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OP-ED: Faith Leaders Call for Accountability Over

A demonstration is planned for Tuesday May 24 at 11:30 a.m. at the Board of Supervisors on Oak and 12th streets in Oakland to protest a culture of death at the jail and this dysfunctional incarceration system. Join us in our call for accountability. The U.S. Justice Department recently found our county jail violates Constitutional rights and subjects the 40% of persons in custody who need mental health services to “unlawful harm.”

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Negligence, Deaths at Santa Rita Jail

Alameda County’s Santa Rita jail, run by Sheriff Gregory Ahern, has been the target of multiple lawsuits over jail conditions and has had the most in-custody deaths in Northern California: at least 58 in-custody deaths since 2014, including 19 suicides.

We lift up the names of the two most recent to die in Santa Rita – Marcos Garibay and Larry Roberson. Their families are among many who have been given conflicting and incomplete information about their deaths by the sheriff.

A demonstration is planned for Tuesday May 24 at 11:30 a.m. at the Board of Supervisors on Oak and 12th streets in Oakland to protest a culture of death at the jail and this dysfunctional incarceration system. Join us in our call for accountability.

The U.S. Justice Department recently found our county jail violates Constitutional rights and subjects the 40% of persons in custody who need mental health services to “unlawful harm.”

The sheriff has also evaded a county ban on collaboration of local law enforcement with ICE.

The county continues to hemorrhage millions of taxpayer dollars on settlements and legal fees for this mismanagement – the most recent costing upwards of $300 million. The Alameda County Sheriff’s Department needs a major transformative intervention.

Assembly Bill 1185, recently enacted by the California state Legislature, authorizes civilian oversight boards and a full-time Inspector General with subpoena power to investigate sheriff’s departments and jails. Our communities can gain accountability for brutal practices by the sheriff and assist supervisors in exercising their legal and fiscal authority to oversee this county department.

Sopath Mey, speaking for her Cambodian immigrant family, told us of her cousin Soto’s medical crisis and death in Santa Rita in January 2020:

“To this day we don’t understand how he died in custody of the jail and the sheriff. Did he get medical care he needed? … Our family has no resources for an investigation … The sheriff is also the coroner, which raises serious questions. Independent oversight without conflict of interest could tell us learn what happened so we can have peace of mind.”

A sheriff’s oversight coalition initiated by Faith In Action East Bay and Oakland’s Coalition for Police accountability including dozens of organizations and clergy of diverse faiths – ACLU of Northern California, Alameda County Public Health Commission, SEIU Local 1021, Oakland Education Association, Brotherhood of Elders, National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform, and working closely with the League of Women Voters – researched essential principles for effective independent civilian oversight:

  • A community selection panel process that is open and transparent to create a representative oversight board insulated from politics and the sheriff’s influence.
  • Legal counsel for a civilian Oversight Board and Inspector General that is fully independent of the County Counsel’s conflicts of interest representing the sheriff in lawsuits against the county.
  • A dedicated funding stream to ensure adequate staff of investigators working with an experienced, full-time Inspector General.
  • Access to records and testimony, regular public meetings and reports to the community and the Board of Supervisors (BOS.)
  • Elected officials – including the sheriff – must be held accountable. Civilian oversight with subpoena power can conduct independent investigations and recommend necessary change to the Board of Supervisors – who have the ultimate power of budgeting tax dollars.

Working with a full-time inspector general, they will investigate jail deaths, in-custody conditions, conduct of the sheriff’s deputies and can help identify alternatives to the county’s current cruel and costly mass incarceration of individuals with mental health challenges.

We must bring the sheriff’s operations into alignment with constitutional law enforcement, our community’s ethical values and the public trust.

Let Supervisors know you support the community coalition calling for strong oversight of the Sheriff – email the Board at cbs@acgov.org.

Rev. Dr. George Cummings, executive director, Faith In Action East Bay

Cathy Leonard for the Coalition for Police Accountability

Regina Jackson, Oakland Police Commission*

Rev. Dr. James Brenneman, president, Berkeley School of Theology*

Rev. Ken Chambers, West Side MBC & co-chair Interfaith Coalition of Alameda County*

Rev. Dr. James Hopkins, co-chair, Faith In Action East Bay; Lakeshore Avenue Baptist Church*

Rev. Derron Jenkins, associate minister, Allen Temple Baptist Church, Oakland*

Rev. Andrew Loban, rector, St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church, Livermore*

Fr. Aidan McAlaneen, pastor of St. Columba Catholic Church

Rabbi Dev Nolly, senior rabbi, Kehilla Community Synagogue, Oakland*

Rabbi Judith Seid, Tri-Valley Cultural Jews*

Rev. Jeffrey Spencer, senior pastor, Niles Discovery Church, Fremont*

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Activism

Call to Protect Geoffrey’s Inner Circle from Threatened High-Rise Development

Geoffrey’s, located at 410 14th St., is part of the city’s Black Arts Movement and Business District which was formed in 2016 by reso-lution of the Oakland City Council to protect Black-owned businesses and enhance a downtown district that would encourage the historic African American legacy and cul-ture of Oakland.

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By Ken Epstein

Geoffrey’s Inner Circle, a downtown Oakland Cultural Center that has featured live jazz and served music lovers and the Black community for decades, is now under threat from a proposed real estate development that could undermine the stability and future of the facility.

Geoffrey’s, located at 410 14th St., is part of the city’s Black Arts Movement and Business District which was formed in 2016 by resolution of the Oakland City Council to protect Black-owned businesses and enhance a downtown district that would encourage the historic African American legacy and culture of Oakland.

Now, the Oakland Planning Commission is considering a high-rise building proposed by out-of-town developers next to Geoffrey’s, which would jeopardize both the survival of the venue and the Black business district as a whole.

In addition to running a business that has been a crucial institution in the local community and the regional arts scene, Geoffrey Pete, founder, has utilized his business to offer meals for thousands of unsheltered individuals and hosted countless community events.

The following petition is being circulated in defense of Geoffrey’s and the Black Arts district (To add your name to the petition, email info@geoffreyslive.com):

“The African-American community in Oakland has been seriously damaged by developers and public offcials who are willing and sometimes eager to see African Americans disappear from the city. Black people comprised 47% of the population in 1980; now they make up only 20% of said population. In response to this crisis the 14th Street Corridor from Oak to the 880 Frontage Road was established as the Black Arts Movement and Business District by the City Council on Jan. 7, 2016, in Resolution 85958.

Tidewater, an out-of-town developer, is proposing to build a high-rise building at 1431 Franklin, which will damage the Black business district and the businesses in the area including the iconic business of Geoffrey’s Inner Circle at 410 – 14th St.

We demand that the Planning Commission and the City Council reject this predatory building proposal and proceed with plans to fund and enhance the Black Business District.”

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Activism

16th Annual MLK Day of Service on the Richmond Greenway

The 16th annual MLK Day of Service in Richmond honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  was held Jan. 16 with a day of service to the community and activities for families on the Richmond Greenway.

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“…Everybody can be great because everybody can serve.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The 16th annual MLK Day of Service in Richmond honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  was held Jan. 16 with a day of service to the community and activities for families on the Richmond Greenway.

The event was hosted by Urban Tilth and the City of Richmond. Event partners were Groundwork Richmond, Rich City Rides, Moving Forward, Hope Worldwide, The Watershed Project, Contra Costa Resource Conservation District, Building Blocks for Kids, City of Richmond, Cal Cameron Institute, Friends of the Richmond Greenway; and Pogo Park.

The celebration made possible with the support of the Hellman Family Foundation, City of Richmond, and hundreds of individual donors.

The day’s schedule included volunteer projects along the Richmond Greenway and a Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial and community celebration at Unity Park.

Among the community service projects were opportunities to take part in projects to transform and beautify the Richmond Greenway Trail, like tending to the Greenway Gardens, trash pickup, and planting native plant and trees.

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Activism

Sheng Thao Sworn in as New Mayor of Oakland, Pledges New Direction for the City

Mayor Thao provided a few minutes on the program to introduce to the community Dr. Kimberly Mayfield, the newly appointed deputy mayor, who has served as vice president of external affairs and dean of the school of education at Holy Names University, a leader of the Black Women Organized for Political Action (BWOPA) and a member of the sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha, Inc.

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Mayor Sheng Thao, sworn in as the 51st Mayor of Oakland, is flanked by her son Ben Ventura and her father “Richard” Nou My Thao at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland, Jan. 9, 2023. Photo courtesy of Alain McLaughlin Photography.
Mayor Sheng Thao, sworn in as the 51st Mayor of Oakland, is flanked by her son Ben Ventura and her father “Richard” Nou My Thao at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland, Jan. 9, 2023. Photo courtesy of Alain McLaughlin Photography.

Mayor Thao appoints HNU’s Dr. Kimberly Mayfield as deputy mayor

By Ken Epstein

Sheng Thao, a daughter of Hmong refugees who overcame homelessness and domestic abuse to attend university and build a life for herself and her family in Oakland, received the official oath of office Monday afternoon as the new mayor of the City of Oakland.

Sworn in at the Paramount Theatre in downtown Oakland by California Attorney General Rob Bonta, she stood on stage surrounded by friends, family, and staff members. She was flanked by her son Ben Ventura, who performed a musical piece on the cello, and her father “Richard” Nou My Thao.

The mayor called on Oaklanders to join with her to create a more humane, inclusive, and just city. She spoke about her commitment as a progressive to significantly improve the quality of life for residents, making the city safer and cleaner, building 30,000 units of truly affordable housing, fostering jobs, promoting economic development, supporting small businesses and providing solutions to homelessness that recognize the dignity of the unsheltered.

“I know what we can do together, Oakland,” she said. “Our city’s’ best days are still to come. The Oakland that we all know is possible and within our reach.”

Newly appointed Deputy Mayor Kimberly Mayfield (left) with Mayor Sheng Thao. Photo courtesy of Alain McLaughlin Photography.

Newly appointed Deputy Mayor Kimberly Mayfield (left) with Mayor Sheng Thao. Photo courtesy of Alain McLaughlin Photography.

Mayor Thao provided a few minutes on the program to introduce to the community Dr. Kimberly Mayfield, the newly appointed deputy mayor, who has served as vice president of external affairs and dean of the school of education at Holy Names University, a leader of the Black Women Organized for Political Action (BWOPA) and a member of the sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha, Inc.

In her remarks, the mayor focused on the city’s long fight to become more inclusive and equitable.

“We believe everyone deserves a seat at the table, not just a few, not just the wealthy, not just the well-connected,” she said.

“Sometimes, we take our shared progressive values for granted, our advances toward justice and equality,” said Mayor Thao.

She reminded people that “a…century ago, our city was dominated by members of the Ku Klux Klan (where) Klan members burned crosses in our hills and marched through our streets. As recently as the1970s, freeways were made possible by tearing down thriving Black, Latino, and Asian communities,” she continued.

“We recognize what we have overcome together to remember what is worth fighting for every day…(and) to take stock of how far we still have to go.”

Promising a “comprehensive” approach to public safety to make all neighborhoods in the city safer, she said she would bolster anti-crime programs like Ceasefire and “we will fill (police) vacancies with home-grown police officers who know our community, who look like us.”

At the same time, she said, the city must increase opportunities for young people, reinvigorating the summer jobs program (for youth) and enhance the school-to-work pipeline so young people can gain experience and job skills.

She said she would beef up the many city departments that are currently operating on skeleton staffing, promising to fill the staffing vacancies that “plague our city.”

Mayor Thao said she herself is a renter, and that she “will fiercely protect Oakland renters. If you are a renter in Oakland, you’ve got a mayor who’s got your back.”

Speaking about the Oakland A’s proposed waterfront real estate development promoted by former Mayor Libby Schaaf, Mayor Thao said the city will continue negotiations to keep the team “rooted in Oakland.”

“Working closely with the A’s, I’m hopeful we can reach a good deal, (based) on our Oakland values,” she said.

The former mayor’s plan for building the proposed waterfront real estate development at the Port of Oakland was dealt a major setback this week when Oakland failed to secure more than $180 million in federal funds to help pay for infrastructure development for the project.

Speaking of the importance of the appointment of Mayfield as deputy mayor, the Mayor’s Office explained her role in the new administration:

“Mayor Thao was thrilled Kimberly Mayfield agreed to join her team because of her tremendous and longstanding leadership in Oakland. In recognition of her vast experience, it was decided that the best role for her would be as deputy mayor where she will be an instrumental part of the leadership of both the Office and Oakland.”

In her introduction at the Paramount Theatre, Mayfield said, “Today is not about political agendas…It’s about the power of the people…it’s a recognition of the rejection of the status quo. This new chapter begins with a mayor that understands how to build a culture that works for everyone. Thank you, Mayor Thao for the opportunity to serve.”

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