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Supporters, Opponents Clash Over Bill That Would Decriminalize Loitering for Prostitution

Vanessa Russell, founder of the Bay Area’s Love Never Fails, a non-profit dedicated to the restoration, education, and protection of those involved or at risk of becoming involved in domestic human trafficking, said SB 357, the Safer Streets for All Act, is “deeply disturbing.”

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Stock image of woman in bed with money

Stephany Powell, an advocate for sex crime victims and survivors, hopes Gov. Gavin Newsom will veto Senate Bill (SB) 357.

The legislation proposes ending punishment for people “loitering in a public place with the intent to commit prostitution.”

Powell, who is director of Law Enforcement Training and Survivor Services for the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE), and other advocates say, if the bill is signed into law, it would provide increased “open-air” activities in disadvantaged communities.

“I’m just thinking about the people living in the communities that would have to deal with (prostitution),” said Powell, a former city of Los Angeles law enforcement officer. “They (the lawmakers) need to come up with something else because it’s a Band-Aid approach to the issue.  People who don’t have a full understanding of how this can be problematic. I hope it’s vetoed.”

NCOSE, based in Wash., D.C., is dedicated to creating an environment free from sexual abuse and exploitation, through policy, legal, corporate advocacy, education, and public mobilization. Powell joined the organization in 2020.

The author of SB 357, Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) presents a counterargument. Wiener says the bill protects sex-trafficked women from the police who use loitering laws to discriminate against minorities, including Black, Latino, trans, lesbian, gay, and bisexual people.

Existing law prohibits soliciting or engaging in an act of prostitution. It also prohibits loitering in a public place “with the intent to commit prostitution, as defined, or directing, supervising, recruiting, or aiding a person who is loitering with the intent to commit prostitution.”

Under the existing law, a violation of any of these provisions is a misdemeanor. SB 357 would decriminalize them.

California Penal Code 653.22 allows police to arrest someone for intending to solicit or engage in prostitution even if the person never actually engages in the act. The offense is commonly referred to as “loitering to commit prostitution” or “loitering for prostitution.”

Powell said this law is effective. Police officers do not actually have to catch someone engaged in prostitution before apprehending them she says, adding that the police “can arrest the sex buyer and the person selling the service.”

Although Powell says it is easy for innocent people to find themselves under suspicion because of the latitude police officers have under current law, she insists, based on knowledge from prosecutors and D.A. offices’ investigations of sex trafficking and underage prostitution, it would not be a significant problem.

“Say if I am the vice cop out there. I see a girl but don’t know if she’s 16 or 19. But remember: if she is under the age of 18, she is automatically considered to be a victim of human trafficking,” Powell said. “The only reason why I would be able to stop her is because of P.C. 653.22. So, let’s say SB 357 becomes legal. Well then, what am I stopping her for? Because, God help me, if she’s 21. I’m going to have some legal problems.”

The governor is getting increased pressure from individuals for and against SB 357, including sex worker advocates across California.

Sex-trafficking survivors and anti-trafficking advocates held a news conference at the California State Capitol to protest SB 357.

Vanessa Russell, founder of the Bay Area’s Love Never Fails, a non-profit dedicated to the restoration, education, and protection of those involved or at risk of becoming involved in domestic human trafficking, said SB 357, the Safer Streets for All Act, is “deeply disturbing.”

“As a direct service provider, I think it’s important to call out a few things, unfortunately. The false narrative that is present and embodied in SB 357,” said Russell. “This is a bill that is preying on the current anti-sentiment of communities of color. This is not a partisan issue. This is a humanitarian issue. It is an issue that all of us need to engage on to show (sex trafficking) survivors they can be safe.”

Four survivors of sex trafficking spoke outside the state capitol to express their displeasure with the bill. They said police officers use loitering laws to nab solicitors and traffickers — as well as to save trafficked women and men from their brutal traffickers.

The survivors believe that without a loitering law, exploitation of these vulnerable women is only going to increase.

“This piece of legislation only protects the buyer and the trafficker,” said survivor Marjorie Saylor, who also runs a nonprofit for former sex-trafficked women exiting prostitution. “And these are traffickers that send his girls into your high schools to recruit your sons and daughters.”

Saylor, a Black woman, said that it was a police officer that helped her escape a sex trafficker.

“I was rescued by law enforcement, and I feel that it is necessary that we work and partner with law enforcement to engage these men, women, boys, and girls on the streets. They need a reason to go in and say someone is being exploited.”

The bill authorizes a person convicted of a violation of loitering with the intent to commit prostitution to petition the court for the dismissal and sealing of their case, and resentencing.

The U.S. Department of State has estimated that 14,500 to 17,500 victims are trafficked into the country each year. The figure does not include victims who are trafficked within the United States each year.

New York City is currently dealing with an open-air sex market that vice authorities are turning a blind eye to due to the Brooklyn District Attorney shifting from prosecuting prostitution cases. Brooklyn’s D.A. has moved to vacate 262 warrants related to the sex trade.

Powell said actions such as these empower pimps and sex traffickers.

“This is what it looks like if prostitution is legal,” Powell said of New York City’s approach to the world’s oldest profession.

California – a populous border state with a significant immigrant population, the State’s Department of Justice stated – is one of the nation’s top destination states for trafficking human beings.

After SB 357 passed the Senate Public Safety Committee in March by a vote of 4-1, Fatima Shabazz of Fatima Speaks, and co-lead of the Policy Committee for the DecrimSexWorkCA Coalition stated, “this is the first step in repealing a Jim Crow law that criminalizes Black and trans people in public spaces.”

“Sex workers are workers like anyone else, and they deserve to be treated with dignity and respect,” said Wiener, presenting his case for repealing what he views as a discriminatory law.

“Our criminal justice system criminalizes people – particularly Black, Brown and LGTBQ people – for simply existing and going about their lives. Laws like this one do nothing to make people safer or stop sex trafficking. Instead, they criminalize members of our community who are simply going about their lives. We need to support sex workers instead of criminalizing them.”

Activism

Ask County Supervisors Not to Spend Millions in Tax Dollars on Oakland A’s Real Estate Deal

Please attend the meeting Tuesday, October 26 and express your opinion; call or e-mail your supervisor and Keith Carson, president of the Board of Supervisors, through his chief of staff Amy Shrago at (510) 272-6685 or Amy.Shrago@acgov.org

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A rendering of the proposed new A’s ballpark at the Howard Terminal site, surrounded by port cranes and warehouses. Image courtesy of MANICA Architecture.

The East Oakland Stadium Alliance (EOSA) and other groups are asking local residents to attend and speak at next week’s Alameda County Board of Supervisors meeting to oppose a proposal to spend county residents’ tax dollars to pay for the Oakland A’s massive multi-billion-dollar real estate deal at Howard Terminal at the Port of Oakland. 

Please attend the meeting Tuesday, October 26 and express your opinion; call or e-mail your supervisor and Keith Carson, president of the Board of Supervisors, through his chief of staff Amy Shrago at (510) 272-6685 or Amy.Shrago@acgov.org

The Stadium Alliance urges community members to “let (the supervisors) know that Alameda County residents don’t want our tax dollars to pay for a private luxury development. This proposal does not include privately funded community benefits and would harm our region’s economic engine – the port- putting tens of thousands of good-paying jobs at risk.”

 

“The Oakland Post’s coverage of local news in Alameda County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support community newspapers across California.”

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Marin County Sheriff Sued for Illegally Sharing Drivers’ License Plate Data

This practice has violated two California laws, endangers the safety and privacy of local immigrant communities, and facilitates location tracking by police.

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An example of ALPRs (www.pasadenanow.org)

Marin County Sheriff Robert Doyle has been sued for illegally sharing millions of local drivers’ license plates and location data, captured by a network of cameras his office uses, with hundreds of federal and out-of-state agencies, such as Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Customs and Border Protection (CBP), over a dozen other federal law enforcement agencies, and more than 400 out-of-state law enforcement agencies.

This practice has violated two California laws, endangers the safety and privacy of local immigrant communities, and facilitates location tracking by police.

The suit seeks to end the sheriff’s illegal practice of giving hundreds of agencies outside California access to a database of license plate scans used to identify and track people, revealing where they live and work, when they visit friends or drop their kids at school, and when they attend religious services or protests.

The lawsuit was filed in Marin County Superior Court by the ACLU Foundations of Northern California, Southern California, and San Diego and Imperial Counties, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), and attorney Michael T. Risher representing community activists Lisa Bennett, Cesar S. Lagleva, and Tara Evans, who are longtime Marin community members.

License plate scans occur through Automated License Plate Readers (ALPRs): high-speed cameras mounted in a fixed location or atop police cars moving through the community that automatically capture all license plates that come into view, recording the exact location, date, and time that the vehicle passes by.

The Marin County Sheriff’s Office scans tens of thousands of license plates each month with its ALPR system. That sensitive personal information, which includes photographs of the vehicle and sometimes its driver and passengers, is stored in a database.

The sheriff permits hundreds of out-of-state agencies and several federal entities, including the Department of Homeland Security, to run queries of a license plate against information the sheriff has collected. The agencies are also able to compare their own bulk lists of vehicle license plates of interest, known as “hot lists,” against the ALPR information collected by the sheriff’s office. 

“In the hands of police, the use of ALPR technology is a threat to privacy and civil liberties, especially for immigrants. Federal immigration agencies routinely access and use ALPR information to locate, detain, and deport immigrants. The sheriff’s own records show that Sheriff Doyle is sharing ALPR information with two of the most rogue agencies in the federal government: ICE and CBP,” said Vasudha Talla, immigrants’ rights program director at the ACLU Foundation of Northern California. “Police should not be purchasing surveillance technology, let alone facilitating the deportation and incarceration of our immigrant communities.”

California’s S.B. 34, enacted in 2015, bars this practice. The law requires agencies that use ALPR technology to implement policies to protect privacy and civil liberties, and specifically prohibits police from sharing ALPR data with entities outside of California. 

The sheriff also violates the California Values Act (S.B. 54), also known as California’s “sanctuary” law. Enacted in 2018, the law limits the use of local resources to assist federal immigration enforcement.

“The information unveiled through this lawsuit shows that the freedoms that people think they possess in Marin County are a mirage: people cannot move about freely without being surveilled,” said Bennett. “Our county sheriff, who has sworn to uphold the law, is in fact violating it by sharing peoples’ private information with outside agencies. This has especially alarming implications for immigrants and people of color: two communities that are traditionally the targets of excessive policing, surveillance, and separation from loved ones and community through incarceration or deportation.”

The Marin County Post’s coverage of local news in Marin County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support community newspapers across California.

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Community

The 157th Session of the AME Church’s California Annual Conference: Not Just Business as Usual

For the 157th time in history, the African Methodist Episcopal Church in California met to report at the call of their bishop, the Right Reverend Clement W. Fugh, which, for the first time was held both on-line and in person from Bethel AME Church at 916 Laguna St. in San Francisco. 

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Bishop Clement W. Fugh, Presiding Prelate of the 5th Episcopal District, ready for the 157th Session of the California Annual Conference

For the 157th time in history, the African Methodist Episcopal Church in California met to report at the call of their bishop, the Right Reverend Clement W. Fugh, which, for the first time was held both on-line and in person from Bethel AME Church at 916 Laguna St. in San Francisco. 

The renowned presiding elders, Rev. Dr. Harold R. Mayberry and Rev. Dr. Vernon S. Burroughs, middle managers of this portion of Bishop Fugh’s charge, shared the accounts of their respective territories at the AME Church’s California Annual Conference via prerecorded videos at the meeting hosted by Churches of the Sacramento Valley. 

The lead congregation from the valley was Murph-Emmanuel A.M.E. Church in North Highlands, CA, which is pastored by Rev. Dr. Carieta Cain Grizzell, whose spouse Rev. Martin Grizzell is also known for his past ministry in the Bay Area. The venue church is served by the pastoral team of Rev. Robert R. Shaw and his partner, Assistant Pastor, Rev. Ann Champion Shaw. Murph-Emmanuel and Bethel A.M.E. Church were acclaimed by Bishop Fugh for their cooperation in this session of the California Annual Conference.  

Bethel A.M.E San Francisco looked like a television set had grown into the sanctuary, complete with multiple lights and cameras. There was a technical team (in person and on-line) primarily made up of young adult members of AME churches under the purview of the bishop. The meeting was a clear, joint effort of both clergy and lay people, more than in past years. Though the California Annual Conference has long made a point of including non-cleric church members, young and old, the COVID-19 pandemic circumstances have clearly advanced the Conference’s inclusivity.  

“The Word of God is Colorblind,” said Bishop Fugh during the retirement portion of the Annual Conference which honored the retirement of the host pastor. The diversity within churches of the California Annual Conference was on display at this 157th session of this historic meeting and it was clear that the leadership encourages the welcoming of all who would like to join with the church. 

There was an apparent focus on meeting safely, with limitations on those allowed to join in person. Attestations related to COVID-19 were required of registrants and a screening process was administered at the venue. The bishop commended the venue leadership and church for the dignity that was maintained during the process. 

Registration for Zoom attendance was also a painless process and open to whomever desired to attend the Webinar. The conference was accessible on Facebook as well as YouTube. The bishop also encouraged churches to make attendance as safe as possible while keeping the process simple and focusing on a quality worship experience. Bishop Fugh set a goal for represented churches to reopen their sanctuaries by the first Sunday of November. 

This session of the California Annual Conference carried with it the long-standing traditions of the first Christian denomination founded in response to social injustice over 200 years ago. The ministries reported primarily using pre-recorded videos this year as it all followed through decently and in order. Indeed, there was a genuine spirit of love during the conference.

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