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Public Safety Committee Recommends Oakland Ban on Facial Recognition Software

OAKLAND POST — The Oakland City Council’s Public Safety Committee has recommended approval of Council President Rebeca Kaplan’s proposal to ban facial recognition technology, which a researcher with Microsoft has described as “toxic,” calling for it to “be banned for almost all practical purposes.”

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By The Oakland Post

The Oakland City Council’s Public Safety Committee has recommended approval of Council President Rebeca Kaplan’s proposal to ban facial recognition technology, which a researcher with Microsoft has described as “toxic,” calling for it to “be banned for almost all practical purposes.”

On June 25, on the same day as Council President Kaplan introduced the ban at Public Safety, the United Nations called for a moratorium on surveillance technology to end abuses.

Said David Kaye, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, “Surveillance tools can interfere with human rights, from the right to privacy and freedom of expression to rights of association and assembly.”

Facial recognition systems rely on biased datasets with high levels of inaccuracy and lack standards around its use which has already lead to misidentification and manipulation of data, said Kaplan. The invasive nature of this technology has also resulted in government abuses including its use to persecute Muslims in China and police accountability activists in Baltimore.

“I welcome emerging technologies that improve our lives and facilitate city governance, but when multiple studies show a technology is flawed, biased, and is having unprecedented, chilling effects to our freedom of speech and religion, we have to take stand,” said Kaplan.  “It is important to build trust and good relationships between community and police and to remedy racial bias, however this flawed technology could make those problems worse. The right to privacy and the right to equal protection are fundamental and we cannot surrender them.”

Said Brian Hofer, chair for the Oakland Privacy Advisory Commission, “President Kaplan and the Oakland Public Safety Committee again unanimously recognized and supported its citizen privacy commissioners and constituent concerns regarding invasive technology. Face surveillance is unlike any other technology seen in our lifetime. It is incompatible with a healthy democracy, and like San Francisco, we hope the full Oakland council draws a line in the sand that this level of intrusiveness is creepy and inappropriate for Oakland.”

Data shows that this technology disproportionately misidentifies darker skinned women. In a 2018 report by the MIT Media Lab, the study concluded that face recognition systems worked best on white males and failed most often with the combination of female and dark-skin individuals with error rates of up to 34.7 percent In another test by the ACLU, Amazon’s recognition face surveillance software misidentified 28 members of Congress as criminals.

The misuse and lack of guidelines around the use of this technology has also landed some police departments in hot water. In May 2019, Georgetown Law’s Center on Privacy and Technology (CPT) issued a report, detailing how some law enforcement agencies fed facial recognition software flawed data and warned that there are “no rules when it comes to what images police can submit to face recognition algorithms to generate investigative leads.”

“Facial recognition technology poses serious concerns, not only due to increased false positives correlating with the darkness of one’s skin, but also due to the chilling of free speech,” said Sameena Usman, Government Relations Coordinator for the SF Bay Area office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).

Said Nathan “Nash” Sheard, Electronic Frontier Foundation, “It is encouraging to see Oakland lawmakers anticipating the surveillance problems on the horizon and taking this proactive step toward banning the use of this particularly pernicious form of surveillance. The very real impact this would have on Oakland residents safety, and ability to exercise our most fundamental freedoms greatly overshadows any potential benefits.”

Henry Gage III, Privacy commissioner, said, “Facial recognition technology is oppressive, coercive, and easily abused. We don’t need it to keep Oakland safe. Thanks to Council President Kaplan, Oakland is drawing a line in the sand, and standing up for Oaklanders’ privacy rights.”

On May 2nd at the Privacy Advisory Commission, Chairperson Brian Hofer introduced the amendment that categorically prohibits the use of facial recognition technology. The amendment passed unanimously.

This article originally appeared in the Oakland Post

African American News & Issues

Jobs, Mental Health, Gun Violence: Cal Leaders Discuss Helping Black Men and Boys

Services include criminal record expungement for some marijuana-related crimes; job training and placement help; mental health treatment; addiction services; housing placement and more.

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Young Black Boy Reading a Book, Stock Photo courtesy of California Black Media

The California Assembly’s Select Committee on the Status of Boys and Men of Color held a meeting last month that brought legislators face-to-face with community organizers to discuss investing in African American and other youth of color in a “post-pandemic California.”

Introducing the various panelists, committee chair Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles), who is a member of the California Legislative Black Caucus, spoke about the bipartisan nature of the committee’s goals.

He said people from different backgrounds and political perspectives reach agreement when talking about the plight of youth of color because their conversations are based on hard numbers.

In California, per capita, Black men and boys are incarcerated more than any other group; are unhoused more than any other group; are affected by gun violence more than any other group; and in public schools, Black children’s standardized test scores fall only above children with disabilities.

“One of the things that brings both sides of the aisle together is data. What we would like to see is either internal audits or accountability measures to show that your numbers are not only successful but you’re keeping data over a period of time showing your success rate,” Jones-Sawyer said.

Committee vice-chair Assemblymember Tom Lackey (R-Palmdale), a Republican, agreed with this assertion.

“I am looking forward to the instruction that we’re going to get today,” Lackey said. “This is a part of our population that deserves the attention and a much stronger effort than has been displayed in the past.”

The first topic discussed during this meeting was gun violence, as panelists towed the line between cracking down on gun violence and preventing the over-policing of communities of color.

“How can we do this without returning to a punitive approach that grows the prisons, the jails and the criminalization of our community without achieving the public safety we so desire,” asked the Rev. Michael McBride who is known in the Bay Area as “Pastor Mike.” McBride is a social justice advocate and the national director for Urban Strategies/LIVE FREE Campaign with the Faith in Action Network.

The meeting was an opportunity for participants representing community-based organizations to share ideas with legislators with the hope of influencing their decision-making.

As of 2019, California had the seventh-lowest firearm mortality rate in the country. But with the state’s large population of almost 40 million people – the largest in the country — that still equated to 2,945 deaths that year.

“As everyone knows, there are probably too many guns in too many people’s hands who should never probably ever have guns,” Jones-Sawyer said.

Jones-Sawyer addressed the racial element of victims of gun violence in America.

“Many of those individuals were Latino and African American so it behooves us that post-pandemic, we need to figure out what we’re doing, what we need to do if we want to protect our boys and men of color,” Jones-Sawyer said.

He also offered up part of a solution.

“This year we need to infuse the California Violence Intervention and Prevention grant program (CalVIP) with a large sum. We did put in money for a large sum to fund the work that we so desperately need to get not only guns off the street but out of the hands of people who should not have them.”

The second topic on the agenda was post-pandemic mental health care.

Le Ondra Clark Harvey, chief executive officer of the California Council of Community Behavioral Health Agencies, spoke on the intersectional nature of mental health issues in communities of color.

“Historically, Black and Indigenous people of color (BIPOC) communities’ mental health and substance abuse disorder services have been impacted by several factors including access to treatment, cultural beliefs and stigma,” she said.

Largely, Clark Harvey said mental health treatment for BIPOC people has not been preventative.

“When BIPOC individuals do seek help, it tends to be at a time of crisis; at an emergency room, a psychiatric hospital or due to some type of interaction with law enforcement,” Harvey said.

She also spoke about the increase in opioid use, suicide and calls to crisis hotlines for boys and men of color.

Two of the programs in California mentioned during the meeting that are making headway on mental health problems facing Black men and boys are COVID-19 Black, an organization dedicated to lessening the effects the pandemic has had on the Black community, and Strong Family Home Visiting Program, a Los Angeles County-based program that provides in-home family support services.

Wraparound service approaches to care were also discussed as a way to shift “focus away from a traditional service-driven, problem-based approach to care and instead follows a strengths-based, needs-driven approach,” according to the California Department of Social Services.

The last topic of discussion was on career pathways and building generational wealth for communities of color.

Tara Lynn Gray, director of the California Office of the Small Business Advocate, highlighted that most of the disparities in communities of color can be traced to economics.

“Some of the challenges facing boys and men of color stem from economic challenges in their communities and lack of investment for years prior to this administration,” Gray said.

“The pandemic induced economic hardships that we’ve experienced have exacerbated those issues with many businesses closing their doors and roughly 40% of Black and Latinx businesses closed,” Gray continued.

Gray claimed that it is not all doom and gloom, however, as she mentioned what the state has done to assuage these disparities.

“The good news about the challenges we have seen is that our leadership, both in the administration and in the Legislature, have created access to programs, resources and financial assistance for small businesses to help with economic recovery and make an impact on some of the challenges facing boys and men of color,” Gray said.

Gray also spoke about investing in business opportunities for the formerly incarcerated.

Through the California Reinvestment Grant Program CalCRG, for example, the state has been directly funding community-based organizations across California to expand job and re-entry programs for Black and other men of color who were impacted by the “War on Drugs.”

Services include criminal record expungement for some marijuana-related crimes; job training and placement help; mental health treatment; addiction services; housing placement and more.

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Employment

Lawmakers Approve “Upward Mobility” Bill, Proposing More Slots for Blacks on State Boards, Commissions

The bill also directs the Department of Human Resources (CalHR) to develop model upward mobility goals to include race, gender, and LGBTQ identity as factors to the extent permissible under state and federal equal protection laws.

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Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. Photo courtesy of Harold Mendoza via Unsplash

Assemblymember Chris Holden’s (D-Pasadena) ‘Upward Mobility Bill’ (AB 105) passed the California State Senate with a 29-to-8 vote on September 9.

The legislation promotes more opportunities for people of color in California’s civil services system and requires diversity on state boards and commissions. The bill now heads to the governor’s desk to either be signed into law or to be vetoed.

“Upward mobility is integral to achieving racial justice, and we should be setting the example,” said Holden. “The existing systems in place at our own state agencies fail to create inclusive workplace environments and hinder qualified individuals to move up within their department simply based on the color of their skin. Today, the Legislature took a bold step to fix the problem.”

Specifically, AB 105 would require the California State Personnel Board (SPB) to establish a process that includes best practices and emphasizes diversity in the announcement, design, and administration of exams for potential state employees.

The bill also directs the Department of Human Resources (CalHR) to develop model upward mobility goals to include race, gender, and LGBTQ identity as factors to the extent permissible under state and federal equal protection laws.

Additionally, AB 105 calls for state agencies to collect and report demographic data using more nuanced categories of Californians of African descent, similar to the data collected for Californians of Asian descent.  This data will be critical in accurately reporting who among Californians of African descent is experiencing barriers to upward mobility.

Last year, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed AB 3121 into law, which was authored by former Assemblymember Dr. Shirley Weber, who is now Secretary of State. That bill established a task force to study and develop reparations proposals for African Americans.  AB 105 would give the task force more accurate data to utilize in its deliberations.

CalHR data shows that the majority of non-white civil service personnel are paid a salary in the “$40,000 and below” range. When the salary range increases, the percentage of non-white civil servants working in upper-level or management positions decreases. The opposite is true for white civil servants who dominate in management and upper-level civil service positions.

The Sacramento Bee has published a series of letters written on behalf of Black employees working at state agencies such as the California Air Resources Board (CARB) and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation with detailed accounts of how Black employees are passed up for promotions over white employees. The problem, however, is not limited to upward mobility. In early November, three Black employees at the California Office of Publishing found racial slurs written on cards at their desk.

“We already mandated the private sector to do their part. It’s time for the state to step up and do theirs,” said Holden.

Newsom has until Oct. 10, 2021, to sign the legislation.

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Crime

State Bill Reining in Rogue Police Officers Passes; Zero-Bail Bill Paused After Tragic Murder

Senate Bill (SB) 262, a bail reform bill that would have established $0 bail for some offenders, was stopped in its tracks following a grisly murder in Northern California but Senate Bill (SB) 2 and Assembly Bill (AB) 333 have both passed significant milestones on their paths to becoming law.

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Legislation Stock Photo Courtesy of California Black Media

Over the last two weeks, it has been a mixed bag of wins and losses for bills concerned with the rights of people interacting with the criminal justice system.

A bill concerned with criminal justice reform is SB 2. The state Senate approved it on September 8 with a 28-9 vote.

It calls for barring police officers who have been fired for misconduct or charged with one of a set of specific crimes from being hired in another jurisdiction in California.

Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Gardena), one of the authors of SB 2, celebrated the bill’s passing on the Senate floor.

“This is a major victory for advocates of public safety,” Bradford said. “California, and the nation as a whole, have experienced tragedy after tragedy where consequences for egregious abuses of power went unpunished and cries for accountability went unanswered — eroding public trust in law enforcement.”

“This bill is the first of its kind in California and we finally join the 46 other states with processes for the decertification of bad officers,” continued Bradford.  “SB 2 establishes a fair and balanced way to hold officers who break the public trust accountable for their actions and not simply move to a new department. This could not have been achieved without the support of many legislators, community organizations, families, and entertainers who advocated non-stop for accountability in our policing system.”

Bradford went on to explain other benefits of SB 2 as he sees it.

“The bill will create a strong and effective method for California to remove bad officers in a fair and reasonable manner. Police have one of the most difficult jobs on the planet. A decertification system puts California back on track to restoring communities’ faith in men and women of uniform who do their job well,” Bradford continued.

Senate Bill (SB) 262, a bail reform bill that would have established $0 bail for some offenders, was stopped in its tracks following a grisly murder in Northern California but Senate Bill (SB) 2 and Assembly Bill (AB) 333 have both passed significant milestones on their paths to becoming law.

In Sacramento, Troy Davis, 51, a repeat offender released on zero bail, allegedly raped and murdered a woman before setting her house on fire, killing her dogs as well.

Yolo County District Attorney Jeff Reiseg expressed his outrage over the murder and blasted the leniency supported in bills like SB 262 that he believes is partially to blame for crimes like that.

“This horrific crime could have been avoided. He should have never been released on zero bail. Bail reform is appropriate as long as judges always have discretion to hold violent criminals in custody. When ‘reforms’ go too far, this is the nightmare. God rest her soul.” Reiseg wrote on Facebook.

Assemblymember Jim Cooper (D-Sacramento), who is a member of the California Legislative Black Caucus, also expressed his outrage.

“This is not an isolated incident,” he tweeted. “Violent felons are released daily, terrorizing our communities because of CA’s soft on crime laws. I will continue to fight this madness and all other bills that prioritize protecting criminals instead of victims.”

The zero-bail measure was implemented by California’s Judicial Council in April last year as an emergency rule, but voters overturned it as Proposition 25, a statewide ballot initiative, in last November’s general election.

SB 262 has been amended to give judges discretion based on risk assessment, similar to SB 10 in 2018, but it is still facing backlash.

Senate Majority Leader Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys), author of SB 10 and SB 262, told the Associated Press that his colleagues reached out to him to express concern after the murder in Sacramento.

Hertzberg took to Twitter to address the heinous crime.

“I’m heartbroken and angered by the heinous murder of a Sacramento woman this past weekend. The parolee who did this should have never been released back to the community,” Hertzberg tweeted.

Hertzberg went on to suggest that SB 262 might have helped avoid this crime.

“The Safe and Resilient Communities Act could have prevented this crime from happening in the first place. #SB262 requires the Judicial Council to establish statewide standards for bail amounts, meaning counties will no longer be able to operate zero bail policies,” he wrote.

Hertzberg announced that he will be postponing SB 262 and hopes it will be taken up by the state Legislature next year.

“Earlier this year, the State Supreme Court ruled that California’s cash bail system is unconstitutional. SB 262 simply provided a framework for the state to implement this ruling. Don’t get me wrong: we’re not done with bail – not even close,” he tweeted.

Another criminal justice reform bill that made headlines last week was AB 333, authored by California State Senator Sydney Kamlager (D-Los Angeles).

AB 333 would reduce “the list of crimes that allow gang enhancements to be charged, prohibiting the use of the current charge as proof of a ‘pattern’ of criminal gang activity, and separating gang allegations from underlying charges at trial,” according to a press release from Kamlager’s office.

Gang enhancements are additional prison sentences prescribed to individuals who are alleged to be associated with a criminal street gang.

As of August 2019, about 92% of adults in California with gang enhancement charges in state prisons are either Black or Latino, according to California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) data.

Kamlager asserted that her bill is a law-and-order bill.

“At the heart of AB 333 is due process,” Kamlager said, “AB 333 just asks for the charges to be proven when they’re levied against someone. Right now, our system allows a shaved head, tattoos, or even the color of your grandma’s house as reason to be charged with a gang enhancement. That’s antithetical to how our judicial process should operate, and I am glad we are one step closer to a fix.”

AB 333 passed in the state Senate with a vote of 25-10 and on September 8 the Assembly approved it as well with a 41-30 vote.

Criminal justice reform is a complicated and nuanced undertaking that crisscrosses well established fault lines concerning public safety, criminal justice, racial equity, human dignity, and personal freedom. These bills are no exception.

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