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Black Lawmakers Push Package of Bills to Regulate Police Brutality

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New York City - NY - USA - October 24 2015: Little girl rides on father's shoulders in Manhattan during Rise Up October march against police brutality. istock photo.

The California Supreme Court ruled on Aug. 11 that Los Angeles County had to pay $8 million to the family of Darren Burley, an unarmed Black man who died under circumstances similar to George Floyd.

In 2012, Deputy David Aviles placed his knee on Burley’s neck and back while restraining him. Aviles weighs 200 lbs. Burley died 10 days later in the hospital.

The violent murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis at the hands of police has inflamed the country and sparked protests in California and around the nation and the world.

But the disproportionate use of excessive police force against Black men, too often ending up fatally, is not new to California.

“From Rodney King in 1991 to Stephon Clark in 2018, California has a bad history with excessive use of force by police officers,” said Assemblymember Chris Holden (D- Pasadena) in a news release.

In response to this, the California Legislative Black Caucus (CLBC) has authored a series of bills to reign in police violence. Those bills include:

  • AB 1196, which would ban the use of the chokehold. It passed in the state Assembly and is now under review in the Senate Appropriations Committee.
  • AB 1506. This would require police shootings to be investigated by a division of the Dept. of Justice. The State Assembly passed the legislation. It is currently under review in the Senate Appropriations Committee.
  • AB 2342. This would allow parolees to reduce their terms by attending college or volunteering. It passed in the Assembly and is now under review in the Senate Appropriations Committee.
  • AB 1022. This bill would require officers to report incidents of excessive force. The bill passed in the Assembly and the Senate Public Safety Committee. It is under review in the Senate Appropriations Committee.
  • AB 1185. This would require an oversight board for sheriff’s departments. It passed in the Assembly and is now under review in the Senate Public Safety Committee.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra praised Holden’s AB 1022, which is also called “the George Floyd” law.

“Americans across the nation demand more accountability in our criminal justice system,” said Becerra. “It’s going to take sustained, thoughtful reform like Assembly Bill 1022 to help answer the call. At the California Dept. of Justice, we’re committed to partnering with our legislators and stakeholders across the state to help get the job done.”

Becerra said he commends Holden and the bill’s other legislative supporters for getting it through the Senate Public Safety Committee. “Its time for important policies like a peace officer’s duty to intervene to be more than just recommendations. We’re ready for them to be the law of the land,” Becerra said.

Holden said Americans were shocked that officers didn’t intervene when they saw Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin choking the life out of Floyd. Instead, they formed a protective cordon around him and held off the crowd.

“We were outraged when we watched the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer from a knee to the neck,” said Holden. “Equally disturbing, was the lack of intervention from the police officers who witnessed a clear use of excessive force.”

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Activism

Sheriff’s Deputies Skate with Marin City Youth

Sgt. Scotto and Deputy Gasparini, two officers from the Marin County Probation Department, came to interact with the youths and help them learn to skate and play basketball. Sharika Gregory, who hosted the event, really appreciates how Scotto and Gasparini interacted with the kids and said that it made a great difference.

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Top: Scotto lifting Aria, 7, so she can make her basketball shot. Middle: Sgt. Scotto and Dep. Gasparini of the Marin County Probation Department. Bottom: Scotto playing limbo. (Photos by Godfrey Lee)
Top: Scotto lifting Aria, 7, so she can make her basketball shot. Middle: Sgt. Scotto and Dep. Gasparini of the Marin County Probation Department. Bottom: Scotto playing limbo. (Photos by Godfrey Lee)

By Godfrey Lee

The Father’s Day Skating event on Sunday, June 12, at the Golden Gate Village’s Basketball Court in Marin City was a successful event that contributed positively to the relationship between the Marin County Sheriff’s Department and the Marin City community and helped some of the children get to know the officers.

Sgt. Scotto and Deputy Gasparini, two officers from the Marin County Probation Department, came to interact with the youths and help them learn to skate and play basketball. Sharika Gregory, who hosted the event, really appreciates how Scotto and Gasparini interacted with the kids and said that it made a great difference.

During the event, Scotto helped lift Aria, a 7-year-old girl, so she could make a basketball shot into the basket. Later Scotto played limbo with the children and tried his best to go under the rope.

The community generously contributed to the skating event. The Corte Madera Safeway and Costco donated the food. The Costco in Novato gave the skates. The Target in Marin City and the Marin County Probation Department also gave skates and gift cards.

Rev. Stephanie Ryder and the Redwood Presbyterian Church in Larkspur, also donated money to help to buy more skates for the events.

Gregory said that this was a very wholesome event for the community and will continue to host similar events in the future.

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Activism

Advocates Pressure Gov. Newsom to Fund Health Equity, Racial Justice in Final Budget

“Our state boasts a staggering $97 billion budget surplus,” said Ron Coleman, managing director of the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network. “If not now, when? Given the devastating impact of racism on the health and well-being of Californians of color it’s a travesty of the highest order that racial justice isn’t even mentioned in the Governor’s budget proposal,”

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Attendees were encouraged to contact the governor’s office and the Legislature to keep the pressure on them to include the fund.
Attendees were encouraged to contact the governor’s office and the Legislature to keep the pressure on them to include the fund.

By Edward Henderson, California Black Media

On June 8, community leaders, public health advocates and racial justice groups convened for a virtual press event to urge Gov. Gavin Newsom to support the Health Equity and Racial Justice Fund (HERJ Fund).

The initiative supports community-based organizations addressing the underlying social, environmental and economic factors that limit people’s opportunities to be healthy — such as poverty, violence and trauma, environmental hazards, and access to affordable housing and healthy food. Health advocates would also address longstanding California problems related to health equity and racial justice problems.

The fund cleared a significant hurdle last week when the state Legislature included $75 million in their joint budget proposal. This means both the Assembly and Senate support the HERJ Fund and they will go into negotiations with the governor to seek his support to approve it.

“Our state boasts a staggering $97 billion budget surplus,” said Ron Coleman, managing director of the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network. “If not now, when? Given the devastating impact of racism on the health and well-being of Californians of color it’s a travesty of the highest order that racial justice isn’t even mentioned in the Governor’s budget proposal,”

Last Wednesday’s virtual community meeting and press event capped off a series of rallies held by supporters in cities across the state calling on Newsom to make room in his budget for the HERJ Fund.

Coleman facilitated the online event featuring representatives from service organizations speaking about their support for the fund and presenting plans for how the money would be used to support their shared mission of providing services to minority and underserved communities in California.

Jenedra Sykes, a partner at Arboreta Group, spoke about inequalities that exist in funding for smaller grassroots nonprofits and how traditionally larger, white-led nonprofits use state funds to subcontract with grassroots nonprofits to provide services to communities of color at lower costs.

“The faith-based non-profits on the ground have the relationships, the access to those who are most vulnerable and marginalized among us who disproportionately have poorer health outcomes,” said Sykes. “This bill also evens the playing field a bit. Instead of going through the middleman of the established larger non-profits, funding will go directly to the people who are doing the work. The passion, the heart, the skills, the talents are there. It’s about the resources to fund these talents”

Coleman gave attendees an update on the status of the HERJ Fund’s path to inclusion in the state budget.

Now that the state Legislature has included the fund in their spending proposal for Fiscal Year 2022-23 (it was not included in Newsom’s “May Revise”), it must survive negotiations with the governor’s office before the June 15 deadline to finalize the budget.

A final budget needs to be in place by June 30, the last day for the governor to approve.

HERJ Fund supporters remain hopeful that funding for their program will be included in the final budget.

Updated mechanisms about the budget were added to the HERJ Fund’s proposal to alleviate those concerns and supporters of the fund believe that Newsom is out of excuses.

“Our best shot at getting the HERJ Fund in the budget is now. We are hoping that all of you will keep the pressure on the governor to ensure that this becomes a reality,” Coleman said. “If he does care about the intersections of health equity and racial justice then we will see funding.”

Attendees were encouraged to contact the governor’s office and the Legislature to keep the pressure on them to include the fund. You can visit herjfund.org to learn more about the proposal and the effort to include it in the state budget.

Nadia Kean-Ayub, executive director of Rainbow Spaces, shared details about the valuable events and services community-based non-profits provide. She said there is no shortage of families in need who want to participate in their organizations’ programs but, due to limited funding for transportation, many people never access services meant to help them.

“This tells me that when things are created in our communities, they are not making the impact we need in our Black, Brown and API communities,” Kean-Ayub said. “I will continue to fight. To really make this grow, we need the state to understand that the true impact comes from the community and the people who are living these issues and who know how to help them.”

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Activism

‘Birding While Black’ Incident in N.Y.’s Central Park Brings Black Bird Wildlife Enthusiasts Out of Shadows

“For far too long, Black people in the United States have been shown that outdoor exploration activities are not for us,” Corina Newsome, who studies Seaside Sparrows, said in a video posted on Twitter. “Whether it be the way the media chooses to present who is the ‘outdoorsy’ type, or the racism Black people experience when we do explore the outdoors, as we saw recently in Central Park. Well, we’ve decided to change that narrative.”

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The organizers of Black Birders Week 2021. Photos from top, column 1: Georgia Silvera Seamans; Kellie Quiñones; Chris Cooper. 2: Ronnie Almonte; Deja Perkins; Ela-Sita Carpenter; Chelsea Connor. 3: Danielle Belleny; Tyler Jones; Yesenia Arroyo. 4: Earyn McGee; Akilah Lewis; Dara Wilson; Brianna Amingwa. 5: Sheridan Alford; Joseph Saunders. 6: Ayanna Browne; Rhamier Shaka Balagoon; Nicole Jackson
The organizers of Black Birders Week 2021. Photos from top, column 1: Georgia Silvera Seamans; Kellie Quiñones; Chris Cooper. 2: Ronnie Almonte; Deja Perkins; Ela-Sita Carpenter; Chelsea Connor. 3: Danielle Belleny; Tyler Jones; Yesenia Arroyo. 4: Earyn McGee; Akilah Lewis; Dara Wilson; Brianna Amingwa. 5: Sheridan Alford; Joseph Saunders. 6: Ayanna Browne; Rhamier Shaka Balagoon; Nicole Jackson

By Tamara Shiloh

Birdwatching is the observation of live birds in their natural habitat.

It’s a popular pastime and scientific sport developed almost entirely in the 20th century and made possible largely by the development of optical aids, particularly binoculars, which enabled people to see and study wild birds, without harming them, according to Britannica.

Many typically think of birding as a homogenous hobby, thus hearing the word “birdwatcher” rarely evokes images of Blacks enjoying the outdoors.

“For far too long, Black people in the United States have been shown that outdoor exploration activities are not for us,” Corina Newsome, who studies Seaside Sparrows, said in a video posted on Twitter. “Whether it be the way the media chooses to present who is the ‘outdoorsy’ type, or the racism Black people experience when we do explore the outdoors, as we saw recently in Central Park. Well, we’ve decided to change that narrative.”

In 2020, Newsome, along with a group of Black birders comprised of scientists, nature lovers, and friends came together to organize the first annual Black Birders Week, a social media celebration hosted by the Black AF In STEM Collective.

The birders group served as a springboard to shape a more diverse future for birding, conservation, and the natural sciences.

The third annual Black Birders Week ran from May 29-June 4 this year, according to https://www.blackafinstem.com, with the theme ‘Soaring to Greater Heights.”

Goals set for the Black Birders Week and the Twitter group are to:

  • Counter the narrative that outdoors is not the place for Black people;
  • Educate the birding and broader outdoor-loving community about the challenges Black birders specifically face; and
  • Encourage increased diversity in birding and conservation.

According to Newsome, Black birders encounter “overt hatred and racism in the field and are too often the only Black person, or person of color, in a group of bird or nature enthusiasts.”

Its formation came on the heels of the May 25, 2020, incident in New York City’s Central Park when Amy Cooper, later dubbed “Central Park Karen,” claimed she exhausted “all options” before she called 911 on Christian Cooper (no relation), a Black birdwatcher.

Christian Cooper has been an avid birdwatcher since age 10 and will soon host his own show, “Extraordinary Birder,” on National Geographic, according to NPR. He will take viewers into the “wild, wonderful and unpredictable world of birds.”

Cooper told the New York Times that he loves “spreading the gospel of birding. [I’m looking forward to encouraging people] to stop and watch and listen and really start appreciating the absolutely spectacular creatures that we have among us.”

Black Birders Week co-organizer Earyn McGee conducts research near the US-Mexico border. Her concern is encountering U.S. Border Patrol officers while searching for lizards.

“We all have this shared experience where we have to worry about going into the field,” McGee said. “Prejudice might drive police or private property owners to be suspicious of or antagonistic toward Black scientists doing field work in normal clothes, putting them in danger.”

To learn more about the study of birding, read John C. Robinson’s “Birding for Everyone: Encouraging People of Color to Become Birdwatchers.”

Image: https://www.birds.cornell.edu/landtrust/black-birders-week/

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