Legally Speaking With Pamela Price

Pamela Y. Price, Attorney at Law

Category: Justice Reform Page 1 of 5

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.

Meet David Haubert

Former Dublin Mayor David Haubert  sits now on the Alameda County Board of Supervisors
Former Dublin Mayor David Haubert sits now on the Alameda County Board of Supervisors

If you live in Alameda County, meet David Haubert. He was elected to the Alameda County Board of Supervisors in 2020.

In what claims to be one of the most “woke” counties in America, we just elected a right-wing Republican to make consequential decisions about our lives. While we pride ourselves on our diversity, David Haubert believes that “Dreamers” should be deported.

In the County where the Black Lives Matter movement was birthed, David Haubert has embraced, and been embraced by the Oath Keepers, a gun-carrying fiercely anti-government, right-wing, militaristic group. The Oath Keepers are a far-right militia like the Proud Boys. These are “his people.”

Just like Donald Trump, David Haubert says he didn’t know who the Oath Keepers were when he attended their meeting as the guest speaker. I’m sure he thought they were “very fine people.” The white supremacist group was formed in 2009 in direct response to the election of the nation’s first Black president. 

In a County where women show up in droves at the annual Women’s March, Haubert is opposed to abortion. More importantly, he has pledged that as County Supervisor, he would seek to limit abortion-related county programs.

Democrats Elected Haubert

This right-wing Republican was elected to our Board of Supervisors with the support of many popularly-elected “democrats” in name only. Our County Central Committee fumbled the ball and then straight dropped it. We endorsed Vinnie Bacon, the progressive Clean Money candidate, and then did little to help out.

Haubert outspent and out-smeared Vinnie. His campaign was funded by major developers, contractors, landlords, property managers, oil industry sources and the Deputy Sheriffs Association of Alameda County. Fellow Supervisor Nate Miley campaigned hard for Haubert against the Democratic Party’s endorsed candidate. Our Democratic Party Central Committee ignored Vinnie’s campaign’s pleas for assistance and simply watched him be defeated. This race was the most consequential race for Alameda County in 2020.

David Haubert is relatively young and our Board of Supervisors does not have any term limits. David Haubert could be with us for a very long time.

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!

Emergency Release for Immigrant Detainees

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No Police In Schools

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

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

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

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

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

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

POA Money Banned In Alameda County

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stop Covid-19

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

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

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

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

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

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

Follow The Money

#Justice for George Floyd Poster

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

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

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

2018 – Follow The Money

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

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

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

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

A Clear Conflict of Interest

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

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

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

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

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

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

Police Own Our Cities

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

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

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

Waking Up the Democratic Party

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

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

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

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

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

Warning: A Dark Piece

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our National Hypocrisy

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

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

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

We Are All Expendable

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

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

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

A Dark Piece

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

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

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

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

Who Will Make The Change?

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

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

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