Probe Into Prison Deaths Ends Up Uncovering $8 Billion in Untracked State Money

Aldon Thomas Stiles | California Black Media

What started out as an investigation into inmate deaths in some of California’s county jails led to an audit that uncovered severe overcrowding, a lack of mental health resources, and $8 billion in state funds for which three county Sheriff’s offices cannot properly account.

“What’s happening right now in these counties is not only unjust, but a disservice to our communities,” said Sen. Sydney Kamlager (D-Los Angeles).

“It’s more than just about housing people. The sheriff’s departments have a duty to provide care and to rehabilitate those individuals who walk through their doors. That simply is not happening, while billions of dollars are being left on the table,” she said.

In an attempt to curtail California’s prison overcrowding problem, in 2011 the state Supreme Court ordered a sweeping reduction of the prison population. This led to the California Public Safety Realignment Initiative signed into law by former Gov. Jerry Brown. The program planned and arranged the transfer of thousands of incarcerated people from state prisons to county jails. It also provided billions of dollars in taxpayer funds to the counties across the state to house and provide services to the inmates. The law also set up the Community Corrections Partnerships (CCPs) in each county to oversee and manage the state funds.

Then, last March, following a spike in inmate deaths, Kamlager requested an audit of county jail systems focused on Alameda, Fresno and Los Angeles counties.
About a year later, last week, California State Auditor Elaine M. Howle released the findings of her investigation.

In a letter to the Legislature, Howle shared her findings. She wrote, “our assessment focused on public safety realignment, and we determined that these three counties and the Corrections Board have not done enough to mitigate the effects of realignment or effectively overseen related spending and services.”

Howle told lawmakers since 2011, Alameda, Fresno and Los Angeles counties all have run overcrowded prisons, violating the state’s jail capacity rules.

“The counties’ jails often lack adequate outdoor and educational facilities to provide certain vocational and rehabilitative programs for inmates who serve terms longer than three years,” she wrote.
Howle also told the legislators Alameda and Fresno counties did not provide adequate information about inmates’ health to the jail staff.

Responding to the audit, Fresno County corrections board executive director Kathleen Howard said the state audit “makes little sense.”

“There is, however, a fundamental disconnect between the overall position of the State Auditor on the structure of 2011 Public Safety Realignment funding and the role of the CCPs in handling these funds and the consistent interpretation given the statutory and constitutional framework by the BSCC and all the counties in California over the past 10 years,” Howard wrote.

Los Angeles and Alameda counties have also responded to the auditor’s report with their own explanations, clarifications and recommendations. Since then, the Auditor’s office has said it stands by its report and followed up with a point-by-point reply to each county.

In California, African Americans account for about 6 % of the state’s population but make up a disproportionate 28.3 % of incarcerated people. In contrast, Whites make up about 36 % of the state’s population but 21 % of prisoners.

Concerns of prison overcrowding in California came to a head when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled to greatly reduce California’s prison population with the assertion that the massive number of inmates hindered the state’s ability to provide proper physical and mental health services, therefore violating their Eighth Amendment rights to freedom from cruel and unusual punishment.

However, this newly released report focused on Almeda, Fresno and Los Angeles County jails, suggests that “Realignment” actually contributed to the overcrowding issue and the lack of oversight at the county level, and has negatively impacted the well-being of the inmates the initiative was designed to help.

Kamlager says that the lack of planning involved with the initiative coupled with the lack of transparency over the last decade are contributing factors to the auditors’ conclusions.

“These findings show a clear need for a major increase in oversight and transparency in this process to ensure public safety,” Kamlager said. “They also show that the Board of State and Community Corrections is not up to the task of overseeing this process, or a similar program of this magnitude and weight.”

Kamlager continued by suggesting that this audit, shocking as it may be, could be a step in the right direction.

“While dismayed by the delay and appalled by the findings, I hope the audit will give the boards of supervisors for these counties the tools they need to exact real change. Advocates have been fighting for this information for a while,” Kamlager said.

Advocates like Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB), a grassroots organization intent on improving state policy on a number of hot button issues agrees.

“We incarcerate too many people for too long, already. Tax dollars that were used a generation ago to pay for schools and public housing have been diverted to pay for more law enforcement and incarceration,” CURB said in a statement.

CURB’s concerns are shared by Vonya Quarles, an attorney and co-founder and executive director of Starting Over Inc., a Corona-based organization that focuses on protecting the rights of the currently and formerly incarcerated.

“We don’t have a justice system, we have an injustice system,” Quarles said, calling out California’s prison system. “We have an addiction to cheap labor, an addiction to slavery.”

A Timeline of California’s Efforts to Equalize Access to the Internet

Quinci LeGardye | California Black Media

A year into the COVID-19 pandemic, California legislators are making strides toward addressing and alleviating systemic inequalities brought to light during the COVID-19 pandemic.

To that end, several bills have been introduced in the state Legislature regarding the digital divide that persists in disadvantaged communities, fueled by a lower rate of internet access.

When important parts of life for most Americans moved online during the state’s stay-at-home orders in Spring 2020, including remote work, telehealth and online school, the existence of a racial digital divide became apparent. According to the Public Policy Institute of California, 81 % of African American households and 79 % of Latino households had broadband internet subscriptions, compared to the statewide average of 84 %. The report also found that 26 % of K-12 students and nearly 40 % of low-income students did not have reliable internet access in Fall 2020.

In Dec. 2007, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) authorized the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF), which financially supports infrastructure projects, to provide broadband services to areas without access and build facilities in underserved areas. CASF has been funded through multiple legislative bills since CPUC adopted timelines, application requirements and criteria for broadband funding in June 2008.

AB 1665, which was signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown in Oct. 2017, modified the CASF goal and extended its end date. The modified goal is to provide funding for broadband infrastructure projects that would provide broadband access to no less than 98 % of California households by no later than the end of 2022. The law also requires the CPUC to report a final financial and performance audit of the CASF by April 2021.

In Aug. 2020, after the switch to online learning brought the digital divide to the forefront, Gov. Newsom signed an executive order directing state agencies to accelerate their efforts to provide high-speed internet. His goal: service with a 100 Mbps download speed. This level of internet speed would allow households to have two or three people streaming video at the same time.

In Dec. 2020, AB 14, also known as the Internet for All Act of 2021, was introduced by Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (D-Winters) in partnership with Sen. Lena Gonzalez (D-Long Beach). If passed, the bill would require the CPUC to prioritize approving CASF infrastructure projects in areas with either no internet or levels too slow to support video downloads or streaming. It would also make the CASF program promote telehealth and virtual learning, in addition to its initial goals for economic growth and job creation. In the same week, Gonzalez introduced the legislation through SB 4, the Broadband for All Act.

“The heartbreaking reality is that 1 in 8 California homes still do not have internet access and communities of color face even higher numbers of students and families who remain disconnected. Only miles from our State Capitol, there are areas of our state where Californians have no access to broadband connectivity. In partnership with Gonzalez and nearly two dozen of our Legislative colleagues, we have the momentum to get this effort across the finish line early next year,” said Aguiar-Curry.

“No student should be worried about having to visit a neighbor’s house, fast-food restaurant, park or a WIFI bus to access the internet to do their homework or having to take turns with their siblings to access WIFI because the connection is too slow. Medically fragile patients from low-income communities shouldn’t have to worry about visiting their doctor during a pandemic because they do not have internet at home for a telemedicine appointment. We need to take action now to bridge the digital divide and bring an end to the inequity that our communities most in need have long suffered,” said Gonzalez.

Despite Massively Successful Fundraising Efforts, Community Group Fails to Purchase Crenshaw Mall

Dianne Lugo

The saga of the historic Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza ownership continues with local Black community organizers now speaking out against the Deutsche Bank.

Previously, the large coalition of local and Black community organizations and advocates thwarted the purchase and redevelopment of the Crenshaw Mall, successfully protesting a $110 million bid from developers LIVWRK and DFH Partners. dsfdsf

With the deal involving LIVWRK, Crenshaw Subway Coalition and other community groups scrutinized LIVWRK’s ties to Jared Kushner — former President Donald Trump’s son-in-law.

“Downtown Crenshaw stood up and defeated LivWrk-DFH Partners, an unqualified out-of-town Trump-Kushner development partner, who sought to do harm to our beloved Crenshaw,” said Niki Okuk, the Board President of Downtown Crenshaw Rising.

Additionally, four months before the collapse of LIVWRK’s deal, activists protested a $130 million purchase that planned to redevelop the shopping center completely. In total, there have been four unsuccessful attempts to sell the mall in two years.

Activists have continued to emphasize the desire for Capri — the real estate investment firm that owns the mall — to offload the mall back to the community.

In a new announcement, Damien Goodmon, the executive director of the Crenshaw Subway Coalition and board member of Downtown Crenshaw, announced that the Crenshaw Subway Coalition and Downtown Crenshaw Rising successfully fundraised over $28 million and an additional $6 million in letters of intent from other investors in their bid to buy the mall.

Nonetheless, their efforts remain unsuccessful.

“Despite a massive community coalition, historic financial support from a who’s-who of philanthropists and socially responsible investors, and offering the highest bid, the sellers of the Crenshaw Mall (Deutsche Bank/DWS) are engaging in what civil rights leaders are calling overt racism to deny the Black collective the opportunity to buy its Crenshaw Mall,” said Goodmon in the press release.

“Through Downtown Crenshaw we are displaying to the world that it is possible for Black people to collectively control Black spaces, beat outside gentrifiers and create a new more just model of redevelopment that uplifts communities like Crenshaw without uprooting long-time residents and merchants,” added Goodmon. “We understand this is a threat to gentrifiers and bankers whose entire business model is based on displacing marginalized residents and locally revered mom-and-pop businesses. We just hoped the sellers of the mall would take our money, get out of the way of Black self-determination and maybe even see this as an opportunity to show that there is a better way.”

Black civil rights organizations and business organizations also sent a letter to Congresswoman Maxine Waters, the Chair of the House Financial Services Committee, urging her to “remove the racially restrictive covenant that Deutsche Bank has placed on the Crenshaw Mall.”

FEMA Will Give $7,000 to Cover Funeral Costs of Loved Ones Lost to COVID-19

Dianne Lugo 

The United States has suffered loss of every kind throughout the pandemic. Over 550,000 people died after contracting the virus and, according to Pew Research, 25 percent of adults surveyed had someone in their household lose their job or lose income during the COVID-19 emergency.

The financial impact of the pandemic has placed additional burdens on families attempting to mourn dead family members but the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has announced a source of some relief.

As a part of the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021 and the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, signed into law earlier in March, families will be able to receive $7,000 for COVID-19-related funeral costs.

Families with lost loved ones will be able to apply for assistance starting in April.

FEMA will distribute a total of $2 billion in assistance to families whose loved ones anytime after January 20, 2020.

“We are working with stakeholder groups to get their input on ways we can best provide this assistance and to enlist their help with outreach to families and communities,” said the announcement. “Additional guidance is being finalized and will be released to potential applicants and community partners as soon as possible. In the meantime, people who have COVID-19 funeral expenses are encouraged to keep and gather documentation.”

For now, the guidelines are as follows:

  • Funeral expenses must have been incurred after Jan. 20, 2020.
  • The death must have occurred in the U.S.
  • The death certificate must say that the cause of death was COVID-19.
  • The applicant must be a U.S. citizen, noncitizen national or legal immigrant of the U.S., but the deceased does not need a specific legal status.

COGICs Select Bishop J. Drew Sheard as New Presiding Bishop

Staff

The Church of God in Christ has elected Bishop J. Drew Sheard as its new leader. Results of the virtual election—making Sheard the presiding prelate of the 7-million member strong, worldwide denomination headquartered in Memphis—were announced March 20.

Sheard, 62, had formerly served as prelate of the Michigan North Central Jurisdiction,
pastors the Greater Emmanuel Institutional Church in Detroit. He will succeed previous
presiding Bishop Charles Blake Sr, who announced he would seek re-election last year.

“I am humbled and incredibly grateful for the opportunity to serve this extraordinary
organization, the Church of God in Christ, as its new leader and Presiding Bishop,” Sheard said. “To be elected to serve as the Presiding Bishop for the Church in which I was born, raised, and have learned and served all my life, is a dream and desire that can only be fulfilled by God’s loving grace and guidance. The opportunity to serve such an extraordinary organization at our highest recognized level of priesthood is beyond humbling.”

Sheard also thanked his wife Karen Clark-Sheard of gospel’s famed Clark Sisters and his children, J.Drew Sheard II, a producer and songwriter, and daughter Kierra Sheard, a Grammy-winning vocalist and actress who is one of gospel’s hottest stars.

In other election results, the following eleven bishops were named to the COGIC general
board:

  • Bishop Prince E. Bryant, Sr., pastor of The Island of Hope Church of God in Christ and Buck Street Memorial Church of God in Christ in Houston
  • Bishop Malcolm Coby, pastor of Victory Temple Church of God in Christ, World Ministry Center, in Oklahoma City
  • Bishop Sedgwick Daniels, pastor of Holy Redeemer Church Of God In Christ in Milwaukee
  • Bishop David A. Hall, Sr., pastor of historic Temple Church Of God In Christ in Memphis
  • Bishop Michael E. Hill, Sr., senior pastor of Kingdom International in Dearborn, Michigan
  • Bishop Darrell L. Hines, Sr., pastor of Christian Faith Fellowship Church of God in Christ in Wisconsin
  • Bishop Jerry W. Macklin – founder of Glad Tidings International Church of God in Christ in Hayward, California
  • Bishop Loran E. Mann, founder of Pentecostal Temple Church of God in Christ in Pittsburgh
  • Bishop C. H. McClelland, pastor of Holy Cathedral Church of God In Christ in Milwaukee
  • Bishop Brandon Porter, pastor of Greater Community Temple COGIC in North Memphis
  • Bishop Lawrence M. Wooten Sr., pastor of Williams Temple Church of God In Christ in St.Louis

Hollywood Blvd Business Owners Will File Criminal Charges Against Protesters for Property Damage During Breonna Taylor Demonstration

By Stephen Oduntan

Shattered glass dotted the pavement.

Evidence of vandalism after violent confrontations between Los Angeles police and protesters in Hollywood on the first anniversary of the death of Breonna Taylor, a Black woman fatally shot by Louisville police during a botched raid at her apartment.

Now, more than a week after the unrest, many businesses are still barricaded.

“We have a damage of roughly ten grand,” said the General Manager of BIBIBOP Asian Grill, Diana Arias, who also told L.A. Focus that of all the businesses on the strip, her restaurant possibly suffered some of the most severe damage from the carnage.

The rally began peacefully, with as many as 200 people gathered in Hollywood marching through streets blocking traffic at times. But what started as a peaceful protest soon after morphed into a tense standoff with police in riot gear at Vine Street and Lexington Avenue’s intersection.

Law enforcement responded to calls that several protesters dressed in all black clothing and equipped with various weapons had smashed windows and graffitied buildings.

The acronym “ACAB” (All Cops Are [Explicit] covered the walls in graffiti messages.

Video footage from the scene shows an unidentified man who tried unsuccessfully to keep a small mob of protesters from smashing the business’s windows but got pushed to the ground.

“There’s no need to break glass,” the man said.

Ignoring the man’s pleas to stop, a tall, slim protester armed with pepper spray spewed profanity to express his anger before other protesters grabbed the man and hauled him away.

“Breaking glass is not violence,” yelled the protester at the man. “What the [explicit] does glass matter to you? Police are killing people, and you give an [explicit] about glass.”

Eleven people were arrested on the night: five on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon on a police officer, three on suspicion of possessing a prohibited item, two on suspicion of unlawful assembly, and one on suspicion of battery on a police officer, said Officer William Cooper, an LAPD spokesman.

One protester was also treated for “injuries sustained during a use of force” by responding cops. The demonstrator was booked on charges of assault with a deadly weapon on a police officer, department officials said.

Meanwhile, the next day after the protest, LAPD Chief Michel Moore tweeted a link to a YouTube video of items being thrown at the officers, writing, “NO justification/excuse for this violence.”

Responding to that tweet, Capt. Steve Lurie, commander of the Hollywood Division, wrote that Hollywood officers were out that Saturday night “to ensure this group could express themselves under the umbrella of” the 1st Amendment, but the protesters “came to destroy Angelenos’ businesses and attack police officers.”

Nine businesses were vandalized during the protest, police said.

“Our building sustained several broken windows and doors, but then most of the damage was to our retailers who are responsible for their own repairs, which were hit really hard, said a property manager of a building on Sunset Boulevard and Vine Street and who requested anonymity in line with speaking publicly about the company’s matters without prior approval.

Some of the sources for this story said they would pursue criminal charges against people arrested during the protests.

“Everybody’s pressing charges because of the huge damage done to our stores, said Aria, the General Manager of BIBIBOP Asian Grill. “We’re not even sure if the people who were arrested were actually protesters because whatever point they were trying to make was quite apparent given all the damage they did to our businesses.”

Aria said she has supported in the past those who are rightfully outraged by the senseless loss of life in Louisville and elsewhere at the hands of police but wishes the culprits responsible for the damage to properties would realize the price business owners pay for vandalism goes far beyond money.

“They are causing more damage and hurt to others and saying they’re doing it to remember Breonna Taylor,” she said. “I wish they would’ve considered how bad this would look in [Breonna Taylor’s] name.”

No officers, meanwhile, who were at the residence in search of drugs have been charged in Taylor’s death, but a grand jury indicted one cop for shooting into neighboring apartments. No drugs were found during the raid.

A Call to Stop Hate: Asian Americans & Allies Held Vigil Demanding an End to Violence & Racism

By Stephen Oduntan

A Black Lives Matter – South Pasadena activist came together with the San Gabriel Valley community to hold a “Stop Asian Hate” candlelight vigil on Saturday evening and called for the ongoing attacks on Asian Americans to stop.

The vigil was held at Almansor Park in Alhambra, four days after a lone gunman went on a shooting spree at three Atlanta-area spas that left eight people dead, including six Asian women.

“Many of my days are extremely full,” Fahren James, the South Pasadena Black Lives Matter activist, told the hundreds of people gathered to honor the shooting victims. “But it is important I came here today to stand in solidarity with the AAPI (Asian-American Pacific Islander) community, who are some of my closest supporters.”

She did not mince words and spent a considerable amount of time highlighting the tense relationship between Blacks and Asians in America, saying to the crowd of masked people – primarily Asian – that now was the time to work together instead of perpetuating negative stereotypes.

“There’s no way,” she reiterated. “I would miss coming here to stand in solidarity with you even though my overwhelming experience in the [Asian-American] community has not been great. But I came here today dressed in a hoodie and chucks on my feet to show you that I am human and care about everybody. The Black Lives movement is not just about Black lives because what we’re asking for is going to help every one of us.”

Betty Hang, the event’s organizer, told L.A. Focus that Asian-American hate crimes had ignited a sense of deep urgency among protesters.

“I was impatient,” she said. “I want this to happen now. I didn’t want to wait for someone to organize an event. We need a sense of community where we feel validated and are here for each other. Having people from the community speak gives us a space to heal.”

Like many Asian-Americans, she is still reeling from the Atlanta mass shooting. The suspect, identified as Robert Aaron Long, faces multiple counts of murder and aggravated assault.

“I think I’m talking for a lot of people when I say we were traumatized learning about the shooting. It’s something we’re going to continue to process over time,” Hang said.

According to several recent studies, since the coronavirus pandemic started a year ago, hate crimes against Asian-Americans in major U.S. cities surged by nearly 150 percent.

But the group Stop AAPI Hate also notes that anti-Asian attacks are likely higher than official hate crime data collected, given several incidents often go unreported – possibly due to language barriers, especially among Asian immigrants and elders.

Attendees at Saturday’s rally held lit candles and signs reading “stop Asian hate.”

Jireh Deng, a student at Cal State Long Beach, said she was frustrated the media hadn’t been more proactive in covering the social crises last summer as a teachable moment to discuss anti-Black racism.

“As someone who is a student journalist, I need to ask the media where were you when we had Black Lives Matter protests?” asked Deng. “Why is it that you only show up to these types of events? Why do we have stereotypes that label certain communities as more dangerous when they show up to combat racism?”

Deng underscored that dismantling “white supremacy” would require connecting the Asian community’s struggles to those of the African-Americans who’ve had a long history of protesting against racial injustice.

Meanwhile, the CEO of Asian Americans Advancing Justice Los Angeles, Connie Chung Joe, also addressed the crowd and urged them to increase awareness of hate crime incidents, reassuring people that her organization offers legal services to the Asian community.

She called for a collective effort to end anti-Asian hate and violence.

“The fact is,” she said. “Violence against Asians isn’t going to stop if only Asian’s care about it. Because we learned through Black Lives Matter that had Black people only cared about Black violence, we’ll never address anti-Blackness in this country. We need solidarity and allyship.”

Los Angeles County Announces Emergency COVID-19 Rental Relief Program

Staff

The one-year anniversary of Los Angeles’ COVID-19 shutdown has come and gone, and for many, the ensuing financial burden continues.

“Hundreds of thousands are struggling to pay their rent on time or even to pay it at all,” acknowledged Supervisor Janice Hahn back in January of 2021.

Along with Supervisor Hilda Solis, Hahn successfully motioned for the extension and expansion of the local rent relief program and eviction moratorium in January. Now, Angelinos can also turn to the city’s Emergency Renters Assistance Program (ERAP), which will open applications on March 30.

Residents will have until through April 30 to apply.

“The Los Angeles Emergency Rental Assistance Program is designed to help landlords and tenants catch up on back rent. The program will provide a temporary rental subsidy for tenants who live in the City of Los Angeles and are unable to pay rent due to circumstances related to the COVID-19 pandemic,” explained Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson in a statement.

To be eligible, applicants must meet three requirements:
Residents of the City of Los Angeles, regardless of immigration status. To verify you live in the City of Los Angeles, go to: neighborhoodinfo.lacity.org;
One or more individuals within the household have qualified for unemployment benefits or experienced a reduction in household income, incurred significant costs, or experienced other financial hardship, directly or indirectly, due to the COVID-19 outbreak; and
The household income is at or below 50 percent of the area median income (AMI).

Those eligible will then be randomly selected. However, the program will prioritize applicants with past-due, unpaid rent. Similar to the state program, the program can pay 80 percent of a tenant’s past-due rent for the period of April 1, 2020, through March 31, 2021, but only if their landlord agrees to pay the remaining 20 percent.

If a landlord does not agree, the program will help pay 25 percent of the tenant’s past-due, unpaid rent, as well as up to 25 percent of their upcoming future rent for 3 months.

To apply visit hcidla.lacity.org or call the ERAP hotline.

Cal Lawmakers Propose Process to Decertify Convicted Cops

Antonio Ray Harvey | California Black Media

Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Gardena), the chair of the California Legislative Black Caucus, and Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) added language with some teeth to Senate Bill (SB) 2, the “Kenneth Ross Jr. Police Decertification Act of 2021.”

The amendments to the police reform bill, first introduced in December last year in the California Assembly, are designed to increase standards of accountability for law enforcement officers. They include a statewide process to revoke the certification of a peace officer convicted of violating a person’s civil rights or engaging in other misconduct on the job.

“If last summer’s nationwide protests and calls for police reform have shown us anything, it’s that Californians want more than just a superficial change,” said Bradford. “If many professionals licensed in the state of California can have their certification revoked for committing serious misconduct or abusing their authority, then why not police officers?”

Ross, after whom the bill is named, was a 25-year-old African American who a Gardena police officer shot two times and killed on April 11, 2018.

According to the police report, Michael Robbins, the officer who fatally shot Ross, was the last officer to arrive on the scene. Yet, he was the only officer who perceived a threat sufficient to discharge a weapon. Ross was unarmed and running from officers when he was shot. He died at the scene.

Although he was involved in prior shootings, Robbins was cleared of wrongdoing in the incident.

“It is critical that California’s police officers meet the highest standards of conduct and have the trust of our communities,” said Assemblymember Rob Bonta (D-Oakland), co-author of SB 2.

“The vast majority of officers want to do what’s required to build and keep trust with the communities they serve. I’m proud to co-author SB 2 by Senator Steven Bradford, which would bring us closer to achieving that goal.”

California is one of only five states in the nation that does not have the authority to decertify law enforcement officers who have committed serious misconduct.

“On April 11, 2018, my son, Kenneth Ross, Jr. was murdered by a Gardena police officer who shot three other people in previous incidents,” Fouzia Almarou, Ross’ mother, said.

“If Officer Michael Robbins had been decertified after the first shooting, Kenneth would likely still be here, with his son, his siblings, and me,” she continued. “I’m going to fight with everything in me to get this bill passed so this doesn’t happen to anybody else.”

Other states, such as Florida and Georgia, have led the nation in police officer decertification by inquiring into misconduct without regard to convictions for certain offenses.

The recent amendments to SB 2 are similar to Senate Bill (SB) 73, which Bradford also introduced last year. That legislation died in committee last November.

Sponsors and supporters of SB 2 say this time they hope the Legislature passes the police reform provisions they have drafted to strengthen the Tom Bane Civil Rights Act. The 1998 bill authored by California State Assemblyman Tom Bane created legal avenues for police shooting victims to seek compensatory and punitive damages, attorney’s fees, and civil penalties.

The state’s primary civil rights law that protects Californians against police abuse, the Bane Act has been undercut by bad court decisions, said Carl Douglas, President of Douglas-Hicks Law, and Consumer Attorneys of California Board Member. Once among the most robust laws protecting civil rights in the nation, Douglas says the Bane Act no longer serves as an effective check against police brutality.

It no longer alerts municipalities of harmful policing practices, gives innocent victims of police brutality an effective civil recourse for justice and accountability, or holds police accountable to act in good faith, he said.

In California, racial or ethnic minorities account for 3 out 4 people killed by police. And, over the last decade over 1,100 Californians were killed by police officers, according to California Department of Justice data. In 2017 alone, 172 Californians died as a result of police use of force.

The amendments to SB 2 include: strengthening the Bane Act by stripping some of the procedural barriers that afford police officers immunity; changing the composition of the public safety advisory boards to include another member of the public and removing a law enforcement officer; allowing the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training to retroactively review certain misconduct related to deadly use of force, sexual assault, or dishonesty for the purpose of decertification.

“The legal standard in California should be that no one — not even police officers — has immunity from the consequences of violating someone’s civil rights,” Douglas said during the virtual news conference. “Bad court rulings have given police a blank check for misconduct without consequence. As long as we are unable to hold officers accountable, our communities will continue to suffer from no recourse to justice. SB 2 will finally end immunity for officer misconduct, and it will ensure officers who use illegal force can’t re-offend.”

SB 2 is sponsored by a coalition of community organizations, including Alliance for Boys and Men of Color, ACLU of California, Anti-Police-Terror Project, Black Lives Matter Los Angeles, California Families United 4 Justice, Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice, PolicyLink, STOP Coalition, and Youth Justice Coalition.

“California is a national leader in many efforts, but in this one, we are dangerously behind the curve,” Bradford said. “Californians are urging us to pass meaningful and systemic reform that will improve the relationship between police and the communities they serve for generations to

come. Like so many people in our state, I look forward to working with Pro Tem Atkins, our co-authors, and all stakeholders to have this bill signed into law.”

The Lookout: Several Bills Aim to Level the Playing Field for Disadvantaged Californians

Aldon Thomas Stiles | California Black Media

Watching your tax dollars, elected officials and legislation that affects you.

A pitcher throws a perfect game against a hitter without a bat, a tennis player aces a racket-less opponent, and the crowd elates. For many in California, that is their reality. The receiving end of a bad hand. A game most foul.

In Sacramento, there are a few bills being proposed that aim to level the playing field in California, particularly for disadvantaged Californians.

Senate Bill (SB)17, which is scheduled for an Assembly committee hearing on March 23, would declare racism as a health crisis in California and develop a state government “Office of Racial Equity in the State Department of Public Health for purposes of aligning state resources, decision-making, and programs to accomplish certain goals related to health equity and protecting vulnerable communities.”

The language in the text of SB 17 makes a distinction between this legislation and AB 3121, the “Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans,” which Gov. Newsom signed into law last Summer.

“Existing law establishes the Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans, with a Special Consideration for African Americans Who are Descendants of Persons Enslaved in the United States to, among other things, identify, compile, and synthesize the relevant corpus of evidentiary documentation of the institution of slavery that existed within the United States and the colonies,” the bill language reads. “Existing law requires the task force to submit a written report of its findings and recommendations to the Legislature.”

“This bill would establish in state government an Office of Racial Equity, an independent public entity not affiliated with an agency or department, that shall be governed by a Racial Equity Advisory and Accountability Council,” SB 17’s authors continue. “The bill would authorize the council to hire an executive director to organize, administer, and manage the operations of the office. The bill would task the office with coordinating, analyzing, developing, evaluating, and recommending strategies for advancing racial equity across state agencies, departments, and the office of the governor.”

As issues of racial inequity gain more traction in the U.S., bills like SB 17 are being introduced in legislatures around the country, proposing creative ways to uproot longstanding systems of inequality and discrimination.

During a global pandemic, the racial disparities in the healthcare system have become harder to ignore, according to Sen. Richard Pan (D- Sacramento), a medical doctor who is the author of SB 17.

“Extensive research has identified racism as a public health crisis leading to significant health disparities, including infant and maternal mortality, chronic disease’s prevalence, life expectancy and now COVID mortality,” Pan said. “The state needs an independent body to hold us accountable by examining California’s policies and budget with the goal of achieving racial equity and ending systemic racism.”

People like John Kim, Executive Director of Advancement Project California, believe that the structures that hinder people of color were designed to do so and the solution should be to redesign these structures.

“All of the racial inequities we’ve seen in this pandemic have been decades in the making. We can no longer react to the symptoms of systematic racism or nibble around the policy edges,” Kim said. “Passing SB 17 and establishing a State level Office of Racial Equity is crucial to excavating the intersectional nature of structural racism baked into this state’s public systems and policies. A fully resourced and appropriately authorized office is a powerful mechanism not only to stem the tide of bad, racist policies but also to generate new pathways to close the opportunity gap for communities of color throughout the state.”

Another equity-focused piece of legislation making its way through the legislature is Senate Bill 2, which is essentially identical to last year’s Senate Bill 731. It is meant to bar police officers who have been fired for misconduct or charged with one of a set of specific crimes from serving and protecting in another precinct in California.

As it stands currently, officers that fit into this category can still serve in other counties in the state.

SB 2 is also known as the Kenneth Ross Jr. Police Decertification Act of 2021, as it was named after the unarmed 25-year-old Black man who was fatally shot by police in Gardena in 2018.

“Only one police officer in the history of California has been charged, convicted and sent to jail [for police brutality] and that is Johannes Mehserle who only did 11 months for the fatal shooting of my nephew Oscar Grant,” Cephus “Uncle Bobby” X Johnson said during a virtual press conference for SB 2 in reference to the 2009 shooting of Oscar Grant III in Oakland.

Senator Steven Bradford, who introduced SB 2, noted that other professions are held to a certain standard and law enforcement shouldn’t be any different.

“If last summer’s nationwide protests and calls for police reform have shown us anything, it’s that Californians want more than just a superficial change,” Bradford said. “If many professionals licensed in the state of California can have their certification revoked for committing serious misconduct or abusing their authority, then why not police officers?”

Assembly Bill 675 and Senate Bill 424 would create a “homeless hiring tax credit” as an effort to provide homeless people in California “access to meaningful employment.”

“I’ve been unhoused, I’ve gone through a bout of homelessness and I know what it’s like to want to get a job. To want to better yourself, but there weren’t a lot of resources out there, but thanks to [Los Angeles] county and this bill– we’re going to be able to bridge a gap between the business community and the homeless community,” said Lavena Lewis, the Black business owner of Vena Vena Handcrafted. “With being homeless, finding employment is key.”

And in Washington, Reps. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) along with Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) proposed a bill coined the “Tax Excessive CEO Pay Act” that set out to put a cap on the pay CEOs receive in relation to the working-class people who work for them.

“Americans across the political spectrum are outraged by the extreme gaps between CEO and worker pay,” it read on Lee’s press release. “According to a nationwide survey, the typical American would limit CEO pay to no more than 6 times that of the average worker. About 62% of all Americans – 52% of Republicans and 66% of Democrats – favor capping CEO pay relative to worker pay.”

This sounds like the first in a slew of equity-based legislative pushes so batter up, America. Maybe we’ll all be getting a swing soon.


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