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Ruth Beckford, 93

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Ruth Beckford, the legendary dancer, choreographer and Oakland community activist died May 8 of natural causes. She was 93.

Beckford, known as The Dance Lady, toured with the acclaimed dancer/choreographer Katharine Dunham when she was just 17. She started the Ruth Beckford African Haitian Dance Company, taught Dunham technique at her dance studios in Oakland and San Francisco and started the first modern dance department at a recreation department in the country. As talented as she was as a dancer, her interests were wide-ranging; she took up acting, wrote three books, several plays and was always actively serving her community, usually in projects she started.

She was born in Oakland, the youngest of four children of Felix and Cora Beckford. Her mother said her feet moved to music when she was still in the crib. She began her dance training when she was 3, the only black student of Florelle Batsford, studying tap, ballet, Spanish castanets, baton twirling and acrobatics, her specialty. As a child, she performed acrobatic dance at talent shows that were sponsored at movie theaters on Friday nights. She usually won. She graduated from Oakland Technical High School.

Dunham offered her a position in her company, but Beckford elected to continue her education and graduated from the University of California at Berkeley. She performed with the Anna Halprin and Welland Lathrop modern dance company, the only black dancer in the group. She said she could hear the audience gasp when she came onstage.

She was dedicated to dance but was determined not to be a starving artist, so she worked for the Oakland recreation department where she insisted the dance classes would be free of charge. She used dance to teach life skills and encourage the girls to be self sufficient and confident in their individuality. She stayed close to many of her former students for more than 50 years.

Beckford retired her company in 1965 and retired from teaching dance in 1975. She started acting with the Oakland Ensemble Theater and appeared in several movies, including “My Funny Valentine” with Alfre Woodard and Loretta Divine. Her play, “Tis the Morning of my Life” was produced in the Bay Area and off Broadway. At Dunham’s request,  Beckford wrote Dunham’s biography. She also wrote “Still Groovin’” and co-wrote “The Picture Man,” published just last year.

She consistently found ways to help her community. She started the Black Panther Party’s free breakfast program for children at St. Augustine Episcopal Church, which became a model for breakfast programs in public schools. She founded the oral history program at the African

American Museum and Library of Oakland, capturing the stories of Oaklanders who were over 70-years-old.

She counseled homeless people at the Berkeley office of the Department of Social Services, was a life skills counselor for the Oakland Private Industry Council and visited women’s prisons to talk about life skills and women’s empowerment. In 2018 she was named Oakland’s Mother of the Year.

Beckford was known for her eloquent attire, which she designed. She still had the erect posture of a dancer at her 93rd birthday party. She was especially proud of The Ruth Beckford Museum at Geoffrey’s Inner Circle, 410 14th St. Oakland, open by appointment. In her words: “I choreographed my life. Step by step, year by year.”

According to her wishes, there will be no memorial service. But Ron Thompson, who helped her write her biography, reminds mourning survivors that “You don’t have to sit in a room” to memorialize Beckford. “For those who knew her, she will continue to live on in the hearts and minds she opened new worlds to.”

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What Oakland’s Homeless Audit Says About Evictions, Policing, and Fire

Although the audit was vast in its analysis, this guide attempts to outline key points from the audit related only to evictions and hygiene services, police response and costs, and fire department response and costs.

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A tent in Oakland that serves as a home for a resident, October 2, 2019 Photo Credit: Zack Haber

On April 14, Oakland’s City Auditor Courtney Ruby released an audit of the city’s homeless encampment management interventions and activities for the fiscal years 2018-19 and 2019-2020. The 95-page report includes data and estimations about interventions, populations, costs, and availability of services related to homeless people and their communities. 

Claiming that the city “lacked an effective strategy…and did not provide sufficient policy direction or adequate funding,” Ruby also included recommendations for better addressing homeless communities. Although the audit was vast in its analysis, this guide attempts to outline key points from the audit related only to evictions and hygiene services, police response and costs, and fire department response and costs.

Evictions and hygiene services

The audit’s data on evictions and hygiene services is limited to the 2018-19 fiscal year and the first eight months of the 2019-20 fiscal year, when the city suspended most homeless evictions and cleaning interventions due to the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. During this timeframe, the city evicted 181 homeless communities. Of these evictions, 123, or about two-thirds of the total, were classified as “re-closures,” which the report defined as occurring “when homeless individuals return to a previously closed [homeless community].”  In the fiscal year 2018-19, about 60% of evictions were re-closures. From July 2019 through February 2020, this ratio increased, and about 77% of evictions were re-closures.

The audit reports 1,599 interventions classified as “hygiene and garbage services,” and defines such interventions as “providing portable toilets, hand-washing stations, regular garbage service, and/or traffic barriers.” For each of these services performed per homeless community, the audit counts one intervention. These interventions are lumped together and lack individual data, meaning that the audit did not report precise data on how often the city provided trash pick-up to homeless communities.

The audit reports that the city increased its hygiene and garbage interventions. From 2018-19, the city provided 797 such interventions, or about 66 per month. During the first eight months of 2019-2020, the city performed 802 such interventions, or about 100 per month. After March 2020, in response to COVID-19, the audit claims the city increased the number of homeless communities that receive hygiene interventions from 20 to 40, but the vast majority of homeless communities in Oakland still do not get hygiene and/or trash services with any regularity. The audit estimates that there are at least 140 homeless communities in Oakland but acknowledges “that this estimate may be conservative.”

Police response and costs

Data recorded in the audit shows police response to 911 calls in homeless communities was not timely. While over 99% of 911 calls were classified as “Priority 2,” which the audit claims “ideally should be responded to in 10 to 15 minutes,” data provided by OPD showed the median police response time to Priority 2 calls was two hours in 2018-19, while the mean response time was four hours. In 2019-20, response time slowed by about 50%, with the median response time being about three hours, while the mean response time was about six hours. Data OPD listed related to response time range show the department took over two days to respond to at least one 911 call in 2018-19 and over six days to respond to at least one other 911 call in 2019-20. Although OPD recorded 1,458 calls to homeless communities during the two years of the audit, the audit only analyzed 988 of these calls, claiming that “response data was incomplete” for 470 calls.

The audit records OPD using about $3.1 million in costs associated with homeless communities. But that $3.1 million does not include an accurate account of overtime pay. OPD only started recording overtime pay related to homeless communities in February 2020, just before the frequency of interventions, notably evictions, declined dramatically.

About $1.7 million, a slim majority of OPD’s recorded costs related to homeless communities, are recorded as labor costs that went to the three members of The Homeless Outreach Team. The Homeless Outreach Team consists of one sergeant and two officers who dedicate 100% of their time to homeless community work. 

    The Abandoned Auto Unit incurred over $800,000 in labor costs to provide support at moderate to large homeless community evictions. They were responsible for “traffic control and tagging and towing vehicles at [homeless communities] when necessary.”  About $600,000 went to labor costs incurred by Patrol staff responding to 911 calls.

Fire Department response and costs

The audit reports that The Oakland Fire Department responded to 988 fires in homeless communities in 2018-19 and 2019-20, which is more than one a day. The data recorded shows that the OFD response times for such fires were timely, arriving in just over seven minutes and 50 seconds to over 90% of calls. Such responses were slightly faster than responses to non-homeless community related calls, which, in 90% of cases, OFD responded to in about eight minutes and 10 seconds. OFD has recorded no injuries to firefighters fighting fires at homeless communities. One homeless resident died in 2020 as a direct result of a fire. The audit did not record fire-related injuries to homeless people or their lost possessions.

OFD-related costs accounted for an estimated $1.8 million in funds related to homeless communities in 2018-19 and 2019-2020. About $676,000 went to “fire prevention labor,” which includes labor costs associated with fire hazard inspections, investigations related to fires, and removal of hazardous waste. Over $ million went to both labor and equipment costs related to “fire suppression.” Fire suppression costs include costs related to fighting fires and rescue activities. OFD costs related to homeless communities rose over 40% from 2018-19 to 2019-20 while total fires at homeless communities increased about 17% over these years.

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Activism

California Elected Officials, Civic Leaders React to George Floyd Verdict  

“The hard truth,” Gov. Newsom said in an April 20 statement, “is that if George Floyd looked like me, he’d still be alive today.” Newsom made the remark after a Hennepin County jury found Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, 45, guilty in the murder of George Floyd.

Photo by: Antonio Ray Harvey.
Assemblymember Mike Gipson (D-LA), Tecoy Porter, President of National Action Network Sacramento, Western Region, Sydney Kamlager (D-Los Angeles), vice-chair of the CLBC, Senator Steven Bradford (D-LA ), chair CLBC, Assemblymember Chris Holden ( D-Pasadena) Assemblymember Kevin McCarty ( D-Sacramento) and Secretary of State Shirley Weber. Photo by Antonio Ray Harvey.

“The hard truth,” Gov. Newsom said in an April 20 statement, “is that if George Floyd looked like me, he’d still be alive today.” Newsom made the remark after a Hennepin County jury found Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, 45, guilty in the murder of George Floyd.
The jury convicted Chauvin on two counts of murder, homicide and one of manslaughter for pinning his knee on the neck of Floyd for nine minutes and 29 seconds on May 25, 2020.
The California governor joined other Golden State officials to speak out about the verdict and the enduring problems of police violence against unarmed citizens, particularly African American suspects.
“No conviction can repair the harm done to George Floyd and his family, but today’s verdict provides some accountability as we work to root out the racial injustice that haunts our society,” the governor continued. “We must continue the work of fighting systemic racism and excessive use of force. It’s why I signed some of the nation’s most progressive police reform legislation into law. I will continue working with community leaders across the state to hear concerns and support peaceful expression.”
Sen. Steve Bradford (D-Gardena), chair of the California Legislative Black Caucus, took to Twitter to comment on the verdict.
“I’m overwhelmed to tears over this verdict: Guilty. #GeorgeFloyd did not have to die that day. His family is still healing from this trauma. We must continue to fight for justice in this country, for all of us,” he tweeted.
Earlier in the day, the California Legislative Black Caucus held a press conference to address police brutality and lethal force by peace officers in California and across the country.
“There may be calls about a crisis. There may be calls about an emergency, but they are not calls intended to initiate death. They are not calls for lethal force. They are calls for issuing de-escalation and resolution.” said Sen. Sydney Kamlager (D-Los Angeles).
Kamlager, along with her colleagues – including Assemblymember Mike Gipson, who Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood) appointed Chair of the Select Committee on Police Reform – spoke at the briefing. They called on their peers to pass the C.R.I.S.I.S. Act, or Assembly Bill (AB) 2054, legislation that proposes for communities to rely on social workers to intervene in some public safety incidents instead of police officers.
The bill was first introduced last year but died in committee.
California Secretary of State Dr. Shirley Weber also attended the Black Caucus press conference.
“You know it’s really hard after 410 years in this country to continue to raise the same issues over and over again,” Dr. Weber said. “When I look and begin to analyze it I realize that all we’re asking is to have what everybody else has…to be treated fairly – to be treated as a human being, to be treated just.”
President of the NAACP California-Hawaii Conference Rick L. Callender said justice was served in the Chauvin case.
“It was very clear that our very right to breath was on trial,” Callender told California Black Media. “For too long, African Americans have been subjected to the knee of injustice choking us out – in so many different ways. This verdict demonstrates that a badge is never a shield for accountability.”
Speaking from San Diego, Shane Harris, founder and president of the People’s Association of Justice, a national civil rights alliance that started in California, said the Floyd verdict represents a starting point for re-imagining policing in America through federal legislation.
“The reality is that there is a Derek Chauvin in a police department near you, and the question is whether our local, state and federal governments will step up to protect the next George Floyd from being killed in our country,” he said. 

“Chauvin had multiple complaints against him during his career on the Minneapolis Police force, but the city and the department failed to act,” he said “We will not have an Attorney General like Keith Ellison in every state going forward to press for justice like he did, which is why I call on the U.S. Senate to urgently bring the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2021 to the Senate floor now, pass the legislation and send it to the President’s desk to sign immediately.”
After 12 hours of deliberations – as people across the country and around the globe waited in anticipation – the jury returned with the verdict that held Chauvin responsible for second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter.
The jury consisted of six Black or multiracial people along with six White individuals. Chauvin’s attorney requested bail, but the presiding judge denied it, and Chauvin was taken into custody.
Under Minnesota laws, Chauvin could receive a sentence of up to 40 years in prison.
California Congresswoman and Speaker of the United States House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi (D-CA-12) drew some criticism on social media for a statement she made regarding the verdict. Her critics chided the Speaker for thanking Floyd for his “sacrifice,” a man who they point out was unwittingly murdered by a police officer.
Standing with members of the Congressional Black Caucus in front of the U.S. Capitol, Pelosi said, “Thank you George Floyd for sacrificing your life for justice. For being there to call out to your mom, how heartbreaking was that, call out for you mom, ‘I can’t breathe.”
“But because of you and because of thousands, millions of people around the world who came out for justice, your name will always be synonymous with justice,” the Speaker said.

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Activism

Bay Area Officials and Leaders React to the George Floyd Verdict

Almost 11 months ago, the world watched as Officer Derek Chauvin kept his knee on the back of George Floyd’s neck. He kept it there for eight minutes and 46 seconds, but it felt like an eternity. The systemic injustice from hundreds of years of racism and mistreatment of Black Americans was put into plain view on video, and the country and the world erupted in protest.

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Photo Credit: Christy Price

San Francisco Mayor London Breed, the Oakland Police Department (OPD) and the Greenlining Institute President and CEO Debra Gore-Mann issued statements in reaction to Tuesday’s triple guilty verdict in the trial of Derek Chauvin, ex-Minneapolis police officer for killing George Floyd in May, 2020.

Mayor London Breed’s statement:

“This verdict does not bring back the life of George Floyd. It can’t replace the years of his life that were robbed from him, nor the life experiences and memories that would have been made with his friends and family. What this verdict does reflect is that the tide is turning in this country, although still too slowly, toward accountability and justice.

Almost 11 months ago, the world watched as Officer Derek Chauvin kept his knee on the back of George Floyd’s neck. He kept it there for eight minutes and 46 seconds, but it felt like an eternity. The systemic injustice from hundreds of years of racism and mistreatment of Black Americans was put into plain view on video, and the country and the world erupted in protest.

While we’re now months removed from the height of those protests, the need for action is as critical as ever. This is about more than prosecuting the officer who killed George Floyd, though that is an important step. It’s about fundamentally restructuring how policing is done to move away from the use of excessive force. It’s about shifting responses to non-violent calls away from an automatic police response to something better equipped to handle the situation. It’s about reinvesting in communities in which years of systematic disinvestment has made it nearly impossible for people to thrive. It’s about changing who we are as a country.

That’s what we’re trying to do in San Francisco. Our Street Crisis Response Teams, consisting of paramedics and behavioral health specialists, are now often the first responders to non-violent 911 calls relating to mental health and substance use. 

Our Dream Keeper Initiative is redirecting $120 million to improve the lives of Black youth and their families through investments in everything from housing, to healthcare, to workforce training and guaranteed income. And our sustained, multi-year efforts to reform our police department has resulted in a 57% reduction in instances of use of force and a 45% decrease in officer-involved shootings since 2016.

While this tragedy can never be undone, what we can do is finally make real change in the name of George Floyd. Nothing we can do will bring him back, but we can do the work to prevent others from facing his fate in the future. That is the work we need to do. It’s ongoing, it’s challenging, but if we are committed, we can make a real and lasting difference in this country.”

OPD Statement 

We all must recognize that this moment is about accountability, justice, and reform. We must be compassionate, empathic, and forgiving, the Oakland Police Department declared in a statement released on Tuesday. 

All sides must unite as one community to effectively communicate. Together we will work towards rethinking policing in America. 

In unity, we will move towards finding solutions for the safety of all people, notwithstanding your age, race, religion, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or disability. 

We stand as one community grieving and healing as we move towards finding real solutions to effect change as we seek to strengthen police and community relations. 

We extend our deepest condolences to George Floyd’s family and all communities. 

Greenlining Institute President and CEO Debra Gore-Mann:

“Today, we experienced a small measure of justice as Derek Chauvin was convicted and the killing of George Floyd was recognized as the criminal act it was. But we shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking that one conviction of one cop for a killing the whole world witnessed on video will change a fundamentally racist and dysfunctional system. The whole law enforcement system must be rethought and rebuilt from the ground up so that there are no more George Floyds, Daunte Wrights and Adam Toledos. But even that is just a start.

“Policing doesn’t operate in a vacuum. Systemic racism exists in policing because systemic racism exists in America. We must fundamentally uproot the disease of racism in our society and create a transformative path forward.” 

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