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COMMENTARY: Black Millennial Voices: Stop the Torture of U.S. Prison Inmates

NNPA NEWSWIRE — The disproportionate mass incarceration of people of color in America continues to grow. It is bad enough to be confined and locked up in over-crowded jails and prisons in the United States. But what just went down inside the Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) in Brooklyn, New York was a serious violation of the United Nations Convention Against Torture.

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By Malika Elmengad

We are so proud of the thousands of young people who stood for hours and days in blistering cold weather outside the Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) in Brooklyn, New York to raise their fists and voices in protest over the poor treatment of inmates and terrible conditions in the jail. Hundreds of thousands of additional millennials across the nation joined in solidarity with the Brooklyn protesters via social media.

The disproportionate mass incarceration of people of color in America continues to grow. It is bad enough to be confined and locked up in over-crowded jails and prisons in the United States. But what just went down inside the Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) in Brooklyn, New York was a serious violation of the United Nations Convention Against Torture.

The General Assembly of the United Nations adopted by resolution the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhumane or Degrading Treatment or Punishment on December 10, 1984. The United States officially signed and adopted the Convention against Torture on April 18, 1988.

The U.N. Convention against Torture states in Article 2, “1. Each State Party shall take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction. 2. No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.”

MDC’s heat and electricity being off to more than 1,600 inmates caused the facility to become a tortuous below-freezing block of ice during the recent extreme cold weather in New York, forcing inmates inside the detention center to endure sub-freezing polar temperatures.

Family members and young community activists had no choice except to stage daily street demonstrations and rallies to protest this injustice. The Federal Bureau of Prisons that operates the MDC was too slow to respond to the crisis.

In fact, at first the Bureau of Prisons denied that there was an absence of heat crisis inside the jail. After later admitting that there were power problems inside the jail, it still took over a week before full electrical power and heat was restored to the detention center.

Several local lawmakers who were able to tour the jail a week ago said conditions were unacceptable and jail officials are subject to accusation for not understanding the seriousness of the situation. “It is like living in a closet without lights,” said Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez (D-NY), whose congressional district includes the MDC.

NY State Senator Julia Salazar (D) has criticized MDC Warden Herman Quay for allegedly denying the freezing inmates adequate medical care during the power outage.

However, the torture of incarcerated and detained persons is not isolated to federal prisons in NY. This is a national problem. In the state of Texas, there is a different form of torture now unfolding away from public view and any organized protest. The torture of children, women and men who are being detained in federal detention facilities in El Paso, TX.

Many of the immigrant detainees have been staging hunger strikes to protest their unjust detention. Local media in El Paso have reported that the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers have been physically force-feeding the immigrant hunger strikers using acts of violence.

Some of the detainees have had liquid food forced into their noses while strapped down to beds as punishment for demanding fair and better treatment from ICE officers. Texas Democratic Representative Veronica Escobar who toured the El Paso Processing Detention Center, emphasized in a letter to ICE, “It is critical that ICE commit to ending this practice.”

African American and Latino American youth will not be silent about these issues. We believe that civil rights and human rights movements have to have a more effective intergenerational involvement of young activists and social visionaries. Our voices count. Our lives matter. Our votes will make the difference in the future elections. Now is the time we believe to speak out more forcefully: “Stop the Torture of U.S. Prisons Inmates and Detainees!”

Malika Elmengad is a college student in Florida, and a member of Black Millennial Voices, a national activist group of young scholars and researchers.

Activism

Through Ads and Advocates, Battle Over Calif. Gambling Propositions Heat Up

A statewide survey by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), conducted between Sept. 2 and 11 and released on Sept. 15, revealed that 54% of California voters would vote “no” for Prop 27, while 34% would vote “yes.” Twelve percent of the respondents were “unsure.” The survey’s authors wrote that a strong majority of Republicans wouldn’t vote for the proposition, compared to half of Democrats and independents.

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The dueling propositions have raised a combined $400 million for advertising leading up to Election Day this November.
The dueling propositions have raised a combined $400 million for advertising leading up to Election Day this November.

By McKenzie Jackson | California Black Media

Clint Thompson, a Santa Monica resident in his 30s, wouldn’t say he has been inundated with advertisements supporting or denigrating Propositions 26 and 27, but he sees an ad focused on one of the legislations each time he turns on his television.

“I usually watch the news during the day — NBC — and on NBC, Prop 26 or Prop 27 comes on every other commercial break per show,” said Thompson, an actor, who admitted he hasn’t researched the sports gambling propositions. “Both of the props seem to have good things with them. The commercials seem to have reasons why you should say ‘yes,’ or ‘no.’”

Prop 26 would legalize roulette, dice games, and sports betting on Native American tribal lands if approved by voters in the Nov. 8 election. It is backed by over 50 state Native American tribes.

Prop 27, supported by sportsbooks DraftKings, FanDuel, BetMGM, Fanatics, PENN Entertainment, and WynnBet, would give those sports betting companies the reins in sports gambling in the Golden State and allow online gambling.

If people like Thompson feel the advertisements from the campaigns for and against the propositions seem to be flooding the television and radio airwaves — and to be ever-present on social media (Watched a YouTube video lately?) — they might be right.

The dueling propositions have raised a combined $400 million for advertising leading up to Election Day this November. That has led to ads backing and slamming the two propositions to be front and center in all forms of media Californians consume.

Dinah Bachrach of the Racial Justice Allies of Sonoma County, a group supporting Prop 26, said the proliferation of ads supporting Prop 27 is concerning.

“They are all over the place,” Bachrach said. “Gambling is already a pretty big business, but to be able to do sports gambling online is dangerous because it hurts what tribal casinos have been able to do for their communities in the state.”

According to Bachrach, Prop 26 protects the sovereignty of native tribes. “It’s a really important racial justice issue,” she said. “Indian casinos provide a tremendous amount of financial support for the casino tribes and the non-casino tribes, and they contribute a lot locally and to the state.”

Bachrach’s organization is one of several civil rights or African American organizations that have thrown its support behind Prop 26.

Santa Clarita NAACP spokesperson Nati Braunstein said in an email, “The NAACP supports Prop 26, which would legalize retail sports betting at California tribal casinos only and opposes Prop 27 which would allow online sports betting via mobile sportsbooks.”

Kathy Fairbanks, speaking for the Yes on 26/No on 27 coalition, composed of California Indian tribes and tribal organizations, and other partners, said winning the approval of every potential voter, including Black Californians, is their goal.

Yes on 27 – Californians for Solutions to Homelessness, the campaign arm of Prop 27 backers, had not returned California Black Media’s requests for comment for this story as of press time. Prop 27 proponents say in ads and the Yes on 27 website repeats that the initiative would help solve California’s homelessness crisis.

Prop 27 imposes a 10% tax on adjusted gross gaming revenue. Eighty-five percent of the taxes go toward fighting California’s homeless and mental health challenges. Non-gaming tribes get the remaining 15% of tax revenue.

Organizations such as Bay Area Community Services, Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness, San Diego Regional Task Force on Homelessness, and individuals including Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, Bay Area Community Services CEO Jamie Almanza, and Middletown Rancheria of Pomo Indians Chairman Jose “Moke” Simon are listed as Prop 27 supporters on the Yes on 27 website.

On the campaign’s Facebook page, commenter Brandon Gran wrote under an advertisement photo that voting for Prop 27 was a “no brainer.”

“People are already gambling using offshore accounts,” he typed. “Why not allow CA to get a piece of the pie … money that will (hopefully) go to good use.”

However, a statewide survey by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), conducted between Sept. 2 and 11 and released on Sept. 15, revealed that 54% of California voters would vote “no” for Prop 27, while 34% would vote “yes.” Twelve percent of the respondents were “unsure.”

The survey’s authors wrote that a strong majority of Republicans wouldn’t vote for the proposition, compared to half of Democrats and independents.

“Regionally, majorities in the Inland Empire, Orange/San Diego, and the San Francisco Bay Area would vote ‘no,’ while likely voters in the Central Valley and Los Angeles are divided,” they wrote. “At least half across most demographic groups would vote ‘no.’ Likely voters age 18 to 44 (52%) and renters (51%) are the only two demographic groups with a slim majority voting ‘yes.’”

The survey, titled “PPIC Statewide Survey: Californians and Their Government,” did not ask participants about Prop 26. The Yes on 26/No on 27 coalition, said in a news release that the PPIC’s research confirmed what Prop 26 supporters have said for some time.

“Despite raising more than $160 million for a deceptive advertising campaign, California voters are clearly not buying what the out-of-state online gambling corporations behind Prop 27 are selling,” the statement read.

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Activism

Why Sarah Syed Is My Choice for AC Transit Board of Directors, Ward 3.

As the AC Transit board president, a challenge I am confronted with is that traditional transit planning practice has ignored the pervasive issues of segregation, displacement, and exclusion from opportunity. Although the impacts of redlining can be felt in almost every aspect of life: from access to high quality education, to job opportunities and even healthy food options, our region doesn’t invest in transit service to repair past harms.  

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Elsa Ortiz is the AC Transit board president and the retiring Ward 3 director, which includes Oakland, San Leandro, and Alameda.
Elsa Ortiz is the AC Transit board president and the retiring Ward 3 director, which includes Oakland, San Leandro, and Alameda.

By Elsa Ortiz, President of AC Transit Board

The challenge of inequitable transportation access is felt by tens of thousands of residents in inner East Oakland and communities of color across the Bay Area.

These challenges are compounded by the legacy of redlining, which systematically denied Black and Brown residents access to homeownership and lending programs. Ultimately, the American dream of homeownership, investment in communities and building generational wealth was blocked.

As the AC Transit board president, a challenge I am confronted with is that traditional transit planning practice has ignored the pervasive issues of segregation, displacement, and exclusion from opportunity. Although the impacts of redlining can be felt in almost every aspect of life: from access to high quality education, to job opportunities and even healthy food options, our region doesn’t invest in transit service to repair past harms.

Last week, aboard an AC Transit bus, U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg toured Oakland as part of his new effort to repair the damage done by large federal transportation projects, like freeways, which divided neighborhoods where people of color were the majority of the population.

Residents of underserved communities are the experts in understanding what they need. Unfortunately, the number of local political leaders who are ready to invest in transportation equity are few and far in between. Therefore, we have important ballot choices on Tuesday, Nov. 8.

Sarah Syed, a candidate for AC Transit Board Ward 3, is the leader our region needs to turbocharge equitable cities. As a mixed-race woman, Sarah understands that access to transit is a question of equity. Through her work with the Bay Area Rapid Transit, the Valley Transportation Authority, and the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, as a transportation planner and engineer of 20 years, Syed worked to help underserved communities.

In Los Angeles, where 88% of riders are people of color, Sarah took on a heavily bureaucratic system and planned enhancements to the routes disadvantaged riders were already using, including improving service frequency to every 10 minutes on two lines, new bus shelters at nearly 400 locations, and improvements along six different streets to extend the sidewalk and improve street safety and accessibility to bring better bus service.

Through her work with UC-Berkeley’s Othering and Belonging Institute, Syed is helping community-based organizations and local government agencies in eight communities across the state of California so that local equity leadership can drive the agenda of transportation planning to meet the priority concerns of underserved residents

As your next AC Transit Director for Ward 3, Syed will champion policy-based interventions to close equity gaps, equitable hiring and personnel practices.

She will work to build broad, ethnically inclusive coalitions to stand up for bus transit and communicate its value in ways that inspire members of the public and potential political allies.

When we improve bus service, we make our cities better places to live and help address some of America’s deepest problems.

Please join me, State Senator Nancy Skinner, Supervisor Nate Miley, the Alameda County Democratic Party, the three Mayors in Ward 3, and three BART Directors in supporting Sarah Syed for AC Transit Ward 3.

Elsa Ortiz is the AC Transit board president and the retiring Ward 3 director, which includes Oakland, San Leandro, and Alameda.

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Activism

We Will Not Incarcerate Our Way Out of This

Housing is a human right. We can use public resources to ensure everyone has a safe place to live and effective mental health and substance use treatment. Instead, we’ve gutted our social programs to the point where they don’t function and assume this lack of functionality means there’s no solution.

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As we’ve overfunded police and underfunded housing, treatment, and other essential services, we’ve seen more policing but less safety.
Last week, California Highway Patrol (CHP) and CalTrans violently evicted the Wood Street community, the largest encampment in the Bay Area.

People Are Liberating Public Spaces to Fight the Criminalization of Poverty

By Cat Brooks

How many times have you walked by an unhoused neighbor and told yourself it’s their fault, that they made the wrong life choices?

But the truth is that our unhoused crisis is the result of decades-long policies that criminalize poverty, addiction and mental health disabilities and treat human beings like garbage to be swept away with Friday’s trash while ignoring root causes.

Every city in the U.S. responds to visible poverty with fences, fines, cops, courts, and cages. These shortsighted responses make great photo ops, and let politicians pontificate, but all only accomplish terrorizing the most vulnerable, who move into new neighborhoods and reestablish their right to exist.

No matter how many arrests or evictions, the people will continue to be, and as part of that being — reclaim public spaces.

When San Francisco Supervisor Hillary Ronen called for the erection of fences around the 24th Street Bart Plaza, the community struck back and retook the plaza. @MissionDeFence_SF posted a statement in solidarity with other current public land struggles, including: People’s Park in Berkeley, Parker Elementary in Oakland, Echo Park in Los Angeles and Mystic Garden in Daly City.

These struggles are proof positive that the power lies with the people who will rise up, resist and reclaim the people’s space.

Last week, California Highway Patrol (CHP) and CalTrans violently evicted the Wood Street community, the largest encampment in the Bay Area. CHP (the 4th most murderous law enforcement agency in California) descended on the camp for phase one of an armed eviction that will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Wood Street’s estimated 200-300 residents are being offered little relocation support or resources. Only a fraction has been given shelters or RV spots. Two were arrested for non-violent civil disobedience amidst an outpouring of community support.

Most of the Wood Street folks are Black, several are elders, many extremely vulnerable, and almost all are victims of gentrification and criminalization.

I was there to bear witness as the state demolished a tiny home, towed RVs, and destroyed lives. No effort was made to move their homes and belongings. Mayor Libby Schaaf doesn’t believe the city has any obligation to do so.

In an open letter to Schaaf, Governor Gavin Newsom, and others, residents offered concrete solutions and laid out their needs. They’ve been asking for sanitation services and fire safety for years. They’ve been ignored.

In their letter, they wrote, “The Wood Street community stands strong in our determination to keep our community together. We plan to continue organizing and fighting for long-term and permanent housing solutions.”

For now, they’ll be forced to move into residential areas where NIMBYS will call cops to protect their fragile senses from the brutality of visible poverty. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

This story is playing out across California.  Instead of meeting people’s basic needs, the state legislature does things like “CARE Courts” — to force unhoused people into court-ordered treatment that will cost millions and target Black and brown folks. The bill is Governor Newsom’s brainchild and a continuation of criminalizing the unhoused under the guise of “care” which he’s done since his days as mayor of San Francisco.

Housing is a human right. We can use public resources to ensure everyone has a safe place to live and effective mental health and substance use treatment. Instead, we’ve gutted our social programs to the point where they don’t function and assume this lack of functionality means there’s no solution.

Poverty is a political choice. Oakland’s unhoused population increased 24% since 2019 (thank you Libby), yet the Town spends 10 times as much on police as it does on housing.

As we’ve overfunded police and underfunded housing, treatment, and other essential services, we’ve seen more policing but less safety. We are less safe when we build walls to keep unhoused neighbors out of public spaces. We are less safe when we respond to mental health crises with a badge and gun.

We are less safe when the treatment plan for substance use problems is a cage.

If seeing unhoused people makes us uncomfortable, then we should invest in housing for all. If public drug use offends us, then we should invest in safe injection facilities (a proven public health intervention that Newsom just vetoed).

If watching someone experience a mental health crisis is distressing, then we should invest in community-driven approaches to support individuals in crisis.

Until we do these things, no matter how much our elected officials try to sanitize the crises we face, the people will keep knocking down fences to liberate public spaces.

Cat Brooks is co-founder of the Anti Police-Terror Project, executive director of the Justice Teams Network and host of Law & Disorder on KPFA, a new show that exposes the cracks in our system and agitates for resistance.

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