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Police Killings Underscore Need for Reform

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People participate in a protest in response to the grand jury's decision in the Eric Garner case in Times Square in New York, Wednesday, Dec. 3, 2014. The grand jury cleared the white New York City police officer Wednesday in the videotaped chokehold death of Garner, an unarmed black man, who had been stopped on suspicion of selling loose, untaxed cigarettes, a lawyer for the victim's family said. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

People participate in a protest in response to the grand jury’s decision in the Eric Garner case in Times Square in New York, Wednesday, Dec. 3, 2014. The grand jury cleared the white New York City police officer Wednesday in the videotaped chokehold death of Garner, an unarmed black man, who had been stopped on suspicion of selling loose, untaxed cigarettes, a lawyer for the victim’s family said. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

 

By Freddie Allen
NNPA Senior Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Blacks and Latinos are incarcerated at disproportionately higher rates in part because police target them for minor crimes, according a report titled, “Black Lives Matter: Eliminating Racial Inequity in the Criminal Justice System” by the Sentencing Project, a national, nonprofit group that advocates for criminal justice issues.

Researchers said disparities are punitive and can turn deadly over minor violations.

For example, Eric Garner, 43, was stopped and accused of selling untaxed cigarettes, a misdemeanor, before Officer Daniel Pantaleo choked him to death on a sidewalk of a Staten Island neighborhood. Officer Darren Wilson stopped 19-year-old Ferguson resident Michael Brown for jaywalking, before a disputed confrontation led to Wilson fatally shooting Brown.

Targeting low-level lawbreakers epitomizes “broken windows” policies popularized during William Bratton’s first tenure as commissioner of the New York Police Department under then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Mayor Bill de Blasio reappointed Bratton to that position and he remains “committed to this style of order-maintenance policing,” even though only spurious correlations to its efficacy in crime prevention remain.

The report said that “flawed research” plagued an early study cited by proponents of the “broken windows” policies.

“More recent studies have found that high misdemeanor arrest volume, high summons volume, and other factors, have had only a modest association or no association at all with the city’s violent crime drop,” stated the report. “‘Stop and frisk’ activity has also been shown to have no impact on precincts’ robbery and burglary rates.”

Racial disparities exist at every step in the criminal justice system, the report noted. That helps explain why Blacks and Latinos account for about 30 percent of the United States population, but 56 percent of the incarcerated population.

In Ferguson, police stopped White drivers for moving violations 68 percent of the time, and the majority of Black drivers were stopped for license or equipment problems, the report said. Once they were stopped, Black drivers were searched at almost twice the rate as White drivers (12 percent vs. 7 percent), but White drivers were more likely to have contraband than Blacks (34 percent vs. 22 percent).

“Yet blacks were twice as likely as whites to be arrested during a traffic stop (10 percent versus 5 percent),” the report continued, partly because, “black drivers were more likely to have arrest warrants compared to their white counterparts. Black drivers were more likely to have these warrants in part because of unpaid fines related to their disproportionate exposure to traffic enforcement.”

Nationally, Blacks and Hispanics are three times as likely to be searched by police during traffic stops.

“Blacks were twice as likely as whites to be arrested during a traffic stop,” state the report. “These patterns hold even though police officers generally have a lower ‘contraband hit rate’ when they search Black versus White drivers.”

“Almost 1 in 3 people arrested for drug law violations is black, although drug use rates do not differ by race and ethnicity. An ACLU report found that blacks were 3.7 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites in 2010,” stated the report. “This disparity expands at later stages of the criminal justice system so that 57% of people in state prisons for drug offenses are people of color, even though whites comprise over two-thirds of drug users, and are likely a similar proportion of sellers.”

The report continued: “Once arrested, people of color are also likely to be charged more harshly than whites; once charged, they are more likely to be convicted; and once convicted, they are more likely to face stiff sentences – all after accounting for relevant legal differences such as crime severity and criminal history.”

According to the report, these trends are driven by race-neutral laws that still have a significant have racial impact, criminal justice professionals influenced by racial bias, an underfunded criminal justice system, and policies that impose strict “collateral consequences” that make it harder for ex-offenders to return their home after prison.

If current incarceration trends hold, one in three Black teenage boys can anticipate going to prison in his lifetime, compared to one in 17 White boys. One in 18 Black women face the prospects of incarceration, compared to 1 in 111 White women.

“Federal prosecutors, for example, are twice as likely to charge African Americans with offenses that carry mandatory minimum sentences than otherwise-similar Whites,” the report said. “State prosecutors are also more likely to charge Black rather than similar White defendants under habitual offender laws.”

The report said that defense attorneys might show signs of racial bias in how they prioritize their caseloads, and all-White juries spend less time deliberating in cases than racially diverse ones. All-White juries are also more likely to seek the death penalty in capital trials.

“Because the criminal justice system is an institution that primarily reacts to – rather than prevents – crime, it is ill-equipped to address many of the underlying causes of crime,” stated the report. “But mass incarceration’s hold on vast public resources and the obstacles erected for people with criminal records further erode the economic and social buffers that prevent crime.”

The report recommended addressing the source of racial bias in the criminal justice system, revising draconian drug laws through reforms like the Fair Sentencing Act, establishing alternatives to incarceration for low-income youth, and redirecting public spending to crime prevention and drug treatment.

“The Fair Sentencing Act (FSA) of 2010 reduced from 100:1 to 18:1 the weight disparity in the amount of powder cocaine versus crack cocaine that triggers federal mandatory minimum sentences,” stated the report. “California recently eliminated the crack-cocaine sentencing disparity for certain offenses, and Missouri reduced its disparity. Thirteen states still impose different sentences for crack and cocaine offenses.”

More than 90 percent of ex-offenders complete their sentences and return to their communities, where they are often shut out of jobs and those with felony drug convictions are blocked from receiving federal aid like food stamps and publicly subsidized housing, the report said.

During a recent appearance on C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal,” Marc Mauer, the executive director for The Sentencing Project, said that there are hundreds of laws on the books in every state that restrict the ability of people coming out of prison to make ends meet once they return home.

Mauer added that the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission issued guidance to employers asking them to take a more nuanced approach to hiring.

“If we want people to succeed, we have to reconsider how we approach all these issues and not just say, ‘one size fits all. You have a conviction, that is it for you,’” said Mauer. “That doesn’t get us very far.”

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Activism

IN MEMORIAM: Robert Farris Thompson, Renowned Professor of African American Studies

Prolific Professor Robert Farris Thompson truly embodied the term ‘Maestro de Maestros.’ He was an absolute giant in the field of Afro-Atlantic history and art, respected by his peers for his groundbreaking work and multiple major articles and publications, particularly the seminal “Flash of the Spirit” (1984) and “Faces of the Gods” (1993).

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Robert Farris Thompson. Yale University photo.
Robert Farris Thompson. Yale University photo.

TRIBUTE

By John Santos

We’ve lost a Rosetta Stone.

Prolific Professor Robert Farris Thompson passed in his sleep Monday morning due to complications from Alzheimer’s disease and having been weakened by a bout with COVID-19 at the beginning of the year. He would’ve completed his 89th year on December 30.

Born on Dec. 30, 1932, Thompson was a White Texan who spectacularly disproved the fallacy of White supremacy through his pioneering and tireless elevation and clarification of African art, philosophy and culture. He removed the blinders and changed the way that generations of international students see African art.

A U.S. Army veteran, he went to Yale on a football scholarship and earned a B.A. in 1955. He joined the faculty in 1964 and earned his Ph.D. in 1965. He remained on the faculty until 2015.

‘Master T,’ as his students and friends often referred to him, was the Col. John Trumbull professor of the History of Art and professor of African American Studies at Yale University.

Thompson was also an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from the Maryland Institute College of Art.

He curated game-changing national exhibitions such as “African Art in Motion,” “The Four Moments of the Sun: Kongo Art in Two Worlds,” and “Faces of the Gods: Art and Altars of Africa and the African Americas.” The latter had a run at U.C. Berkeley in 1995 when local practitioners of African spirituality and musicians — including myself – demonstrated the powerful knowledge of tradition.

Thompson truly embodied the term ‘Maestro de Maestros.’ He was an absolute giant in the field of Afro-Atlantic history and art, respected by his peers for his groundbreaking work and multiple major articles and publications, particularly the seminal “Flash of the Spirit” (1984) and “Faces of the Gods” (1993). If he did not coin, he certainly standardized the term ‘Black Atlantic.’ He was a brilliant presenter, writer and teacher. But unlike many if not most academicians, he was also loved, revered and respected by the musicians, artists and communities about whom he wrote.

Initiated in Africa to Erinle, the deity of deep, still water, Thompson was hip, quirky and totally immersed in African and African-based music, dance, language, art and history. His lifetime of research, immersion and visionary work formed a bridge between Black America and her African roots.

Countless trips to Africa, the Southern U.S., the Caribbean and Central and South America informed his passionate work. He wrote about sculpture, painting, architecture, dance, music, language, poetry, food, the trans-Atlantic slave trade, African history, stolen antiquities, African spirituality, African retention, Brazil, Haiti, Cuba, Black Argentina, New York, México, mambo, tango, jazz, spirit possession and so much more. He recorded African drumming. He befriended giants of African diaspora music such as Julito Collazo, Babatunde Olatunji and Mongo Santamaría.

I first saw his writing around 1970 on the back of the classic red vinyl 1961 Mongo Santamaria LP, Arriba! La Pachanga (Fantasy 3324). They are inarguably among the deepest liner notes ever written.

He told me that he used our 1984 recording, Bárbara Milagrosa, by the Orquesta Batachanga, to demonstrate danzón-mambo to his students. I nearly burst into tears when he invited me and Omar Sosa to address and perform for his students at Yale, his alma mater, where he was a rock star. It was an unforgettable occasion for me.

He wrote wonderful liner notes on our 2002 Grammy-nominated production SF Bay, by the Machete Ensemble. He went out of his way to support and encourage countless students and followers like me. I was highly honored to count him as a friend as well as mentor.

He will be missed.

John Santos is a seven-time Grammy-nominated percussionist and former director of Orquesta Batachanga and Machete Ensemble and current director of the John Santos Sextet.

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Bay Area

Council President Pro Tempore Sheng Thao Introduces Immediate Police Hiring Plan to Address OPD Vacancies, Crime Surge, 911 Response Time 

“Being a city leader means breaking through the discourse and finding solutions that are effective and holistic,” said Thao. “While important violence prevention programs like Ceasefire and Town Nights continue to focus on the important community-building that is necessary, it is important that the city improve its 911 response times and ensure nobody is waiting hours for help. Equally, it is important that OPD is supported and staffed at the levels that the Council has already authorized and funded.”

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Sheng Thao. Twitter photo.
Sheng Thao. Twitter photo.

By Council Press Office

Calling Oakland’s efforts to fill its 60 vacant police officers’ positions, “an unacceptable failure,” City Council President Pro Tempore Sheng Thao introduced on Wednesday a new hiring incentive program for the Oakland Police Department (OPD) that will focus on immediately filling officer vacancies.

The program will provide significant cash incentives for experienced police officers and Oakland residents to join OPD. This will improve OPD’s 911 response time, provide the ability to increase the numbers of visible patrol officers, and allow for the expansion of the Ceasefire program. (Ceasefire is a data-driven violence-reduction strategy coordinating law enforcement, social services, and the community, according to the City of Oakland web site.)

Thao’s legislation calls for partnership with an outside hiring agency to conduct a nationwide search for “strongly qualified and experienced lateral police officers,” who are officers that have already gone through police training and are currently serving their respective police departments.

“No one is coming to save us; we’re going to have to save ourselves. That means being aggressive, creative, and disruptive as we look to do things differently at City Hall, because the results are in and what we are doing isn’t working.

“I am introducing a plan to help the City Administration speed up recruitment as well as help save the city dollars and time when filling key vacancies,” explained Thao, “My plan will make Oakland more competitive in its work to hire seasoned, quality officers from across the nation.” This legislation is supported by a broad community coalition from Oakland.

This effort, in combination with Thao’s work in September to secure additional police training academies and provide the overtime OPD is using for walking beats in business corridors during the holidays, reaffirms her commitment to ensuring business corridors are safe, that small businesses can thrive in Oakland and that residents can be assured that crimes will be investigated and police more visible.

Additionally, Thao’s proposal will not take away any of the historical investments Thao and five other councilmembers approved for violence prevention programs.

“Being a city leader means breaking through the discourse and finding solutions that are effective and holistic,” said Thao. “While important violence prevention programs like Ceasefire and Town Nights continue to focus on the important community-building that is necessary, it is important that the city improve its 911 response times and ensure nobody is waiting hours for help. Equally, it is important that OPD is supported and staffed at the levels that the Council has already authorized and funded.”

Daniel Swafford, executive director of the Laurel Business Association and Montclair Business Improvement District said, “I want to thank Councilmember Sheng Thao for her work prioritizing small businesses, our neighborhood commercial districts, and the public safety and health of our communities. Councilmember Thao has brought real, tangible resources to small businesses and their neighborhoods and this legislation is another example of her ability to listen to concerns and provide solutions. I hope the rest of the City Council will vote for this resolution and that the City Administration will push implementation forward.”

The City Council passed a budget in June and the Administration, which reports to the mayor, is responsible to implement it. Currently, the city has hired and deployed fewer officers than the 737 approved by the City Council in June. Thao’s plan to rapidly fill the vacancies will help ensure the public is provided with the resources that have been approved and funded.

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Bay Area

San Francisco Declares Water Shortage Emergency in Response to Statewide Drought

The average San Franciscan uses 42 gallons of water per day at home—one of the lowest rates in California and less than half of the statewide average of about 90 gallons per person per day. In April, the SFPUC called upon its 1,600 irrigation customers and City departments to reduce water use and asked all customers to reduce water waste, which helped lead to an overall reduction of water use in San Francisco through November 2021.

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With the declaration of the emergency water shortage, the City is poised to launch a water conservation public awareness campaign that will include the SFPUC’s outreach channels and strategically targeted paid media advertising.
With the declaration of the emergency water shortage, the City is poised to launch a water conservation public awareness campaign that will include the SFPUC’s outreach channels and strategically targeted paid media advertising.

Voluntary action calls for 10% reduction in water usage system-wide

From S.F. Mayor’s Office

Mayor London N. Breed and the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) last week  declared a water shortage emergency and approved measures aimed at further conserving and reducing water usage across the SFPUC’s service territory in response to exceptionally dry weather conditions that have affected the entire state over the past two years.

As a result of the emergency measure, which the SFPUC unanimously approved, San Francisco has declared a 10% reduction in water usage across its regional system.

The 10% reduction will be compared to water use from July 2019 to June 2020 and will be applied to all of the SFPUC’s 2.7 million customers, which include customers in San Francisco, Alameda, Santa Clara, and San Mateo counties. The call for voluntary water reduction will go into effect immediately.

“With California still experiencing devastating drought and the uncertainty around this rainy season, we need to make tough decisions that will ensure that our water source continues to be reliable and dependable for the future,” said Breed.

“Year after year, San Franciscans step up to conserve our most precious resource, resulting in one of the lowest water usage rates in California, and during this critical time, I know that our City will once again meet the call to reduce water use,” she said. “I applaud the SFPUC Commission for declaring a water shortage emergency and urging our customers to be mindful of their water usage.

“We are in a drought with far-reaching consequences, and it has become clear we all need to do even more to address it,” SFPUC General Manager Dennis Herrera said. “San Franciscans have been doing their part and have some of the lowest water usage in the state. This emergency water shortage declaration will help all of our customers pull together and move in the same direction. We know we can rely on each other. I’m confident that everyone will do their part so we can all get through this.”

With the declaration of the emergency water shortage, the City is poised to launch a water conservation public awareness campaign that will include the SFPUC’s outreach channels and strategically targeted paid media advertising.

The messages will be conveyed in multiple languages and will include tips and resources on actions that customers can take to reduce their water usage to help achieve the 10% reduction system-wide, such as fixing leaky toilets, installing low-flow fixtures, reducing outdoor irrigation, and receiving water usage audits from SFPUC professionals.

The average San Franciscan uses 42 gallons of water per day at home—one of the lowest rates in California and less than half of the statewide average of about 90 gallons per person per day. In April, the SFPUC called upon its 1,600 irrigation customers and City departments to reduce water use and asked all customers to reduce water waste, which helped lead to an overall reduction of water use in San Francisco through November 2021.

However, with the state continuing to experience extremely dry weather overall, the SFPUC is expanding on those efforts by declaring a water shortage emergency, which will help the agency access water reserves and resources available only during emergencies.

The SFPUC has about 360,000 acre-feet of reserve water in its water bank. An acre-foot is enough water for about two California households annually on average.

However, the State Water Board’s curtailment orders, emergency regulations issued in August 2021 that restrict diversions from the Tuolumne River watershed, effectively prevent the SFPUC from accessing that water bank.

Due to the Water Board’s curtailment orders, the SFPUC and its retail and wholesale customers are less prepared to address drought conditions moving forward.

“We need everyone to take action to preserve and stretch our limited water supplies,” SFPUC Commission President Anson Moran said. “San Franciscans and our wholesale customers have been doing a good job when it comes to being efficient with their water use. We can all do better. We look forward to working with all of our customers to further reduce water use.”

Declaring a water shortage emergency carries with it the requirement that the SFPUC institute a temporary drought surcharge for retail water and wastewater customers of up to 5% on part of their bill.

The SFPUC Commission voted to introduce the surcharge on April 1, 2022. The effect on the average residential customer’s bill is estimated to be a little over $6 per month if they made no reductions to their water use. The temporary drought surcharge will automatically end when the SFPUC Commission rescinds the water shortage emergency declaration.

Earlier this year, Governor Gavin Newsom declared a Drought Emergency for 50 of the 58 counties in California and called on all Californians to voluntarily reduce water use by 15%. The state’s ongoing drought has increased the significance of water reuse, recycling, and conservation programs, measures SFPUC has long championed.

More information is available at www.sfpuc.org/savewater.

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