In honor of Black History month, below is a beautiful essay penned by former Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin. Gayle, who is running for California Lt. Governor, was recently endorsed by Bernie Sanders’ Our Revolution! Please volunteer with Gayle’s campaign or make a donation today!
Frederick Douglas said: "I prayed for freedom for twenty years, but received no answer until I prayed with my legs". He escaped slavery and became a resistance leader. Harriet Tubman told us: "Don't ever stop. If you hear the dogs, keep going. If you see the torches in the woods, keep going. If you want a taste of freedom, keep going". Frederick and Harriet reached freedom and helped many others reach it. They took action.
There were also those who turned around to fight their oppressors. During my first year as Mayor of Richmond in 2007, I introduced a proclamation honoring the Black heroes of Harper’s Ferry (1859) and all those who fought against slavery and all those still struggling for liberation. African-Americans Osborn P. Anderson, Dangerfield Newby, Lewis Leary, John Copeland, and Shields Green joined the military invasion of Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, led by John Brown and a small group of radical abolitionists, calling for slave insurrection, the end of slavery, and full control of their own destinies.
The actions of these brave freedom fighters became one of the most moving arguments for the end of slavery. Most of them died in the insurrection, except for O.P. Anderson, who escaped and later joined the Union Army as an officer.
Lucy Parsons was a 6-year-old slave girl in Texas at the time of Harper’s Ferry. She grew up to become an amazing American labor organizer. Lucy and her husband Albert were leaders in campaigning for the eight-hour work day. Although Albert was tried and executed in 1887, Lucy never stopped organizing, speaking, denouncing, writing, and demanding justice for working folks.
These true heroes are often excluded or erased from our history, yet their stories connect well with many subsequent struggles, all the way to today’s Black Lives Matter movement. During Black History Month I honor those brave Black men and women who rose up and fought oppression. I invite you to do the same. Let us be Californians of action against all injustice. “Don’t ever stop,” as Harriet said.
When I look back at how progressives won so many races last November, one victory particularly stands out: Danica Roem, who became the first transgender woman to win state-wide office in the U.S. Roem's victory was not only striking because of the barriers she broke, but because she had defeated longtime incumbent Robert G. Marshall.
Marshall, who authored the Virginia bathroom bill, proudly referred to himself as the state’s "chief homophobe,” and ran a campaign filled with bigoted personal attacks. After she won, dozens of news outlets rushed to interview Roem and ask her about her what it was like to emerge victorious after such a hostile campaign. She simply said, "I don't attack my constituents. Bob is my constituent now."
It was a beautiful, moving, and gracious gesture which reminded me that in politics, vitriol does not have to be answered in kind. And that reminder came just in time. A month before, Mayor Tom Butt politically attacked my friends and neighbors Eli and Claudia.
I don’t know what Mayor Butt thought when he received that menacing email about Moore and Jimenez “deserving the death penalty or worse.” Hopefully he was shocked (because hopefully that message was out of the ordinary). And I don’t know what he did in response – whether he ignored it, or replied in an effort to tamp down that kind of talk.
But I do know that in October, he crossed a line. Mayor Butt had already started tearing down individuals in an effort to tear down the RPA. But this time, he went from going after someone’s character to going after their employment. He went from creating online controversy to creating risks for people’s personal security.
It was not election season negativity, nor was it a rant against a public official (e.g. part of openly criticizing our government). It was an attack against a constituent.
Claudia Jimenez puts it well: “As we repudiate this kind of hateful leadership at the federal level, we must not allow it in Richmond. Richmond residents cannot be in fear that their private conversations, their home address or other private information would be blasted out publicly by their mayor. We need a mayor who focuses on Richmond’s real issues, not attacking constituents for disagreeing with him.”
We could all do well to learn from Danica Roem.
According to an ACLU public records act request, an October 2017 Tom Butt e-forum blast incited a reader to respond to Butt that RPA members Eli Moore and Claudia Jimenez "deserved the death penalty... or worse." In an effort to scandalize the RPA, Butt's e-forum had falsely claimed, among other things, that Moore and Jimenez were not paying taxes on an “unpermitted” building on their property.
Butt's e-forum also revealed their address, making it easier for Butt's sympathizers to take their vitriol offline and engage in real-life threats and harassment. Indeed, Moore and Jimenez report that, after Butt doxxed them, their tenant (who now lives in their house) saw a woman hiding in the bushes in the front yard taking photos. "Mayor Butt’s inclusion of our home address served no purpose, except to potentially endanger the current residents of the house," Jimenez said in a medium.com blog. Given the intimidating emails Butt provoked, “this risk of danger is real.”
The blog sets the record straight about a number of allegations in Butt’s e-forum. It summarizes key findings from the 58 documents revealed by the ACLU public records request. In it, Jimenez questions why, if Butt had thought they had an unpermitted building, he did not just notify the appropriate city and county agencies and instead contacted Moore’s employer to “verify” allegations of housing law violations. She charges that Butt’s main aim was to whip up opposition to the RPA and to retaliate against Moore and Jimenez for “political differences and disagreements about issues of rent control, gentrification” and other policy matters. Ultimately, she concludes that “We need a mayor who focuses on Richmond’s real issues, not attacking constituents for disagreeing with him.”
On January 30, the City Council extended a 45-day urgency ordinance prohibiting the approval of applications to construct, modify or place schools in certain commercial and mixed-use zoning areas. The moratorium was extended until December 17, 2018 so that the City staff could complete new zoning amendments that could potentially further restrict the establishment of schools.
Currently, Richmond has approximately ninety schools operating within its boundaries and at least eleven of them are public charter schools. Many of these charters are locating in mixed use zoning areas that are not meant for schools, but rather for commercial activities that generate tax revenue and provide employment.
The location of these charter schools are interfering with Richmond’s General Plan and Policies. For example, the City shifted a Light Industrial zone (once occupied by a business park) to Industrial Business in order to accommodate the planned expansion of an existing charter school. In Marina Bay, a former high-tech office was converted to a school; and in Hilltop approximately 13.4 acres of Industrial Business land that had contained 165,387square feet of one- and two-story commercial and industrial developments was purchased by Making Waves Charter School. According to the General Plan, Southern Shoreline and Hilltop were supposed to promote uses such as high-density housing. Now, they are suffering from traffic, parking and public safety difficulties from ill-located charter schools.
All the while, existing Richmond public schools are being hollowed out. Public schools anticipate that student enrollment will drop 34% in 2019-20, leading to excess facilities capacity and eventually school closures. This, according to the ordinance, “can lead and result in blighted conditions for communities that lead to significant public health, safety, and welfare impacts.”
The City of Richmond Planning and Building Services Department will conduct outreach to inform the proposed zoning changes. Check out this city webpage to keep up with development.
Judge Becton is CCC's first female African American DA, and she is filling the position vacated by Mark Peterson after he resigned amidst a campaign finance and ethics scandal.
Becton received highest marks on a CCRJC community scorecard that ranked candidates on a range of issues, from bail reform to support for re-entry services. Although Becton’s current term only lasts until January 2019, as the incumbent she will have an advantage for the June 2018 elections.
This is a significant victory, as DA is the most powerful elected official within our criminal justice system and can be an important force in reducing excessive sentences, ending mass incarceration, and reducing racial disparities. Please consider meeting her at this community town hall, and communicating to her the importance of ensuring equal outcomes for people of color in our justice system!
The following is an excerpt from a recent article from BeyondChron.org, authored by Steve Early:
Click here to continue reading.
As environmentally conscious folks, many of us gladly fill up our green bin every week, and giddily anticipate free compost giveaways at Richmond's Earth Day celebrations. But what if our city’s compost facility is not that green?
At the beginning of this year, Contra Costa County health officials issued a cease and desist letter to Republic Services’ Richmond composting facility. City and County agencies had received some 400 calls about foul smells emanating from the site, including some people reporting nausea, headaches and throat irritations. When county health officials visited the site, they saw seven fires burning – not a good sign. Also, it turned out that Republic Services was handling 350,000 tons of materials when they were only permitted for 1/10 that amount.
A few months later, the California Water Board found that the facility was in violation of other regulations; one of the slopes on the landfill had failed, threatening local water resources. Then in September, Cal Recycle (the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery) notified the City Council that because of the fire problems at the facility, the landfill had been put on a list of facilities that chronically violate state minimum standards for solid waste handling. And as a result, the CCC Health Services Department was going to put the facility under a strict compliance schedule.
The landfill’s Land Use permit is apparently expiring soon, and needs to be re-permitted; the City should take this opportunity to ensure that Republic addresses these issues, for the sake of our environment, residents and facility workers.
Exciting news from our allies at the Safe Return Project (which supports formerly incarcerated individuals): SRP is launching a Participatory Defense Network for Contra Costa County!
What is participatory defense? According to the Albert Cobarrubias Justice Project, the San Jose-based organization which pioneered this model, it means bringing a “community organizing ethic to the court process; encouraging the active engagement of families and communities in the defense of a loved one who has had contact with the criminal justice system; holding the public agencies that make up the criminal justice system accountable; and bringing a community presence to what is usually an isolating court process.” Ultimately, participatory defense is aimed at equipping impacted communities with the tools and information needed to meaningfully impact their local criminal justice system.
On December 15, Richmond Councilmember Melvin Willis announced that he is running for mayor of the City of Richmond in the November 2018 election. The announcement was made at the Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA) holiday party, to a joyful crowd of supporters.
“Many people have contributed to Richmond’s transformation in recent years, and we are thankful to all. At the same time, many challenges remain, and a much better Richmond is possible!” said Willis.
Melvin Willis, a community organizer with Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), made history in 2016 when at 26 he became the youngest councilmember ever elected in the City’s history. He received the highest number of votes in the race, and his success was crowned by the passage in Richmond of the first Fair Rent Control and Just Cause for Eviction law in California in 30 years, a ballot initiative at the center of his campaign.
At the announcement, Willis was flanked by Vice-Mayor Jovanka Beckles and Councilmember Ada Recinos. In addition to Beckles and Recinos, Councilmembers Ben Choi, Eduardo Martinez and two-term former Mayor Gayle McLaughlin have all endorsed Willis’ candidacy.
“Melvin has the values, the vision and the commitment to lead Richmond to a higher level of progress and to make it a better city for all our residents. He thinks globally and organizes and mobilizes locally. He is thoughtful, caring, gentle and generous. People know him and love him. Melvin is the best of Richmond,” said former Mayor Gayle McLaughlin.
During his announcement Willis stressed that the important achievements that have transformed Richmond over the past decade and are inspiring many other communities throughout the nation need to be defended against undermining measures at higher levels of government.
“As Mayor I will lead all those in Richmond willing to work to make our city better. Together we will sustain our accomplishments and keep folks in their homes, fight pollution, defend immigrants’ rights, improve our schools and libraries, and continue our progress in reducing violent crime. I will promote a community participatory process for the city budget. I will respond to the needs of our youth, I will focus on the creation of affordable housing, and my doors will always be open to every resident of our community to hear their thoughts and ideas,” Willis added.
Willis affirmed that his campaign for Mayor will be based on peoplepower and neighborpower, and free of corporate donations. He rejects the corrupting influence of corporate money and invites all residents to support a one-person, one-vote true democratic election.
While cases of family violence have traditionally been viewed as isolated incidents, studies are now showing the link between domestic violence and other forms of violence in communities. For instance, a majority of mass shootings (54%) are related to domestic or family violence. In one study examining 10 officer-involved critical incidents in ten years, the suspects had a history of violence against women in 80% of these cases. Research also shows that domestic violence and child abuse often occur in the same families and children living in violent families are more likely to engage in violent activities when they are older.
When a community focuses on reducing the incidents of family and domestic abuse, this effort can provide a measurable benefit to reducing overall crime while promoting overall community health. The Family Justice Center (the “Center”) is a warm and welcoming one-stop center for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse, elder abuse and human trafficking. We bring resources to meet the needs of children, youth and families impacted by interpersonal violence.
The Family Justice Center model has been identified as a best practice in the field of domestic violence by the United States Department of Justice, and is employed in over 100 communities worldwide. The West Center in Richmond opened its pilot site in 2011 and moved to its permanent location in June of 2015. In 2016, the West Center assisted 986 clients, and we expect to serve over 1,000 clients in 2017.
The West Family Justice Center currently has 19 on-site partners, including community based victim advocates, mental health counselors, detectives from the Richmond PD, a Deputy District Attorney, DA victim advocates, attorneys and County public benefits staff. Our programs and services fall under three categories: crisis support, long term safety, and community building and education. The Family Justice Institute offers free workshops on substantive topics, such as “trauma 101” and “Interpersonal violence 101.”
The Family Justice Community Fellows program offers a 10-month long fellowship opportunity in which survivors of violence develop their leadership skills while creating their own projects to support others in their community. On December 8, 2017, the second cohort of nine fellows graduated and and showcased their achievements. Each fellow completed a project on a range of topics with which they have personal experience, including reducing bullying in schools, supporting foster youth in transition, connecting abuse survivors with pets, and offering art classes to urban youth.