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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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Activism

We Will Not Incarcerate Our Way Out of This

Housing is a human right. We can use public resources to ensure everyone has a safe place to live and effective mental health and substance use treatment. Instead, we’ve gutted our social programs to the point where they don’t function and assume this lack of functionality means there’s no solution.

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As we’ve overfunded police and underfunded housing, treatment, and other essential services, we’ve seen more policing but less safety.
Last week, California Highway Patrol (CHP) and CalTrans violently evicted the Wood Street community, the largest encampment in the Bay Area.

People Are Liberating Public Spaces to Fight the Criminalization of Poverty

By Cat Brooks

How many times have you walked by an unhoused neighbor and told yourself it’s their fault, that they made the wrong life choices?

But the truth is that our unhoused crisis is the result of decades-long policies that criminalize poverty, addiction and mental health disabilities and treat human beings like garbage to be swept away with Friday’s trash while ignoring root causes.

Every city in the U.S. responds to visible poverty with fences, fines, cops, courts, and cages. These shortsighted responses make great photo ops, and let politicians pontificate, but all only accomplish terrorizing the most vulnerable, who move into new neighborhoods and reestablish their right to exist.

No matter how many arrests or evictions, the people will continue to be, and as part of that being — reclaim public spaces.

When San Francisco Supervisor Hillary Ronen called for the erection of fences around the 24th Street Bart Plaza, the community struck back and retook the plaza. @MissionDeFence_SF posted a statement in solidarity with other current public land struggles, including: People’s Park in Berkeley, Parker Elementary in Oakland, Echo Park in Los Angeles and Mystic Garden in Daly City.

These struggles are proof positive that the power lies with the people who will rise up, resist and reclaim the people’s space.

Last week, California Highway Patrol (CHP) and CalTrans violently evicted the Wood Street community, the largest encampment in the Bay Area. CHP (the 4th most murderous law enforcement agency in California) descended on the camp for phase one of an armed eviction that will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Wood Street’s estimated 200-300 residents are being offered little relocation support or resources. Only a fraction has been given shelters or RV spots. Two were arrested for non-violent civil disobedience amidst an outpouring of community support.

Most of the Wood Street folks are Black, several are elders, many extremely vulnerable, and almost all are victims of gentrification and criminalization.

I was there to bear witness as the state demolished a tiny home, towed RVs, and destroyed lives. No effort was made to move their homes and belongings. Mayor Libby Schaaf doesn’t believe the city has any obligation to do so.

In an open letter to Schaaf, Governor Gavin Newsom, and others, residents offered concrete solutions and laid out their needs. They’ve been asking for sanitation services and fire safety for years. They’ve been ignored.

In their letter, they wrote, “The Wood Street community stands strong in our determination to keep our community together. We plan to continue organizing and fighting for long-term and permanent housing solutions.”

For now, they’ll be forced to move into residential areas where NIMBYS will call cops to protect their fragile senses from the brutality of visible poverty. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

This story is playing out across California.  Instead of meeting people’s basic needs, the state legislature does things like “CARE Courts” — to force unhoused people into court-ordered treatment that will cost millions and target Black and brown folks. The bill is Governor Newsom’s brainchild and a continuation of criminalizing the unhoused under the guise of “care” which he’s done since his days as mayor of San Francisco.

Housing is a human right. We can use public resources to ensure everyone has a safe place to live and effective mental health and substance use treatment. Instead, we’ve gutted our social programs to the point where they don’t function and assume this lack of functionality means there’s no solution.

Poverty is a political choice. Oakland’s unhoused population increased 24% since 2019 (thank you Libby), yet the Town spends 10 times as much on police as it does on housing.

As we’ve overfunded police and underfunded housing, treatment, and other essential services, we’ve seen more policing but less safety. We are less safe when we build walls to keep unhoused neighbors out of public spaces. We are less safe when we respond to mental health crises with a badge and gun.

We are less safe when the treatment plan for substance use problems is a cage.

If seeing unhoused people makes us uncomfortable, then we should invest in housing for all. If public drug use offends us, then we should invest in safe injection facilities (a proven public health intervention that Newsom just vetoed).

If watching someone experience a mental health crisis is distressing, then we should invest in community-driven approaches to support individuals in crisis.

Until we do these things, no matter how much our elected officials try to sanitize the crises we face, the people will keep knocking down fences to liberate public spaces.

Cat Brooks is co-founder of the Anti Police-Terror Project, executive director of the Justice Teams Network and host of Law & Disorder on KPFA, a new show that exposes the cracks in our system and agitates for resistance.

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Activism

OPINION: Law enforcement is what we do to people. Public safety is what we do with people.

The City of Oakland has an agency that is charged with leading and coordinating our prevention efforts with people, aptly called the Department of Violence Prevention (DVP), which is loosely patterned on the Richmond Office of Neighborhood Safety, a model that I helped launch in 2008. Over a five-year period, homicides in Richmond decreased by 70%. Instead of vaguely following its structure, let’s properly implement the pieces that are proven to reduce violence in our streets.

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Gregory Hodge
Gregory Hodge

By Gregory Hodge

As a mayoral candidate, I want to see Department of Violence Prevention’s (DVP) current budget of $28M doubled to $56M. That would allow us to create a Behavioral Health Unit that supports our neighbors and families who are at the center of this crisis. Let’s vote for City officials who will fund it at a level that can rise to the challenge of this moment.

Law enforcement is what we do to people. Public safety is what we do with people.

The City of Oakland has an agency that is charged with leading and coordinating our prevention efforts with people, aptly called the Department of Violence Prevention (DVP), which is loosely patterned on the Richmond Office of Neighborhood Safety, a model that I helped launch in 2008. Over a five-year period, homicides in Richmond decreased by 70%. Instead of vaguely following its structure, let’s properly implement the pieces that are proven to reduce violence in our streets.

A vote for me is a vote to fully implement the Mobile Assistance Community Responders of Oakland, known as MACRO. This initiative shows substantial promise as its staff works to intervene in non-violent 911 calls, freeing up police services to address violent criminal behavior. We should create a community ambassador team that employs formerly incarcerated, returning neighbors who know the streets.

To further illustrate just how disconnected our leaders are, there was a shooting near Frank Ogawa Plaza during a City Council meeting on National Voter Registration Day. City Council took a brief recess and then immediately resumed business as usual. While gun violence rampaged outside, they were inside discussing the proposal to provide over $250M in public funds for the Oakland A’s Howard Terminal ballpark development.

While they were deciding how to spend our tax dollars without letting us vote on the matter, another tragic, senseless homicide took place literally outside the doors of City Hall.

Two more killings happened that same evening in East Oakland. Four others in the preceding week in other parts of town. The crisis rages on with virtual silence from those charged with keeping up safety.

Data shows that only about 200 individuals are responsible for most of our violent crime. In many ways, these individuals are both perpetrators and victims of the violence we see.

Prevention work is critical to our safety. Law enforcement resources should be focused on the most serious, violent crimes. Our capacity to investigate, arrest and hold people accountable can be vastly improved as we free up the human and technical resources to do so.

National Voter Registration Day was Sept. 20. Let’s use the tool of voting to bring solutions to our most challenging problems. Mail ballots will begin arriving shortly after Oct. 10 and Election Day is Nov. 8. Register and make a plan to vote. Encourage new voters to get involved. Encourage our returning, formerly incarcerated neighbors to vote. Let’s make the turnout for Oakland historic and address the safety crisis at hand.

You can register to vote at the California Secretary of State’s website at www.registertovote.ca.gov.

To learn more about our platform, go to www.hodgeforoakland.com.

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Bay Area

Jurors Who Take Public Transit Can Now Be Reimbursed Following Bill Signing

“The right to a trial by jury applies to both criminal and civil cases, but jury trials can’t be held unless people are able to perform their civic duties,” Assemblyman Alex Lee (D-San Jose) said in a statement. “By expanding reimbursement options for taking transit and increasing juror pay, we can have juries that are more reflective of our communities leading to better outcomes and better experiences for the jurors.”

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The California State Assembly seal (California State Assembly via Bay City News)
The California State Assembly seal (California State Assembly via Bay City News)

By Thomas Hughes, BCN Foundation

A bill to allow California jurors to be reimbursed for using public transportation was signed into law Sept. 15 by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

The law, authored by Assemblyman Alex Lee (D-San Jose), allows for reimbursement for up to $12 per day for those who take public transportation, according to a statement from Lee and the text of the new law.

“The right to a trial by jury applies to both criminal and civil cases, but jury trials can’t be held unless people are able to perform their civic duties,” Lee said in a statement. “By expanding reimbursement options for taking transit and increasing juror pay, we can have juries that are more reflective of our communities leading to better outcomes and better experiences for the jurors.”

Currently, only drivers are reimbursed for travel, at a rate of 34 cents per mile, one-way. The law, AB 1981, also established a two-year pilot program to study if increasing juror compensation would increase the diversity of jurors who serve.

California pays jurors $15 per day to serve, starting on the second day, according to Lee. The study will help determine if raising the amount increases the likelihood of people serving. The daily compensation for serving on a federal jury is $50, and $60 after 10 days.

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