Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Oakland Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan Sponsoring Legislation to Cut Police Ties with Immigration Enforcement

by Darwin BondGraham and Ali Winston
Wed, Jun 7, 2017 at 5:20 PM

Oakland City Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan is following a recommendation from the city's privacy committee and requesting a council vote to cut ties with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency.

Last week, the Oakland privacy committee held a hearing on the city's multiple task force agreements with federal law enforcement agencies, focusing on ways these joint operations agreement could violate people's privacy and civil rights. The hearing uncovered a previously unknown memorandum of understanding between the Oakland police and ICE that allows OPD officers to work in task forces alongside ICE agents.

OPD told the privacy commission that they haven't conducted any joint operations with ICE under the agreement. OPD also insists that its policy is to never enforce immigration laws, and that any possible joint operations with ICE are to combat international drug and human trafficking and other serious felonies.

But privacy committee chair Brian Hofer said the fact that OPD hasn't conducted joint operations with ICE is all the more reason to terminate the agreement.

Kaplan told the Express today that the city should do what it can to protect its residents from any possible abuses by immigration authorities.

"I think in this era when we've seen more and more concerns about ICE exceeding what is appropriate for public safety, that people are being arrested purely for their immigration status, that it's all the more important for Oakland to make clear we won't collude with this kind of behavior," said Kaplan.

"ICE has been at the forefront of the inappropriate racial targeting we say we're against in Oakland," she continued. "We need to take action locally to make sure our communities feel safe interacting with our law enforcement."

Kaplan's proposal goes to the city council's rules and legislation committee tomorrow. She's asking that it be heard on its merits at the July 11 meeting of the council's public safety committee.

Oakland City Council Fights Over How to Reduce Homicides, Violence

by Gabrielle Canon
Wed, Jun 7, 2017 at 11:48 AM

Last night, after a contentious and emotional debate, Oakland City Council narrowly passed a proposal to establish a violence-prevention commission — but not without sparking tensions among officials.

Introduced by Councilmember Desley Brooks, and with support from Councilmembers Annie Campbell Washington and Noel Gallo, the new blue-ribbon commission was offered as a response to a separate proposal to create an official Department for Violence Prevention, which Brooks has vehemently criticized for lacking a concrete strategy.

“If we are serious — and we cannot afford to deliver any more empty promises to a community that has lost its sons and its daughters and its children to violence—it would irresponsible for us as council to move forward on a concept that lacks any substance,” Brooks said.

Her plan gives the commission six months to define “violence,” and determine ways to reduce it. The process will include a series of educational town halls, and a deeper look into how other cities address violence. Each councilmember will be expected to nominate someone to serve on the commission by Monday, June 12.

Councilmember Lynette Gibson McElhaney — who had been fighting for the Violence Prevention Department for the past two months — was visibly outraged during the discussion, arguing that an exploratory commission is just another way for the city to drag its feet.

Oakland continues to rank among the top ten most violent cities in the country. And, even after voters decided to renew a parcel tax in 2014 that would bring in millions of dollars for violence-reduction programs, the city has struggled to lower its homicide rate below the five-year average of 93 murders a year.

Residents have long demanded officials to do more to quell violence, pushing for strategies that rely less on law enforcement and more on community engagement but the public also remains divided over whether to create a department to oversee violence prevention.

At previous meetings, representatives from community organizations and individuals shared heartbreaking stories of lost loved ones, and pleaded with officials to support the new department — and do it with urgency. McElhaney herself was hit by loss in 2015, when a teen she helped raise and considered her grandson was shot and killed.

But some — including Brooks — expressed frustration with the proposal’s lack of a strategy, and even accused proponents of playing on people’s emotions with empty promises.

The commission passed on Tuesday with five votes, but a previous amendment — which would restrict the approval of a new department until after the commission submits its findings to the council — resulted in a tie: Councilmembers Brooks, Campbell Washington, Gallo, and Abel Guillen for; and Dan Kalb, Rebecca Kaplan, McElhaney, and Larry Reid against. The tie can be broken by the mayor, if she chooses to intervene at a June 20 meeting. While it is still unclear if the mayor will decide to cast a vote, her administration has previously come out against the creation of a Department of Violence Prevention, and the city administrator issued a staff report recommending against its adoption.

After last night’s vote, McElhaney condemned the decision, saying she was insulted and appalled by the amendment that could delay discussions of a new department for another six months. Because the council is currently finalizing its two-year budget, this would mean a new department likely could not be established until the next budget cycle, in 2020.

“I did not bring victims families out tonight. I did not call for people to come, because I did not think that this body would take this as an opportunity to say that we will take another two years or three years before we bring in a high level executive to actually take over the violence prevention work,” McElhaney shouted, as Council President Larry Reid attempted to move forward to the next vote.

McElhaney continued: “I have sat in these debates, I have tried to maintain my composure, and I have tried to petition each mayor to take this seriously only to be told to wait, time and time again.”

Tobacco Industry Lobbyists Descend on Oakland to Oppose Ban of Flavored Blunt Wrappers and Cigars

by Darwin BondGraham
Wed, Jun 7, 2017 at 8:07 AM

Councilmember Annie Campbell Washington poses for a picture with anti-tobacco advocates at last night's meeting.
  • Councilmember Annie Campbell Washington poses for a picture with anti-tobacco advocates at last night's meeting.

The rumor swirling around Oakland's City Council meeting last night was that Rev. Al Sharpton, or a deputy from his National Action Network organization, was going to make an appearance and speak out against a proposed ban on flavored tobacco products.

Sharpton didn't show, but several councilmembers told the Express that they've already met with other lobbyists working for the tobacco industry.

Tobacco companies are worried about the latest public health initiative gaining traction in cities: bans on flavored cigars, blunt wrappers, menthols, and vape juice that critics say target youth and people of color with a deadly product.

Several Oakland councilmembers said they'll listen to the tobacco industry's representatives, but that it won't change their support for the ban.

"I'm still going to support it," said Councilmember Larry Reid, who added that he's already met with one lobbyist of the tobacco industry, although he couldn't immediately recall the man's name. Reid also said that a group of Black women have asked to sit down with him to explain their concerns about the proposed law. According to Reid, their message is that the ban will hurt small businesses, some of them owned by Black entrepreneurs.

Reid used to smoke, but he underwent a heart procedure in April. He said at a rally supporting the flavored tobacco ban last month that his personal health problems stem from using tobacco, and this experience has led him to strongly support the ordinance.

Flavored blunt wrappers manufactured by New Image Global including "Chicken & Waffles." - NEW IMAGE GLOBAL
  • New Image Global
  • Flavored blunt wrappers manufactured by New Image Global including "Chicken & Waffles."
Councilmember Annie Campbell Washington, who is spearheading the anti-tobacco ordinance, said that she already met with Lance Alexander of New Image Global, one of the leading manufacturers of blunt wrappers that come in flavors including watermelon and chicken and waffles. Alexander's message to her was that the flavored ban will create a black market and hurt small, local businesses.

Campbell Washington and Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan also told the Express that they heard rumors that Sharpton's National Action Network might get involved in Oakland before the council votes on the ban.

Sharpton's group has been lobbying local governments against tobacco restrictions on the grounds that such laws further "criminalize" people of color. And he's brought this message to Oakland before.

Last October, Sharpton told a gathering at Oakland's Beebe Memorial Cathederal that banning menthol cigarettes will create a vast underground market, and lead to more confrontations between Black people and law enforcement that could result in further mass incarceration and violence.

The National Action Network didn't immediately respond to an email from the Express seeking comment.

However, proponents of the flavored tobacco ban in Oakland say that Sharpton has taken money from the tobacco industry, and that he and others are spreading misinformation.

"This ordinance does not criminalize African American men," said Marcia Brown-Machen, the co-chair of Alameda County's Tobacco Control Coalition. "People who come to speak to you have taken money from the tobacco industry. The penalty will always be on the merchant, not the consumer."

Carol McGruder, the co-chair of the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council, said that the tobacco industry developed the message that flavored bans, especially those limiting the sale of menthols, will criminalize Black people, but that there's no truth to this.

Instead, McGruder said the tobacco industry is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Black people because it has purposefully marketed menthol cigarettes to African Americans.

Serena Chen, who worked for the American Lung Association for twenty-three years, said the industry heavily lobbied Oakland's leaders in 1993 just before the city passed its original anti-second hand smoking ordinance. "The Tobacco Institute, a front group of the industry, came to Oakland and offered $25,000 to various people who were close friends of the mayor in order to defeat the ordinance," said Chen.

That industry's effort fell flat. Proponents of the flavored ban say they don't expect the industry to stop the new law either.

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