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COMMENTARY: Pulling back the curtain on legal double standards

MINNESOTA SPOKESMAN-RECORDER — It’s time we stop lying to ourselves. The lying has gone on much too long and every time the lie is repeated, we are all the worse for it.

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By Oscar H. Blayton

It’s time we stop lying to ourselves. The lying has gone on much too long and every time the lie is repeated, we are all the worse for it. The lie is that in America, everyone is equal under the law.

It’s time to pull back the curtain on this lie, but in order to do so, first, we must have an understanding of what “law” actually is.

In its most basic form, “law” is a process of authoritative control whereby certain members of a particular community establish and maintain a specific public order.

This definition may seem like a mouthful, but history can help us unpack it. Nazi Germany had anti-Jewish laws, the racist regime of South Africa had apartheid laws and the southern states in this country had Jim Crow laws.

The Nazis, the Afrikaners, and the Southern segregationists all had authoritative control over their respective national and state communities. With that control, they each ordered their societies in the manner they desired.

In each of these instances, it is not difficult to identify those community members who sought to maintain a specific public order, nor is it difficult to identify the “specific order” they sought to maintain.

For Blacks in South Africa and the segregated southern United States, subjugation was the public order. And in the case of Jews living under Nazi control, it was extermination. For these people, those were the laws.

A law need not be just or fair or benign to be the law. Law, like a gun or any other tool, can be used for good or for evil.

To disguise the fact that laws can be cruel, unjust and designed to harm certain members of our community, the myth of “blind justice” was created. It fostered the notion of a fair legal system in America, but observations in most American courtrooms will instruct us that what passes for justice in this country is not color-blind.

American laws are written with high-sounding words, full of dignity and sensibility — but words are not deeds. And, as in courtrooms, the long arm of the law, embodied in the form of law enforcement officers, reaches out into the streets and neighborhoods where we witness the double standards that are applied in enforcing our laws written in lofty language.

Even though the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution ended slavery more than 150 years ago, people of color are still forced to wear the proverbial shackles of the double standards in our country’s legal system. Bigots and racists use our system of laws and law enforcement to police Black and Brown bodies, making it clear to people of color that we are neither welcome nor expected to exist in White spaces.

Ohio maintains a specific public order that allows Whites to walk the streets with automatic rifles unmolested by the police but justifies gunning down a Black man who is purchasing a BB rifle in an open carry state. It also finds no fault in a police officer executing a 12-year-old Black boy for playing with a toy gun in a park. This is the law in Ohio.

Many other cities and states maintain a specific public order that targets people of color for fines and the confiscation of property in order to fund local and state governments.

Ferguson, Mo. was proven to use the disproportionate levying of fines on people of color to fund their municipal activities. That was the law in Ferguson.

South Carolina’s civil forfeiture law allows police to confiscate money and property from people merely suspected of having committed a crime. This is often done without a trial, and in some instances, without even an arrest.

Black men are subjected to this law at a rate vastly disproportionate to their numbers in the general population. A statewide journalism project in South Carolina titled “TAKEN” reports that while comprising only 13 percent of that state’s population, Black men represent 65 percent of all citizens targeted for civil forfeiture. This is still the law in South Carolina.

The slave codes, the Fugitive Slave Act, and the Jim Crow laws of years past and the gutting of the Voting Rights Act just a few short years ago are all part of a process of authoritative control by certain community members to establish and maintain a specific public order that keeps people of color in shackles. There are many more laws that do this, but the list is too long to discuss in this short commentary.

We must pull back the curtain to determine the true public order purpose of each law governing our lives and to identify those community members who seek to establish and maintain them. Once we do this, then we can ask ourselves, if this is the America we want for ourselves. And if not, what are we going to do about it?

Oscar H. Blayton is a former Marine Corps combat pilot and human rights activist who practices law in Virginia.

This article originally appeared in the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder

Commentary

First in a Series on Jobs in Oakland. City Government; Please Do No (More) Harm

Oakland city government declares war on the unemployed. An overstatement? Not really.

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High Quality stock aerial photos of downtown Oakland with Lake Merritt in the foreground.

Oakland city government declares war on the unemployed. An overstatement? Not really.

City administration professes concern for its residents who need help with access to jobs and training, while at the same time failing to issue contracts to the community organizations that stand ready to provide needed services.

The city council approved these contracts in June. As of late September, they have not been issued by the city administration.

Q: What does this mean? A: Non-profit organizations, operating on shoestring budgets in the best of times, have been required to advance their own funds in July, August, and September to serve the unemployed, with no reimbursement by the city because as the administration says, “Your contract has not been signed yet.”

Another impact: the workers who provide front line job services may not receive their paychecks on time…. creating unnecessary instability in their own households.

And who is responsible for issuing these contracts? Yup…it’s the city…. painfully tone deaf to the needs of the community, particularly those on the economic margins. Most of those served with job help are Black and Latinx residents who consistently suffer double digit unemployment. Many are returning home after incarceration.

And for this level of harmful disregard, the city receives  28 percent of scarce job training funds. Astonishing, since the city provides no direct services to job seekers.

As Oakland struggles with its horrific crime wave, it seems that attention would be paid to root causes, joblessness being paramount among them. Instead, the city administration seems intent on hobbling the very groups who stand ready to help. This happens year after year…. with no apparent consequences to an impenetrable bureaucracy.

Oakland, we can do  better than this.

We must.

The Oakland Post’s coverage of local news in Alameda County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support community newspapers across California.

 

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Commentary

Biden, Vax Americana, and What the Recall Could Mean in COVID-19 Wars

Masking works. You can see it working. Vaccines work too, but we’re on the honor system for that. And people lie or show a fake vax cards. 

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COVID/Photo Courtesy of Stacy M. Brown NNPA Newswire 

At Oakland’s Stagebridge, I taught a class this year. One of my students couldn’t make the final. The student had COVID.

I don’t know if the student was vaccinated or whether this was a breakthrough case. But the fact remains, the COVID war must be our No. 1 priority—no matter how many people you see on TV at football games and sporting events unmasked. 

Masking works. You can see it working. Vaccines work too, but we’re on the honor system for that. And people lie or show a fake vax cards. 

This is why President Joe Biden’s speech last week, what I call his “Vax Americana” speech was so much more important than people want to admit.

It was his first get tough moment. And it reminded me of the phrase, “Pax Americana,” from post-World War II in 1945 to describe how the U.S. used its dominance to bring peace and prosperity to the world. 

After months of “nice,” Biden was a little less nice ordering federal workers to get vaxed, and OSHA to lean on employers with 100 workers to mandate vaccinations.

But all you need to remember from the speech was the last line, when Biden in a hushed, aggressive whisper said, “Get vaccinated.” 

What are you waiting for—a death bed conversion? 

It’s time to get serious about public health, about caring for our country and each other. 

We can end the war on COVID if we all do our part, masked and vaxed. 

I wonder if Biden knows about a non-profit in Stockton called Little Manila Rising

“Someone Pulled a Gun” 

You know what guns do to a situation. In the COVID wars, the anti-vaxers are insane. 

One of the handful of Filipino American canvassers for Little Manila Rising going door to door to provide the public with good information, got a rude greeting from an anti-vaxer.

“A gun!” said Amy Portello-Nelson, the head of the Get-Out-The-Vaccine drive in Stockton. The canvassers are armed only with information. No one was hurt, but you see how dangerous fighting COVID can be when you’re armed only with facts. 

Here’s what Little Manila Rising’s done in two months on the job. It has knocked on more than 32,000 doors and had 20,000 conversations. The area they’ve worked has gone from a vaccination rate of 32% to more than 50%. 

Talking to people and telling them to get vax works. It’s how we’re going to get back to normal. It’s going to take a “Vax Americana” effort.

The Recall

Of course, whatever happens with this gubernatorial recall will determine how quickly the state gets to the 70%-80% rate that gives us an effective herd immunity. 

My deadline is before any official recall results. And even then, mail-in ballots with a September 16 postmark will take time to be counted. 

The talk of voter fraud is greatly exaggerated. There’s more rhetorical fraud than anything else. 

With more than 8 million ballots in already, unless there’s a strange crossover vote, the Democrats should continue in power. 

But let’s say the recall succeeds and a person with the most votes among 46 also-rans becomes the new governor, it would not bode well for the state.

The Black conservative Larry Elder was leading among those who want to replace Governor Gavin Newsom.

Elder is an anti-vaxxer and has espoused views indicating that – under his leadership– California would look a lot more like Alabama, Texas, Louisiana and Florida on the COVID map. 

That would be the real monumental tragedy for California and for Vax Americana. 

Let’s face it, the political virus unleashed by the Republicans on our democracy is worse than COVID. 

The recall effort needs to die a natural death this week.

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Commentary

No Further Delays on Launching MACRO!

City Administration must implement Civilian Crisis Responders Program and keep planned community advisory board 

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Oakland Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan

COMMENTARY 

At this week’s Public Safety Committee, councilmembers received an update on the status of launching Oakland’s emergency civilian responder program, Mobile Assistance Community Responders of Oakland (MACRO).

I, along with my Council colleagues, call on the City Administration for the speedy implementation of this important public safety service as an in-house program and to include meaningful community input and involvement, as was previously directed by the Council to include a community oversight board.

The implementation of this program is highly awaited and urgently needed, as the goal is to provide services to those experiencing non-violent crises. A Community Intervention Specialist, Emergency Medical Technician, and a Case Manager would respond to non-violent crisis calls, rather than a police officer.

This would simultaneously free police to respond to violent crimes.

In 2019, the idea of this program was presented as part of my budget proposal, with strong grassroots community backing and an informational memo brought by Councilmember Noel Gallo. 

That same year, I successfully allocated the funding for the feasibility study of creating this civilian mobile response program in my budget amendments.

The City Council then approved $1.85 million in the FY 2020-21 Mid-Cycle Budget Amendments (88174 CMS) to implement the proposed program. On Dec. 15, 2020, my resolution to pursue the option for in-house hiring process for MACRO was adopted (88433 CMS).

In 2020, the City Council, along with strong community support, pushed to fund the launching of the pilot. With the goal of improving coordination, response, and creating job opportunities for the communities in which MACRO will be launched, Council, along with community grass-roots organizations,  called on the program to be launched as an internal city program.

Earlier this year, Noel Gallo and President Pro Tem Sheng Thao advocated to have the program in-house within the Oakland Fire Department (OFD). Bas and Councilmember Dan Kalb introduced the resolution that was unanimously adopted by Council directing the establishment of MACRO within OFD and creating an Advisory Board, which would consist of crisis health service experts, individuals impacted by the criminal legal system, unsheltered individuals, domestic violence survivors, youth, and/or survivors of state violence, to serve as advisory partners to the Oakland Fire Department in further developing MACRO.  

The state has shown support of MACRO by responding to my advocacy letter, asking for funding; Senator Skinner included $10 million for the launch of MACRO in the state budget. 

Meanwhile, other cities have successfully launched similar programs including Olympia, Wash., Portland, Ore., and Albuquerque, N.M. 

Thanks to strong grassroots advocacy working together with Council members, we were able to pass the proposal to launch civilian responders for Oakland, and to win funding in both the city budget and state budget to support this vital public need.

We know that this type of program can save dollars and save lives.  We call on the administration to launch it timely and effectively, and include vital community input, to ensure success.

“It’s urgent that the Administration implement MACRO, Oakland’s mobile crisis response program in the Fire Department. Oaklanders agree that we need medical professionals and crisis responders to address mental health and other non-violent issues, allowing police to focus on violent crime,” said Bas.

Gallo said, “I am thankful for my colleagues on the council who supported launching MACRO in-house in the fire department. Working together we can provide effective civilian responders to provide community needs and handle low-level calls that do not require a police officer.”

Added Thao, “The City Council committed to its goals to reimagine public safety with the funding of the MACRO program, and I join my colleagues and the community in urging the City Administration to implement this important emergency response program. Oakland cannot wait for this common sense and holistic approach to public safety any longer.”

 

Watch the September 14  Public Safety Committee Zoom Meeting at: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/87171430933

“The Oakland Post’s coverage of local news in Alameda County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support community newspapers across California.”

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