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Opinion: Seize The Time

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In 2016, Oakland overwhelmingly voted for a police commission they believed would create an “independent” oversight body of the Oakland Police Department (OPD). After years of local organizations led by those most impacted by police violence sounding the alarm about the violence and corruption of OPD, Oakland was ready for change.

As Measure LL was being shaped, numerous community organizations were explicit about demands required for the commission to earn its title of “independent”; most crucial was that the commission be independent of the Mayor and City Administration. Those demands were ignored. What Oakland received was a measure significantly watered down and highly ineffective.

This September, City Council will vote on a legislative rewrite, which can strengthen the Commission by removing forced concessions made the first time. We have a chance with the new progressive City Council, and with the support of united community groups on the front lines of combating police violence, to make this an independent community controlled commission. In March, you will have an opportunity to vote on a rewritten measure which will give effective oversight of OPD — that is IF we listen to the voices of the most impacted community members and who are the experts on best practices regarding police accountability and independent oversight.

Power Never Concedes Without Demand

When Measure LL was being written and finalized, there were many public and private conversations about compromises that disregarded the demands from community groups working on the ground and from survivors of police violence. Impacted communities were told that something was better than nothing and to trust those behind closed doors. Under normal circumstances, they may have been right that the compromise of giving the Mayor and City Hall the controlling interest may have been the best that we could do. But this process was not happening under normal circumstances.

OPD was embroiled in a rape crisis involving a minor, the mayor seemed inept to fix it, activists were in the streets, national eyes were on Oakland and the community was incensed. This was precisely the moment to push for the most progressive, radical (rational) version of accountability through an independent police commission that our community needed.

When discussed at the City Council meeting in July 2016, over 50 people representing dozens of organizations spoke out against the deeply NON INDEPENDENT version being voted on.Yet, despite great efforts from community (and at least two City Council members), a measure went to voters offering a commission run by the same City Hall that has run a police department stuck in federal receivership for 16 years.
APTP has engaged in significant research about what a competent and truly independent police commission should look like.

Here are our primary demands:

– All seats appointed by the community (no mayoral appointments.)
– Remove all oversight of this commission and CPRA by the city administrator.
– Include broad based community input ad expertise when creating policies and procedures for OPD.
– Increase funding for CPRA and the commission to no less than 5 percent of OPD’s budget.

*For a full list of demands, visit www.antipoliceterrorproject.org

The lives of Oaklanders depend on a police commission that can hold OPD accountable, force accountability and usher in transformation.

Your voices are critical. Community Meetings are taking place. City Council Discussions are happening. Get involved. Contact your councilmembers. Tell them you want what you thought you voted for in the first place: A truly independent Police Commission with the teeth to force radical (rational) reform.

Cat Brooks has over 20 years of community organizing experience. She is the Executive Director of The Justice Teams Network, Co-founder of the Anti Police-Terror Project, Co-host of UpFront on KPFA, an actress and playwright.

Maureen Benson is a former police commissioner, and has served in Oakland for 20 years as an educator, activist, organizer and strategist.

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TownConnect Initiative Wish Program Downpayment Assistance

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Oakland Program Distributes $500 to Families of Color

The assistance, which targets low-income families of color in the 426,000-population city, will last 18 months. Mayor Schaaf detailed that the money comes with “no-strings attached,” and recipients can use it as they please. “We have designed this demonstration project to add to the body of evidence and to begin this relentless campaign to adopt a guaranteed income federally,” Mayor Schaaf told the local ABC News station.

In the middle of a worldwide awakening to the centuries-old racism and oppression suffered by Black people, some African Americans finally see tangible assistance – even if the help isn’t characterized as reparations.
Oakland, Calif., Mayor Libby Schaaf announced that the city would begin a guaranteed income project that would provide $500 per month to Black and Indigenous families.
The assistance, which targets low-income families of color in the 426,000-population city, will last 18 months.
Mayor Schaaf detailed that the money comes with “no-strings attached,” and recipients can use it as they please.
“We have designed this demonstration project to add to the body of evidence and to begin this relentless campaign to adopt a guaranteed income federally,” Mayor Schaaf told the local ABC News station.
The station reported that, for the project, the Oakland Resilient Families program has so far raised $6.75 million from private donors, including Blue Meridian Partners, a national philanthropy group.
The programs require residents have at least one child under 18 and income at or below 50 percent of the area median income – about $59,000 per year for a family of three.
Half the spots are reserved for people who earn below 138 percent of the federal poverty level or about $30,000 per year for a family of three, ABC reported. Participants are randomly selected from a pool of applicants who meet the eligibility requirements.
The report noted that Oakland’s project is significant because it is one of the most outstanding efforts in the U.S. so far, targeting up to 600 families. And it is the first program to limit participation strictly to Black, Indigenous, and people of color communities.
Oakland, where 24 percent of the residents are Black, is among a growing list of municipalities providing financial payments to people of color – or reparations.
Evanston, Illinois, a city where 18 percent of its more than 74,500 residents are Black, approved the Local Reparations Restorative Housing Program, which provides up to $25,000 for housing down payments or home repairs to African Americans.
The bill, authored by California Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, establishes a nine-person task force that will study the impact of the slave trade on Black people.
It does not commit to any specific payment, but the task force will make recommendations to legislators about what kind of compensation should be provided, who should receive it, and what form it would take.
“After watching [the presidential] debate, this signing can’t come too soon,” Newsom declared during a videoconference with lawmakers and other stakeholders, including the rapper Ice Cube, who championed the bill.
“As a nation, we can only truly thrive when every one of us has the opportunity to thrive. Our painful history of slavery has evolved into structural racism and bias built into and permeating throughout our democratic and economic institutions,” the governor stated.
“Hundreds of years of Black blood spilled that fills the cup we drink from today,” said Councilman Keith Young, one of two African American members of the City Council that voted 7-0 in favor of reparations.
“It is simply not enough to remove statutes. Black people in this country are dealing with systemic issues,” Young declared.
Asheville’s resolution doesn’t include monetary payments to African Americans but promises investments in areas where Black people face disparities.
Earlier this year, Congress debated H.R. 40, a bill that doesn’t place a specific monetary value on reparations but focuses on investigating and presenting the facts and truth about the unprecedented centuries of brutal enslavement of African people, racial healing, and transformation.
The commission’s mission includes identifying the role of federal and state governments in supporting the institution of slavery, forms of discrimination in public and private sectors against freed slaves and their descendants, and lingering adverse effects of slavery on living African Americans and society.
Congresswoman Jackson Lee, who sits on numerous House committees, including the Judiciary, Budget, and Homeland Security, has made the reparations legislation her top priority during the 117th Congress.
“I think if people begin to associate this legislation with what happened to the descendants of enslaved Africans as a human rights violation, the sordid past that violated the human rights of all of us who are descendants of enslaved Africans, I think that we can find common ground to pass this legislation,” Congresswoman Jackson Lee pronounced.
“Can anyone imagine that we’ve never gotten a simple, effective, deeply-embedded, and well-respected apology?”
The project in Oakland targets groups with the city’s most significant wealth disparities.
According to CNN and per the Oakland Equality Index, the median income for White households in Oakland to be nearly three times that of Black homes.
“The poverty we all witness today is not a personal failure. It is a systems failure,” Schaaf remarked. “Guaranteed income is one of the most promising tools for systems change, racial equity, and economic mobility we’ve seen in decades.”
Two years ago, 100 residents in Stockton, California, began receiving unconditional $500 payments, CNN reported. Other initiatives in Newark, New Jersey, and Atlanta, Georgia, were launched as recently as 2020.
Former Stockton Mayor, Michael Tubbs, is the founder of Mayors for a Guaranteed Income, a network of advocating mayors founded in 2020.
Oakland Mayor Schaaf is also a founding member of the network.
“One of my hopes in testing out a guaranteed income is that other cities would follow suit, and I’m thrilled that Oakland is among the first,” Tubbs told CNN.
“By focusing on BIPOC residents, the Oakland Resilient Families program will provide critical financial support to those hardest hit by systemic inequities, including the pandemic’s disproportionate toll on communities of color.”

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Activism

Sen. Steven Bradford Brings Strength and Reason to Police Reform Fight

SB 2 would strengthen the Tom Bane Civil Rights Act. Enacted in 1987, that legislation prevents law enforcement abuses and other civil rights violations.

California State Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Gardena), chair of the California Legislative Black Caucus (CLBC), admits that he will meet challenges along the way as he fights for police reform in California. 

     Last week, at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing he defended a bill he introduced in the Legislature that, if passed, would decertify cops for inappropriate behavior. During that appearance, Bradford made a persuasive case for police reform that was, at turns, forceful and thoughtful, bringing a cool head but passionate voice to a topic that has created a bitter divide in the California electorate, pitting advocates of police reform violently against people who support law enforcement. 

      “This is a tough issue but it’s a righteous issue,” Bradford told his colleagues. 

      “And we want to be intentional about what we are doing here in California when it comes to police reform,” he continued during his passionate closing argument for police reform on April 27. “That’s what this bill does. It’s intentional in what we are trying to achieve. This is a fair measure and far better than any that exist today.”

     Co-authored by Senate President Pro Tem Toni G. Atkins (D-San Diego), Senate Bill (SB) 2 passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee with a 7-2 vote that same day. Also known as the Kenneth Ross Jr. Police Decertification Act of 2021, the legislation aims to increase accountability for law enforcement officers that commit serious misconduct and illegally violate a person’s civil rights.

     SB 2 will create a statewide process to revoke the certification of a peace officer following the conviction of serious crimes or termination from employment due to misconduct.

      Bradford praised the judiciary committee’s majority vote, describing it as progress that would put California on the “right side of history.”

     Atkins agrees. 

     “The passage of SB 2 (April 27) is another step toward the goal of achieving much-needed accountability in policing, and I thank Senator Bradford for his steadfast commitment to achieving critical and necessary reforms,” said Atkins. “As with anything this big, there is a lot of work ahead, and I remain committed to working with my colleagues to get this bill in the position to cross the finish line.”

     The California Peace Officer Association (CPOA) believes that Bradford’s bill would turn the California Committee on Police Officer Standards and Training (POST) into an investigative agency. A sticking point for the group is that the people who would be given the authority to probe police misconduct would primarily be non-peace officers. 

     “We, of course, know that not all reform is a good reform, and CPOA among others is open to ‘reimagining public safety in California,” Shaun Rundle, CPOA’s deputy director said in a written statement about several police reform and public safety bills scheduled for hearings. “What we didn’t imagine, however, was the continued attacks against a noble profession who have proven to improve and drive down crime in this state year after year.”

     With the passage of SB 2 out of committee, the legislation will move on to the Senate Appropriations Committee for consideration. If it advances out of that committee, SB 2 could head to a Senate floor vote. 

    During the Judiciary Committee hearing, which lasted for nearly three hours, a few senators expressed their support but asked Bradford to modify language pertaining to the Bane Act. 

     SB 2 would strengthen the Tom Bane Civil Rights Act. Enacted in 1987, that legislation prevents law enforcement abuses and other civil rights violations. Authored by California State Assemblymember Tom Bane, the legislation was created to allow victims to seek compensatory and punitive damages, attorney’s fees, and civil penalties.

    Supporters of police reform in California say the Bane Act has been undercut by bad court decisions over the years. They argue that it was once an effective law intended to protect the civil rights of people in the state but has since been weakened as an effective check against police excessive use of force. 

     The California State Sheriffs’ Association views SB 2 as problematic, in terms of hiring, recruiting, and maintaining employees. 

    “We are concerned that the language removing employee immunity from state civil liability will result in individual peace officers hesitating or failing to act out of fear that actions they believe to be lawful may result in litigation and damages. In so doing, SB 2 will very likely jeopardize public safety and diminish our ability to recruit, hire, and retain qualified individuals,” the California State Sheriffs’ Association said in a written statement.

 

    But Bradford says his bill essentially addresses rogue policing and hinders the ability of fired officers to find employment at other agencies even when they have a record of misconduct that got them terminated. 

    Among states that do not have a process to decertify cops for criminal behavior are Hawaii, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and California. 

    “We lead in technology, we lead in the environment, we lead in all those things that are important except for criminal justice reform,” Bradford said, referring to California’s reputation as a political trailblazer on several fronts. 

     People of color live in the communities where the majority of police misconduct incidents take place, Bradford said, adding that SB 2 will save Black and Brown lives. 

     “How many more people, regardless of color need to lose their lives because of the callous acts of law enforcement?” Bradford asked his colleagues. “There are two systems of justice in this country. But you’ll never know, and really understand. Its far different than anything any of you guys have encountered or will encounter.”

 

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