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Reforming Baltimore Police Will be Time-Consuming, Costly

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Officers put up tape Monday, May 4, 2015, in Baltimore. Lt. Col. Melvin Russell said police pursued a man who was spotted on surveillance cameras and appeared to be armed with a handgun. Police said the man was taken into custody after a brief chase, during which a gunshot was heard. (Amy Davis/The Baltimore Sun via AP)

Officers put up tape Monday, May 4, 2015, in Baltimore. Lt. Col. Melvin Russell said police pursued a man who was spotted on surveillance cameras and appeared to be armed with a handgun. Police said the man was taken into custody after a brief chase, during which a gunshot was heard. (Amy Davis/The Baltimore Sun via AP)

BEN NUCKOLS, Associated Press
MICHAEL BIESECKER, Associated Press

BALTIMORE (AP) — Months before Freddie Gray died of the broken neck he suffered during what Baltimore’s top prosecutor called an illegal arrest, the city’s mayor and police commissioner said the department needed reform and asked the Justice Department for help reviewing officer misconduct.

Now that Gray is buried, six officers are charged in his death and an uneasy calm has returned to the streets, critics are wondering whether city leaders are capable of implementing the change the city needs without the direct, intensive oversight that comes with a full-fledged civil rights investigation resulting in a federal consent decree.

Democratic Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has already pushed back against this possibility, saying it would deprive Baltimore’s leaders from having a say in fighting crime in one of the nation’s most violent major cities, with more than 200 homicides a year.

“Nobody wants the Department of Justice to come and take over our city,” she said last week.

Attorney General Loretta Lynch was in Baltimore on Tuesday to meet with Gray’s family and faith leaders. Justice Department officials accompanying her included the head of the civil rights division, Vanita Gupta.

Baltimore’s leaders should welcome federal oversight, because it’s doubtful any police department can fix itself from within, said Erwin Chemerinsky, the dean of the University of California-Irvine School of Law.

Consent decrees have been mostly effective since Congress responded to the Rodney King beating in Los Angeles by granting the Justice Department the power in 1994 to sue police departments for civil rights violations. Los Angeles went through it, and proved that it works, said Chemerinsky, who has studied reform efforts there.

“I think that there is less likelihood of excessive force today, less racist policing today in Los Angeles, than prior to the consent decree,” he said.

The Justice Department has negotiated settlements with 21 other police departments since then; Seattle and New Orleans are currently under consent decrees, and Cleveland’s police department is negotiating one.

Justice officials are also negotiating with the department in Ferguson, Missouri, where an officer’s shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown sparked a national debate about use of force by police against blacks. The federal civil rights investigation in Ferguson found patterns of racial bias and discriminatory law enforcement tactics.

A consent decree is a form of negotiated settlement with the Justice Department that averts a civil-rights lawsuit. Police departments agree to implement a series of reforms under the watch of an independent monitor.

The Justice Department already announced a separate federal probe of Gray’s death. And a broad civil rights investigation would not begin unless federal authorities conclude the ongoing voluntary review is insufficient.

Federal consent decrees also create new challenges. It can take more than a decade for police departments to satisfy their requirements, and meanwhile, expenses add up: It can cost tens of millions of dollars to retrain officers, hire new ones and modify use-of-force policies.

“Cities don’t want to invest their scarce resources in the costly process of reforming a police department,” said Stephen Rushin, a visiting assistant professor of law at the University of Illinois who is working on a book about police reform. “Typically, it takes away from investments in schools, roads, parks, other things the city is going to value.”

Then again, the city is already spending millions in legal settlements with people alleging officers have injured them or killed family members. The mayor and Police Commissioner Anthony Batts asked for the Justice Department review last year after The Baltimore Sun tallied $5.7 million in payouts to resolve more than 100 police misconduct lawsuits since 2011.

The voluntary review should result in recommendations and give the city access to federal funds to implement them, but they would not be enforced by any court order or independent monitor.

Meanwhile, Baltimore faces financial challenges so serious that in 2013, the mayor hired outside consultants who forecast that the local government was on the path to insolvency. The mayor has implemented spending reforms, but has little leeway to raise taxes. The city’s property taxes are already the highest in Maryland after being raised repeatedly between 1950 and 1985, in part to cover the cost of city services as the city lost manufacturing jobs and shed population.

Some residents and legal advocates think the city’s government won’t be able to impose change unless it’s forced to.

“There’s skepticism about how thorough and effective any kind of collaborative process will be,” said Sonia Kumar, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Maryland. “The measure of success is really whether people feel that things are different on the street in their interactions with police.”

Randy Howell, 55, who grew up in the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood where Gray was arrested, says far more than federal intervention is needed to set things right. The city, state and federal governments need to address what he calls the root causes of crime: high unemployment, poor schools, grinding poverty and a lack of basic amenities such as a grocery store.

“The first thing they need to do is get rid of them vans,” Howell said. “Those vans are a death trap. … Other police departments don’t use them. And body cameras. But they also need to change the people and the neighborhood.”

___

Follow Ben Nuckols on Twitter at https://twitter.com/APBenNuckols.

Follow Michael Biesecker on Twitter at https://twitter.com/mbieseck.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Bay Area

Double-Double Legacies? Next Black Caucus Members Expected to Be Familiar Names

Last week, the CLBC also threw its support behind another woman of African descent who is also familiar with that body, Mia Bonta of Oakland. She could also join the group’s ranks in the next couple of months.

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Dr. Askilah Weber

Mia Bonta

Last week, the California Legislative Black Caucus (CLBC), a group comprised of African American elected officials serving in the state Legislature, was preparing to welcome its newest member, former La Mesa City Councilwoman Dr. Akilah Weber.

With a solid lead, the younger Weber, who is African American, declared victory in the 79th Assembly District race for the San Diego seat her mother, Dr. Shirley Weber, previously held for almost a decade, from 2012 to 2021.

After she is sworn in, Weber will be the newest member of the CLBC.

Weber won with 51.97% of the vote out of a pool of five candidates. Marco Contreras, the only Republican running for the position, trailed her with 33.4% of the votes.

Gov. Gavin Newsom nominated the elder Weber to serve as Secretary of State in December, succeeding Sen. Alex Padilla (D-CA), who is currently California’s junior Senator in the United States Congress.

“Can’t wait to have you in the CABlackCaucus,” Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Gardena), chair of the CLBC, said earlier this month when he heard Weber was leading the race in a special election held in April to replace her mother.

Last week, the CLBC also threw its support behind another woman of African descent who is also familiar with that body, Mia Bonta of Oakland. She could also join the group’s ranks in the next couple of months.

Bonta, who is currently Alameda Unified School District president, announced her candidacy on April 12 for the state Assembly seat in District 18 that her husband, Rob Bonta (D-Oakland), currently occupies. The district covers an East Bay area that includes the cities of San Leandro, Alameda, and Oakland.

In March, Newsom appointed her husband, who is Filipino-American, as the next California attorney general, pending Senate confirmation.

“The California Legislative Black Caucus proudly endorses Mia Bonta for Assembly,” said Bradford. “Diversity in leadership is critical to ensuring equity in policymaking, and as an Afro-Latina woman, Mia offers a perspective that has long been underrepresented in Sacramento. Her experience advocating for children and families in her community and deep understanding of today’s policy issues would make Mia a valuable addition to the state Legislature. I and the Caucus will be working to make her success a reality.”

Weber says she wants to continue her mother’s legacy as she works to ensure that “we build a better tomorrow that improves the future for all Californians.”

In her victory statement, Weber said “Tonight’s win and these results are staggering; I am deeply honored and humbled by the faith that the voters have placed in me. My campaign is focused on one mission: creating healthier communities for everyone who lives and works in the 79th district.”

Weber, a practicing obstetrician-gynecologist, is expected to be sworn into the Assembly this month.

Weber leads the Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology Division at Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego and has health care high up on her list of priorities.

Weber thanked her team and the voters for her victory.

“Hundreds of people worked hard to earn this victory, and I am so grateful for their friendship, commitment, and trust. I want to thank my family, without whom none of this would be possible, all of the volunteers and supporters who fueled our campaign, and most of all the voters for their trust and confidence,” Weber said.

Bonta says, if she wins, she will focus on education and housing affordability, which are “personal issues” for her.

“I grew up and my family moved 13 times in 16 years,” she told local East Bay television station KQED. “I have built into me the experience of feeling that housing insecurity – and I know the impact that has on one’s ability to be able to get to work, to keep work, to be focused on an education pathway.”

Another special election for the 54th Assembly seat in the Los Angeles area is coming up.

State Sen. Sydney Kamlager (D-Los Angeles) vacated that Assembly seat when she won a special election in March for the 30th Senate District seat previously held by Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors member Holly J.  Mitchell.

Six Democrats have thrown their hats into the highly contentious race: Financial adviser Samuel Robert Morales; attorney and State Commissioner Cheryl C. Turner; grocery worker Bernard Senter; businesswoman and non-profit executive Dallas Fowler; community organizer and educator Isaac Bryan; and Heather Hutt, former state director for Kamala Harris when she was a senator.

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Activism

Nation’s First Bill to Extend Victim Services to Survivors of Police Brutality

This would ensure that survivors of police violence and loved ones of those killed by police are no longer dependent on either a police report documenting the victimization, which is often elusive, or the opinion of involved police when assessing a victim’s responsibility. 

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The California Senate’s Committee on Public Safety this week unanimously passed SB 299. Authored by Senator Connie Leyva (SD-20), which would extend services to victims of police violence and expand eligibility for survivors of homicide victims.

“It is unacceptable that in order to receive assistance through the Victim Compensation program, police reports and the opinion of police would carry such heavy weight in the application for compensation when the injuries were sustained as a result of police actions,” Senator Leyva said.

 “SB 299 will improve access to vital resources for victims of police violence as they recover from the physical and emotional injuries caused due to the actions of police or—in the cases of individuals killed by police—be able to bury their loved ones with dignity and respect,” he said. 

“Just as the state’s Victims Compensation program can use evidence beyond police reports for victims of sexual assault, domestic violence and human trafficking, so too do victims of police violence deserve similar recognition of their circumstances so that they can get fair access to the help they need.”

Police reports and opinion can also prevent families of homicide victims from obtaining compensation, without any recourse or due process. Families in shock at a violent loss then struggle to bury their loved ones. SB 299 would, for the first time, expand eligibility to make sure survivors of homicide victims are not denied based on the contents of inaccurate, unfair or biased police reports.

“We cannot continue to let the police decide who is a ‘deserving’ victim,” says Youth ALIVE! Director of Programs, Kyndra Simmons. “This has prevented many survivors and victims, including victims of police violence, from accessing the resources and support meant to help them heal.”

“Qualifying for victim compensation was life-changing for me after my son Jordan was killed,” says Tonya Lancaster, trauma survivor and Youth ALIVE! client. “I want to see that support for everybody who needs it.”

Under existing law, victims of limited types of crimes are eligible to receive compensation from the California Victim Compensation Board’s Restitution Fund. That compensation can cover a range of needs spanning medical expenses, burial expenses, wage and income loss and much more. 

SB 299 would extend this eligibility to include incidents in which an individual sustains serious bodily injury or death as a result of a law enforcement officer’s use of force, regardless of whether the law enforcement officer is arrested for, charged with, or convicted of committing a crime. 

This would ensure that survivors of police violence and loved ones of those killed by police are no longer dependent on either a police report documenting the victimization, which is often elusive, or the opinion of involved police when assessing a victim’s responsibility. 

“We cannot tolerate treating victims of police violence with any less care and compassion than we extend to other crime victims,” said Controller Betty Yee, California’s chief fiscal officer. “We must work toward a just, fair, and peaceful society, and this expansion of victim compensation is one small step in that work.”

“”Advocacy for victims must include all victims and survivors, regardless of who caused the harm. That’s why my office started a first-in-the-state program in 2020 to ensure that our Victim Services Division compensates victims of police violence like any other victim,” said San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin.  

“Unlike victims of other crimes, victims of police brutality are commonly denied access to victims compensation funds to cover burial costs, medical expenses, lost income, therapy and more,” said Prosecutors Alliance Executive Director Cristine Soto DeBerry. “No one should have to start a GoFundMe page to cover the costs of burying a loved one lost to violence.”

SB299 is co-sponsored by California Controller Betty Yee, San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin, Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón, Californians for Safety and Justice, the Prosecutors Alliance of California, and Youth ALIVE! It will be heard next by the Senate Committee on Appropriations.

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Community

Is America Failing Millennials and Generation Z’s?

Out of the 20 mass shootings and violent attacks since March 1st, one very distressing element stands out—a number of the attacks were carried out by GenZ’s (14-24 years) and Millennials (25-38 years), from diverse racial groups, and regions of the United States.

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During the last two weeks of March and first week of April 2021, Americans were shocked with alarming news of mass shootings and violent attacks in Atlanta, Georgia, Boulder Colorado, Washington, D.C. and York County, South Carolina. Out of the 20 mass shootings and violent attacks since March 1st, one very distressing element stands out—a number of the attacks were carried out by GenZ’s (14-24 years) and Millennials (25-38 years), from diverse racial groups, and regions of the United States.
For example, on April 7, 2021 in York County, South Carolina, 32 year old Millennial and former NFL Player Philip Adams committed a mass shooting of a renowned local Doctor, his wife, grandchildren and two workers. Early reports say Adams, who later committed suicide, suffered from football related brain concussions. On April 2nd in Washington, D.C. 25 year old Millennial Noah Green rammed his car into two Capitol Hill Officers and killed one of the Officers, and injured the other.
Reports from his family indicate Noah was suffering from prescription drug use, paranoia and depression. He was killed at the scene of the violence. On March 18th, 21 year old GenZ Robert Aaron Long, killed eight (8) Asian spa workers and their customers, at massage parlors in Georgia. He claimed sex addiction as a reason for his behavior. And on March 22nd in Boulder, Colorado, 21 year old Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa, and killed ten people at a grocery store. His relatives and schoolmates say Aliwi was bullied in school for being Muslim and retaliated with anger.
These four young men who perpetrated violence were from diverse racial groups, and in different regions of the country. But, what they had in common was they were either Millennials or GenZ’s who were obviously suffering from serious mental health issues. What was being done to help them? Where were their parents, mentors, faith leaders, aunts, uncles, social workers, colleagues, etc.? Did they have trained support or, were they dealing with their crisis mostly alone?
Generation X and Baby Boomers in America have to stop being self-absorbed and start paying attention to depressed GenZ and Millennial individuals. According to the 2019 US Census reports, these groups now make up the largest age-based demographic groups in the United States. These young people know how and where to purchase guns, how to make guns using 3D technology—known as Ghost Guns and they are strongly influenced by video games, violent movies, aggressive sports and even aggressive relatives who commit domestic violence.
Research by the Anne Casey Foundation finds that GenZ’s are suffering from high levels of depression, and this must be taken seriously. Plus, they are impacted by the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Armaud Arbery, many more Black men and women…
But, how can Generation X and Baby Boomers help Millennials and GenZ’s who are suffering from anxiety, Covid-Lockdowns, student debt, job loss and other societal factors? Since taking office, President Joe Biden is starting to focus on these issues. On April 8, 2021, the President and Attorney General Merrick Garland, announced a series of Executive Orders designed to stop violence and promote violence prevention. Their plan will target grants for communities, to mobilize violence prevention programs. These actions are to be applauded but, it is important that the programs be implemented effectively, with feedback from affected communities of color.
Black Women for Positive Change, a national multi-cultural, intergenerational network of women and Good Brothers, has sponsored ten (10) years of Annual Weeks of Non-Violence. During those years, we have heard a multitude of stories from participants about causes of violence, depression and anxiety. We have found that many GenZ’s and Millennials suffer from lack of parenting, mentorship and productive, engaging activities. We have also found stigmatization of mental health and fear of families of color to seek help for disturbed youth. In addition, our outreach informs us that Millennials and GenZ’s complain about lack of opportunities and dreams for their futures.
Therefore, it is important for the Biden Administration to factor in the need for “Opportunities” in violence prevention programs to assist youth with overcoming the obstacles of the Covid-19 pandemic, job loss, single headed households under pressures, and other issues. New approaches are needed to provide GenZ’s and Millennials with opportunities to move forward, overcome obstacles and have productive, positive lives.
Dr. Stephanie Myers/Washington, DC, is National Co-Chair, Black Women for Positive Change, and Jan Perry/Los Angeles, CA., is Chair, Social Action Committee, Black Women for Positive Change. www.blackwomenforpositivechange.org

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