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Don’t Criminalize Domestic Violence Survivors, Advocates Say

Problems plaguing people affected by domestic violence are often compartmentalized when law enforcement officers – as well as criminal justice and social welfare authorities — try to solve them. 

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Female activist with a hand print on her mouth, demonstrating violence on women. Woman protesting against domestic violence and abuse with group in background./iStock

Problems plaguing people affected by domestic violence are often compartmentalized when law enforcement officers – as well as criminal justice and social welfare authorities — try to solve them. 

That is a fragmented approach, advocates argue, which helps neither victims nor perpetrators, and it does not lead to lasting solutions to the problem.

Instead, those advocates say, domestic violence must be approached wholistically. Every aspect of the issue must be considered. That not only helps to end the criminalization of people who survive it, they explain. It is also a better path to ending the cycle of trauma and dysfunction that triggers and sustains it.

One of those advocates Democratic is state Sen. Sydney Kamlager (D-Los Angeles), who introduced AB 118, or the “CRISES ACT,” in December 2020 while she was still serving in the Assembly. 

The acronym CRISES stands for “Community Response Initiative to Strengthen Emergency Systems.”

AB 118 seeks to implement a pilot program that would empower community-based organizations to serve as first responders instead of the police. That would place domestic violence advocates, mental and public health professionals on the frontlines, responding to calls when there are incidents of intimate partner abuse or other acts of violence in people’s homes.

Kamlager initially introduced the CRISES Act as AB 2054 in February 2020.

AB 2054 passed in the Legislature unanimously, but Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed it, saying the Office of Emergency Services was not the appropriate location for the pilot program as proposed in legislation.

However, its legislative successor AB 118 also passed unanimously in the Assembly and is currently being considered in the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Cat Brooks, co-founder of the Anti Police-Terror Project in Oakland, thinks the bill will pass this time around. She bases her optimism on the pressure elected officials may be feeling due to a growing movement in the streets of cities, and states across the country, that is pushing for alternatives to badges and guns responding to community crisis.

The Anti Police Terror Project is a Black-led, multi-racial, intergenerational coalition that seeks to build a replicable and sustainable model to eradicate police terror in communities of color.

“This current political moment sort of creates the perfect storm for bills like the CRISIS Act to make it through, so I’m hopeful,” said Brooks.

The organization worked with others to create the Mental Health First Oakland program, a non-911 mobile crisis response to domestic violence, interpersonal violence, substance abuse, mental health and other community crisis, according to Brooks.

“I’m a survivor of domestic violence, and the police came. And following my husband having beat-the-you-know-what out of me, I’m the one who ended up going to jail,” she recalled.

She was 19, Black, and a woman in Las Vegas, she says. Under the city’s Primary Aggressor Law, police can decide who is mainly responsible for the domestic violence.

“That’s how they took me to jail, even though my husband had not a scratch on him, and I was covered in scratches and bruises and bleeding,” said Brooks. “I was targeted as a Black woman by White law enforcement, and I was sent to jail, and that happens to women over and over and over again.”

Unfortunately, her story is not an exception, she said. She believes race had less to do with her arrest than gender. 

“We have to remember that we live in a patriarchy, and we also have to remember that the least believed human being walking America’s streets is the Black woman. The most stereotyped is the Black woman. The image that is portrayed of us is loud-mouthed, crazy, out-of-control, angry, violent,” said Brooks.

How those stereotypes factor into how law enforcement officers treat Black women is not discussed nearly enough in public discourse. But far too often those interactions are deadly or violent, she argued.

Brooks’ personal ordeal, she says, led her to start disbelieving that police officers are her friends or that they would help her. In fact, quite the opposite, they could actually end up making things much worse, she said.

For the duration of that relationship, she had no one to call, so she said she just took the abuse, which, she says, is true for so many Black, Brown and Indigenous women.

“They don’t call anyone because they don’t want the police to kill them. They don’t want the police to kill their partners. They don’t want to go to jail,” said Brooks.

The tragedy helped propel her into activism and advocacy. Now, the Anti Police-Terror Project is on the verge of releasing its model for responding to interpersonal violence without police, she told California Black Media.

Members have worked closely with many organizations on the frontlines doing domestic violence work, because solutions must be local, said Brooks.

The organization provides principles and structures, but ultimately, the community must come together, identify where the safe house is, who the trauma responders are going to be, who are going to deal with the perpetrator in a way that’s not violent, and force accountability, without involving law enforcement, she explained.

According to Brooks, the Anti Police-Terror Project does a lot of educational work in the community, and they have found it interesting that mainstream media’s portrayal of abusers is like the 1984 movie, “The Burning Bed” starring Farrah Fawcett. In the movie, after nearly a decade of abuse, Fawcett’s character Francine Hughes douses gasoline over her sleeping husband and lights their bed on fire.

“They don’t think about that some families actually want to stay together, that some families actually want help for everybody. And for us, whether the family decides to stay together or not, we know that services and support and trauma work need to be done with both the perpetrator and the survivors.  So, those are the kinds of things that we’re advocating for,” said Brooks.

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.

Activism

East Oakland Community Clean-up

The office of Councilmember Treva Reid invites you to…

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Oakland Clean Up Flyer

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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Bay Area

Sept. 11, 2001, 20 years later: ‘Remembrance’ held aboard the USS Hornet Sea, Space & Air Museum

The USS Hornet Sea, Space & Air Museum, moored at the City of Alameda, hosted a “Remembrance” ceremony of the events of Sept. 11, 2001, on board the ship on the 20th anniversary, Sept. 11, 2021.

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U.S. Marine Corps Honor Guard, 23rd Marine Regiment: Sgt. Tristan Garivay, Sgt. Michael Her, Cpl. Adrian Chavez and Cpl. Quentavious Leeks. Photo by Russell Moore, USS Hornet Sea, Air & Space Museum, Community Events & Outreach

Quintin Jones, Colonel, USMC, Commanding Officer, 23rd Marine Regiment. Photo by Russell Moore, USS Hornet Sea, Air & Space Museum, Community Events & Outreach

The USS Hornet Sea, Space & Air Museum, moored at the City of Alameda, hosted a “Remembrance” ceremony of the events of Sept. 11, 2001, on board the ship on the 20th anniversary, Sept. 11, 2021.

The ceremony recognized the impact and consequences of the series of airline hijackings and suicide attacks committed on 2001 by 19 militants associated with the Islamic extremist group al-Queda against targets in New York City and Wash., D.C. Nearly 3,000 people died that day and 6,000 were injured.  This was the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil in U.S. history. 

The ceremony aboard the USS Hornet began with the presentation of the colors by the U.S. Marine Corps Honor Guard, 23rd Marine Regiment. (Pictured above.)

Leon Watkins, co-founder of The Walking Ghosts of Black History, was the Master of Ceremonies. He spoke about the extensive death and destruction which triggered the enormous U.S. effort to combat terrorism.

Daniel Costin, a special agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, spoke of the lasting impact of 9/11 terrorists attack on first responders. He recounted incidents where first responders rushed into the scenes of the attacks, many at the sacrifice of their own lives. More than 400 police officers and firefighters were killed that day: 343 members of the New York City Fire Department and 71 members of their law enforcement agencies.

Quintin Jones, Colonel, USMC, commanding officer of the 23rd Marine Regiment, spoke about the recovery efforts at the Pentagon following the terrorists’ attack where 125 people perished. He reflected on the actions of three first responders who recovered the U.S. Marine Corps flag from the commandant of the Marine Corps’ office at the Pentagon. This flag was still standing after the attack. It was a symbol of America’s resolve.

At the end of the formal presentations, the Marine Corps Wreath Bearers went to the fantail of the Hornet. After the playing of ‘Taps,’ they tossed a wreath into the San Francisco Bay to give final honors.

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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Community

Many in Black Communities are Choosing Vaccination 

Inequities in health outcomes have always been with us. COVID-19 morbidity and mortality rates among African Americans rival or exceed those in heart disease, diabetes and other illnesses. Blacks sit atop most bad lists and at the bottom of most good lists. 

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Vaccination/Photo Courtesy of Shutterstock

The trail of illness and death left amid the spread of COVID-19 in Black and African American communities should come as no surprise.

Inequities in health outcomes have always been with us. COVID-19 morbidity and mortality rates among African Americans rival or exceed those in heart disease, diabetes and other illnesses. Blacks sit atop most bad lists and at the bottom of most good lists.

COVID-19 vaccinations offer us an opportunity to better balance the scale.

Unfortunately, even with widely available testing, highly effective vaccines, and extraordinary efforts by health departments to educate and encourage people of color to get vaccinated, many Black Californians remain skeptical.

We can only hope that the FDA’s full regulatory approval of the Pfizer vaccine on August 23 for those 16 and up convinces more to get the vaccine.  It’s worth noting that emergency-use authorization also remains in place for the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson shots, as well as Pfizer’s for 12- to 15-year-olds – and that all of these vaccines are safe and effective in protecting against COVID-19 and its highly contagious variants.

Eddie Fairchild and Steph Sanders were skeptical about the COVID-19 vaccine but came to understand why vaccination benefits our entire community.

Fairchild, a Sacramento insurance agent, said he knew of research that found Black and white people are often treated differently for the same health conditions leading to poorer health outcomes.

“I was hesitant,” he said. “I was going to wait and see how it panned out with everyone else.

But when a Black friend in the health care field told him he’d opted to get vaccinated, Fairchild asked him why.

“He said, ‘Risk-reward, and the risk is death.’ At that point I didn’t have to ask him what the reward was.”

With a finance degree and a belief that numbers don’t lie, Fairchild looked at the data. He learned that until 2020 the average number of Americans who died each year was about 2.6 million, but in 2020 that figure was 3.4 million. There was only one possible explanation for the death rate surge, he said.

“COVID is absolutely real,” he said, adding that three of his cousins died from the virus. “Taking all that into consideration, I decided that it’s risky to engage in the world and not be vaccinated. It made sense for me to get it.”

Racial gaps in vaccination have thankfully narrowed in recent weeks. But as of September 1, while Black people account for 6% of the state’s population, they account for 6.6% of COVID-19 deaths, which is 11% higher than the statewide rate, according to state department of public health data. Only about 55% of Black people in California have had at least one dose of the vaccine.

Reasons for the discrepancies run the gamut, from conspiracy theories like Black people are getting a less effective vaccine than whites or that the vaccine will eventually be deadly, to challenges in health care access. 

Mostly, it’s based on a lack of trust in medical and scientific institutions, which have a long history of racism and mistreating Black people.

So even when it comes to good things like vaccines, which are scientifically proven to be good for the community, it always comes back to trust.

Sanders, a Vallejo school principal, was hesitant because of the Tuskegee syphilis studies in which Black men who had the disease were intentionally not treated with penicillin. And he was dubious that an effective vaccine could be developed so quickly. 

In fact, the science and technology enabling development of the COVID-19 vaccines was in development for a more than decade before the virus emerged in 2020. The FDA authorized three vaccines for emergency use after they underwent a rigorous process and were proven through trials to be safe and effective at preventing severe COVID-19, hospitalization, and death.

He decided to get vaccinated when his school board decided last spring to bring students back into classrooms.

Today, he’s a fervent vaccine advocate. He holds “lunch and learn” forums for educators, encouraging vaccination.

“I’m a leader and people are relying on my knowledge,” he said. “I tell them, ‘Don’t make this about you, but about the people you love and care about. It’s about protecting them.’”

There is still a long way to go before Blacks achieve true health equity, but vaccination against a virus that is taking a terrible toll on our communities is a critical step in the right direction.

 

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