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Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao Launches Human Trafficking Advisory Council

Oakland Police Department, also a part of the advisory council, shared that in partnership with the FBI, they completed 26 critical investigations where 14 minors were rescued, 27 individuals were arrested for solicitation, and 14 individuals suspected of human trafficking were arrested.

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Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao, center, with members of her new Human Trafficking Advisory Council. Photo by Magaly Muñoz.
Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao, center, with members of her new Human Trafficking Advisory Council. Photo by Magaly Muñoz.

By Magaly Muñoz, Post Staff

On Wednesday evening, Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao launched her Human Trafficking Advisory Council. Collaborating with several agencies, the council aims to devise strategies to prevent and investigate human trafficking crimes, as well as assist victims in healing from these crimes.

Thao was joined by City Council President Niki Fortunato Bas, the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office, the Oakland Police Department, the Oakland Department of Violence Prevention, the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department, and a coalition of survivor advocate groups and community organizations.

“It is our job as a whole community, as neighbors, as stewards of humanity to ensure that we are protecting our boys and girls, men and women, to ensure that they do not have to face a life of being trafficked,” Thao said.

Earlier this month, Alameda County District Attorney Pamela Price unveiled six new billboards at Oakland International Airport that are part of her campaign against human trafficking in the Bay Area.

The billboards will feature QR codes and phone numbers, offering victims and survivors access to helplines and resources. The information displayed on these billboards will be available in three languages.

Thao said they are looking into the option of putting up additional billboards around the city but will leave it up to the Council to find the best solutions to raising awareness about sex trafficking.

Alameda County is identified as the third-largest hub for sex trafficking in the country, with 4,700 youth victims.

“It [human trafficking] is a billion-dollar industry, and our efforts have to step up to that,” Price said during her press conference.

The council identified the streets and neighborhoods between International Boulevard, East 14th Street, and East 15th Street, also known as “the Blade,” as the most active zones for trafficking in Oakland.

Oakland Police Department, also a part of the advisory council, shared that in partnership with the FBI, they completed 26 critical investigations where 14 minors were rescued, 27 individuals were arrested for solicitation, and 14 individuals suspected of human trafficking were arrested.

When asked how she will ensure that the community doesn’t see an increase in police presence in the streets as a negative, Thao said there are two sides to the issue.

First, the role of police partnerships is to look out for pimps and perpetrators of sex trafficking and to enforce the relevant laws. Second, victims need resources like housing, jobs, and food. This is where community organizations come into play.

Venus Morris from Survivors Healing Advising and Dedicated to Empowerment (SHADE) shared that the isolation brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic made it easier to exploit people because of idle time that perpetrators’ had coupled with the lack of resources accessible to survivors and victims.

She said her work with SHADE goes towards diffusing the epidemic of sex trafficking and helping kids feel like selling their bodies and walking the streets is not the only option to getting some stability in their lives.

“Awareness isn’t a campaign. It’s an action,” Morris said.

The mayor stated that the council will regularly convene to discuss strategies concerning resources for victims, proper intervention and enforcement of these crimes, and examine the underlying issues that make victims vulnerable.

Magaly Muñoz

Magaly Muñoz

A graduate of Sacramento State University, Magaly Muñoz’s journalism experience includes working for the State Hornet, the university’s student-run newspaper and conducting research and producing projects for “All Things Considered” at National Public Radio. She also was a community reporter for El Timpano, serving Latino and Mayan communities, and contributed to the Sacramento Observer, the area’s African American newspaper.

Muñoz is one of 40 early career journalists who are part of the California Local News Fellowship program, a state-funded initiative designed to strengthen local news reporting in California, with a focus on underserved communities.

The fellowship program places journalism fellows throughout the state in two-year, full-time reporting positions.

A graduate of Sacramento State University, Magaly Muñoz’s journalism experience includes working for the State Hornet, the university’s student-run newspaper and conducting research and producing projects for “All Things Considered” at National Public Radio. She also was a community reporter for El Timpano, serving Latino and Mayan communities, and contributed to the Sacramento Observer, the area’s African American newspaper. Muñoz is one of 40 early career journalists who are part of the California Local News Fellowship program, a state-funded initiative designed to strengthen local news reporting in California, with a focus on underserved communities. The fellowship program places journalism fellows throughout the state in two-year, full-time reporting positions.

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Grocery Inflation Causes Food Banks to be the Default for Families in Oakland

Steve Morris, Director of Natural Resources and Environment at GAO, explained that while the pandemic certainly had an effect on food increases, there is not one single factor for a rise in food prices. He said events like the Ukraine-Russian war, the avian influenza epidemic that raised the price of eggs, and climate change are also key factors.

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Photo: iStock image.
Photo: iStock image.

By Magaly Muñoz

During the past three years, the US has seen the largest increase in food prices since the 1980s. In response to this crisis, community food banks have emerged to provide much-needed assistance to families in need.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports that national food prices have increased 11% from 2021 to 2022, when the average yearly increase was previously 2%. The San Francisco Bay Area saw a 12% increase from 2021 to 2022.

Steve Morris, Director of Natural Resources and Environment at GAO, explained that while the pandemic certainly had an effect on food increases, there is not one single factor for a rise in food prices. He said events like the Ukraine-Russian war, the avian influenza epidemic that raised the price of eggs, and climate change are also key factors.

While still maintaining that elevated prices will persist for the foreseeable future, Morris anticipates a decrease of 8% in food price increases.

He also stated that while the average person may spend 10% of their income on groceries, a low-income family may spend 30%, making the inflation in food prices that much harsher.

“Higher food prices can put people in a position where they have to make some tough choices between ‘can they go to the grocery store and buy food’ or ‘do they have to spend it on other necessities like home or health care or other things,’” Morris said.

Michael Altfest is the Director of Community Engagement and Marketing for Alameda County (AC) Food Bank, the primary food distributor in the county with over 400 community partners that receive frequent donations.

Altfest shared that from 2019 to 2023, the number of pounds of food distributed to their community partners has doubled. In 2019, the food bank distributed 32.5 million pounds of food, while in 2021 during the height of the pandemic, they distributed 58.1 million pounds. This year they are on pace to distribute almost 60 million pounds of food.

“If we’re on pace this year to provide more than we did in the pandemic, I think that says a lot about what the state of hunger is right now,” Altfest said.

During the height of the pandemic, state and federal government relief programs helped families offset significant expenses like groceries. These programs included the child tax credit increase that put anywhere from $2,000 up to $3,600 back into qualifying families pockets when filing their yearly taxes.

Another program that directly targeted food insecurity, was the increase in funds for SNAP or CalFresh. These government programs provide food-purchasing assistance for low- and no-income people to help them maintain adequate nutrition and health. But earlier this spring, funding was cut from the state program CalFresh and families saw at least a $95 decrease in their assistance.

“Every single person talks about the cost of living in Alameda County, every single person. The cost of rent, the cost of food, those are things that come up every single time without fail,” Altfest shared.

One of AC Food Bank’s community partners is Homies Empowerment, a non-profit in Oakland that was established as a means to support youth and the community through a positive lens.

Selena Duarte, the FREEdom Store Coordinator, said the organization’s initiative to help families with food provision began in May of 2020 when their original store was filled only with books and students told them that while it was nice to have things to read, “they can’t eat books,” showing the team at Homies Empowerment that there were bigger needs in the community that they had to address.

Since then, the organization has expanded its services. They now provide groceries every Tuesday, have established the FREEdom Farm where they grow produce that gets distributed in their make-shift store, offer hot breakfast to 40 students and their families five days a week, and much more.

Duarte said that they serve almost 400 families a week and they are continuing to expand their food services due to the increasing number of people coming to them seeking help to reduce their spending on groceries. She recognized that although people say that the “pandemic is over”, she knows that the stress that families are experiencing is still very real.

“The next phase is really becoming a sustainable community food hub, where literally we can grow, share, cook, and store our food here in the community and for the community,” Duarte said.

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Oakland Post: Week of July 10 – 16, 2024

The printed Weekly Edition of the Oakland Post: Week of July 10 – 16, 2024

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“A Time to Reflect and Rejoice”: Black Caucus Members Commemorate Juneteenth on Assembly Floor

On June 17, two days before Juneteenth, members of the California Legislative Black Caucus (CLBC) delivered remarks on the Assembly floor commemorating the national holiday and its significance in American history.
ACR 192, introduced by Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles), aims to honor, and reflect on the emancipation of African Americans from chattel slavery and honor their contributions throughout America’s history.

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Assemblymember Dr. Akilah Weber (D-La Mesa) speaking on the California Assembly Floor.
Assemblymember Dr. Akilah Weber (D-La Mesa) speaking on the California Assembly Floor.

By California Black Media

On June 17, two days before Juneteenth, members of the California Legislative Black Caucus (CLBC) delivered remarks on the Assembly floor commemorating the national holiday and its significance in American history.

ACR 192, introduced by Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles), aims to honor, and reflect on the emancipation of African Americans from chattel slavery and honor their contributions throughout America’s history.

Speaking on the Assembly floor, Jones-Sawyer said the resolution is the CLBC’s annual commemoration of Juneteenth as “Freedom Day.”

“Two years after President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, the bell of freedom rang true for over 3 million Black Americans, marking the beginning of the fight to secure the freedom of those still enslaved and provide fair and equal treatment for the formerly enslaved,” Jones-Sawyer said.

“Juneteenth is a time to reflect and rejoice for all the work it took to reach this point, as well as a reminder that true equality is not accomplished overnight,” he added. “While there have been great strides to acknowledge and address the history and plight of Black Americans, society, as a whole, still has a long way to go. Juneteenth is an opportunity to educate all communities that we may not repeat injustices and abuses committed in the past.”

The resolution particularly highlights how Black Americans have helped enrich American civic life through their steadfast commitment to promoting unity and equality.

Assemblymember Dr. Akilah Weber (D-La Mesa), also a member of the CLBC, spoke on behalf of the Women’s Caucus in support of Assembly Concurrent Resolution (ACR) 192, the California Legislature’s resolution acknowledging the federal holiday and celebrating the emancipation of African Americans from slavery.

Weber highlighted that African Americans won their hard-won freedom after providing free labor illegally for two-and-a-half more years in Texas.

Weber shared the story of Opal Lee, known as the “Grandmother of Juneteenth.”  Lee is among numerous civil rights activists and leaders who campaigned for decades for June 19th to be recognized as a federal holiday.

Lee traveled around the country educating people about Juneteenth and led walks each year commemorating Juneteenth before it was federally recognized.

At 89, Lee led a symbolic walk, said Weber, from her hometown of Ft. Worth, Texas, to Washington, D.C., leaving in September of 2016 and arriving in January of 2017.

Juneteenth became a federal holiday in 2021 and Lee was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2024 for her activism.

“Lee represents the millions of women throughout the history of this country who have worked tirelessly to ensure that our history is not erased, reframed nor ignored,” said Weber.

Other lawmakers who recognized Juneteenth on the Assembly floor included Assemblymember Lori Wilson (D-Suisun City), Chair of the CLBC; Eloise Gomez Reyes (D-Colton), chair of the California Legislative Latino Caucus; Assemblymember Jim Patterson (R-Fresno); Assemblymember James C. Ramos (D-San Bernardino), chair of the California Native American Legislative Caucus; and Assemblymember Corey Jackson (D-Moreno Valley), also a member of CLBC.

“It is a call-to-action for all Californians to interrogate the systems that keeps others in bondage,” said Wilson.

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