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OP-ED: Justin Fairfax Deserves a Fair Hearing: When African American men are accused of rape, a sordid history is evoked

HOUSTON FORWARD TIMES — Justin Fairfax, the lieutenant governor of Virginia, has asked the FBI to investigate allegations by two women that he sexually assaulted them.

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By Frederick H. Lowe

Justin Fairfax, the lieutenant governor of Virginia, has asked the FBI to investigate allegations by two women that he sexually assaulted them. The alleged assaults, which occurred years earlier, were never reported to police or to physicians but were reported to the women’s friends.

Dr. Vanessa Tyson and Meredith Watson, the two women, indicated they are willing to testify at a hearing to impeach Fairfax. Virginia delegate Patrick Hope recently said he soon would introduce articles of impeachment against Fairfax.

Tyson said that Fairfax forced her to perform oral sex on him after they kissed consensually while they were attending the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston. Meredith Watson says she was raped by Fairfax in 2000 while the two were students at Duke University.

Fairfax has denied the allegations of both women, but that hasn’t stopped almost everyone, including Senators Tim Kaine (D-Virginia), Mark Warner (D-Virginia), Kamala Harris (D-California) and Virginia’s Legislative Black Caucus from demanding that he resign.

The sexual assault allegations against him also have taken attention away from Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam who admitted wearing Black face at a Michael Jackson dance contest and Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring wearing Black face at parties. Both men said they will not resign from office and they may survive.

Appearing on CBS’s Face the Nation, Gayle King interviewed Northam who said it was 400 years ago when Black indentured servants were brought to the Commonwealth. That comment seemed to go right over King’s head because blacks brought to Virginia were slaves. Indentured servants paid for their passage and worked for their employer a set number of years until they paid off their debt and were free. King claims she corrected the governor, but I didn’t hear it.

Margaret Brennan, Face the Nation’s host, asked King about the allegations against Fairfax.

She said Tyson’s and Watson’s allegations were very credible. King is a Black woman, but no Black men or someone who could add a historical context to rape allegations against Black men appeared on the show.

U.S. history has plenty of tragic examples.

On June 15, 1920, a white mob in Duluth, Minnesota, lynched three Black circus workers —- Elias Clayton, Elmer Jackson, and Isaac McGhie —- after Irene Tusker, a 19-year-old White woman charged that the three men had raped her, although a physical examination by a physician established she had not been raped, according to the book “The Lynchings in Duluth.”

Recently, Rick DeSantis, Florida’s governor, pardoned four black men for the 1949 rape of a white woman that never occurred.

U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis (D., Illinois) and U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D., Illinois) said they will introduce legislation that would designate the site of the 1908 Springfield Race Riots a National Historic Monument after whites and immigrants burned down an entire black neighborhood after a White woman claimed a Black man raped her. The woman later admitted she made up the story.

Black women are not unbiased observers of the way society treats Black men. Some are sympathetic, while others know they have cachet with Whites, especially White men, because they are women and women who are expected to be especially deferential.

I have had this happen to me. I was a member of the Art Institute of Chicago. I was waiting in the gift area of the modern wing for my wife and son who were shopping nearby to join me.

A Black woman security guard, dressed in plainclothes, said to her White partner, ‘I am going to see what he’s up to.’ With an angry look, she pressed her face close to mine and said nothing. When my wife and son ran up, she told her partner, “Let’s go,” and they left.

Another abhorrent incident of this ilk took place while I was a fellow at Northwestern University. The fellows were waiting to visit Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart after twice clearing jail security. I was the only Black man among the fellows who were all younger White women except for one older Black woman and an older White man.

A Black woman deputy sheriff walked up to me and wanted to know why I was there. I explained to her that I was a fellow, which she didn’t believe. My answer angered her. She moved her watch hat with one hand in a threatening manner. Her other hand rested on the butt of her gun, leading me to fear that she was going to shoot me. I was waiting with the others to go inside the jail. I wasn’t breaking out. I wasn’t an inmate. I was an invited, registered guest.

At some point, I must have dissociated because I can’t remember what happened next. I was subsequently aware the deputy sheriff had left without explanation. None of the other fellows came to my defense to say I was with them. A few just stared at me. The Black woman fellow said something which I don’t remember.

I wonder who will come to Fairfax’s defense. People are already building gallows to lynch him over the Internet. He deserves a fair hearing.

This article originally appeared in the Houston Forward Times. 

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Bay Area

No Charges to Be Filed in Death of Supervisor Wilma Chan

Chan was walking her dog when she was hit by a vehicle at 8:05 a.m. on Nov. 3, 2021, at Grand Street and Shore Line Drive in Alameda. Chan was a resident of the city for 27 years. “My Office reviewed the completed (police) reports,” O’Malley said. “To file criminal charges, we would have to find that the driver was criminally negligent, such as running a stop sign.” O’Malley said, “We did not find such negligence.”

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The late Wilma Chan, Alameda County Supervisor for District 3, including the cities of Alameda, San Leandro, a portion of Oakland, including Chinatown, Jack London, and Fruitvale, among others. (Office of Wilma Chan via Bay City News)
The late Wilma Chan, Alameda County Supervisor for District 3, including the cities of Alameda, San Leandro, a portion of Oakland, including Chinatown, Jack London, and Fruitvale, among others. (Office of Wilma Chan via Bay City News)

By Keith Burbank | Bay City News

Criminal charges will not be filed against the driver of the vehicle that hit and killed Alameda County Supervisor Wilma Chan in November 2021, Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley said recently.

Chan was walking her dog when she was hit by a vehicle at 8:05 a.m. on Nov. 3, 2021, at Grand Street and Shore Line Drive in Alameda. Chan was a resident of the city for 27 years.

“My Office reviewed the completed (police) reports,” O’Malley said. “To file criminal charges, we would have to find that the driver was criminally negligent, such as running a stop sign.”

O’Malley said, “We did not find such negligence.”

Alameda officials declined to release details of the police investigation into the collision. O’Malley said officers made diagrams, took statements from witnesses, and analyzed the trajectory of the sun that morning.

“Supervisor Chan was a tireless advocate for seniors, children, and families, promoting programs that advance children’s health, and help lift people out of poverty, and so much more,” Alameda Mayor Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft said in a statement the day that Chan died. “Her compassion, strong sense of community, and devotion to the people she served will be profoundly missed.”

In recognition of Chan’s work and contributions to the city, Alameda renamed a street after her on Nov. 16, when family, friends, city officials and colleagues unveiled Wilma Chan Way, which stretches from Webster Street to Lincoln Avenue replacing Constitution Way.

Drivers from Oakland via the Webster Street tube will first encounter Alameda by way of Wilma Chan Way.

“Wilma Chan was a wonderful leader for Alameda County,” O’Malley said. “She was a champion, for example, of All In Alameda County, which addresses food insecurity and address issues of poverty.”

Chan was responsible for “several projects that were quite personal and impactful to vulnerable individuals and other members of our community,” O’Malley added. “‘All In’ is one example of the vision and humanity Supervisor Chan brought to the Board of Supervisors.”

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Bay Area

Sheriff’s Office Says Phone Scammers Threaten Arrest to Get Money

“The Sheriff’s Office would like to warn people about this scam which has multiple versions. Scammers have also had listeners make payment over the phone through reloadable prepaid cards that could be purchased at a local store.”

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By Tony Hicks | Bay City News Foundation

The Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office is warning people about a scam involving phone calls from someone claiming to be from the sheriff’s office, saying there’s a warrant for their arrest and they will be arrested unless they pay them money.

The sheriff’s office says on its Facebook page “The Sheriff’s Office does not have people pay fines or fees through reloadable prepaid cards. Nor are citizens ever contacted in this way.”

“The Sheriff’s Office would like to warn people about this scam which has multiple versions. Scammers have also had listeners make payment over the phone through reloadable prepaid cards that could be purchased at a local store.”

Authorities say many people have already been taken by the scam and anyone getting such a call “should refuse to provide any personal information to the caller or simply hang up.”

“Please contact your local law enforcement agency and notify them of the incident to see if a report could be taken.”

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Activism

Mentally Ill Prisoners in California 3 Times More Likely to Get Shuffled Around

CalMatters’ analysis of data from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation found that, from 2016 to 2021, California prisoners in “enhanced outpatient” mental health treatment were moved three times more often, on average, than other prisoners. The data shows that incarcerated people in the system’s enhanced mental health program — which provides the highest level of outpatient mental health care for prisoners — averaged five moves during the time period, compared to an average 1.5 transfers for people in the general prison population. 

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In 1995, a federal court ruled that the department was not providing adequate mental health care to prisoners. The court eventually approved the Corrections Department’s plan for providing mental health care and appointed a special master to monitor and report on the state’s compliance.  
In 1995, a federal court ruled that the department was not providing adequate mental health care to prisoners. The court eventually approved the Corrections Department’s plan for providing mental health care and appointed a special master to monitor and report on the state’s compliance.  

By Byrhonda Lyons, Jocelyn Wiener and Erica Yee | CalMatters

California state prisons transfer people with serious mental illness far more frequently than other prisoners — sometimes moving them dozens of times — a CalMatters analysis of newly acquired state data has found.

The findings underscore a CalMatters investigation from earlier this year which revealed the state’s practice of shuffling around mentally ill prisoners, which some advocates say can be disruptive and damaging to these vulnerable people.

The story focused on the case of Adam Collier, who had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder and anxiety disorder, among other mental illnesses.

Collier was serving a five-year sentence for exposing himself to women in public while high on meth. He was moved 39 times between 2016 and 2020 — bouncing among crisis units, state hospitals and seven different prisons — before he killed himself in Kern Valley State Prison in October 2020.

CalMatters’ analysis of data from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation found that, from 2016 to 2021, California prisoners in “enhanced outpatient” mental health treatment were moved three times more often, on average, than other prisoners.

The data shows that incarcerated people in the system’s enhanced mental health program — which provides the highest level of outpatient mental health care for prisoners — averaged five moves during the time period, compared to an average 1.5 transfers for people in the general prison population.

One person, who was in and out of the mental health program, moved 75 times during the six-year period. The data does not identify any individuals.

“That doesn’t surprise me at all,” said Keramet Reiter, a criminology professor at the University of California, Irvine. “The seriously mentally ill people…bounce around a bit.”

CalMatters had requested the state’s transfers data on March 31, 2022; the department responded on Aug. 1 and Sept. 16. For its June story, CalMatters collected its own data about prison transfers for about a year, which generally mirrors the state’s records during the same timeframe.

“Transfers for an inmate are disruptive,” said Christopher Lisieski, the attorney representing Collier’s mother in a federal lawsuit against several prison employees. “Disrupting someone’s routine who’s severely mentally ill is additional stress and strain and can worsen mental health symptoms.”

Advocates, prisoners, and family members contend that, in cases like Collier’s, a steady stream of transfers reflects a system that too often fails to adequately care for people in mental health crises. These incarcerated people might bounce between prisons and short-term crisis beds without ever stabilizing enough to get better, they say.

In California, mental health care in state prisons is designed so that incarcerated people transfer to appropriate levels of care as their needs change. Treatments range from outpatient therapy in the general prisoner population to long-term hospitalization in treatment facilities within the correctional system.

Prisoners needing the highest level of care could be sent to state hospitals, which are separate facilities that also house people who are not in the criminal justice system.

But the system doesn’t always work perfectly. In several investigations, the Inspector General has determined that people who need it sometimes aren’t referred to a higher level of care.

In other cases, experts say, multiple transfers can mean the system is working and people are getting the care they need.

Department spokesperson Dana Simas wrote in an emailed statement that the state transfers prisoners for a variety of reasons, including court hearings, medical treatment, mental health treatment, changes in security level, patient safety, staff conflicts, misconduct allegations or parole.

In California, prison mental health treatment policies are governed by a federal class-action lawsuit — known as Coleman — on behalf of prisoners with serious mental illness.

In 1995, a federal court ruled that the department was not providing adequate mental health care to prisoners. The court eventually approved the Corrections Department’s plan for providing mental health care and appointed a special master to monitor and report on the state’s compliance.

“The department works closely with the Coleman special master and others on these matters, and always strives for what is in the best interest of the patient’s individual needs,” Simas wrote in an email to CalMatters.

Special master Matthew A. Lopes Jr. did not respond to CalMatters’ request for comment.

In Collier’s case, he moved so frequently that his mother, Susan Ottele of McMinnville, Ore., started “every single, solitary day” checking online to see which prison was holding Collier and why.

When the pandemic hit, the prisons went on lockdown, and Collier sat inside Kern Valley State Prison for seven months. It was his longest stay at any prison since 2016.

“With all these transfers, I’m fucking dizzy,” Collier wrote in a letter to Ottele in March 2020. Months later, at age 43, Collier killed himself.

The Office of the Inspector General investigated Collier’s suicide and found that the department had “poorly handled” Collier’s case. The inspector general’s March 2021 report described an array of internal problems, including clinicians improperly delaying Collier’s referral to a higher level of care and failing to adequately document his history of self-harm.

Earlier this year, Ottele filed a wrongful death complaint in federal court, alleging that prison guards failed to monitor her son and acted with deliberate indifference.

In court documents, state attorneys deny these claims, saying the guards were not aware of Collier’s history of suicide attempts. The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation declined to comment on the lawsuit, citing pending litigation. Lisieski, Ottele’s attorney, said the case likely won’t be resolved for years.

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