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Crime

Young People Can Leave the Streets for the University, Says Dr. Victor Rios

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Award winning sociologist Dr. Victor Rios came home to Oakland this past weekend to speak about the importance of not giving up on our youth. His message was about the transformative power of treating young people with respect.

“We have been stripped of our dignity from an early age – We invest too much on punishment and not enough on giving young people a sense of purpose and rewards” for doing something positive with their lives, said Rios, who at 15 had dropped out of school and was hanging out on International Boulevard in East Oakland.

But because there were a few special teachers and others who did not give up on him, he said, he went on to earn a Ph.D. from UC Berkeley. He is now married with three children and is an associate professor at UC Santa Barbara, where he has already published two books.

Rios was the guest speaker at an event last Saturday afternoon at Castlemont High School in East Oakland, sponsored by People United for a Better Life in Oakland (PUEBLO).

A man with a mission, he argues that those who value the lives of Latino, African American and other low income teenagers are fighting an uphill battle against educational and criminal justice systems stacked against them.

But, he says, teachers and other youth workers have to keep working for the long haul. And while they work for systemic change, they need to be helping change lives, “one heart at a time.”

“We are part of the larger system,” he said, which in the last 30 years has changed its disciplinary polices to Zero Tolerance.

Nowadays, discipline means more “more policing tactics and surveillance” in schools and youth development institutions, he said. There are police and police tactics in the schools, he said.

“But police officers are not trained to help people out. They’re trained to apprehend, which is true in in Oakland and across the country.”

Dr. Rios asked his audience of teachers, teenagers and concerned adults to consider: “What does it mean to grow up in a time where we invest more on prisons than we do on education?”

“We’re not funding (youth); we’re not educating them; we’re not resourcing them. But we try to pin the blame on them all the time,” he said.

His research interests include educational equity, restorative justice, resilience, motivation, and youth culture. He is the author of “Punished: Policing the Lives of Black and Latino Boys” and “Street Life: Poverty, Gangs, and a Ph.D.”

He was the winner of the 2012 Distinguished Book Award, American Sociological Association, Section on Latina/o Sociology and finalist for the 2012 C. Wright Mills Book Award.

Dr. Rios also speaks to middle, high school and college students, about overcoming adversity, leadership, and the power of a higher education.

“Where did I get (this) curriculum? He asked. “Did Berkeley give me that curriculum? Did UC Santa Barbara give me that curriculum?”

“The streets of Oakland gave me that curriculum. You (people committed to helping youth) gave me that curriculum,” he said.

Dr. Rios says he sees signs of positive change. “I’ve seen progress in Oakland though there’s still people out there left behind,” he said “There are organizations and people who are already doing great work.”

But he warned that “restorative justice” and “resilience” have been coopted to some extent, that there are those who talk about these things who are not committed to doing grassroots work with young people.

“There are people making a lot of money out of it,” he said, emphasizing that his approach is not about having pity for young people.

“It might not be your fault that you’re falling on your face,” he tells teenagers. “But it’s your responsibility to get yourself back up.”

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City Government

DA Diana Becton’s Office Key to Resolution of 1999 Richmond Homicide

“It’s been a long 22 years since this heinous crime was committed, and justice doesn’t always come swiftly,” said Contra Costa County District Attorney Diana Becton. The “announcement is a major testament to the determination of our law enforcement partners, forensic scientists, and investigators who continued to work on this case for over 20 years and who never gave up the search for the truth.”

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Last month, Contra Costa County District Attorney Diana Becton was joined by California Attorney General Rob Bonta and Acting Richmond Police Chief Louie Tirona to announce that the 1999 murder of a 28-year-old woman had been solved through use of California's familial DNA search program.
Last month, Contra Costa County District Attorney Diana Becton was joined by California Attorney General Rob Bonta and Acting Richmond Police Chief Louie Tirona to announce that the 1999 murder of a 28-year-old woman had been solved through use of California's familial DNA search program.

By Margaret Moore

The Cold Case Homicide Unit established under the leadership of Contra Costa County District Attorney Diana Becton was instrumental in finding justice for the family of Meekiah Wadley, who was murdered in Richmond in 1999.

Last month, Becton was joined by California Attorney General Rob Bonta and Acting Richmond Police Chief Louie Tirona to announce that the 1999 murder of a 28-year-old woman had been solved through use of California’s familial DNA search program.

“It’s been a long 22 years since this heinous crime was committed, and justice doesn’t always come swiftly,” said Becton. The “announcement is a major testament to the determination of our law enforcement partners, forensic scientists, and investigators who continued to work on this case for over 20 years and who never gave up the search for the truth.”

Richmond police said Jerry Lee Henderson killed Wadley inside her Richmond home in January 1999 but could not bring him to trial because he died of a suspected drug overdose 11 days after her death.

DNA collected at the crime never yielded a direct hit in DNA criminal databases, the Associated Press reported. But in October 2020, investigators asked the state to conduct a familial search.

That search resulted in a hit, meaning that the DNA from the crime scene matched with a parent, sibling or child whose profile was already in the criminal database, according to the Associated Press. “I hope today brings a measure of peace … and closure for Meekiah’s family,” said Bonta. “Nothing can ever bring back a loved one but we are committed to doing all we can to bring the truth to light in the fight for the truth and justice.”

Tirona expressed his gratitude to the members of Richmond Police Department, Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office, Contra Costa County Crime Lab, and California Department of Justice Bureau of Forensics for solving this decades-old murder.

Becton was appointed to the DA’s Office in 2017 and elected with overwhelming support in 2018. Since taking office, DA Becton has kept her promise to make real and lasting change, transforming the District Attorney’s Office into one that works for everyone in Contra Costa County and delivering justice for victims.

Among her other accomplishments, District Attorney Becton:

  • Established a Cold Case Homicide Unit to pursue justice for the victims and families of unsolved murders
  • Co-leads the FBI Safe Streets Task Force that coordinates the resources of federal, state and local law enforcement on violent crime
  • Eliminated backlog of untested sexual assault kits and established the county’s first Human Trafficking Unit.

Becton, who is running for reelection, has joined the Code for America initiative to dismiss thousands of old marijuana convictions, which disproportionately affect people of color in the community.

She piloted the California County Resentencing Program to address excessive sentencing and partnered with The Vera Institute of Justice (VERA) on data analysis to uncover and address bias in the disposition of criminal cases.

Under her leadership, the DA’s Office was awarded $1 million to establish a juvenile diversion pre-filing program and created the Reimagine Youth Justice Task Force to recommend alternatives to prison.

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Bay Area

As San Francisco’s Newest D.A. Faces Recall Threat, Black Activists Speak Out

A former public defender whose parents were incarcerated for years, San Francisco D.A. Chesa Boudin was seen as someone who would reduce incarceration and deal with racial bias and racism in the criminal justice system.

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San Francisco D.A. Chesa Boudin. Votersedge.org photo.
San Francisco D.A. Chesa Boudin. Votersedge.org photo.

By Lee Hubbard

San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin is in trouble and his job is on the political ropes as he faces a recall election on June 7 to remove him from office.

Elected in 2019, as a progressive reformer who would apply justice to the office and fight crime by bringing a different approach to law and order.

A former public defender whose parents were incarcerated for years, Boudin was seen as someone who would reduce incarceration and deal with racial bias and racism in the criminal justice system.

But things have gone sideways for him. Elected just before the COVID-19 epidemic, crime went down for a while, then it skyrocketed with car break-ins, store robberies and quality-of-life issues, such as open drug dealing and drug usage and people camping out and loitering on the streets.

Seeing that petty crimes were not stopping, in 2021 there were two efforts to recall Boudin. One led by Rich Greenberg, a member of the Republican Party, failed, falling short on votes. The second effort to recall Boudin was led by Mary Jung and Andrea Shorter.

Jung is a former chairwoman of the San Francisco Democratic Central Committee, and this effort, as polling data suggests, may be successful.

The recall has split San Francisco’s Black community.

“I think that people need to sit down eyeball-to-eyeball and come to common ground on political issues,” said the Rev. Amos Brown of Third Baptist Church and head of the San Francisco NAACP. “I have never supported recalls, unless it’s a situation of malfeasance or a violent act.”

On the other hand, Mayor London Breed has been very critical of Boudin. Though she has expressed her disfavor with Boudin in the press, she has not publicly stated whether or not she supports the recall.

The move to recall Boudin grew during the crime spree of Troy McAlister. McAlister was on state parole when he stole a car with a gun from another city and came to San Francisco where he hit and killed two women with the car in downtown San Francisco as he was trying to avoid the police.

The San Francisco Police Officers Association then called out Boudin, saying he was soft on crime. McAlister had previous arrests, but he had not been charged with those crimes, and was, instead, referred to the Parole Division.

Black activists, however, like Boudin’s emphasis on restorative justice and they believe he is fighting against bias in the criminal justice system. In his election for District Attorney, Boudin got 35.6% of the first-place votes. To defeat the recall, Boudin needs 50% plus one vote to avoid the recall.

“I think this recall is unnecessarily expensive and an attempt to undermine voters,” said San Francisco Board of Supervisors President Shamann Walton, who represents District 10. “Recalls cost millions of dollars and take away the voice of the people (unless there was a crime committed or incompetence).”

But Boudin’s chances of staying in office do not look good. Public Policy Polling revealed recently that 48% of San Franciscans plan on voting ‘yes’ on the recall and 38% ‘no,’ with 14% undecided.

San Francisco’s recall effort is one of three nationally to overturn progressive district attorneys who have made fighting racial bias in the criminal justice system an issue.

Former San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon is facing a recall for his new job as the Los Angeles district attorney. In Illinois, a state representative introduced a bill to authorize a recall against Kim Foxx, a Black state’s attorney for Cook County.

National figures including Rev. Jessie Jackson, Angela Davis, John Legend and Danny Glover, support Boudin. These and other national voices, see Boudin as a trendsetter in criminal justice and a person who can enact policies that can be copied in other cities across the country.

“I also believe this recall is an attack on criminal justice reform and the right for the voters to choose their representatives,” continued Walton. “There will be an election for district attorney next year. That is the time to vote on that office.”

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Activism

Biden Administration Invests $145 Million in Re-Entry Programs for Formerly Incarcerated

According to a 2021 Stanford University Study, reentry programs in California have contributed to a 37% decrease in the average re-arrest rate over the period of a year.

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By Aldon Thomas Stiles, California Black Media

After serving a 22-year sentence in a California prison, James Morgan, 51, found himself facing a world of opportunities that he did not imagine he would have as an ex-convict once sentenced to life for attempted murder.

Morgan, a Carson native, says he is grateful for a second chance at life, and he has taken full advantage of opportunities presented him through California state reentry and rehabilitation programs.

After completing mental health care for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Morgan was released from prison and granted parole in 2018.

“I did not expect what I found when I got out,” Morgan told California Black Media (CBM), explaining that he was fortunate to participate in a program for the formerly incarcerated in San Francisco.

“I was mandated by the courts to spend a year in transitional housing,” said Morgan. “Those guys walked us through everything. They made it really easy. It was all people I could relate to, and they knew how to talk to me because they used to be in the prison population —and they were from where we were from.”

Morgan says he also took lessons on anger management and time management.

Now, he is currently an apprentice in Local 300 Laborers Union, specializing in construction, after he participated in a pre-apprenticeship program through ARC (the Anti-Recidivism Coalition).

“Right now, I’m supporting my family,” Morgan said. “I’d say I’m doing pretty good because I hooked up with the right people.”

Supporters of criminal justice reform say Morgan’s success story in California is particularly encouraging.

Black men in the Golden State are imprisoned nearly 10 times the rate of their white counterparts, according to the Public Policy Institute of California. And just a little over a decade ago in 2011, the Supreme Court of the United States ordered California to reduce the number of inmates in its overcrowded prison system by 33,000. Of that population, nearly 30% were Black men even though they account for about 5% of the state’s population.

To help more formerly incarcerated people like Morgan get back on their feet after paying their debt to society, last month the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Labor announced that the federal government is investing $145 million over the course of the next fiscal year to support reentry programs across the country.

The Biden-Harris Administration also announced plans to expand federal job opportunities and loan programs, expand access to health care and housing, and develop and amplify educational opportunities for the formerly and currently incarcerated.

“It’s not enough to just send someone home, it’s not enough to only help them with a job. There’s got to be a holistic approach,” said Chiraag Bains, deputy assistant to the president and deputy director of the White House Domestic Policy Council on Racial Justice and Equity.

Bains told CBM that that reentry programs help establish an “incarceration-to-employment pipeline.”

The White House announced the programs late last month as President Joe Biden commuted the sentences of 75 people and granted pardons to another three, including Abraham Bolden, the first Black Secret Service agent on White House detail.

Bolden had been sentenced to 39 months in prison in 1964 for allegedly attempting to sell classified Secret Service documents. He has always maintained his innocence.

“Today, I granted pardons to three people and commuted the sentences of 75 people. America is a nation of laws, but we are also a nation of second chances, redemption, and rehabilitation,” Biden tweeted April 26.

According to Bains, about half of the people the President pardoned are Black or Brown.

“The president has spoken repeatedly about the fact that we have too many people serving time in prison for nonviolent drug offenses and too many of those people are Black and Brown,” said Bains. “This is a racial equity issue.”

Both Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have faced sharp criticisms in the past for supporting tough-on-crime policies that, as U.S. Senator and California Attorney General respectively, have had disproportionately targeted Blacks and other minorities.

According to a 2021 Stanford University Study, reentry programs in California have contributed to a 37% decrease in the average re-arrest rate over the period of a year.

Over the last decade, California has funded a number of initiatives supporting reentry and rehabilitation. In 2015, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation launched the Male Community Re-Entry Program (MCRP) that provides community-based rehabilitative services in Butte, Kern, Los Angeles and San Diego Counties. The Butte program services Tehama, Nevada, Colusa, Glenn, Sutter, Placer and Yuba counties.

A year later, Gov. Newsom’s office introduced the California Community Reinvestment Grant Program. The initiative funds community groups providing services like job placement, mental health treatment, housing and more to people, including the formerly incarcerated, who were impacted by the War on the Drugs.

Morgan spoke highly of programs that helped him reintegrate into society — both in prison and after he was released.

“In hindsight, I look back at it and I’m blown away by all of the ways that they’ve helped me,” Morgan said.

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