Thursday, October 17, 2013

Private patrols in the Temescal

They are coming.  The people involved made it very clear that they plan to recruit enough subscribers to start private patrols no matter what the rest of us think about it.  They considered the other concerns a "different meeting".  

This Thursday night a meeting was called in the the same church where we hold our Neighborhood Crime Prevention Council (NCPC) on the subject of private security patrols.  

The room had over 100 people in it and only 4 of us were African American.  A couple of us were Asians, including the woman who led the meeting, and a couple of us South Asians.  

As you might suspect, the meeting started with an intro from the private patrol proponent and a presentation from our 2nd police district police lieutenant that both focused on getting the bad guys.  

As the  conversation opened up we learned a lot of things including that a lot of the people in the room had serious misgivings against private police patrolling our streets.  

Those in favor of the patrols kept talking about "criminals" and crime abatement.  The word "youth" was never used, nor was the word "black".  Neither group spoke to the fact that most of those arrested for burglary and robbery in Oakland are black and brown youth.  Seemed sort of like talking about sex without discussing gender or genitals.  

The first thing I learned was about the services themselves.  Bay Alarm offers a service that does not cost much, and offers at least one patrol to pass by your home each day.  Others cost more and offer more.  Some services are armed and some are not.  

Hiring private patrols is a private affair.  The subscribers do it and then their homes are patrolled.  This requires no approval from anyone.  

That includes hiring armed private patrol officers.  If you get enough subscribers together, you can put an armed guard on our Oakland streets patrolling from subscriber home to subscriber home.  Somebody out there certifies and regulates these private security companies, not our city.

As people spoke some other things came out.  

First and foremost, that there is no evidence that private patrols reduce crime.  I thought of this as a very important point.  Does it even reduce crime for the subscribers?  Sounds like something I would like to know before shelling out a monthly subscriber fee.  But we did not get to discus that much.  This meeting was to talk about doing it, not to talk about if it should be done.  

In discussion circles I made the point that we would not even be holding this meeting if the Oakland Police and Oakland programs were not such an obvious failure.  People pro and con  agreed with that.  

A few people made the point that we are inviting the conditions that lead to racial profiling.  Some questions were asked about what happens when someone gets hurt or killed.  On my post-it I wrote "ANOTHER TRAYVON MARTIN" and placed it on one of the comment boards under "concerns".  I was not the only one with that concern.  

I really doubt that some private home patrols of unarmed security will matter much one way or another.  The top crimes in our area are muggings and breaking into cars.  I have a Bay Alarm account for my business, and I know how little that can do.  

I think that the bigger picture is the disintegration of another part of government.  We have this in the schools with the rush to private schools and charter schools.  The public schools will get left behind.  

Are we headed this way for our police and social services?  If they fail at crime will the rush to private security take away interest in fixing our police and their relationship to the community?  How long before homeowners start to ask for security vouchers?  

At the very best, it will mean better security for those that pay for it and less for those who can not or will not buy in.  Don't we already have a system by which we all pitch in and hire people to keep us all safe?  

Finally the meeting broke down to some hard words between those who would like to do something about our social problems versus those who want to do something about crime RIGHT NOW.  The concerns about profiling were sharp and sharply played down by others.  

The organizer then declared that they have 50 people so far, and as soon as they have 100 subscribers they will move forward.  This meeting for her was mostly to take in community concerns with the aim of choosing a private security firm.  

The four African Americans in the room, (other than the two in uniform carrying guns) were middle aged women.  They never spoke.    

On my way out I chatted with an OPD officer who declared that he only had one more year to go and planned to retire.  He was younger than I am, and I am 55. Besides letting us know that he lives outside of Oakland, he told us how he plans to get out of California after he retires.  His idea of a good place to go was Idaho because there one is allowed to have all the weapons one would wish.  

I left the meeting stunned again by how much is wrong here in Oakland around how we deal with our at risk youth and our community as a whole.  

P.S. Many of the people who spoke at the meeting about their fear of being singled out and treated like they do not belong by these private security guards were telling us that they are trans gender.  Normally I tend to think about black and brown youth when I think of who gets profiled, but these folk spoke to another truth.  From what I understand, the numbers back up what they say. 


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Why am I not listening to the radio station I support?

Because they are never out of pledge drive mode and they are quite ugly at it.  I tried to listen this morning to the radio station that I support twice a year only to be told “come on people, it is time to cough up what this station is worth” and something about how much I might spend on coffee.  The tone that they take is something between petulant and accusatory and the discourse sounded like a berating for not having given enough.  There is also a pitch language that seems to treat the public as if we were all in the same place together listening to them.  A few people call in, and it is a “rally” and nobody calls and we are not getting “with it”. 

Now Denis Bernstien can be all of that any time he does a pitch and I have no idea how many listeners he has personally and permanently lost to the station, but the others don’t pitch much better.  Somehow being told how exceptional the news will be whenever we stop this fund drive by Amy Goodman, who will have dinner with me for a cool thousand dollars does not sound like a radio station reaching out to its community.

Speaking of that community, where is KPFA?  Are we doing anything to increase listenership?  Are we doing anything to bring in new voices?  Seems like I only hear from Pacifica when they want us to donate or when they are infighting.  For anyone who is paying attention the infighting is vicious and destructive.  On the one hand we here endless and misleading vitriol from the “Save KPFA” group and on the other, we have groups of people who seem to be holding on to some kind of turf.  I do not watch it close enough to know who is entrenched and how but the shows do not change much and I have no idea who some of them are reaching out to.  Serious HR practices are not being dealt with and programing seems more like a confederation of non-profits than a coherent radio station.  It seems to me that as our national government is shut down and paralyzed by two similar groups fighting for turf something not so different happens throughout US culture. 

So I switch off the radio station that I support and listen to the biased, high class version of the corporate news on KQED, which I tell people not to send money to.  Is there any wonder why my son and girlfriend both have KQED membership gifts? 

Saturday, September 14, 2013

why? and who?

The word has come down from Mr. Frazier that "court" has decided to not allow the Citizens Police Review Board to set up the intake office for complaints against members of the police force.  

We do not really know why.  They did not say. 
One informed guess that I heard was that the Oakland Police Officer's Association might be more cooperative with the "court" trying to get compliance with the Negotiated Settlement Agreement that should finally move us past the Riders case if they retain control of complaints against the police in police hands.  
That means if you have an issue with the police, you have to go to the police to file your complaint.  
Seems like only last week, because it was only last week, that the same Mr. Frazier had no objection to the police abuse complaints intake being in citizen hands.  
It was City Administrator Deeana Santana who was obstructing this small amount of citizen control of the police.  She did not say why either.  She just blew off the decisions of our city council and just hijacked the funds set aside for the Citizen's Police Review Board and started to hire new intake officers back inside the Police Department Internal Affairs.  
In other words our elected government decided to make this move and she decided to flat out ignore it and nobody told us why.  
So we do not know why both Santana and Frazier are blocking this simple reform and over ruling the decision of our elected government.  Our police are not in court receivership yet, but it seems that we have lost control anyway.  
So the question remains WHO.  Who is so damn determined to keep complaints against the police in police hands?  
Having such complaints in Internal Affairs hands certainly does not stop the lawsuits.  At 58 million dollars over the last 10 reported years of settlement payouts I wonder who the constituency for the status quo oversight could be.  

Who was able to sell the idea of undercutting our council to our court appointed compliance director?  Isn't he supposed to leading us to a better police force? 

Who put the pressure on our city administrator to keep complaints in Internal Affairs?  

If we have the support of all of the council and the mayor for the Citizen's Police Review Board, then why is there some kind of resistance?  Did Santana and Frazier make these decisions at the request of nobody?  
Who has so much pull that they can have this much influence without any of it coming out in the press?  
Well, we can guess who and we can guess why.  




Monday, September 9, 2013

Why not give to KQED?

For the same reason I do not donate to CNN. 

Last Saturday I was helping with the mural going up on our building.  By help I mean that I painted the door and window trims a uniform color that goes with the rest of the building.  All the real mural painting was being done by a real artist. 

She was plugged into her iSomething and I was using an archaic device called a ‘radio’.  It was tuned to KQED and as my hands were touched with paint, it stayed tuned to KQED and I had a chance to listen to every word of the pledge drive.  I was reminded of the all reasons I stopped donating to KQED years ago. 

First and foremost please be clear that KQED is NOT non-commercial media.  The very structure of NPR leaves the stations and most of the shows on the auction block raising funds from the private sector.  It is done through foundations, it is done through sponsorships and it is done via paid commercial advertising.  I know because I listen all the time. 

Yes, I listen and I do not pay and I do not think I or any other common citizen should put their money there.

Like who are we kidding with this non-commercial claim?  The top and bottom of every show gives thanks to their sponsors. They give their names.  It is the same moneyed interests that are all over the corporate media.  It is part of the corporate media and the Corporation For Public Broadcasting is not a different use of the word.  So General Electric or Archer Daniels Midland support a show.  Whose influence is bigger?  Them paying for 20% of the bill, or Donald Macleay sending in my $40?  Do you think if I called the station with a concern they would give me the same kind of attention as the IT company so interested in public broadcasting that they tell you about it along with their bogus backup solution at every traffic report? 

So when you donate, you are donating to a system that is beholden to big money, not independent of it, and not in any way non-commercial.  Sort of like a fun way to get you to help millionaires have even more media influence, this time inside the system that is supposedly for the public. 

And the reporting is all that different?  The long line of government insiders, media pundits and corporate movers and shakers they have on the air shows that there is NO left bias on NPR.  What you get is the high brow version of the same thing we get elsewhere. 

The rest of the media is so shallow, trite and skimpy on any real news that it does make NPR look good in comparison.  But that is only in comparison.  In the US, the truth is that we have shitty news. 

Today we are hearing it about Syria, but every day we hear it on all kinds of issues from Israeli terrorists who live in the West Bank, who we do not call terrorists, to our urban minorities who we blame for their own poverty.  The same bias and taboos exist on NPR as anywhere else. 

Does NPR live up to that promise of letting alternative voices be heard?  Well yes as long as you consider having women and minorities spout out the same narrow range of views one finds in the New York Times,  then yes we have diversity. 
Alternative VIEWPOINTS, on the other hand, are few and far between.  Remember that show about single payer health care (the most common system in the world)?  Yeah, me neither.  How about that report on those wanting to reform, regulate and break up the big banks?  Do you hear about US non-cooperation with international law?  Do you ever hear Israeli West Bank settlement being called illegal and not just considered illegal by some?  Ever hear the system of campaign financing via lobbyist called corruption? 

They you are listening to Moyers and maybe Smiley and West. 

So donate to Moyers and the other few and far between, but do not feel that corporate dominated programs that give an upscale polish on the same limited ranges of views needs your money.   

In the end we do not even own KQED.  It is owned by itself, by a board that elects its own members.  Once upon a time KQED board members were elected by KQED members and if that were the case still, my argument would fall flat on its face.  But we got rid of that.  A nonprofit corporation is still a corporation run by its board, who owns it.  The public does not own nonprofits, never did. 

So KQED calls itself non-commercial and public broadcasting.  I say that they are neither. 

Know of the Koch brothers?  Did you know of a movie being made called Citizen Koch?  Guess who is on the board of another big KQEDesque radio station back east and got the funding quashed on the move being made about him?  Think that is the only rich person on a board?  Think that is the only time a story went down the tubes because it did not sit well with an affluent stalwart of the community?  The effect is part and parcel of how these operations are run.  Nonprofits bend to the will of their owners and their big contributors just like any other business.  To not have this happen would take some kind of effort and I tell you that this effort is not being made.

When you think about what KQED is, then the practices come into focus.  Do the fundraisers sound more like a raffle or telemarketing?  Well, just think how much marketing costs to somebody like Subaru in our area and how much air time they get “donating” a car as the “grand prize”.  If you keep in mind that the mission is to augment basically commercial operations by bringing in public donations then the rest follows.  If you think KQED and NPR are non-commercial, then I do not know how you explain the rest of the circus. 

So, do nothing? 

Of course not.  Public radio, community radio, and all community media needs public support.  With public support we can get alternative, independent voices out there and provide services to the community that are truly non-commercial.  In our area we have KALW, which is really publically owned belonging to the SF Schools and KPFA which is community owned by voting contributing members.  Do they have some of the same problems as KQED, of course they do, but unlike KQED, there are channels of redress.  Remember that KPFA in crisis is much more responsive to its supporters than KQED can ever be.  I am sure that there are other community radio stations out there that are home to other views that I do not share.  Fine.  If you are a conservative, or say more Christian, or just a liberal that believes in objective reporting, there are alternative media outlets for you.  You would do the whole community a favor by supporting the kind of media you like without diluting in into the same corporate media that serves us all so poorly. 

The NPR guilt trip is that if you listen for free, you should help pay.  Yet no-one ever makes the same claim for Fox, Startrek or CNN.  Maybe if the KQEDers just claimed fewer commercials they would have a better sales talking point. 

The sad truth is that the public does not own public broadcasting. 

Friday, August 30, 2013

How do you report police abuse?

Who do you have to talk to if you need to complain about something an Oakland cop did to you?

Another cop, that is who. 

Complaints against police officers are taken in the Internal Affairs section of the Oakland Police Department.  Say for example you were hit by a police officer?  How would you feel about being in a police department office filing your complaint?  Will it even matter if the person across the desk has a uniform or not? 

The person filing the complaint shares a need with the public to have the complaints intake be safe, objective, credible and we do not get that sending these complaints to Internal Affairs. 

Police misconduct is not an "internal" affair. 
It is a public problem and a serious one. 
It is a 58 million Dollar over 10 years in settlements problem.
That is more Dollars than San Jose and San Francisco COMBINED.   

This intake problem was fixed by our council.  In the last two budgets a council decision was made to move the complaints intake process away from Internal Affairs and make it a public affair inside the Citizens' Police Review Board the CPRB. 

Except the administration does not do it. 

During the whole first 2010-2012 budget no action was taken.  This was on the budget, but somehow we could not identify the funds or figure it out in two years.  Lots of consultations took place that we know little about but the fact remains that they did nothing.  It says on their website that you can file a complaint at the CPRB, but you cant really. 

Council did not particularly enjoy that.  The provision is in the 2013-2014 budget and council told the administration to report back.

City Administrator Deena Santana did not report back.  Instead she posted a job offer for complaint intake officers to do the complaints against police job working for INTERNAL AFFAIRS. Or exactly what we are supposed to be moving away from.

So that is how our government works?  Our council decides something and puts money down to do it and then the City Administrator just does as she pleases?

Please take a moment today to let your member of Council know if think they should stop this from happening.  The Citizens' Police Review Board is exactly where civilians, otherwise known as the public, SHOULD be listening to complaints from the public against police officers.

Reading over the job description and requirements that Administrator Santana's office posted one finds another problem. 

Who do they want?  Spanish, Cantonese or Vietnamese?  Not mentioned.  Civil Rights background?  Also not mentioned.  Legal aide?  Those words were not used.  Counseling and public outreach experience?  Only in the context of public administration dealing with the public.  They do require a BA, for no justifiable reason, and make it very clear that being a former police officer is a big plus while they make knowing the Police Officer's Bill of Rights mandatory. 

To me that sounds like they want the wrong person at the wrong place. 

So, who do they want?  And who do they not want?  Social worker from our community?  Probably not qualified.  Mono lingual ex-cop bureaucrat?  Seems they are welcome to apply. 

Those of us who have worked to get the intake process for complaints against police officers moved to the Citizens' Police Review Board away from Internal Affairs of the Oakland Police Department are not surprised.  The resistance to this move towards fairness and objectivity has been strong but not public. 

So why?  Why do they want to hold onto the intake process?  Do they want to keep the information where they can control it?  Do they want to put people with claims in a situation where they cannot move their claims forward?  Despite the giant payout bill Oakland has due to police abuse settlements, the current system seems to find almost all the complaints "unfounded".  By the way, that finding of "unfounded" keeps a cops record squeaky clean and their pay flowing. 

 How old is this problem?  This round is now 3 years into the foot dragging after going through the whole advocacy process to get complaint intake moved.  But the problem is much older. Not 07, not '97 or even '87 but all the way back to the 60's and 70's leading up the first inception of citizens' police oversight in 1977.  Many of the cities around us in the Bay Area have Police Commissions and yet we in Oakland still have a toothless oversight board. 

For more information and to get involved contact the offices of People United for a Better Life in Oakland.  Many others have been in the movement to make this intake procedure change too.  Full disclosure?  I am on the board and was one of the people going to my council member's office to advocate for this civilian complaint intake process. 


Wednesday, August 28, 2013

What is happening with the Oakland ID card?

Oakland has an ID card.  I went to the downtown office, did the procedure to get one for myself and my son. 

Mine came in the mail a few weeks later.
Not a great photo, but... No problem. 

My son's never came. 
Finally a letter came and I now have two copies of my Oakland City ID. 

When I called the office to ask after my son's card, the young man answering the phone did not have the English level needed to publically represent a government office.  After a short, frustrating attempt, I switched to Spanish. 

I was told that the company making the cards had still not made any cards for minors.  They took my number and said that they would get right back to me with some kind of ETA for youth cards.

That was over a month ago.  The original application was over 4 months ago. 

While applying for our cards, I met the director a second time.  She had visited my son's school for an ID card orientation where she was one of the hosts that could not speak Spanish.  In her office I let her know that I had been at an orientation and was a member of the local Green Party who are supporters of the City ID.   

She knew of some of that and she suggested to me that the Oakland Greens come as a group to apply for their cards, do something of a photo op to show our support.  I took this good idea to our local Green Party club meeting and we all said yes. 

I have been trying to get the director to call me back for three months now just to tell her yes to her own proposal. 

The Green Party, along with others following the lead of former Council Member Wilson Riles have been supporters of the City ID and the adjoined ATM features from inception. 

Wilson came to several Green meetings carrying local currencies from other places in the US and telling us about it.

He was advocating two things:

1) The launch of a local city currency to help deal with the current super recession.  This is being done around the country in different forms as a way to add trade value to the local economy.

2) A low cost municipal ID card to fill the gap among those who do not have easy access to another form of government issued, photo ID. 

Personally I am convinced that the local currency is a good idea if you have the government support for it, which in Oakland we do not yet.  In both 2010 and 2012 I and my fellow Greens Anderson and Menjivar, ran for local offices supporting the idea of a local currency.  Of course our local press would rather talk about a dozen self-styled anarchists throwing rocks than report on, or dialog with, thousands of Oakland voters with practical proposals and if you followed local Oakland politics these last four years, you can be excused for not having heard about this.  What are three candidates, thousands of voters, an established civic leader etc when compared to a police force that would rather talk about a tiny fringe breaking windows or burning trash cans.  What they were trying to avoid talking about was not the local currency, it was the general problems of police misconduct and the mishandling of several public protests, notably a picket at the port where they fired non-lethal munitions and the totally aggressive and abusive way they dealt with the Oscar Grant protests and Occupy. 

We who advocate well considered domestic proposals, such as a local currency, have trouble brining our ideas into the spotlight.  Here is a link to what is going on in the USA right now:  

The ID card is also a great idea.  Not only does it provide ID, it also provides proof of residency.  There are many who need a more accessible ID.  Of course the attention is immediately drawn to the undocumented immigrants.  That is one good use.  The others include seniors, parolees (who really need something), minors and non-drivers who could use a good local ID to do things like enter security zones, cash checks, prove local residency for schools and libraries, and all the other little things we take for granted when we have that California Driver's License. In my case I want some solid ID for my son and a second photo ID document that I can use to register my domestic partnership. 

Wilson Riles is also active in bridging the understanding divide between African American activists the immigrant communities.  He saw this kind of card as serving many communities and bringing them together.  My take on it, is that it is great to have a local ID card, get our city out of the anti-immigrant ugliness around the country and provide ID for all that need it, not just an I-am-an-illegal-alien card as some other city ID's have become. 

After much avocation, Oakland City Council approved a photo ID/ATM card that leaves the path open to an electronic local currency in the future if we ever get the support for this idea.  Since many of those who do not have ID's also do not have bank accounts, this card can also work as a standard ATM cash card.  It seemed we are on the right track. 

Except for some details. 

The ATM fees that the provider originally charged were outlandish.  They were lowered somewhat, but are still too high.  Seems to be the same type of opportunistic exploitation of the poor provided by the check cashing places that the local ID card is supposed to help protect against.  Poor people do not need ATM fees that are abusively high. 

The mistakes are many.  I applied for my card after others and got mine before they did.  There is still no sign of the minor's cards. One guy I knew, African American, got a nice card with somebody else's photo on it. Other reports of slow delivery and mistakes are many. Will this card grow a reputation for mistakes?  One would hope that someday the Oakland ID card would get our residents onto a plane or into a bank account, but it needs to hold up to the scrutiny of other agencies. 

And the Greens have still not heard back about the photo Op and we are not sure we want to anymore.  At the last meeting where we talked about it one fellow Green put it simply.  "If it is being run this poorly, do we want to be associated with it?" 

That is a question all of Oakland City Government should ask itself about this card to make sure that this good idea is not so poorly done that it gives us all a bad name. 

Friday, July 26, 2013

There is more to Oakland than a Sad-Mad City

There is more to Oakland than a Sad-Mad City

A recent article in the Huffington Post seems to describe Oakland as having two parts:

Black Block and Occupy described with the snarl words “protester-tourists” and whose views are summed up by quoting the Occupy website and saying that: “They are hijacking our streets, wearing masks like bandits in the night, right under our noses. And we feel powerless to stop them. They have hijacked our message, blocking our ability to choose our own mode of expression.


The rest of us. Meaning I guess people in her friend circles going about their lives: “glass company trucks sped through the streets from job to job, electrical workers continued to upgrade underground electric lines, and construction crews continued renovation projects for new restaurants and office buildings as part of Oakland's revitalized economic development downtown, uptown and elsewhere. Residents are making a stand -- using social networks, they immediately made plans to continue to patronize Flora, the Awaken Cafe, Oaklandish and the other vandalized businesses. Locals have circulated a fundraising appeal for Youth Radio.

She goes on to add some other things that sort of hint at police accountability or the need for some more equity in our local development.  The article has its good and bad points, but I really disagree with the idea that we are a “sad-mad city” and once again there is a lot of attention to how we are perceived. 

But read it yourself.  I was uneasy with it mostly because it seemed to cut so many of us out.  Too much of it sounded like the Kaplan – Quan reelection campaign view of this city. 

One group of Oaklanders who do not get mentioned is our dysfunctional “progressives”  Last night at the showing of the radical theatre SF Mime Troope (SFMT.ORG and please go see them) a woman wearing a bunch of left cause buttons told us that she supports Jean Quan because she has been such a good person and been around for so long.  I asked her what she thought then about Deeana Santana our City Administrator and she had no idea who that was.  This kind of uninformed progressives thinking that they are supporting the least worst Democrat because that “gets things done” is a national disease that has many sufferers in Oakland.  When we ask them what we are getting for our “practical” strategic brilliance one gets some vague answers. 

What we do not get is a lower rate of young black men killed in our streets.  Not less from internal violence and not less from police shootings.  We do not seem to get a lot for the black and brown flatland residents who are not going to go to any of those nice restaurants downtown, even if they live in downtown.  There are a lot of other things we do not get, such as proper education for the whole community, jobs, foreclosure relief, police accountability and… well I am trying to write about this article that describes us as a ‘sad-mad’ city and will have to stop here.  Suffice to say that all the problems have been talked about and then we turn around and elect people who are guaranteed not to effect any progress. 

And our youth have very few of those jobs in the glass trucks and doing the upgrades to our “revitalized” economy.  Most of that is contracted out to out of town residents working for non-union independent contractors who take city money and/or often enough a city salary.  That list starts with Ms. Deeana Santana who like many of our administrators comes from a group of “pros” available to any city that pays for them akin to a free agent football player.

Are our police “protest-tourists” too?  You can count the number of them who live here in Oakland on how many hands?  I doubt you need four hands.  I'm told they hold their Oakland Police picnic in Danville or somewhere like that.  My invitation did not come.

Other people come as crime-tourists to Oakland for the sex workers and drugs. 

All these people from out of town are part of the Oakland reality every day.  Oakland is not a country, not even a county and the reality of our lives is that we are only 400,000 in an urban area of over seven million.  There is no boarder crossing.  I took a friend to San Leandro for dinner, did that make me a food tourist?  Other people living in this area who come here to work or whatever are our fellow residents, not tourists. 

Another Oakland to take note of is the one that does not vote, does not know much about what goes on downtown and does not need to come downtown to Occupy to commit acts of vandalism or get mistreated by the Oakland Police.  It is out of their communities that we have the 130 black and brown youth killed, and 3 times as many wounded every year. 

Also from that community comes the peacwalkers one could find on Fridays walking the heavily affected high crime areas offering a message of peace and reform to the neighborhoods. 

That only scratches the surface of the cultural and economic life of the un represented flatlands.  Worried about the flatlanders not being represented in what is going on downtown?  How about standing up during our upcoming redistricting and oppose our current gerrymandered districts that cut up the neighborhoods from the affluent hills to the working class flats and secures the election of “moderate progressive” Democrats?  Honest districting in Oakland would lead to at least one Republican on council and probably a Green. 

From all of our communities comes a large number of us who protest.  We protest the Zimmerman Trial, we protest the Oscar Grant murder, we object to police violence, we advocate peace, social justice and economic reforms. Not one of us was on 17th street messing with any windows with a hammer.  

Every time we are doing something we have this sudden focus on the few Black Block folks and no attention paid to our City Council who has still not made good on the promise of a viable Civilian Police Oversight since the project was first promised in 1977.  Good thing for the Chamber and the Council and Ms. Quan that they have these Black Block folk around, otherwise we might have to discuss what large numbers of hammerless people have been asking about for a long time. 

Funny how our pols always call this a distraction but are glad to stay distracted and harp on this small fringe. 

And there are many other kinds of people here doing many different kinds of things.  That includes some well financed people who came here to advocate radical violence and stir things up and then disappear.  If they care so much about this radical fringe, why do they not investigate these people who provoked so much discord and ask who employed them in the first place? 

Most of Oakland on the “sad-mad” day had nothing to do with sadness or the madness or anything downtown because downtown has little or nothing to do with their lives.  Helicopters fly over that area all the time, it could have just been a traffic jam. 

Lives of privilege and lives of disparity went on as normal.  Life in Oakland is not really a series of dramatic ups and downs; in fact it is really a bunch of conditions that resist change.  The tragic events are not exceptional, they are part of the pattern.   Nothing changed this week either. 

I feel that the sad-mad city idea misses most of us and most of what is going on. 


Friday, July 19, 2013

The Oakland Chamber thinks we should hold protestors accountable?

Our Chamber of Commerce is asking why we "tolerate" the vandalism that splinter groups caused at the Trayvon Martin protests. 

Funny that they are so intolerant of this crime, but so inactive around police accountability in Oakland.  At this time we pay more in police abuse settlements than San Jose and San Francisco, yet we still do not have a police commission with hire and fire powers akin to other cities. 

We could keep going with this accountability thing.  We hear  a few words of support from the Chamber about Auditor reports on minor interfearance in the contract bidding processes, yet not so much about all the work thrown in the direction of Phil Tagami and others who get so much of the work, often without open bidding.  They are also big on how the homeless degrade our business space, and they sure do, but not so big on opposing prop 13 which kills our local county and city social service and school funding..... 

This kind of selective demand for people to be held accountable is not wrong on the accounts that they ask for, it is wrong on the accounts that they do not ask for, but should. 

We all should be asking for some more accountability!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

One word missing in the immigration reform debate:


Exploitation is the missing word because exploitation is not what our two party system is talking about. 

We had a client named Andrews.  His business was contracting.  His complaint about today’s immigrant standing outside the hardware store hoping to pick up day labor was that they want to much and that the do not come “hat in hand” like they used to.  I did not hit him because I do not do things like that, so we quietly got rid of him and his business. 

He could not be more wrong.  The undocumented live day to day and in a state of insecurity and are very “hat-in-hand” all the time.  That is the whole deal.  A major segment of American employers want to have labor that is below legal costs, without benefits and unable to demand legal treatment under our employment laws or join a union.  Yes this kind of immigration is illegal, and so is the employment offered.  It is not just the fact that they have hired someone illegally, but these employers continue to act illegally in how they treat these workers.  The illegality is part of how this group of people are exploited all across our economy, but especially as farmworkers. 

All US workers are exploited by this mistreatment of the undocumented.  Employers are not held to account for breaking these laws or any other labor laws in any significant way.  Thirteen million people have dissolved into the US society as the bottom rung of our labor force.  We all suffer the dangerous conditions, the unpaid extra work hours, the insecurity and lack of recourses when wages and benefits are never paid.  The same lobbyists who have made sure that the immigration side of employment law has become unenforceable in the fine print have done the same job to the rest of employment law.  Many US workers live under the threat of being replaced by an undocumented worker and thus accept basically the same conditions.  Unemployment and the treat of even deeper poverty is another wall of the prison that so many workers are trapped into. 

Politically many working people are exploited by those responsible for our national problems but blaming our issues on the Spanish speaking undocumented.  Somehow the biggest banks in the world can lose more money than ever existed in history on speculative investments and the biggest military in the world can have a fleet of floating airports with atomic power plants in the hold, but the costs involved are never mentioned as a reason our nation lacks funds for the needs of the common people.  Instead our lobbyist shills that pass themselves off for elected officials blame our nation’s problems on milk credits for the nanny’s kids.  Blaming your problems on an ethnic minority is an ugly old game. 

The whole discourse of who deserves to be here and if “illegals” should have a “path to citizenship” is ugly.  It speaks to a lot of racism of course, and it is a symptom of the insecurity of the situation of working class whites.  Are they really willing or even able to do the work offered these 13 million?  And why do they feel so threatened?  Are Americans so reduced by the post Regan economy that one of the few things they have to boost their self-image is their citizenship?   

As long as a serious number of working class Americans are so seriously exploited by this anti-Latino rhetoric we are all going to continue to be exploited in bigger ways than who picks the strawberries. 

Exploitation extends to the nations of the world who educate their youth only to lose them to the 21st century brain drain.  These high tech immigrants find themselves hat-in-hand working in Silicon Valley.  At the same time our schools are hat-in-hand and not providing the kind of education needed for that Silicon Valley job.  One should notice that at the same time Silicon Valley has voiced the “need” for more H1 immigration visas for tech work and have that provision in the Senate Immigration Reform bill, Apple Corp has been caught laundering their profits in Ireland.  Would it be too much of a stretch to say that on the one hand these US companies avoid taxes to the point of impoverishing our schools while at the other hand get free access to education paid for by other nations and at the same time have those H1 Visa workers in a beholden “hat-in-hand” position where they are dependent on their employer just to be here? 

We have a system drawn up by the lobbyists.  The farm lobby, the building lobby, the high tech lobby all have more influence in Washington than any of people doing this farm work, building work or programing work no matter what the worker’s citizenship or status.  We have the system that the economic interests have turfed out between each other and the politicians they own. 

And our democracy is being exploited by the narrowness of the issue as described inside the beltway and in our media.  For all the talk of the “partisan divide” on this issue and how many Latinos will vote for a Democrat after Obama, our two party system is silent on the word “exploitation”. 

All the focus is on the boarder and the people crossing it is combined with silence on the exploitation at work here in our country.  Another boondoggle is offered the crony capitalists who will build this multi-billion dollar electronic fence and another with an on-line verification system.  Obviously thirteen million people did not cross the Arizona desert, especially the millions of them who are not from Mexico and Central America.  What about all the others? 

Our relations with Mexico have a lot more on the table.  There is some serious question to how independent Mexico really is from the US corporations and government.  It seems that US capitalism is addicted to Mexican drugs, Mexican petroleum and Mexican cheap labor on both side of the border.  The two party silence on the nature of the relationship between the US and Mexico is stunning.  How is it that we are having this “Great Debate” on immigration and the Mexican border and never discuss the two nation’s bilateral relations? 

What the on-line employment eligibility check does for employers who are INTENTIONALLY hiring undocumented workers is not discussed by our press either.  The fact that most employers who hire the undocumented do it knowingly and intentionally because they are seeking out that lower price and exploitive conditions, is glossed over if even mentioned. 

Working people are not treated as people, we are treated as a labor market in this surreal public debate.  Totally unacceptable things are being done to our workers, yet there is not a single word about labor protection in the proposed Senate bill. 

How could there be when the discussion is missing the word exploitation? 


Thursday, June 27, 2013

Oakland law enforcement that answers the question, or not

Recently I had the pleasure of watching Chief Whent describe how the Oakland Police will comply with the terms and conditions required after the Riders rogue cop scandal of over a decade ago.  After many turns, a lawsuit and a few failures to meet the standards set for our Oakland Police, we have come to be under the supervision of “compliance director” with a clear plan to end police abuse in our city. 

The talk is that Whent is our interim chief because that is who our compliance director Frazier wanted.  Whatever the truth is behind the quick departure of Chief Jordan, the unexplained two day tenure of Interim Chief Torribio and then Chief Whent’s appointment, the one thing we know for sure is that the official stories are a half truth, at best.  Some questions do not get answers. 

The last time I had been in the room where Chief Whent was speaking it was to see the top leadership in law enforcement in our area.  We had not less than the then Chief of Oakland Police Jordan along with our District Attorney, the head of County Probation, the supervising judge of the local Superior Court, and the County Public Defender.  Quite a crew of powerful top officials. 

Each of them gave less than inspired descriptions of how they are all coordinating to stop youth violence and crime.  There was talk of this program and that for our youth.  A lot of talk was about prevention and restorative justice.  Then it was time for questions. 

I had a question.  I always do don’t I?  All I wanted to know was the total number of people caught up in the system?  Like how many Oaklanders are in jail and prison?  How many are on probation and parole?  And what is the flow rate?  How many people on average are being released to our community from incarceration, say per week?  And on the other end, how many people are being prosecuted, judged and sentenced to jail or prison on average, say per week? 

What I got was our DA O’Malley telling us that there is no way she can answer such a question.  (she does not know how many people are successfully prosecuted on average?) She gave us some talk about how little the State Prisons and the State Parole system tells us about who they are releasing, when and under what conditions.    She followed that with a painfully pedantic description of the step by step of a prison release.  None of the other 4 illustrious panelists said a word, or a number. 

They did not answer the question.  It was a simple one and given who they were, these were numbers they should know off hand without having to look them up. 

I was stunned.  What I was expecting was a number that dwarfed all the programs.  I was not expecting no answer at all.  I asked my friend if I had not been clear.   He told me that I had been perfectly clear and they had avoided answering.  A couple other people seemed to feel the same way. 

So our council member Libby Schaaf stood up and asked a more direct and pointed question:

“If all these programs are so good then why are things still so bad?” 

There was more evasive answers, and given who had asked the question, they at least used more words not to answer her question than they had used to answer mine. 

Finally the public defender said something about the restorative justice program they had been talking up only having room for one offender per week when the need was more like two hundred a month.

THAT was an answer at least. 

Chief Whent is a good communicator.  He is affable, and he speaks with clarity.  One of the things that I appreciated about his presentation was that he made no bones about the police officers who had crossed the line.  There was none of the cagey language or treating abuse by police officers as some kind of hypothetical.  No, he talked about the problem as we know it is from the public record. 

One thing he said impressed me, and that was using statistics to intervene on a police officer before trouble escalated.  One of the stats they look at is if the officer stops more people of a certain race, or gender than others in the same squads.  He said that often a problem starts in the attitude of an officer and if stopped then, we do not get to the part where they are roughing people up, planning evidence (I think he said gun) and other abuse.  As he put it, the idea was to protect the public’s civil rights and intervene with an officer early enough to put them on track and have a chance to save their career. 

He said a lot more, and was pretty frank about what part of the compliance director’s requirements would be easy to comply with and where we are probably in trouble.  Where we are most in trouble is in the ratio of sergeants to patrol officers. 

At the end we were given the floor for our questions.  Most of the questions were about the relationship between the police and the public and the lack of trust that exists.   Good questions and he addressed them pretty squarely.  Some of what he had to say I agreed with, other ideas sounded too much along the lock-em-up paradigm for me. 

Since others had asked the question of trust I asked another question:

“What do you say to the people of Oakland who do not believe anything will change?”

He said that he did not blame them and he did not think that the police will gain credibility unless they did two things in a way that the public would know it. 

1) Come into full compliance with the court order and get police abuse under control. 

2) Make a dent in crime. 

I call that an answer. 

I am still looking for some well sourced statistics on how many of our fellow residents are caught up in the criminal justice system one way or another.