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Working group explores changes in county justice system

WAVE NEWSPAPERS — If Los Angeles County hopes to create a “care first, jail last” system of justice, it will need to make a major investment in mental health and community-based services, a county working group told the Board of Supervisors June 11. Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said the county was aiming to reshape its approach to criminal justice.

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By County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas

LOS ANGELES — If Los Angeles County hopes to create a “care first, jail last” system of justice, it will need to make a major investment in mental health and community-based services, a county working group told the Board of Supervisors June 11.

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said the county was aiming to reshape its approach to criminal justice.

“If not ‘no more jails,’ then fewer and fewer people in jails,” Kuehl said of the board’s goal.

The Alternatives to Incarceration Work Group, chaired by Robert Ross, president and CEO of the California Endowment, set 14 goals and offered more than 100 recommendations as part of its 90-day interim report.

“The board is on the right track,” Ross told the Board of Supervisors. “What you’re hearing is ‘move farther, push harder.’”

Another work group member spoke to a cycle of arrest and re-arrest among the county’s most vulnerable residents.

“If you are someone in Los Angeles County struggling with mental health, substance use or housing needs, you are met with systems that do not have the capacity to adequately support you, and you then end up in our hospitals, jails or on our streets,” said Eunisses Hernandez, of JustLeadershipUSA, a nonprofit which aims to cut the nationwide jail and prison population in half by 2030.

The need to significantly build capacity for mental health and substance abuse treatment, as well as related programs, was highlighted by multiple members of the work group, who said it means hiring more mental health professionals to coordinate with law enforcement, opening more community mental health urgent care centers and substance abuse treatment facilities, as well as providing more housing services and pathways to jobs.

“We must stop releasing people from the jail into homelessness,” the report quoted a member of law enforcement as saying.

Despite points of contention between various constituencies in the group, which has 26 voting members, Hernandez said the work represents an “unprecedented community engagement process” and seemed optimistic that the report would impact policy.

County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas praised the working group’s report.

“They are putting together a roadmap that centers care and treatment as the primary priority, and incarceration as a tool of last resort,” he said. “For the system, it represents a shift in paradigm to a care first ethos that internalizes the challenges faced by our justice-involved system.”

Ross declined to prioritize the various recommendations in the report — which include rerouting 911 calls related to mental health issues away from law enforcement, a commitment to pretrial release and expanding the use of conservatorships for severely mentally ill individuals — but cited one big idea when pressed.

“We need a network of restorative villages around the county,” Ross said, telling the board the notion has been “road-tested” at Martin Luther King Jr. Medical Center, but more centers are needed “[to] begin to show … what true healing looks like at the community level.”

Members of the group highlighted race as a factor.

“The people locked up in Los Angeles County, as everywhere in America, are disproportionately black and brown,” said Kelly Lytle Hernandez, director of the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA. “We are committed to acknowledging, studying and dismantling [the] legacies of systemic racism.”

Activists have for years told the county “no new jails.” They argue that the board’s latest proposal, a $2.2 billion “mental health treatment system” to replace the Men’s Central Jail, is too massive to be effective and should be abandoned in favor of smaller community centers.

Brian Kaneda of Californians United for a Responsible Budget told the supervisors the treatment facility is “a building that will effectively function as a jail by another name.”

The work group intentionally did not take a position on the downtown center, though Ross said in a letter prefacing the report that community leaders believe it “appears to run counter to the vision of a community-based, care-first, integrated system of care.”

Peter Eliasberg of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California called the work group’s objectives and the mental health treatment center “two entirely incompatible visions,” noting the treatment center already “has an inside track” to funding.

Shifting focus and resources from jails to the community will be an expensive proposition that will take roughly seven to 10 years to effectively scale, according to Ross and Dr. Christina Ghaly, who heads the county hospital system.

“Who pays for it and what are we getting for that money?” asked Supervisor Hilda Solis.

Ghaly said the answer was complicated and didn’t guess at a price tag, but offered some insights. Medicaid funding, for example, cannot be used to pay for mental health care for jail inmates, but if those same individuals were in community-based treatment, federal funding could cover 50-90% of the costs, she said.

Kuehl said she wasn’t willing to let federal or state officials “off the hook” when it comes to investing in alternatives to jail.

However, Eliasberg said it was time for the board to make a big financial commitment of its own.

Even if it made any sense to build a 3,885-bed facility — three times the size of California’s largest mental health hospital — the board cannot afford to fund both plans and will starve the Alternatives to Incarceration plan if it proceeds with construction downtown, the civil rights advocate said.

“They’ve got to put their money where their mouths are,” Eliasberg told City News Service.

Models for what the county can accomplish can be found in Portugal, Italy and Scandinavia, according to the report. In the U.S., the city of New York and several states, including New Jersey, Ohio, Kentucky and Missouri, have successfully implemented innovative changes, but have struggled to scale their impact.

Ross urged the county not to wait for others to act, predicting that change in this arena will come from a series of local and regional efforts, rather than at the federal level.

A final report is scheduled for December

“They are putting together a roadmap that centers care and treatment as the primary priority, and incarceration as a tool of last resort.”

This article originally appeared in Wave Newspapers. 

Activism

Call to Protect Geoffrey’s Inner Circle from Threatened High-Rise Development

Geoffrey’s, located at 410 14th St., is part of the city’s Black Arts Movement and Business District which was formed in 2016 by reso-lution of the Oakland City Council to protect Black-owned businesses and enhance a downtown district that would encourage the historic African American legacy and cul-ture of Oakland.

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By Ken Epstein

Geoffrey’s Inner Circle, a downtown Oakland Cultural Center that has featured live jazz and served music lovers and the Black community for decades, is now under threat from a proposed real estate development that could undermine the stability and future of the facility.

Geoffrey’s, located at 410 14th St., is part of the city’s Black Arts Movement and Business District which was formed in 2016 by resolution of the Oakland City Council to protect Black-owned businesses and enhance a downtown district that would encourage the historic African American legacy and culture of Oakland.

Now, the Oakland Planning Commission is considering a high-rise building proposed by out-of-town developers next to Geoffrey’s, which would jeopardize both the survival of the venue and the Black business district as a whole.

In addition to running a business that has been a crucial institution in the local community and the regional arts scene, Geoffrey Pete, founder, has utilized his business to offer meals for thousands of unsheltered individuals and hosted countless community events.

The following petition is being circulated in defense of Geoffrey’s and the Black Arts district (To add your name to the petition, email info@geoffreyslive.com):

“The African-American community in Oakland has been seriously damaged by developers and public offcials who are willing and sometimes eager to see African Americans disappear from the city. Black people comprised 47% of the population in 1980; now they make up only 20% of said population. In response to this crisis the 14th Street Corridor from Oak to the 880 Frontage Road was established as the Black Arts Movement and Business District by the City Council on Jan. 7, 2016, in Resolution 85958.

Tidewater, an out-of-town developer, is proposing to build a high-rise building at 1431 Franklin, which will damage the Black business district and the businesses in the area including the iconic business of Geoffrey’s Inner Circle at 410 – 14th St.

We demand that the Planning Commission and the City Council reject this predatory building proposal and proceed with plans to fund and enhance the Black Business District.”

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Bay Area

Popular Chief LeRonne Armstrong Placed on Administrative Leave During Investigation of Police Misconduct

In a press statement, Mayor Sheng Thao said that placing Armstrong on paid administrative leave was not punitive but was a standard procedure when investigating possible officer wrongdoing. “We must do what we need to do to get out of that oversight,” she said, explaining that she wants to show the public and the court monitor that there will be no favoritism. A rookie officer or the top officer will face the same investigative process.

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In his remarks, Armstrong defended OPD’s internal affairs department and fellow officers who were criticized in an independent report that found “systemic deficiencies” in the police department.

“I did nothing wrong. I violated no policies,” said Armstrong, speaking at a press conference

By Ken Epstein

Refusing to accept administrative leave during a police misconduct investigation, OPD Chief LeRonne Armstrong fired back with a press conference of his own this week, organized by a high-profile corporate public relations and communications firm.

“I should be the chief of police and remain in my position,” he said. “I did nothing wrong. I violated no policies.”

Mayor Sheng Thao placed Armstrong on administrative leave with pay while his role in an officer misconduct cover-up scandal is investigated by internal affairs. The case involves a highly paid police sergeant who was involved in a hit-and-run automobile accident in San Francisco and is accused of later discharging a gun in an OPD freight elevator and disposing of the shell casings by throwing them off the Bay Bridge.

At a press conference Monday at the office of PR consultant Sam Singer’s office in Emeryville, Armstrong did not blame Mayor Sheng Thao for placing him on leave but instead denounced federal monitor, Robert Warshaw, who oversees the police department and evaluates its reform efforts as a representative for the federal court that has overseen OPD for two decades.

In his remarks, Armstrong defended OPD’s internal affairs department and fellow officers who were criticized in an independent report that found “systemic deficiencies” in the police department.

“This to me, clearly, is a last-ditch effort to destroy the credibility of me…and to make the community believe that Oakland police is involved in some shady business,” he said.

He blasted Warshaw’s “ulterior motives,” accusing him and his team of seeking a reason to continue to be paid over $1 million a year to oversee the department, which was potentially set to exit from federal oversight at the end of May.

“It’s hard to say a mayor who’s been in the seat for just a couple of weeks would be able to push back against a monitor at this point,” Armstrong said, adding that some city officials might be “intimidated” by Warshaw’s team.

City Attorney Barbara Parker said in a statement that her office agreed that the recent report on OPD deficiencies “revealed failures that call into question the integrity of (OPD’s) internal investigation processes.”

Many observers and police accountability activists are saying that the present scandal and subsequent community uproar over Chief Armstrong is best resolved by removing police misconduct investigations from OPD and instead turning the cases over to an independent civilian body.

Defending the department’s internal investigation, Armstrong said the investigation that was conducted was “consistent with the findings that were presented to me.”

“To work and get to this point and have it taken away from you hurts. It doesn’t just hurt me, it hurts my community because every day I come into this job to try to make Oakland better,” he said. Prior to this incident, Armstrong has been widely praised for helping make significant reforms at OPD and paving the way for an end to federal court intervention.

Armstrong said the sergeant involved in the case, who was identified in the media as Michael Chung, was placed on leave following the shooting incident, but that the chief was unable to review the case because Warshaw had taken over the investigation.

Sergeant Chung, one of Oakland’s most highly paid employees, received total pay and benefits of $492,779.77 in 2021, including regular pay of $160,828.84 and overtime pay of $276,959.38.

Armstrong, who has deep ties in the Oakland community, was born and raised in West Oakland, California, and was a graduate of McClymond’s High School. He joined the OPD as a police officer in 1999, after spending four years with the Alameda County Probation Department. He has a bachelor’s and master’s degree.

In a press statement, Mayor Sheng Thao said that placing Armstrong on paid administrative leave was not punitive but was a standard procedure when investigating possible officer wrongdoing.

“We must do what we need to do to get out of that oversight,” she said, explaining that she wants to show the public and the court monitor that there will be no favoritism. A rookie officer or the top officer will face the same investigative process.

“I want to make sure that everyone understands that, under our administration, that we take these findings seriously and it’s important that we look at taking the corrective action that is needed to make sure that we stay on track to make sure that we get out of the federal oversight,” she said.

“My belief is that, by holding ourselves accountable, we can be safer and a more just city,” Mayor Thao said.

At a federal court hearing Tuesday, Judge William Orrick, not addressing the criticisms of Warshaw’s role, said he was “profoundly disappointed” by the findings of the outside report conducted by attorneys hired by the City of Oakland, which revealed “significant cultural problems” that still exist after 20 years of court oversight.

The oversight began as a result of the negotiated resolution to a civil rights lawsuit in the Riders scandal in which plaintiffs alleged that four veteran officers, known as the ‘Riders,’ planted evidence and beat residents, while OPD turned a blind eye to the police misconduct.

“This is the third time since I’ve been overseeing the implementation of the (settlement) that the city has seemed to come close to full compliance,” Judge Orrick said, “only to have a serious episode arise that exposes rot within the department.”

Mayor Sheng Thao said she takes this case seriously, not a minor fender bender as some have dismissed it, and that said those involved will be “disciplined appropriately.”

“This particular misconduct is serious because it provides fertile ground for other misconduct to thrive,” she said at the hearing. “I will not tolerate toxic subcultures that try to demonize or deter officers who do the right thing.”

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Arts and Culture

IN MEMORIAM: Autris Paige

Paige performed regularly at Four Seasons’ Yachats Music Festival in Oregon from 1983-2017, with artists from around the world. Puerto Ricans Ilya and Raphael LeBron, soprano and baritone, remember him: “He leaves us with a warm memory of the simplicity that made him great: as a human being, as a friend and as a masterful artist!” Baritone Anthony Turner of New York says: “Autris was the embodiment of class and elegance. He delivered every song with a warm silken tone and economy of gestures. Autris gave of himself, his truth, his joy and love.”  Pianists Dennis Helmrich and Gerald Hecht often collaborated with Mr. Paige said: “Autris Paige was among the most intuitively refined musicians we have encountered: a pure pleasure and a cherished memory.” Pianist Jeongeun Yom, pianist, responds,”Autris will be remembered for his kindness, cheerfulness, and above all for his voice, with which he touched  the listeners’ heart.”

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AUTRIS T. PAIGE grew up in Oakland, California where he attended Star Bethel Church and graduated from McClymonds High School. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree from San Francisco State before pursuing advanced studies in musical theatre at the University of Southern California.
AUTRIS T. PAIGE grew up in Oakland, California where he attended Star Bethel Church and graduated from McClymonds High School. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree from San Francisco State before pursuing advanced studies in musical theatre at the University of Southern California.

August 17, 1938 – January 12, 2023

AUTRIS T. PAIGE was the youngest child born to Estella and Overton Paige in Sugar Land, Texas on Aug. 17, 1938.  He passed away on Jan. 12, 2023 in Oakland after a brief illness.  He was supported and comforted by his longtime companion Donna Vaughan.

Mr. Paige grew up in Oakland, California where he attended Star Bethel Church and graduated from McClymonds High School. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree from San Francisco State before pursuing advanced studies in musical theatre at the University of Southern California.

He served in the U.S. Air Force.

In 1971, he made his debut with the Los Angeles Civic Light Opera, appearing in Candide at the Los Angeles Music Center and at the Curran Theatre in San Francisco. He appeared with Ray Charles and the American Ballet Theatre and performed in several musical theatre productions on Broadway including Lost in the Stars; Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope; as Walter Lee in Raisin; and in Timbuktu with Eartha Kitt.

Mr. Paige has also sung with the New York City Opera, the Houston Grand Opera, the Metropolitan Opera and with the San Francisco Opera. Other opera companies in which he performed include the Seattle Opera and the Glyndebourne Opera in England. He was featured in the PBS film and award-winning EMI recording of Porgy and Bess as well as the recording of the opera X, The Life and Times of Malcolm X.

When he returned to Oakland to “retire” he met Dr. W. Hazaiah Williams, Founder and Director of Today’s Artists Concerts (now Four Seasons Arts), who auditioned Paige and invited him to perform on his series. Mr. Paige began a new phase of his musical career.

He appeared many times under the auspices of Today’s Artists Concerts/Four Seasons Arts in New York’s Alice Tully Hall and in venues around the Bay Area in their Art of the Spiritual programs. He was featured in his own Spiritual Journey in 2009. His recently released solo CD, Spiritual Journey, based on this program, has received critical acclaim.

Paige performed regularly at Four Seasons’ Yachats Music Festival in Oregon from 1983-2017, with artists from around the world. Puerto Ricans Ilya and Raphael LeBron, soprano and baritone, remember him: “He leaves us with a warm memory of the simplicity that made him great: as a human being, as a friend and as a masterful artist!” Baritone Anthony Turner of New York says: “Autris was the embodiment of class and elegance. He delivered every song with a warm silken tone and economy of gestures. Autris gave of himself, his truth, his joy and love.”  Pianists Dennis Helmrich and Gerald Hecht often collaborated with Mr. Paige said: “Autris Paige was among the most intuitively refined musicians we have encountered: a pure pleasure and a cherished memory.” Pianist Jeongeun Yom, pianist, responds,”Autris will be remembered for his kindness, cheerfulness, and above all for his voice, with which he touched  the listeners’ heart.”

In 2011, Mr. Paige was featured in Four Seasons Arts’ annual W. Hazaiah Williams Memorial Concert with the Lucy Kinchen Chorale and later with soprano Alison Buchanan. In 2013, he performed his Spiritual Journey II in Berkeley with pianist Othello Jefferson. A second CD entitled Classics and Spirituals was released in September 2013. Pianist Jerry Donaldson of Oakland was a frequent collaborator with Mr. Paige, performing throughout the Bay Area.

A Celebration of Life for Autris Paige will take place Friday, Feb. 3 at 11:00 a.m. at Third Baptist Church of San Francisco, 1399 McAllister Street, San Francisco.

A repast will follow the service.

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