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Police Reform Measures: Possible Solutions for Vallejo

In an attempt to find the most promising solutions, the City Council has voted to conduct a citywide equity study that would help officials make meaningful decisions on which programs and services to fund amid the “defund the police” movement.

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Protestors with a sign that says abolish the police. Photo courtesy of Gabe Pierce via Unsplash

There is no magic solution to reforming a police department.

The city of Vallejo is learning that the hard way as it attempts to mend a police force that has killed 19 people since 2010 in the city of 120,000.

Moving forward, Vallejo will need to decide how to address not just the number of fatal interactions between the police and local residents, but also the broader issue of police-community relations and trust.

Three other Bay Area cities — Oakland, San Francisco and Richmond — have attempted reforming their police departments with approaches as varied as federal oversight to civilian commissions to community policing to bolstered social services.

At least some Vallejo leaders have taken note and seem particularly keen to apply the measures that build bridges rather than silos.

“The department needs an adequate command staff, which can help to change the culture,” said Vallejo Mayor Robert McConnell. “That culture change includes a respect for citizens, officers receiving the proper training, and learning how to apply the appropriate force when confronted.”

McConnell said he is confident the city is moving in the right direction when it comes to reforming the police force, “albeit the process is going slowly.”

Among the most promising reform measures, city leaders believe Vallejo might well benefit from a civilian-led police commission with an investigative agency that reports directly to the commission. Such oversight could bring real change to the department, especially if the Vallejo community has a voice in the process.

San Francisco and Oakland have powerful police commissions — and similarly powerful investigative agencies attached to those commissions. These commissions can impose officer discipline and even have the authority to fire their respective police chiefs.

Some activists, as well as many family members of those killed by Vallejo police, however, argue that a police commission doesn’t go far enough.

They argue that federal oversight is the only way to meaningfully reform Vallejo’s police force. That can be a long process. In Oakland, for example, the Police Department has been under federal oversight for more than 18 years with no end in sight.

Civil rights attorney James Chanin, who represented victims in “The Riders” case and helped secure the Negotiated Settlement Agreement that placed Oakland police under federal oversight, said reform efforts are moving in the right direction — although slowly.

“I would like to see (federal oversight) end with all the reforms met,” he said. “It was supposed to end within five years — with two additional years if needed. That would have been 2010 — we are a long way from 2010.”

Chanin said he hopes Oakland police will come into compliance by the end of 2022.

The civil rights lawyer said police reform is about political will.

“We tried with the city of Oakland. Settlements after settlements didn’t work,” said Chanin. “There was no political will to change so we went to the court instead.”

While some attorneys for the families of victims say they would like to see a federal monitor in Vallejo, that would require a court order or formal settlement, and in the absence of such an order it’s impossible to speculate what type of oversight a monitor might seek.

The city of Richmond and its efforts to connect police with residents may offer the most promising example for Vallejo. In Richmond, a neighborhood policing model adopted under former Police Chief Chris Magnus helped reduce crime and build a bridge between the Police Department and community.

Although it faces funding pressures, Richmond has used foot and bicycle patrols to put officers more in touch with community residents, and the results have been encouraging. Although homicide numbers, for example, are showing an uptick, they remain well below pre-beat policing levels.

Vallejo has made some small steps along this path. Through its Operation PEACE (Predictive Enforcement and Community Engagement) project, begun last year under Chief Shawny Williams, the city has sought to improve interactions between police and the community, using bike patrols and other measures. And last year, the city council agreed to hire an interim police auditor to review internal police investigations. City officials are also weighing an outside project called Advance Peace that works on a variety of levels to reduce gun violence.

These steps are all encouraging, but it seems clear that police-community relations remain characterized by community distrust of law enforcement and an us-versus-them attitude among officers. The Vallejo Police Officers Association did not respond to a request for comments on this series.

Perhaps the greatest reason for hope lies in the recognition that stronger measures are needed.

In an attempt to find the most promising solutions, the City Council has voted to conduct a citywide equity study that would help officials make meaningful decisions on which programs and services to fund amid the “defund the police” movement.

Vallejo City Councilwoman Pippin Dew pushed for the survey.

“We need to understand how these systemic biases exist. If we can understand it, we can change it,” said Dew, saying it doesn’t make sense to re-allocate city money, especially from the police budget, without having a plan on where to direct the funding.

Dew said she believes “defunding the police” should be more about placing money in “comprehensive, robust, early education centers” that are affordable and located in places that families can reach by walking.

“For me, it’s about coming at that approach to reduce crime,” Dew added. “I would love this to be a long-term approach to defunding the police. That’s where we start.”

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Bay Area

Dream Fund: Entrepreneurs Can Apply for $10,000 Grants Through $35M State Program

Although a number of reports suggest that the outlook has begun to be more positive as the U.S. economy continues to bounce back defying the odds, and many Black businessowners have also become more optimistic, access to credit and technical support remain a challenge for many who had to dip into their own finances to keep their lights on.

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Everett Sands, CEO Lendistry. Lendistry photo. 
Everett Sands, CEO Lendistry. Lendistry photo. 

By Tanu Henry, California Black Media

Since 2017, there has been a 9.8% increase of new small businesses — firms with less than 500 employees — in the United States. Over the past two years alone, over 10 million applications were submitted to start new small businesses across the country, according to the Small Business Administration.

That growth trend is true for California, too, where there are about 4.1 million small businesses, the most in the country. Those companies make up 99.8% of all business in California and employ about 7.2 million people.

But for Black-owned and other minority owned small businesses across the country, there was a steep decline in numbers, almost 41%, due to the pandemic, a Census Population Survey found in 2020. During that same time, nearly 44% of minority-owned small businesses were at risk of shutting down, a Small Business Majority report found.

Although a number of reports suggest that the outlook has begun to be more positive as the U.S. economy continues to bounce back defying the odds, and many Black businessowners have also become more optimistic, access to credit and technical support remain a challenge for many who had to dip into their own finances to keep their lights on.

Recognizing the outsized contribution small businesses make to the health of the California economy and the hit many of the smallest of small business have taken during the pandemic, the California Office of the Small Business Advocate (CalOSBA) has been making grants of up to $25,000 to small business in the state.

In its latest round of funding called the Dream Fund, which is now accepting applications on a rolling basis, CalOSBA has partnered with Lendistry, a Los Angeles-based, minority-led small business and commercial real estate lender to administer the $35 million grant portion of its program. The fund provides $10,000 to each small business that qualifies.

To become eligible, California-based small business owners will have to complete training at one of the centers run by the state’s Technical Assistance Expansion Program (TAEP) and receive a certificate.

“For the millions of Californians that have dreams of owning their own business, this grant coupled with one-on-one counseling and business expertise from hundreds of counselors at our eighty-seven Technical Assistance Centers, has the power to jumpstart their dreams,” says Tara Lynn Gray, director of CalOSBA.

Jay King, president and CEO of the Sacramento-based California Black Chamber of Commerce, says he applauds Gov. Gavin Newsom for understanding the historic systemic challenges minority businesses face and for “doing something about it.”

But giving Black businesses grants are not a “cure-all,” he says.

“It is like putting a Band-Aid on a bullet wound if we don’t do more to really fix the problems small businesses face,” King explains. “Ninety-six percent of Black businesses are mini- or micro- that means they make less than $100,000 or less than $35,000 a year, respectively,” King continued. “Only 4% of our businesses earn more than $100,000 annually. We have to put more resources and technical support around these businesses.”

King says informing Black business owners about opportunities like the Dream Fund and making sure they know how to apply for or access the funding is critical to making sure the people who need the help gets it.

“You have to get down into our communities,” he said. “You have to reach people through groups that are plugged into our communities to get the word out. We do not hear about these kinds of programs enough. We definitely don’t benefit from them enough.”

Everett K. Sands, the CEO of Lendistry, says he is excited to help California’s new businesses access the capital they need to “begin on their journeys.

“Over the past two years, almost 10 million new businesses have been created in the U.S.,” he says. “With record numbers of new small businesses entering the marketplace, many of which are owned by women and minorities, programs like California Dream Fund pave the way for a more robust and equitable economy as these new businesses make the leap from employing just their founders to employing their communities.”

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Activism

Biden Administration Invests $145 Million in Re-Entry Programs for Formerly Incarcerated

According to a 2021 Stanford University Study, reentry programs in California have contributed to a 37% decrease in the average re-arrest rate over the period of a year.

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By Aldon Thomas Stiles, California Black Media

After serving a 22-year sentence in a California prison, James Morgan, 51, found himself facing a world of opportunities that he did not imagine he would have as an ex-convict once sentenced to life for attempted murder.

Morgan, a Carson native, says he is grateful for a second chance at life, and he has taken full advantage of opportunities presented him through California state reentry and rehabilitation programs.

After completing mental health care for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Morgan was released from prison and granted parole in 2018.

“I did not expect what I found when I got out,” Morgan told California Black Media (CBM), explaining that he was fortunate to participate in a program for the formerly incarcerated in San Francisco.

“I was mandated by the courts to spend a year in transitional housing,” said Morgan. “Those guys walked us through everything. They made it really easy. It was all people I could relate to, and they knew how to talk to me because they used to be in the prison population —and they were from where we were from.”

Morgan says he also took lessons on anger management and time management.

Now, he is currently an apprentice in Local 300 Laborers Union, specializing in construction, after he participated in a pre-apprenticeship program through ARC (the Anti-Recidivism Coalition).

“Right now, I’m supporting my family,” Morgan said. “I’d say I’m doing pretty good because I hooked up with the right people.”

Supporters of criminal justice reform say Morgan’s success story in California is particularly encouraging.

Black men in the Golden State are imprisoned nearly 10 times the rate of their white counterparts, according to the Public Policy Institute of California. And just a little over a decade ago in 2011, the Supreme Court of the United States ordered California to reduce the number of inmates in its overcrowded prison system by 33,000. Of that population, nearly 30% were Black men even though they account for about 5% of the state’s population.

To help more formerly incarcerated people like Morgan get back on their feet after paying their debt to society, last month the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Labor announced that the federal government is investing $145 million over the course of the next fiscal year to support reentry programs across the country.

The Biden-Harris Administration also announced plans to expand federal job opportunities and loan programs, expand access to health care and housing, and develop and amplify educational opportunities for the formerly and currently incarcerated.

“It’s not enough to just send someone home, it’s not enough to only help them with a job. There’s got to be a holistic approach,” said Chiraag Bains, deputy assistant to the president and deputy director of the White House Domestic Policy Council on Racial Justice and Equity.

Bains told CBM that that reentry programs help establish an “incarceration-to-employment pipeline.”

The White House announced the programs late last month as President Joe Biden commuted the sentences of 75 people and granted pardons to another three, including Abraham Bolden, the first Black Secret Service agent on White House detail.

Bolden had been sentenced to 39 months in prison in 1964 for allegedly attempting to sell classified Secret Service documents. He has always maintained his innocence.

“Today, I granted pardons to three people and commuted the sentences of 75 people. America is a nation of laws, but we are also a nation of second chances, redemption, and rehabilitation,” Biden tweeted April 26.

According to Bains, about half of the people the President pardoned are Black or Brown.

“The president has spoken repeatedly about the fact that we have too many people serving time in prison for nonviolent drug offenses and too many of those people are Black and Brown,” said Bains. “This is a racial equity issue.”

Both Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have faced sharp criticisms in the past for supporting tough-on-crime policies that, as U.S. Senator and California Attorney General respectively, have had disproportionately targeted Blacks and other minorities.

According to a 2021 Stanford University Study, reentry programs in California have contributed to a 37% decrease in the average re-arrest rate over the period of a year.

Over the last decade, California has funded a number of initiatives supporting reentry and rehabilitation. In 2015, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation launched the Male Community Re-Entry Program (MCRP) that provides community-based rehabilitative services in Butte, Kern, Los Angeles and San Diego Counties. The Butte program services Tehama, Nevada, Colusa, Glenn, Sutter, Placer and Yuba counties.

A year later, Gov. Newsom’s office introduced the California Community Reinvestment Grant Program. The initiative funds community groups providing services like job placement, mental health treatment, housing and more to people, including the formerly incarcerated, who were impacted by the War on the Drugs.

Morgan spoke highly of programs that helped him reintegrate into society — both in prison and after he was released.

“In hindsight, I look back at it and I’m blown away by all of the ways that they’ve helped me,” Morgan said.

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Activism

UC Berkeley Students Protest Supreme Court Abortion Decision

Two pro-choice activists, Danielle Roseman and Alisa Steel currently believe the law will be overturned. However, they said, “our voices are our best asset to combat (this) and we will continue to protest.” Both seniors at University of California, Berkeley, they decided to organize a campus protest on Sproul Plaza, which took place May 3. 

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By Sarah Clemens

When it comes to reproductive health, the future looks both unprecedented and regressive.

A Supreme Court draft to overturn Roe v. Wade, the controversial ruling that declared the right to abortion, was leaked on May 2, 2022. In the draft, Justice Alito wrote that “Roe was egregiously wrong from the start.” The very act of leaking a supreme court draft is unprecedented. The last time it occurred was in 1973 with the original Roe v. Wade decision. In a press release the Supreme Court said the leak was authentic, but “it does not represent a decision by the Court or the final position of any member.” Final or not, thousands have already begun to protest.

Two pro-choice activists, Danielle Roseman and Alisa Steel currently believe the law will be overturned. However, they said, “our voices are our best asset to combat (this) and we will continue to protest.” Both seniors at University of California, Berkeley, they decided to organize a campus protest on Sproul Plaza, which took place May 3.

The Daily Cal newspaper estimated that “hundreds” attended. After contacting Roseman on social media, they both co-wrote answers to questions posed by this reporter.

“We knew the only way for our voices to be heard was to create a peaceful protest,” Roseman and Steel said. They weren’t alone.

NPR documented protesters across the country with similar stances on the issue from Washington to New York. Some states have existing laws in place that protect abortion rights. Others do not.

The original Roe v. Wade court case happened when a Texas woman by the name Jane Roe alleged that Texas’ abortion laws were unconstitutional. Almost 50 years later, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott supported a law that bans abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, with no rape or incest exceptions.

When asked by a reporter, “why force a rape or incest victim to carry a pregnancy to term?” Abbott responded, “It doesn’t require that at all, because, obviously, it provides at least six weeks for a person to be able to get an abortion.”

Despite overwhelming backlash, abortion becoming illegal appears preordained. Yet, throughout history around the world abortion has never stopped despite its illegality. In the 19th century, a doctor named Ann Lohman was called “the wickedest woman in New York” for her practice of giving women abortions.

When California state Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) made a statement on the new bill, she cited this history. “Unlike women before me, I grew up without having to face the choice of a back-alley abortion…If Roe v. Wade is overturned, the Supreme Court will not prevent abortions, instead they will unleash unsafe and often deadly abortions.”

For many years the battle over abortion has been heavily stigmatized. As a result, there is a strong defeatist attitude among many voicing concerns on social media. Roseman and Steel thought otherwise.

“With our voices, we can mobilize, protest, sign petitions, get the word out, and send a shockwave to the politicians who think they have control over our bodies. So get out and get loud!”

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