Reimagining Public Safety

RPA statment on policing justice

The Richmond Progressive Alliance stands in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement in imagining and creating a world free of anti-Blackness, where every Black person has the social, economic, and political power to thrive.

We support the demand to defund and divest from our police department. This divestment will allow reallocation of funds to invest in the Black community, who deserve to be a priority in Richmond. Reallocating funds would also allow Richmond to promote authentic public safety by preventing problems at their source, while the police would be structured for appropriate tasks.

Efforts to “reform” the police are not enough, especially against the backdrop of five decades of increasing mass incarceration and police militarization. Today, there is less confidence in the police in communities of color and among poor people than ever. 

Even in Richmond, where there have been marked improvements in policing during the last 15 years, there are still many unaddressed problems. Too many people in Richmond fear the police rather than regard them as protectors. According to a recent poll, half the city’s population lacks confidence in the police.  

The police handling of the Rashanda Franklin case, the murder of Pedie Perez or the abuse of Celeste Guap show that we do not have adequate control or review of police actions. There is also a culture of anti-Blackness which still exists within the police department. And, while we know that there may be police officers committed to Richmond who try to act fairly, they are part of a criminal justice system which is demonstrably racist, criminalizing Blacks while protecting whites; a system that incarcerates rather than rehabilitates, punishes rather than teaches, increases fear instead of protecting, and metes out violence instead of restorative justice. 

Far too much of the city’s resources go to the police department, which cannot effectively address situations which are largely the result of a rapacious economic system and institutionalized racism. That 41% of the city general fund goes to the police and only about 7 % to community services like recreation, library, and health reflects the wrong priorities and a misguided approach to promoting public safety. Genuine public safety means preventing crises before they start, and ensuring adequate housing, education, employment, and health for all, especially Black communities.

For years the RPA has promoted shifting resources from the police budget to other city functions. We support the demand that we start now by taking 20% of the police budget and using it for better ways to respond to 911 calls, traffic control, blight, noise complaints, drug overdoses, mental health episodes, protests, public events, homelessness, etc. These functions can be more effectively handled by other unarmed, trained responders, leaving the police department to focus on violent crimes. 

We need to work quickly in five areas:

  1. Begin now to make reparations and take other affirmative actions to rebuild the Black Community and allow Black people to be and feel safe in our society, particularly in relation to the police.
  2. Redefine public safety to be about providing adequate housing, recreation, education, and health. 
  3. The police are called to perform many functions that are best accomplished without a gun. For example mental health crises, homelessness, loitering and traffic control should not be police jobs.
  4. Adopt restrictions to reduce the risk of escalation, bodily harm and use of force, including no rubber bullets, no guns at protests and other activities that do not require them; no military equipment
  5. Better and stronger community control and review of police activity

The Richmond Progressive Alliance supports the leadership of many Black-led organizations and community groups, including those in the Richmond Our Power Coalition, The Coalition for Reimagining Public Safety, Richmond Revolution and more. We commit to working with these groups and others to advance a process of full community involvement to re-envision public safety and the role of policing in Richmond.   

On George Floyd

The founding of America and its freedom, or illusion of freedom, has been described as "revolutionary, contagious and incomplete."  Our society and even our politics permit the detrimental and dehumanizing treatment of certain people. Our freedom does not allow us as individual citizens to lead lives in harmony with our environment, our culture, or our potential if the freedoms aren't extended to all.

I have been grieving since, as a child, I watched Blacks in Selma and other southern towns, chased down by police dogs and fired upon with high-powered water hoses. The crimes of these Black folks was their pursuit of racial equality. These peaceful protests were met with hatred and violence. 

I grieved when I saw Dr. Martin Luther King lead more peaceful protests, even as he was targeted by the FBI and the police. I watched the challenge to his humanity and the hatred of white folks who propped up their own sense of superiority by rendering Dr. King and other Blacks as less than, until he was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4, 1968.

With millions of others, I watched in horror in 1991, as Rodney King was savagely beaten by police in Los Angeles.

Each time as I watched this maddening history of another murder, another injustice, another case of police brutality carried out against a Black body, I and every other Black person -- and perhaps every humane and sane person -- was re-traumatized. Our bodies, our selves are constantly under attack. As a friend reminded me in a recent letter, Black people are not safe in this world.

I am repeatedly in this cycle of needing to commit thoughts to paper to unpack my feelings and yes, my emotions over the senseless repetition of murders of Black bodies. I am saddened, and I am heartbroken. I feel rage and I feel vulnerable. My humanity is exposed. The emotions are present all the time, hovering just beneath the surface.  Black people are criminalized in this country for the color of our skin.

I wrote a version of this letter when Tamir Rice was killed. I wrote a version when Christopher Whitfield, William Green, Travon Martin, Darius Tarver, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tony McDade and Ahmaud Arbery were killed. When Sandra Bland, Breonna Taylor, Kyam Livingston died at the hands of police, I wrote a version of this letter to my daughters. The deaths continue, and the list of the dead goes on and on.

On May 25, 2020, in the middle of a global pandemic, a 17 year-old Black young woman who might have otherwise been at home like many of us, sheltering in place, stilled herself and documented the murder of a Black man, 46 year-old George Floyd.  Four police officers participated in the death of Mr. Floyd. This killing took 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Black people are not safe in this country. I lift up the young woman who documented this murder (respecting the fact that she is a minor) because of the trauma I know it caused her. Our Black children are forced to grow up fast. And now, these same children must constantly be armed with weapons of mass and harsh documentation; fully-charged cell phones to capture the dehumanization of their own people asphyxiated under the weight of white oppression, hatred, and racism. And I lift her up because without her documentation, the police report that stated George Floyd physically resisted officers might have been uncontested. This young Black woman stood her ground under the weight of the public execution, tantamount to a lynching, on the streets of Minneapolis. She stood her ground, as our children must, under the weight of an Administration that frankly appears to despise them.

A counterfeit bill allegedly used by George Floyd prompted the igniting call to the police. For a Black man or woman, calling the police can go horribly wrong. Black people are not treated justly. Over a $20 bill, George Floyd was murdered. The bill should have been taken out of circulation, not the man.

We saw Colin Kaepernick peacefully take a knee and lose his job, have his career end because of his peaceful protest. Do you understand his protest any better now?

There have been protests and riots across the country. A protest allows the expression or declaration of objection, disapproval, or dissent, often in opposition to something a person is powerless to prevent or avoid. "A riot is the language of the unheard." (Dr King)

Black lives are not valued. This lack of value has been projected and sanctioned loudly and clearly throughout the history of this country from the White House, the FBI, to the police with sponsored power to murder. And citizens, as well as other police, who stand by and justify the police activity resulting in the inhumane treatment of others are complicit in the injustice.

Where is the rage for human life lost and what are we willing to do to stop this inhumane treatment of a race of people? White people taking to the streets hidden behind masks with hammers in hand destroying property and painting signs on businesses that black lives matter will not solve the issues.

We have an Administration that calls white people who riot and destroy in order to preserve a legacy of slavery and inequality “good people.” For actions around justice for Blacks, by Black people, we are called “thugs” by the same administration.

How do we change this continuous cycle of injustice?

In the US, Black people make up almost 13% of the population. In Richmond, Blacks comprise around 20% of the population. Both nationally and locally there are significant employment and wage disparities, education gaps, housing instability and food insecurity that render Black people institutionally and generationally disadvantaged. Aggression against Black people and murders of these people by police are intentional and not separate from the other institutions that regard Black as less than.

Black bodies have to count in our overall struggle. Not as a placeholder or a chant, but in the policies and platforms we champion. How are Black students being educated and are we recognizing their needs in our advocacy? When 60% of Black folks in Richmond rent their living spaces -- their homes, and they and others in Richmond overwhelmingly voted for rent control, how does local government show that it values those same people while attempting to repeal the very protection that provides some semblance of housing stability? As we struggle to balance the citys budget, are we funding the licensing of police to kill Black people, or should the protection of Black people be prioritized and the police demilitarized and defunded?

How do we measure up? How are the organizations -- including local government -- you support engaged around the freedom of Black people and the protection of our lives?  How is this reflected in policies we support and people we elect?

In order for Black people to be free and treated with justice, our own organized efforts have to demonstrate that the fight is for their freedom. Black people must be free if any of our society is to be free.

-- BK Williams, Richmond Progressive Alliance Co-chair

Edited with Nicole Valentino

No on Montalbo - Great Showing at City Council, Childish Response from Mayor Butt

A big thanks to everyone who came to Richmond City Council tonight, those who spoke against Catherine Montalbo's appointment to the Richmond Citizen's/Community Police Review Commission, and those who signed the letter that we delivered to the City Council

Mayor Butt responded to the large group of people who gathered to speak against Montalbo's appointment by pulling the item from the agenda entirely -- so there was no vote on Montalbo tonight.

Councilmember Jael Myrick made the very reasonable motion/suggestion that the City Council be allowed to vote on the appointments of Christopher Whitmore and Armond Lee, the two non-controversial CPRC appointments made by Butt, so that the commission can function. Butt refused, and withdrew their nominations as well, and the City Attorney said there was nothing the rest of the Council could do to stop him. Because he may not be able to get Montalbo approved, it looks like Butt is trying to shut down the Citizen's Police Review Commission entirely. It was undemocratic and vindictive, right out of the Trump playbook, but it got our speakers very fired up.

Butt said he didn't want to hear from us tonight. But more than 20 of us signed up for open comment and used that time to say what we needed to say about the CPRC anyway. It was truly inspiring to see a diverse group of real Richmonders coming together to take care of our city's most vulnerable people.

Only two people spoke in favor of the appointment, one of them being Montalbo herself.

Check out the video here, comments on Montalbo start at 23:50.

After the meeting one of of our allies was asked if Butt was going to shut down the CPRC forever. He responded, "Well, we won't let him." Amen to that. Stay tuned for another update with next steps!

Anyone who wants to get these updates can sign the No on Montalbo Letter to be added to this list

CCC Racial Justice Task Force Presentation

The Contra Costa County Racial Justice Task Force (created as a result of excellent campaign work by the CCC Racial Justice Coalition) has recently come out with a set of thirty recommendations for ensuring racial equality within the county’s criminal justice system. Recommendations range from providing resources to incentivize school districts to explore, evaluate, implement or expand existing non-punitive discipline practices; to establishing a community capacity fund to build the capacity of community based organizations - especially those staffed by formerly incarcerated individuals - to provide services to reentry clients.

In Memory of Richard Boyd

Richard Boyd was a treasure in our community. Born in San Francisco, Richard and his wife Denise Abersold, a teacher in Richmond, moved to Atchison Village in 2006 and made Richmond their home. Richard had empathy toward our community and an unwavering belief that every neighborhood in Richmond can and deserves to be a healthy, livable space. One of his first projects was to rid his neighborhood at the bottom of Macdonald of drug dealing and loitering. Richard was not contemptuous of those dealing drugs, but believed deeply that acceptance of these behaviors, resignation and turning a blind eye was the recipe for continued unhappy and wasted lives.

Richard’s most remarkable attribute was his acceptance of each individual and his ability to help those around him become better for having known him. He held his friends and mentees to the highest standards. He was always looking for ways for individuals or groups of people who felt estranged to find areas of commonality.

He was most proud of his role as a mentor of young people in Richmond. In his work with members of Safe Return he projected a confidence, that no matter the individual’s past, a productive and satisfying life was a possibility. With his endless patience, common sense approach and unwavering belief in each person he mentored, he helped many young people go places (literally and figuratively) that they never imagined for themselves.

Richard was a committed friend of the Richmond Progressive Alliance. He supported our campaigns and our councilmembers. While he had no hesitation to express differences, he was always available to us and toward the end of his life had committed himself to helping us become an even stronger, more diverse organization.

Richard was an extraordinary friend—available for any need—a ride to the airport, to the hospital, or just an ear when things were going wrong.

Richard led a meaningful life. In his own unique, understated and gifted way he left a living legacy. Our challenge is to continue his mission--to strengthen community by helping our young people to grow and continue the struggle. We will miss him.

Recognizing Black Women

Strong black women have always been beacons for all women’s liberation.

Because they have been faced with hatred, resistance, and insult (subtly, and not so), they talk back, act back. And then they tower. A short list of examples include:

Rosa Parks, and before her Claudette Colvin.

Barbara Jordan.

Shirley Chisholm.

Anita Hill—coming to talk in Oakland March 10 about her #MeToo moment decades before there was a #MeToo campaign.

Barbara Lee—Oakland’s representative in the U.S. Congress

Nina Turner, former Senator from Ohio and Our Revolution president -- her grandma told her she has three strategic bones in her body: her wishbone, her jawbone, and her backbone.

Jovanka Beckles -- she’s got those bones too, because she’s had to, being a black Latina lesbian who endured hate speech on the Richmond City Council and successfully fought Chevron’s attempt to buy the Richmond City Council. Jovanka also helped pass the first local rent control measure in 30 years. She helped raise the minimum wage in Richmond. She supports single payer health care for all. She’s fighting to close corporate tax loopholes to help fund public schools and tuition-free college.

If you don’t know these strong black women, you should. Look them up -- be inspired and awed.

Also, consider coming out to the Sisters in Solidarity International Women’s Day Celebration, which will include speakers like Contra Costa County District Attorney Diana Becton (CCC’s first black woman DA) and will be emceed by Councilmember Jovanka Beckles.

Gayle: Never Stop Fighting for Justice

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.                                                                                                                                 

Contra Costa Community Defense Network

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.

Richmond's Family Justice Center

Center.jpg

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.

Punishment Should End after Time Served

We were so moved after this recent OpEd by the amazing Tamisha Walker, Executive Director of the Safe Return Project, that we could not help re-publishing some of it.

The RPA partners with the Safe Return Project as part of the Contra Costa Racial Justice Alliance, which works to reduce racial inequalities in our criminal justice system. The coalition has successfully worked on many issues, including instituting “Ban the Box” in Richmond, and advocating for the appointment of Diana Becton for interim District Attorney.

San Francisco Chronicle:  Punishment should end after time served

By Tamisha Walker
November 14, 2017

Our system of criminal justice is built on a fundamental belief that those convicted of wrongdoing have a debt that should be paid to society, and then forgiven. But for many people with criminal records, the consequences of past mistakes continue to hamper our ability to thrive long after that debt has been paid.

I know these challenges firsthand. And I know the changes we as a society need to make to help people like me put their lives back together.

I have been one of the lucky ones. But for every success story like mine, there are dozens of people who continue to be shut out of society. There are nearly 5,000 different restrictions placed on people with felony convictions in California, making it difficult if not impossible for people to secure jobs, housing, student loans and other keys to achieving economic security and financial stability.

Federal, state and local laws on the books create obstacles for people trying to reassemble their lives after experiencing the trauma of incarceration.

The situation is particularly difficult for women, who face unique challenges and needs when they reintegrate into society. The majority of re-entry programs are geared toward men. Issues like access to housing, employment and public assistance become more dire for women, especially those with young children, as they try to put their lives back together.

When I was released from jail in 2009, my first priority was to regain custody of my kids. But in order to do that, I needed to have stable housing and a job. Time and time again, my applications for housing or employment were rejected simply because of my past mistakes. I remember going to the Burlington Coat Factory in Richmond, joining the hundreds of people standing in line for about 100 open positions.

I got through the first interview feeling really confident, leaving with a friendly handshake from the woman who conducted the interview. As I walked away, I saw her look at the application, and drop it in the trash. My heart sank. I knew I would never get a call back. More than 60 percent of formerly incarcerated individuals remain unemployed a year after their release, and when they are able to find a job, they often are paid less.

I had to check the box admitting to my past record. In a competitive hiring environment, I knew I didn’t stand a chance.

To read more, click here.