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)
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.
Public Land should not be handed over to a billionaire family without full transparency – especially when selling at a discounted price
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 email@example.com.
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
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.
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 Associationspent 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.”
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. “
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 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.“
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:
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 live in Oakland California about 3 miles from San Leandro California. San Leandro is what some call a “bedroom community” to Oakland. It’s a City where restrictive covenants and land use permits were used to stop Black people from moving from Oakland to San Leandro. Local celebrity Brian Copeland tells the story of how he grew up in San Leandro when it was 94% white. Copeland wrote a play and a book about it.
Most folks in the East Bay know San Leandro’s history. So when San Leandro police shot and killed Steven Taylor in a Walmart store on a Saturday afternoon, it was not a surprise. Steven Taylor was allegedly mentally ill, with a diagnosis of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. He appears to be in a mental health crisis when 2 San Leandro police officers approach him. He refused to put down a bat and pulled away as the officers tased him. They then shot and killed him in front of dozens of shoppers. The video shows that an officer actually tased Steven Taylor as he lay on the floor bleeding to death.
This is the second recent police killing in San Leandro. On June 11, 2019, San Leandro police shot Anthony Gomez, an unarmed allegedly intoxicated Latino man. An officer shot him from the street as he stood alone on his mother’s front porch. Officers claimed he had a block of wood in his hand that looked like a gun.
Mental Illness Should Not Be A Death Sentence with Police
There is an increasing recognition that mental illness is a reason to spare people not from responsibility for their crimes but from the ultimate sanction of death. Simply put, a mental health crisis should not be a death sentence.
The same month that San Leandro police shot and killed Anthony Gomez, Walnut Creek police shot and killed 23-year-old Miles Hall. Walnut Creek is another almost all-white enclave in Contra Costa County. Hall’s family members reportedly sought mental health assistance from police in the days before he was shot by two officers who came to his home. Miles Hall was Black.
California’s New Law
In California, a new law changed the standard for use of deadly force, effective January 1, 2020. The law is based in part, on the recognition that “individuals with physical, mental health, developmental, or intellectual disabilities are significantly more likely to experience greater levels of physical force during police interactions, as their disability may affect their ability to understand or comply with commands from peace officers. It is estimated that individuals with disabilities are involved in between one-third and one-half of all fatal encounters with law enforcement.”
The new law allows the use of deadly force by a law enforcement officer only when the officer reasonably believes that deadly force is necessary to defend against an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury to the officer or another person. The impetus for the Legislature to pass the law was the murder of 22-year-old Stephon Clark. Clark was an unarmed Black man shot dead in Sacramento after officers mistakenly thought they saw a gun. He was shot 8 times, including 3 times in the back, in his grandmother’s backyard. Assemblywoman Shirley Weber wrote and pushed for AB392 in response to the murder of Stephon Clark.
Steven Taylor’s murder in my Assembly District 18 provides an early test for the new law. Regrettably, the person in my district who will interpret the new law is District Attorney Nancy O’Malley. DA O’Malley has never prosecuted a cop in Alameda County for murder.
Death in Alameda County
Between 2010 and 2015, at least 6 people died at the hands of police in Alameda County: Hernan Jaramillo, Roy Nelson, James Greer, Kayla Moore, Mark Bennett and Martin Harrison.
Hernan Jaramillo was allegedly having a mental health crisis and begged officers for his life. Video footage was not released by police until 2 years after his death. It shows Mr. Jaramillo pinned to the ground by officers who ignored his cries of “I can’t breathe.” (Sound familiar??) DA O’Malley did not even investigate Mr. Jaramillo’s death because she did not have a policy to investigate in-custody deaths that don’t involve shootings.
While the DA’s investigation was pending, O’Malley accepted a $10,000 donation from the Fremont police union to her re-election campaign. Shortly thereafter, she cleared the shooters – the Fremont police union president and another officer – of any wrongdoing in Ebbie’s death. She ruled that the shooting was “justified.”
2018 Police Killings in Oakland
In January 2018, a BART police officer ran from the West Oakland BART station onto the street and shot Sahleem Tindle in the back. Tindle was unarmed at the time. O’Malley declined to bring any charges. In March 2020, however, a jury found BART liable for wrongful death and awarded Sahleem Tindle’s family $6.34 million dollars.
In March 2018, Oakland police shot and killed Joshua Pawlik. A federal court monitor ruled that the police essentially executed Mr. Pawlik, when they woke him up and shot him as soon as he moved. Again, O’Malley’s investigation exonerated the officers and she released her report a year later in conjunction with OPD. She released her report on the same day that OPD released theirs with the same conclusion – no fault. The fallout from Mr. Pawlik’s murder ultimately led to the firing of former OPD Chief Anne Kirkpatrick. The settlement of the lawsuit by Mr. Pawlik’s family for $1.4 million is pending.**
The Conflict of Interest
Our experience with DA O’Malley in Alameda County is a clear example of the conflict of interest that district attorneys experience when asked to hold police officers accountable. O’Malley’s investigation of Mr. Gomez’ death is not yet finished almost 9 months after police shot him on his mother’s front porch. Clearly, Mr. Gomez’ death and determining whether police acted justifiably or wrongly is not a priority for DA O’Malley.
Maybe if DA O’Malley had taken the San Leandro police shooting of Anthony Gomez seriously, Steven Taylor would still be alive?
Fortunately, there is a solution. I have introduced a resolution to the Alameda County Democratic Party Central Committee to support Steven Taylor’s family’s call for an independent investigation into his murder. The resolution calls upon the California Attorney General to “investigate, manage, prosecute or inquire about any incidents of use of deadly force by law enforcement officers to ensure that the laws of the State are being adequately enforced and in particular, to ensure compliance with AB392 codified as Penal Code Section 835a.”
The Oakland East Bay Democratic Club, Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club, John George Democratic Club and the Coalition for Police Accountability also support the resolution. It is based on Article V, Section 13 of the California Constitution which allows the Attorney General to supervise and supercede the powers of every District Attorney. The resolution was passed unanimously by the Alameda County Central Committee.**
A Test for California Law
Steven Taylor’s murder will be one of the first cases to “test” the enforcement of California’s new law for use of deadly force. If the Attorney General accepts the call, he could create a statewide standard for police accountability when deadly force is used.
The murder of Steven Taylor happened in our Assembly District 18. Therefore, I called upon the leaders of our Assembly District to support the resolution at the Central Committee. Both Assemblymember Rob Bonta and his former District Director and Alameda City Councilmember, Jim Oddie have a vote. Central Committee member and San Leandro City Councilmember Corina Lopez has already pledged her support of the resolution.
I am hopeful that the leaders of our community and Attorney General Xavier Becerra will be found standing on the right side of justice. Hopefully, accountability for police use of deadly force will be established before another person is killed unnecessarily.
** This piece was updated to reflect that the Alameda County Democratic Party unanimously passed the resolution on May 6, 2020 and that a settlement payment of $1.4 million by the City of Oakland to the Pawlik family is pending.
Larry points out how former OPD Chief Anne Kirkpatrick’s actions after she was fired confirm that police reform was not possible under her leadership.
Anne Kirkpatrick was fired from her job as Oakland Police Chief last month by Mayor Libby Schaaf, on recommendation of the independent Oakland Police Commission. The Coalition for Police Accountability called for her dismissal a year ago and the Police Commission had been considering it for months.
Kirkpatrick is not happy; it’s not my fault, she says, it was that greedy Robert Warshaw, the Monitor appointed by the federal judge who oversees the Negotiated Settlement Agreement. He held us back, just so he could make more money.
Some background is essential. The City of Oakland gave to a federal judge ultimate oversight over the city’s police department when it agreed to the NSA in 2003. The arrangement was to last no more than five years and result in real reform of the Oakland Police Department. It’s still going on but the OPD under Kirkpatrick actually went backward in compliance and is doing worse than it did three years ago.
None of it is my fault, Kirkpatrick says. What we really need, is the (Bill Barr and Donald Trump) U.S. Department of Justice to investigate Warshaw, she asserts, because it’s all his fault.
So many things are wrong with this that it’s hard to know where to begin. First, in any well governed city, a police chief, even a former chief, does not involve herself in politics. That’s a dangerous road for a city’s chief law enforcement officer to go down.
And then there’s the fact that the Monitor is not in charge of the NSA, he’s not even a party to the NSA; he’s just an employee of the federal court. But even more alarming is that Kirkpatrick (who has a law degree) doesn’t seem to understand that the judiciary is a separate and independent branch of government.
Calling on the Department of Justice, part of the executive branch, to “oversee the overseer” and to investigate a federal court is directly out of some extreme right wing playbook, something that perhaps Trump might do in the terrifying event that he gets reelected. The Department of Justice cannot “oversee” a federal court–at least not while we still have a democracy.
The parties to the NSA are the City of Oakland, a group of plaintiffs represented by two civil rights attorneys, Jim Chanin and John Burris. They have called for the firing of Warshaw and the City has not tried to end the NSA. At this point the only way it can be ended is if the parties agree that the OPD has complied with the NSA requirements. In order to do that, we need an effective police chief who is actually committed to reform.
Oh and one more bit of demagoguery that needs to be called out. Kirkpatrick says that Warshaw had been accused of sexual harassment “yet he was allowed to keep his job.” These charges were investigated and Warshaw was fully exonerated.
Reform Wasn’t Possible Under Chief Kirkpatrick
The NSA process is far from perfect and the sooner it is history the better. But first its goal -reform of the Oakland Police Department – must be met. That could never have happened under Anne Kirkpatrick.
“Though trials may come on every hand, I feel like going on.”Marvin Winans
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.
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.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Danny Wan is the Executive Director for the Port of Oakland. Call him at 510-627-1100or 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.email@example.com.
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.
50 Years Today, it’s February 24th. I’m in juvenile hall. For at least the 3rd time. 50 years ago today I was a foster kid with no where to go. So, they put me in juvenile hall. And 50 years today, my foster Mom, Alice Aaron, decided to open her heart and her home to take a chance on me. Known affectionately as “GinaMama”, she was every kid’s dream grandmother – she loved all of us unconditionally.
Still, it’s 1970. This is not a good year for me. Or our country. The country is at war – both externally and internally. As US troops fought a losing battle in Vietnam, the US government fought a winning battle against the people. I jumped feet-first into the fray at the young age of 13, not realizing the danger or the full scope of the battle.
You see, at age 11, I was overwhelmed with grief by the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. On December 4, 1969, I am energized by anger when Chicago police assassinate Black Panther leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark. And the fight was on. I help organize a sit-in to protest those awful murders at my high school and I am promptly expelled. By January 1970, I am a ward of the court and on track to become a regular at juvenile hall.
A Lost Kid
Before February 24th, I’m shuffled between foster homes, group homes and juvenile hall. Things fell apart pretty quickly in my life. Placements were a blur but always challenging. And I did not hesitate to run away when I felt uncomfortable or threatened. That kept me going back to juvenile hall until the social worker could find another place. And then GinaMama stepped up and said she would take me. Her unconditional love would protect, inspire and renew my spirit.
In 1970, Angela Davis was on the run and Black activists were feeling the impact of Cointelpro. The government had declared war on Black activists and no one was safe. In March 1970 I am arrested in a Black Power demonstration. My friends had sense enough to run. I “stood my ground” and ended up in the middle of the brawl with the police. That did not look good for GinaMama – made her “a bad” foster parent. And so by July 1970, I had a new “placement” – one with bars and bed chains.
50 Years Today
Fast forward 50 years. I am a survivor of the foster care and juvenile justice systems. I dropped out of high school and then graduated, by the grace of God. By grace, I get accepted to Yale and graduate with a degree in Political Science. Move to California to go to Berkeley Law School, graduate and pass the bar (the first time)! Again, totally by the grace of God. In 2002, I achieve every lawyer’s dream – I argue a case in the United States Supreme Court.
Everything that I am started with a decision by a grandmother who had a lot of responsibilities and few material possessions. She was the matriarch of her family and already had 3 daughters and 7 grandchildren. They all depended on her. Yet, she made room in her home and her heart for a rebellious “mouthy” 13-year-old. She did it unconditionally even when I disappointed and embarrassed her. And she did it multiple times, allowing me to come back when the authorities finally released me a year later.
Foster Kids Need A Heart
Did you know that:
There are over 500,000 children in the United States Foster Care System.
1 out of every 5 lives in California.
3 out of every 10 of our Nation’s homeless are former foster youth.
70% of foster youth dream of going to college. Only 3% actually make it.
83% of children in foster care are held back in school by 3rd grade and 75% are working below grade level.
35% of foster youth have experienced four or more school changes and each school move results in a six month loss of educational progress.
51% are unemployed at age 22.
These statistics tell the story of too many lost kids. 50 years ago today, I was a lost kid. The lesson is that we cannot give up on our kids. You never know how far a kid will go. We must address the crisis of our lost kids with programs like Soar For Youth and CASA.
We must also remember that the universal healer of all trauma is unconditional love. And we need a “GinaMama” for every kid. If that’s you, God Bless you.
Today, I honor Alice Aaron, Amy Jenkins and Lorena O’Donnell. They never gave up on me. 50 years later, I can begin to tell the story.