booth at 2017 Urban Shield event- Credits: Courtesy of CBS SF Bay Area

On January 6, 2021, everyday white citizens tried to overthrow the government. They were led by white supremacist organizations well-known to our government. One of those groups is the Oath Keepers, a right-wing extremist group that operates in Alameda County.

In Alameda County there are rumors that our Sheriff Greg Ahern is a member of the Oath Keepers. Suspicions are that, even if Sheriff Ahern is not a member, he embraces their beliefs. In 2017, the Oath Keepers had a booth at the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office’s Urban Shield training program. The booth shown above was at a church in Castro Valley. The Sheriff’s Department is the only law enforcement agency for Castro Valley.

The Oath Keepers have long claimed to be composed of current and former police, military and first-responders. As the national news has reported all week, the group targets law enforcement for recruitment. The group was formed in 2009 in direct response to the election of America’s first Black president. They are largely responsible for the violent attack on the Capitol building on January 6, 2021.

The NAACP and Mississippi Congressman Bennie Thompson have sued the Oath Keepers for the January 6th insurrection pointing out that “the coup attempt was a coordinated, months-long attempt to destroy democracy, to block the results of a fair and democratic election, and to disenfranchise millions of ballots that were legally cast by African-American voters.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center has long classified the Oath Keepers as an extremist anti-government group. The group is well known for attending Black Lives Matter protests heavily armed. They became famous when they showed up in Ferguson Missouri to intimidate protestors following Michael Brown’s murder.

The Santa Rita Jail

Given the Oath Keepers’ unholy infiltration of local law enforcement, it is not surprising that Alameda County has problems in Santa Rita Jail. Sheriff Greg Ahern runs the jail. Our jail is located in Dublin, the home of Alameda County Supervisor David Haubert, a known supporter of the Oath Keepers. The jail is known nationally for human rights abuses and racism.

Black and Brown people are the overwhelming majority of people held at the jail. In 2018, Black people were incarcerated in Santa Rita at a rate of 946 per 100,000 residents compared to 115 per 100,000 residents for whites. In 2018, more than 83% of the people incarcerated at Santa Rita had not been sentenced for a crime.

Since 2014, an estimated 42 people have died at the hands of police at Santa Rita jail. In 2017, a woman gave birth in an isolation cell without any medical assistance or help. Sheriffs deputies reportedly ignored her screams. When addicts are arrested, the jail does not always provide medical treatment or services. Instead, the deputies leave addicts to suffer with withdrawal symptoms by themselves. In 2019, inmates staged a hunger strike to protest their inhumane conditions at the jail.

Still, Sheriff Ahern, a Republican, continues to enjoy the support of the all-Democratic elected Board of Supervisors.

JoAnn Walker Is The Change

In 2022, for the first time since 1986, Alameda County will have a choice of who to elect to be the Sheriff. In January 2021, I joined JoAnn Walker who is a candidate for Alameda County Sheriff on our criminal justice reform slate.

JoAnn Walker is a 25-year police officer, an educator, a graduate of CalState Hayward and a Master Post-certified Instructor. Walker is well versed in issues of mental and emotional health, suicide and domestic violence. Because Walker is a Black female resident of Alameda County for more than 40 years, she is sensitive to the issues of race and gender discrimination that have characterized the Alameda County justice system.

JoAnn Walker knows that jails should not be used to fill the need for drug rehabilitation services, housing and mental health services. JoAnn Walker believes that we cannot continue to have a “double standard” for residents and law enforcement officers. I believe that JoAnn Walker will bring leadership with integrity to the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department.

Let’s hope we take our best shot in June 2022. Please check out walker4sheriff.com. And then act accordingly.

Prosecute Anthony Pirone

Bart Officer Anthony Pirone, holding Oscar Grant’s head down with his left hand,
with his left knee on Grant’s neck, moments before Oscar was shot in the back

In February 2011, Attorney John Burris called me and asked me to help him with a police misconduct case. It was the Oscar Grant case. There were 4 motions to dismiss the case filed by Bart and the numerous officers that John’s firm had sued. My firm’s assignment was to oppose the motion to dismiss Anthony Pirone. We did so successfully and kept him in the case.

Anthony Pirone was one of the first officers to arrive on the Bart platform in response to a call. Pirone immediately focused on Oscar and his friends, racially profiled them, punched and kneed Oscar repeatedly, and finally jumped down on Oscar with his full, 250-pound body weight, pushing Oscar face-down onto the concrete platform and pressing his knee on Oscar’s neck; all the while taunting Oscar by calling him a “nigger” and a “bitch-ass nigger.”

Anthony Pirone committed a hate crime against Oscar Grant. He is the one who literally set into motion the action that caused Johannes Mehserle to kill Oscar Grant. Yet, then District Attorney Tom Orloff made a decision not to charge Anthony Pirone with anything. Bart fired Pirone but he walked away a free man. 

Everyone who saw the videotapes of the events on that Bart platform knew what Pirone did. Everyone included me, my staff, the judge and all of the lawyers involved, including then Chief Assistant District Attorney Nancy O’Malley. The civil lawyers were subject to a protective order in 2009 (meaning we could not talk publicly about everything we saw and knew) but DA Nancy O’Malley was not.

DA Nancy O’Malley knew in 2009 that Anthony Pirone was a liar. When she became the DA in September 2009, she did not re-open the case. Instead, she chose to turn a blind eye to Pirone’s racist torture of Oscar Grant because Oscar Grant was just another Black kid whose life did not matter. 

Just like Jody Woodfox’s life did not matter. Jody Woodfox was shot in the back by an OPD officer in July 2008, and O’Malley’s office covered up the murder for 12 years. Just like Alan Blueford and Kayla Moore and so many others, including brown, white and indigenous people like Andrew Moppin, James Greer, Joshua Pawlik, Jacob Bauer and Elena Mondragon. 

The family of Oscar Grant and our community are calling on O’Malley now to charge Anthony Pirone with felony-murder. This is the same rule applied to thousands of Black and Brown residents of Alameda County to coerce unfair plea bargains. The same rule used to incarcerate people for decades whose punishment did not come close to the crime. O’Malley has discretion but it should not be used unfairly or applied unequally. Simple Justice. That is all the family is asking for. 

Please support this demand for fair justice! Please sign the Petition and spread the word! 

TELL DA NANCY O’MALLEY TO CHARGE ANTHONY PIRONE WITH THE FELONY MURDER OF OSCAR GRANT III

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.

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.

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!”

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.

COVID-19 Alert: ILWU Protects Us

ILWU Local 10 President Trent Willis and his members fighting COVID-19
ILWU Local 10 President Trent Willis and his members

Oakland is in a crisis. This is a COVID-19 Alert! The ILWU (International Longshoreman & Workers Union) Local 10 has sounded the alarm again!

Last week, ILWU Locals 10 and 34 stopped the owners of the Grand Princess cruise ship from off-loading COVID-19 contaminated waste into Oakland. The ILWU is also insisting that the companies profiting off of their labor and our land at the Port of Oakland take necessary steps to protect the workers at the Port and our community. 

The longshoreman and port workers are on the front lines of our national transportation network. At the same time, they are our fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters. Most of them live in this community. If they are exposed to the coronavirus, they will carry the virus into the community. 

What Do They Want?

What the ILWU is asking is really simple:   

Disinfect their worksite: the equipment, work areas, terminal bathrooms, mechanic shops, tools, machines, turnstiles, gates and every place they work on the Port. 

Some of the companies that use our Port are refusing to properly disinfect the worksite. We know in the face of this highly contagious virus, employers as well employees have to take extra steps to stop the spread. But the workers are simply not equipped to disinfect the entire worksite. And it’s not their responsibility. The responsibility is on the employer. 

By taking a strident and firm stand against working in a contaminated environment and sounding the alarm on management, the ILWU protects us – the entire Bay Area – from a higher risk of infection with COVID-19.

The Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) represents the companies operating at the Port of Oakland. We need to contact PMA, Port officials and Assemblymember Rob Bonta to demand that the companies do their part to protect our community. 

Who You Going to Call?

Dan Kaney is the Northern California Area Managing Director for PMA. Call him at 510-891-4628 or e-mail: dkaney@pmanet.org.

Danny Wan is the Executive Director for the Port of Oakland. Call him at 510-627-1100 or e-mail: https://www.portofoakland.com/people/danny-wan.

John Driscoll is the Maritime Director for the Port of Oakland. Call him at 510-627-1243 or e-mail: https://www.portofoakland.com/people/john-c-driscoll-maritime-director. 

Amy Tharpe is the Director of Social Responsibility for the Port of Oakland. Call her at 510-627-1302 or e-mail: https://www.portofoakland.com/people/amy-tharpe-director-social-responsibility.

The Port is located in Hon. Rob Bonta‘s Assembly District (AD18). His District Director is Tonya Love. Call her at 510-286-1670 or e-mail: Tonya.love@asm.ca.gov.

COVID-19 Alert: the ILWU Protects Us!

It is still true that we know so little about the disease. What we do know is more people will get infected and too many will not survive if we force people to work in areas infected by the coronavirus without protection. 

This is a preventable public health crisis happening in our community right now. We may not be able to get out the house but we can still call or e-mail. Make the call asap. Send an e-mail. Let’s support the people who are working hard to protect us. 

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