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Tenants’ Union Rebuffs Landlord’s Attempt at Eviction

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SMC Tenants Council member Katie Brown holds a Declaration of COVID-19 Related Distress form with the words “CANCEL RENT” written on it outside of landlord SMC East Bay’s leasing office in West Oakland. Photo on Oct 4 by Zack Haber

SMC East Bay Sent Residents Illegitimate Pay-Rent-or-Quit demands

Members and supporters of SMC Tenants Council formed a car and bike caravan rally on Sunday to protest their landlord, SMC East Bay, serving them Pay Rent or Quit notices.

The notices demanded that within 15 days tenants pay back rent or fill out and sign COVID-19 financially related distress forms. That same day, the SMC Tenant Council also e-mailed their landlord asking them to rescind the demand to pay or sign. On Monday, the following evening, their landlord relented, and no longer demanded tenants pay or sign the forms.

“SMC East Bay is just trying to squeeze out any rent that they can by scaring people,” said Katie Brown, just after receiving the demand to pay or sign. She lives in an SMC household, one of over a dozen who received the notices in Oakland.

Starting at 34th and Wood streets in West Oakland, 21 cars, 10 bikes, and about 40 people in total joined the rally. Protestors brought red signs that they attached to bikes and cars. Some of the signs read “Tenants Against Capitalism,” “Cancel Rent,” and “Únase a la unión de inquilinxs” which translates from the Spanish to “Join a tenants union.”

The action sprung from the organizing SMC tenants have done since late March when they unionized into a council and some households began withholding rent in an effort to make SMC East Bay negotiate with them for better conditions and COVID-19-based relief.

While the union is open to negotiations, which SMC East Bay has not yet formally responded to, their main current demand is rent cancellation during the pandemic.

At the rally, the protestors called the notices “illegal” and claimed that they don’t have to sign. Lawyers at the Oakland’s City Attorney’s Office agree that tenants are not required to sign anything to continue to be protected by Oakland’s Eviction Moratorium, which currently prevents tenants from being evicted for non-payment of rent. They are also protected because County of Alameda Courts are not currently serving unlawful detainers due to non-payment of rent.

While the recently passed California state law AB 3088 does not offer as expansive protections for tenants as Oakland’s Eviction Moratorium and requires that tenants sign a form documenting COVID-19 financially related distress for non-payment of rent, Oakland’s law supersedes state law in this instance.

AB 3088 prevents local municipalities from instituting their own new COVID-19 related eviction protections but does not affect any local tenant protection policies instituted before Aug. 19, 2020.

Since Oakland approved their Emergency Eviction Moratorium on March 27, and renewed it on July 21, Oaklanders are still covered until the city declares an end to the COVID-19 related Local State of Emergency and cannot be evicted for non-payment of rent.

Tenants and supporters rallied against the demand to sign or pay by forming a line of cars that continuously honked while driving through West Oakland and Downtown. They went to SMC East Bay’s lease collecting office in West Oakland and wrote the words “CANCEL RENT” on the forms their landlord demanded they fill out, then dropped them into the mail slot.

No one at the rally did any spray-painting, but the words “SLUMLORDS” and “RENT FORGIVENESS NOW” could plainly be read on the SMC East Bay leasing office building.

The protestors also went to City Hall, claiming the city government is not doing enough to protect tenants. At City Hall, they taped posters that read “Scene of a Wealth Crime” and highlighted friendly relations between SMC owner Neill Sullivan and Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf in a photo of them smiling together.

The poster demanded that the city work to cancel rent during the pandemic and reduce rent after the pandemic.

The SMC Tenants Council has been critical of Sullivan since its inception. Low-income tenants of buildings Sullivan owns complain of rat and mold infestations and deteriorating infrastructure that is not addressed.

They find the lack of action especially troublesome considering Sullivan’s wealth. They point to data from the Anti-Eviction Mapping project that shows he has spent over $68 million, which he obtained from hedge fund investments, buying up over 350 properties largely formerly owned by Black residents who lost them during and after the 2008 recession, then served about 350 eviction notices between 2010 and 2016.

“I got involved with SMC Tenant Council because I was having problems in my house and I was constantly in fear of getting evicted for many years,” said Rizzy, an SMC Tenants Council Member at the rally. They wore a t-shirt that read “All my homies hate Libby Schaaf.”

“When I joined the council I realized I wasn’t alone in this fear,” they said. “I think it’s really great that people are joining together to stand up and get Neill Sullivan to collectively bargain for our demands.”

As the rally occurred, SMC Tenants Council members not present at the rally sent an e-mail to SMC East Bay.

“By now, you are aware of the local eviction moratoria, which this notice violates,” read their e-mail. “We resent and reject your effort to create and exploit confusion in the middle of this pandemic emergency by serving us this notice based on irrelevant state law AB 3088. We know our rights.”

The e-mail later listed their own demand to the landlord.

“Within two weeks of receiving this letter, we ask that you reply in writing to rescind your 15 Day Notices,” the email read.

Around 6:00 p.m. the following day, SMC East Bay responded by e-mail.

“In light of your letter and in the spirit of compromise,” read the e-mail, “please let this letter serve as formal rescission of the 15-day notice previously served upon you.”

The SMC Tenants Council saw the response as a win both because SMC East Bay rescinded their demand to pay or sign and because it marked the first time that the large landlord corporation responded directly to the union.

“I’m proud to be a part of this community and this council because our members have been working diligently to make sure we and our neighbors are safe and have a voice,” said SMC Tenants Council member Serena Gafford, in response to the win. “I’m excited to continue organizing because this is just the beginning.”

SMC East Bay was e-mailed a list of specific questions on Sunday morning including ones about their history of evictions, their notices, and whether they recognized the union. In their response, they did not answer those questions directly but touted their work with faith-based organizations and also wrote, “We will continue to follow all state and local laws and never use scare tactics.”

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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Post Salon Speakers Say Oakland Can Mobilize to End State Overseers’ Control of Schools

“We will not give up on the demand to protect majority Black schools from closures or on the demand that school closures is not a justified action at all for this board to be taking.” 

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The Oakland Post Community Assembly held a Post Salon last weekend on the role of the nearly. 20-year reign of the Oakland school district’s state overseers and their devastating impact the education of  students and families 

Frankie Ramos, doctoral candidate at UC Berkeley and OUSD parent, hosted the meeting, laying out the goals of looking at who the state-imposed trustee and the Fiscal Crisis Management and Assistance Team are and what can be done to get rid of them.

“One of the challenges we are facing is trying to understand who really is in control, who really has power in our school district; there are forces behind the scenes that are definitely exerting power,” she said, and our communities need a “plan for getting out of their control so we can get back on track so Oakland students can thrive.”

Dr. Nirali Jani, professor at Holy Names University and a former Oakland teacher, said efforts to seize control of the school district began in 1988, a year after the first Black majority school board was elected in Oakland. The takeover was not accomplished until 2003, stripping the school board of its power and replacing the superintendent with a state receiver

“State takeover is a targeted attempt for corporate penetration and privatization of public land,” she said, and is  part of a “business plan” utilized to take over schools and other public institutions across the country.

In Oakland, the state gave billionaire Eli Broad and his Broad Foundation free hand to implement corporate strategies in the school district. 

Post Publisher Paul Cobb was a school board member at the time of the takeover. He said the state was supposedly coming in to help the district achieve financial stability.

But state control was marked by “unbalanced budgets” and “no audits” of how they spent district money, he said. “OUSD partially emerged from state receivership  in 2009, but it was $89 million in debt, much more than the original $37 million (in 2003).”

He said the state overseers, are pushing a “replacement strategy” to close schools. “We are witnessing the removal of Black and Brown populations from the schools” and the city, he said.

He said the community should call on Gov. Gavin Newsom, who is facing a recall and “is available to be pressured by all of us” to audit FCMAT.

The community can make similar demands of Rob Bonta when he becomes state attorney general and also ask candidates for Bonta’s soon to be vacated Assembly seat to step up and fight for the independence of the local school district, he said. 

Pecolia Manigo, OUSD parent, executive director of the Parent Leadership Action Network (PLAN) and an organizer for the Justice for Oakland Students coalition, explained that the coalition has been working for several years for “Reparations for Black Students” to  reduce and end the harm OUSD has caused Black students for generations.

The coalition won 15 of its 16 demands, but the school board backed down when threatened by state Trustee Chris Learned, dropping the demand to stop closing mostly Black schools. 

“One of the biggest demands was ensuring that majority Black schools were not targeted for closure,” she said. “This is a board that chose not to take a courageous stand, (instead) choosing to put (Black schools) on the chopping block to balance the budget.”

“We will not give up on the demand to protect majority Black schools from closures or on the demand that school closures is not a justified action at all for this board to be taking.” 

School Board Member VanCedric Williams said, “We have  to challenge the status quo. The status quo is just not acceptable anymore…we must force the district to pivot toward racial and social justice. We are a social justice city, and we have to call on our elected leaders” to join with us.

Jackie Goldberg, member of the Los Angeles school board and a formerly in the state Assembly, said  state takeover districts are targeted racially and  “an entirely undemocratic method of solving a problem,” putting people in charge who nobody elected and “nobody decided should here.”

She said, “These people are not committed to the districts, they are not from the districts, they don’t care about the district, they are getting paid very large amounts of money, and they are political appointees.” 

“This is a political issue, not a fiscal issue. It will be framed by the state  as an economic fight but it is not.”

She suggested Oakland could start a statewide coalition to demand an end to FCMAT and state trusteeship as a way to solve districts’ financial problems. 

School Board Member Mike Hutchinson said the district is under state control because of the terms of 2003 state loan and of AB 1840, a recent law that gives the district some money but with strings attached 

“We are actively working on that plan to pay off the loan early” and can refuse to take the AB1840 money. “We can be free of (both)  AB1840 and the state loan in the next four to six months,” he said.

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Chauvin Trial Shows Need for Broad Focus on Systemic Racism

Officer’s Conviction Necessary but Not Sufficient, Greenlining Institute Says

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OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA – In response to the announcement of the conviction of former police officer Derek Chauvin on all three counts in the killing of George Floyd, Greenlining Institute President and CEO Debra Gore-Mann released the following statement:
“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.”
To learn more about The Greenlining Institute, visit www.greenlining.org.

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