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Open Letter to the Mayor and City Council Regarding Racial Discrimination and Equity From Brotherhood of Elders Network`

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It is undeniable that the community’s sense of safety, wellbeing, and opportunity been historically marred by the actions of agents and agencies of Oakland’s City government. There is in fact, no ongoing scrutiny or corrective action given for the often clandestine discriminatory actions of the agencies responsible for zoning code enforcement, housing, planning, public works, fire inspection`, contracting street cleaning, or garbage/recycling pickup. More openly egregious activities include the foreclosure crisis which forced many to leave Oakland while others became unhoused; and the unacceptable police practices, both disproportionately affect black and brown residents. The fourth ever Oakland black elected official was tripped, thrown on the floor of the Zoning Department, and arrested for exercising his rights while-black. Unfortunately, his experience illustrates how city departments work together in failing the African American community: denial of service, proper assertion of your complaint, followed by arrest. While some have the ability to avail themselves of a defense lawyer, the majority of African Americans are powerless to the shakedown orchestrated by city hall.

Evidence of racial disparities have been asserted and verified at many levels, specifically, law enforcement from traffic stops to drug-related arrests to excessive use of force. Experts document systemic problems as well as the implicit biases that can have life-altering implications. Oakland’s rich history is infected from top to bottom with governmental discriminatory actions targeted at African Americans, LatinX, Native Americans, Asians, poor people, the differently-abled, and non-violent civil protesters. Enumerable incidents, known and unknown, take place every year, throughout the City, perpetrated by the Police Department and by other agencies of the City.

It is unforgivable that administrative and political leaders of Oakland, knowing the hugely detrimental impacts of inequity on the social and economic wellbeing of us all, collectively and individually have taken such paltry actions to correct the situation. That any elected official in Oakland could ask if Oakland has a race problem defies logic! Case in point, for more than five decades the racial/ethnic plurality of the populations that have been in persistent poverty tend to be African Americans, Native Americans, and Hispanic. However, by far, African Americans are disproportionately impacted and overrepresented. Moreover, the historical roots of residential segregation; key determinants of health illuminated by inequitable health outcomes; and the extreme unemployment in high-density African American neighborhoods and low-income communities of color continue to make Oakland’s proposed vision of equity a mirage.

In November of 2016, over 83% Oakland Voters approved of a newly designed Police Commission, giving it the authority to “…oversee the Police Department’s policies and procedures, and a Community Police Review Agency to investigate complaints of police misconduct and recommend discipline.”, however, the Commission is crippled, underfunded and unduly influenced by the Mayor and the Council. The Department of Race and Equity has heroically begun the process of addressing inequity with limited funds and severely limited staff; we demand that the City fully fund and the resource the Department of Equity, allowing them to support Oakland’s Departments and Agencies in the implementation of appropriate changes to policies and practices. Despite a fifteen-year court order, court oversight of OPD and the expenditure of millions of dollars, we see little change in the Police Department. The Police Departments’ recent assistance of ICE raids with no disciplinary actions taken is another example of city leadership turning a blind eye to the expressed will of the people.

The undersigned are ashamed of the City administrative and political leadership that seems to be aware of the tragic consequences of this inequitable treatment yet are unwilling or unable to take sufficient action. For the sake of our families and our community, present and future, we call on you to discard petty political bickering and empower city staff to perform their civic duty.

  • Fully empower and make independent the Police Commission to:
    • Increase their disciplinary authority
    • Expedite the investigation and the resolution of cases
    • Reduce or eliminate the number of appointments by the Mayor
    • Allow community members to choose the Executive Director
  • Fully fund and staff the Department of Race and Equity so that effectively work towards correcting the institutional racism and inequities perpetrated by City agencies.
  • Fully fund and staff the Department of Violence Prevention so that our City can be unified across race and class to accomplish grassroots-based problem-solving.

If you like to support this campaign and get further engaged, email support@brotherhoodofelders.net and we will follow-up with you.


The undersigned will not wait any longer.
     

Commentary

City Government: Please Do No (More) Harm

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

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First in a Series on Jobs in Oakland

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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Let’s Talk Black Education; Governor Newsom Should Close the Vaccination Loophole for School Employees

It leaves the rest of us — including the students — without a teacher, cafeteria worker, or janitorial staff. We have to throw on five or six hats in order to ensure that our students are educated.

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Let's Talk Black Education with Margaret Fortune

The honeymoon is over in communities where the Delta variant has taken hold.

Since back-to-school, I’ve spent weeks filling in for principals, supervising children, checking children’s temperatures and providing them masks, directing traffic in the parking lot, picking up garbage, wiping down cafeteria tables — all of which are required to run safe schools in these times.

I’ve talked to other heads of schools that can say the same thing or something similar since the start of this school year. The same culprit continues to affect us all — COVID-19. However, normally we have a village to manage these tasks. Now, we don’t.

Staffing shortages are severe and there are no substitutes to be had.

Further aggravating the situation, are public health rules that require paid school staff who test negative for COVID-19 but remain unvaccinated to stay home for 10 days at a time when they are exposed to someone who tests positive.

It leaves the rest of us — including the students — without a teacher, cafeteria worker, or janitorial staff. We have to throw on five or six hats in order to ensure that our students are educated.

Necessary? Yes. Sustainable? No.

Gov. Gavin Newsom took a good first step when he required school employees to be vaccinated, but he left a gaping loophole. He allowed school staff to ‘test out’ of being vaccinated by committing to take a COVID test twice a week.  Then he put the burden on schools to become COVID testing centers overnight for the employees who refuse to get vaccinated.

The result is that these staff who refuse vaccination have to be benched for two weeks every time they get exposed to someone who tests positive for COVID-19. Imagine, if you will, being a part of a 40-person team and every week there are 10 people who are forced to quarantine for two weeks, leaving 30 team members to do the work of 40 during that first week.

That’s one person doing their job and the additional work of three coworkers. These types of staffing outages are debilitating schools across the state. There are news reports of schools having to shut down classrooms for lack of staff.

Some major school systems with the political clout have taken matters into their own hands. Los Angeles Unified, for example, has closed the loophole and is requiring all school employees to be vaccinated.  The state of California should do the same.

California has over 6 million students who can’t afford for us to agree to anything less than 100% vaccination for school employees.

Yes, the policy could force out educators who refuse to get vaccinated but, they won’t be working anyway if they get exposed to a positive case.  Essentially, the unvaccinated have become hard to employ in a school setting.  They can go out at any time and take down our schools with them.

We can’t risk that.

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Commentary

Pass the Freedom to Vote Act: Time Running Out to Protect Right to Vote in 2022 and Beyond

Ideally, voting rights should be a nonpartisan issue. Congress repeatedly passed extensions of the Voting Rights Act that were signed by Republican presidents. But right-wing politicians and judges have spent years trying to undermine the Voting Rights Act in the name of “states’ rights” or “state sovereignty.”

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US Bill of Rights and Flag with spot lighting

Republican-controlled state legislatures have imposed new voting restrictions. They are getting ready to create more safe congressional seats for Republicans through abusive partisan redistricting. They are undermining faith in elections with false claims about election fraud and demands for fake “audits.”

The good news is that there is new momentum in Congress and a new bill to protect our democracy. We need to get it passed.

The new Freedom to Vote Act would protect the right to vote, end unfair partisan gerrymandering, and shine a light on the flood of dark money that allows billionaires to buy our elections in secret. It includes key sections of the earlier For the People Act, which passed the U.S. House of Representatives but was blocked in the Senate by Republican filibusters.

The Freedom to Vote act also addresses one of the worst things about some of the new voter suppression laws: provisions that give state officials the power to override voters and overturn election results.

There are other good things in the bill. It would make Election Day a federal holiday. Every state would have automatic voter registration, early voting and drop box accessibility. These would be major advances in making voting more accessible to everyone.

Voting rights advocates are rallying support for the Freedom to Vote Act. One of the sponsors, Democratic Sen. Joe Machin of West Virginia, worked hard to come up with a bill that he could support. He still hopes to get some Republican senators to join him.

That is an uphill battle. Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has signaled that no Republican senators will support this compromise. And he will use the Senate’s filibuster rules to prevent the Senate from passing election protections that are supported by huge majorities of the American people—something he has already done with the For the People Act.

Ideally, voting rights should be a nonpartisan issue. Congress repeatedly passed extensions of the Voting Rights Act that were signed by Republican presidents. But right-wing politicians and judges have spent years trying to undermine the Voting Rights Act in the name of “states’ rights” or “state sovereignty.”

With help from right-wing justices on the Supreme Court, states have imposed all kinds of new voting restrictions in recent years.

The number of new restrictive voting laws jumped massively after former President Donald Trump was defeated in last year’s presidential election. Grassroots organizing helped drive strong turnout among Black voters in key states, and Republicans have decided to respond by making it harder for people to register and vote.

That makes it clear that the new voter suppression rules have nothing to do with “election integrity” and everything to do with maintaining power at all costs.

The Constitution very clearly gives the federal government the right to step in when states undermine democracy with restrictive and discriminatory voting rules. That’s what Congress did more than 50 years ago when it passed the Voting Rights Act.

President Joe Biden and Democratic leaders in the U.S. Senate must do whatever it takes to pass the Freedom to Vote Act. With democracy and voting rights at stake, we cannot let Jim Crow-era filibuster rules in the U.S. Senate have the final word.

Ben Jealous serves as president of People For the American Way.

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