Yael Chanoff

Forum tonight cancelled after Mayor’s ‘no stop and frisk’ announcement


A community forum to discuss stop and frisk tonight has been cancelled, in the wake of Mayor Lee’s announcement yesterday that he would not be implementing the controversial policy.

“We will not be implementing the stop and frisk program, or variations of that, in San Francisco,” Lee said at a press conference yesterday that was well-attended by neighbors, faith leaders and other interested parties.

Before the announcement, a forum was planned tonight for a panel discussion about stop and frisk at the CCSF Southeast campus. It was organized by filmmaker Kevin Epps, known for Straight Outta Hunter’s Point and Straight Outta Hunter’s Point 2, and the Osiris Coalition.

“There’s still a problem,” Epps said. “But as far as what they had planned on doing, the mayor actually backed off of implementing any part of that.”

Instead of stop and frisk, Lee said, the police will use “interrupt, prevent and organize” (IPO). The program involves keeping tighter tabs and the city’s 200 parolees as well as formerly incarcerated people in general, using computer data to track and send police to high crime areas, and working with community groups to “liaison” between police and residents.

Many hope that the conversation continues, however. “Ed Lee needs to meet with some of the younger people in this community about how to stop this violence,” said Jameel Patterson, organizer with the Bayview-based Black Star Liner Coalition. 

On 67th anniversary of bombs in Japan, nuclear energy challenged


An hour before the Chevron refinery in Richmond started to burn, Bay Area residents were demonstrating against a different type of energy that posed different environmental and health risks. It was August 6, the 67th anniversary of the day Hiroshima was devastated by a nuclear bomb. August 9 will be the anniversary of the bomb in Nagasaki.

To mark the day, about 50 met in front of the Japanese consulate in San Francisco. They then marched a few blocks to PG&E, bells chiming in beat with chants of “Radiation has no border,” “No nukes, shut the plants down” and “Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Fukushima. Never again, never again, never again.” 

The protest also commemorated the nuclear disaster at Fukushima on March 11, 2011, On Monday, the Japanese government released videos from the day of the disaster.

Speakers emphasized the ill-health effects still felt in the regions where the bombs were dropped.  Between 150,000 and 240,000 people were killed by the bombs, and survivors often suffer cancer and other radiationrelated problems due to their exposure. 

“People are still suffering. Children still have deformities. This is not over,” said Steve Zeltzer, KPFA radio host and member of No Nukes Action Committee 

Long-term reprecussions of military use of nuclear technology are felt strongly Hunter’s Point as well. That was where the US navy docked 79 ships that had been exposed to radiation following a bomb test in Bikini Attol. They docked in San Francisco to be decontaminated and, in the process, released radioactive material. Stationed in Hunter’s Point, and tasked with testing the material on the ships along with other research, was the Naval Radiological Defense Laboratory, which continued testing involving radioactive material in the area for decades. 

“We’re struggling very hard to force them to clean up the nuclear waste that’s buried in BVHP,” said Marie Harrison of Greenaction for Health and Environment. 

“As a mother, grandmother, and great grandmother who happens to live in Bayview-Hunters Point,” said Harrison, “this madness needs to stop. And if we don’t say it, no one else will.”

At the demonstration, protesters passed around a petition calling on the Japanese government. The petition calls for an end to nuclear power in Japan and government funds to evacuate people who remain in Fukushima because they can’t afford to leave.

Protesters also expressed concern about the San Onofre nuclear power plant, which was taken offline in January following a radioactive gas leak. The plant is of concern to San Diego Gas & Electric as well, who say that meeting energy needs for the area will be difficult this summer following the leak.

Creating activist scholars



This semester, the California Institute for Integral Studies (CIIS) will start a new Anthropology Department featuring teachers who are grassroots organizers with decades of experience, including Boots Riley, Roxane Dunbar-Ortiz, Sasha Lilley, and Chris Carlsson.

The program’s goal is to create “activist scholars,” to get students into communities outside the institution, and to use their research and intellectual opportunities at the school to move social justice projects forward. And the man who organized it all is an unrepentant anarchist.

“The most distinguishing character of anarchism for me is prefigurative politics — creating the new within the shell of the old,” Adrej Grubacic, the new department head, told us.

His classes come at a time when anarchism is being more widely discussed in the US than it has been for generations. Non-hierarchical general assemblies and consensus-based “direct democracy,” long practiced in anarchist and other leftist circles, swept across the country along with the Occupy movement last year.

Anarchists have been associated in the public eye with everything from spirit-fingered affirmations to the masked, black-clad protesters smashing bank windows and scrawling anti-corporate messages on walls. But Grubacic says it’s more than that.

As anarchism exploded into practice in Occupy’s tent cities, it was also experiencing a renaissance in the ivory tower. The North American Anarchist Studies Network was founded in November 2009, and since has brought together a growing number of professors who want to explore and teach anarchism through annual conferences.

Big names such as Yale Anthropology Professor James Scott have declared themselves anarchists. In a country where the study of economics is usually code for the study of capitalism, professors longing to talk alternatives are coming forward in droves.

It’s more than a little ironic that, within an ideology focused on a lack of hierarchy, it can be hard for those on the street to connect with those in the lecture halls. So how can the academic-types truly support The People?

From Zapatista schools in Mexico to universities run by the Landless Worker’s Movement in Brazil to popular universities throughout Canada and Europe, people all over the world have developed institutions based on anarchist and Marxist principles.

Now, in San Francisco, Grubacic is hoping to do the same.

A historian who was an anarchist by age 13, Grubacic grew up in socialist Yugoslavia, a country engulfed in brutal civil war by the time he reached his 20s.

“I was raised a Yugoslav,” Grubacic says. “So I was raised to be a citizen of a country that doesn’t exist anymore.”

He was teaching history at the University of Belgrade, but his political beliefs became a problem.

“The political cultures and political groups in power were either Serbian nationalists or these hyper-capitalists,” Grubacic told me. “And going after them, because I was publishing and I was doing a lot of things, was—let’s say, not a smart career choice.”

It was with input from his mentor, famed leftist writer and academic Noam Chomsky, that Grubacic left the crumbling Balkan state for his own safety. After a frustrating stint at University of San Francisco, he found CIIS.

“This is the first place where I think that I was hired because I was an anarchist, or I am an anarchist. It’s kind of funny,” Grubacic says.

Founded in 1968, CIIS grew out of the California Institute of Asian Studies, and has quietly taught holistic approaches to psychology and integrative approaches to psychology, spirituality and the humanities since then . Today 60 percent of CIIS students are studying clinical or counseling psychology. The Anthropology and Social Change program is part of the School of Consciousness and Transformation.

“It’s the only department like it in the United States,” Grubacic says. “This is going to be one of the few places where anarchism is going to be studied.”

“So anarchist social theory, anarchist education, anarchist ideas in general. We are going to study them, seriously, because they need to be recognized seriously. It’s a beautiful history, it’s a beautiful tradition,” he says. “How important it is, I think, is revealed, by the recent rediscovery or reinvention of anarchism at Occupy. So I think that it’s more relevant than ever to create a space where anarchism will be studied.”

A CIIS education doesn’t come cheap. Two years in the masters program costs at least $35,000, and to earn a PhD will cost more than $60,000. Scholarships and financial aid are available, but Grubacic called the question of access to this program “a huge question.”

“It’s troubled me from the very beginning,” he says. “We are creating an experiment. It’s a social justice, community-based program in a private school.”

He hopes, however, that students will learn applicable skills in the program. Classes on radio, film, and writing, Grubacic says, will give students practical skills. “They will be able to continue, either as academics and go to get their PhDs, or to join the non-governmental sector, to work with NGOs, to work with community groups, to work with labor groups.”

Not the most lucrative professions, perhaps, but likely the chosen fields for many Anthropology and Social Change students.

Grubacic calls creating a program based on teaching grassroots and subversive knowledge in an elite institution “a paradox,” and one he’s not alone in. Grubacic got advice on the issue, he said, from Anibal Quihano, a Peruvian scholar known for his theories on colonial power who now teaches sociology at the Binghamton University in New York.

In fact, Grubacic practically convened a conference of post-colonial and anarchist scholars to help develop Anthropology and Social Change. Grubacic sent the program’s description around to everyone from his buddy Chomsky to Immanuel Wallerstein to World Social Forum organizer Boaventura de Sousa Santos. He got advice, too, from organizers at the Popular University of Quebec and the Popular University of Social Movements, a school in São Paulo, Brazil run by the landless workers’ movement there.

“The deciding thing about our own methodology was that we would like to listen, both to the voices coming from the past, so people who are doing similar things before us, and to people who are doing similar things right now,” Grubacic said. “We also went — and this is the third form, let’s say, of listening — to the people in the community.”

He reached out to contacts and friends of professors in the university, as well as hanging out in gathering places and striking up conversations with those who showed up. He told one story of doing this covert outreach in the Tenderloin National Forest, the botanical garden and neighborhood spot just 10 blocks from CIIS’s building on Mission and 11th streets.

“Some people were completely uninterested and thought, what’s the purpose? Who are you, with this weird accent? Go home,” Grubacic laughed. Some, though, were more receptive, including a woman who said the program could help with those fighting against San Francisco’s problem of environmental racism.

“This person told me that she thinks activists can come to a particular community, do an ethnography, do research, and then present that research to people in the city, and show the people who have power in the city to make decisions why such behavior is unjust,” Grubacic said.

In the end, that is essentially how the program will work. Students will partner with local organizations, neighborhood groups, or other affiliated people working on social justice goals, doing research to help further their goals.

“The document they’re going to produce after two years of activist research is going to be written for that community,” Grubacic said. “We are the second readers. We are less important in the process. What they do has to be useful to the community. They have to be passionate about working with that community group. And they have to produce something that’s going to be useful to what that community group does.”

In addition to classes and research projects, students will participate in “convivias,” one of the most unique aspects of the program. People from the public, scholars, and others with special knowledge will hammer out ideas with students in week-long “political laboratories.” Revolutionary art will be practiced in a convivia called “Atelier of Insurrectionary Imagination.” And Grubacic and his students will turn a certain vacant part of the CIIS building into an “Emergency Library,” a place for books as well as what the program description calls “scholars on call, responding to the emergent needs of the communities in struggle, who might be in need of legal advice, activist companionship, scholarly input, or a media suggestion.” The convivias have corresponding student work-study positions — yes, there will be a paid Emergency Librarian.

CIIS spokesperson James Martin said Grubacic brings a lot to the school: “The thing I’m really excited about is that we’re engaging the local community. We live in San Francisco for a reason. This is one of the places in the world where all these intellectuals come together who have the passion to try and change things.”

Despite the paradoxes and problems that come when the elite meets the grassroots, Grubacic has high hopes. “We need to redefine what it means to be an intellectual who works within academia,” he said. “And the only way to do this is to become a part of a larger social movement’s formation, that is aimed at changing society. We cannot offer much. But we can offer something.”




Speak up: stop and frisk Southeast Community Complex, 1800 Oakdale, SF; Stop and frisk — the controversial, pretty much definitely Fourth Amendment-violating policy that police in New York cling to despite protest and that Mayor Ed Lee recently proposed implementing in San Francisco — just won’t go away, despite opposition from pretty much everyone. This panel discussion and opportunity to debate issues relating to the proposed stop and frisk policy. The event is presented by the Osiris Coalition and filmmaker Kevin Epps.

First District 5 debate of the season Park Branch Library, 1833 Page, SF; District 5 is in the center of San Francisco, and much of the excitement of November’s city elections will center on its race for supervisor. A wide range of candidates will vie for the coveted spot that Ross Mirkarimi left to become sheriff. All of the candidates have promised to show up to this first debate in the hotly contested race. The debate is presented by District 5 Democratic Club, the District 5 Neighborhood Action Committee, and the Wigg Party.


Occupy the Bay Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists’ Hall, 1924 Cedar, Berk; www.bfuu.org. 7pm, $5-10 suggested donation. Filmmakers Name Name and Namey Namey have been documenting Occupy in the Bay Area since the fall. Come reminisce, learn, and be inspired by their film at its premier. You made this history happen, celebrate it, baby!


Black Riders Liberation Party La Peña Cultural Center, 10pm, $5-10. The Black Riders Liberation Party considers itself the new generation of the Black Panther Party, organizing similar programs to stop police violence and gang violence and feed communities. This Saturday, the Party parties. Come celebrate the Black Riders and meet organizers, bring a canned food donation for a discount.

Pistahan Yerba Buena Gardens, Mission and Third St., SF; www.pistahan.net. 11am, free. This giant annual Filipino celebration goes all weekend. Start off the weekend with a parade from Beale and Market streets to Yerba Buena Gardens, where the festival of music, food, performance and education begins.

Foreclosure victory block party 376 Bradford, SF; www.occupybernal.org. 10am, free. Shortly after we named Ross Rhodes a Local Hero (Best of the Bay 2012) for his work protecting his home and those of his Bernal Heights neighbors from unjust foreclosure, he received a loan modification agreement. Come celebrate with Ross and others from Occupy Bernal with a block party at his house. There will be educational presentations about banks’ predatory role in the foreclosure crisis and efforts to fight back in the morning, followed by general partying.


Lessons from Vermont Eric Quezada Center, 518 Valenica, SF; www.collectiveliberation.org. 3-5pm, free. Yes, we have the Affordable Care Act, but it leaves much to be desired, unless you’re in Vermont. There, Governor Peter Shumlin signed universal healthcare into law in May 2011. But of course, Shumlin didn’t do this alone. Come hear a presentation from some of the organizers who won this victory, all the way from the Vermont Workers’ Center.


Undocumented and unafraid Asian Law Caucus, 55 Columbus, SF; www.asianlawcaucus.org. 12-1:30pm, free. The Asian Pacific Islander undocumented student group ASPIRE will lead this talk on the immigration rights struggle. The last talk in the Asian Law Caucus-led summer brown bag series is especially timely as undocumented youth work on figuring out if and how they might benefit from President Obama’s policy directive giving limited amnesty to undocumented college students, and what it means for family and friends, especially those already in ICE custody. This talk on the issues youth without legal status face and how to keep building towards the DREAM Act, which would offer broader protections that Obama’s policy.


Milk Club District 5 debate Eric Quezada Center, 518 Valencia, SF; www.milkclub.org. 7-8:30 p.m., free. A District 5 supervisors race debate hosted by the Harvey Milk Democratic Club. Milk Club President Glendon Hyde, aka Anna Conda, says candidates will cover drug policy, public space, sex worker rights, the housing crisis, queer seniors’ issues, and much more. As an extra special bonus, the debate will be hosted by transgender performer Ben McCoy and the Guardian Managing Editor Marke Bieschke.

Community questions Chevron in wake of refinery fire


This post has been updated to correct information concerning the Ecuadorian lawsuit against Chevron.

In the wake of last night’s fire at Chevron’s oil refinery in Richmond, community members are asking questions about exactly what happened, what health risks the public was exposed to, and whether the facility is safe.

Tonight [Tue/7], they’ll get a chance to ask those and other questions of Chevron representatives as the company hosts a townhall meeting at 6pm, preceded by a rally called by Asian Pacific Environmental Network at 5:30, both at Richmond Memorial Auditorium, 403 Civic Center Plaza, Richmond.

The fire ignited just before 6:30pm and burned for more than three hours before it was contained. As the fire burned, thousands of residents were warned to stay indoors, seal off all doors and windows, and, preferably hiding in rooms with no windows or doors within their homes.

This morning, Chevron spokesperson Heather Kulp reported that a preliminary investigation showed that the fire was a result of a hydrocarbon vapor leak that ignited. She denied that any explosion occurred, despite witness reports that they heard loud booms.

“There was an ignition. That may be what people are talking about hearing,” she told ABC.

On KQED’s Forum program this morning, she implied that an expansion of the plant that was stalled by the courts after being challenged by environmentalists — which she termed an “upgrade” — might have prevented the fire. But that notion by dismissed by Communities for a Better Environment, which said in a prepared statement, “This crude unit was not part of what it was going to replace.”

They and others were also skeptical of company assurances that the fire never presented a danger to the community. “We do have in place comprehensive plans and procedures to respond to situations like the ones we are facing this evening, and we are taking appropriate measures necessary to provide for the safety and security of our facilities, our employees and our surrounding community,” said the refinery’s general manger Nigel Hearne last night.

But APEN reports that a multi-lingual warning system that includes boxes installed in residents homes may have failed. “To compound Chevron’s lack of safety accountability in last night’s refinery fire/explosion, the multi-lingual warning systems that APEN and our allies fought for and won, failed. Many residents reported not being properly notified and are now experiences dizziness, headaches and other symptoms of exposure to toxins,” the statement reads.

More than 300 people flooded emergency rooms in the hours after the fire ignited complaining of respiratory problems. This is not the first time that Richmond residents have been affected by toxic fumes from the Chevron oil refinery. A similar fire happened in 2007 and burned for 10 hours.

Sierra Club put out a cautionary statement on the incident: “No one should have to live downwind of a dangerous oil refinery. Our thoughts are with the families living near the Chevron facility who must now contend with the aftermath and long-term health consequences of breathing in smoke filled with dangerous particulate matter, soot and cancer-causing toxins like sulfur compounds.”

Yeterday was already a bad day for Chevron — midnight was their deadline to pay a $19 billion settlement, to be paid into a fund managed by the Ecuadorian government, following a decades-long lawsuit. The company was found guilty of widespread land contanimation there, including releasing toxic water into rivers and streams, dumping waste in unlined pits, and frequent oil spills and gas flares.

The company did not pay by the midnight deadline.

“The plaintiffs will continue to seek enforcement of that ruling in other countries where Chevron has assets,” said Paul Paz y Mino, spokesperson for Amazon Watch.

Chevron claims that the ruling in Ecuador was invalid and based on fraud, and has refused to pay the settlement money. “The Ecuador judgment is a product of bribery, fraud, and it is illegitimate. Chevron does not believe that the Ecuador judgment is enforceable in any court that observes the rule of law,” reads a statement from the company.

“I don’t know if the two are connected in any way,” said Karen Hinton, spokesperson for the Amazon Defense Council. “But certainly the fire is in keeping with what we see in other countries, which is a disregard for the rule of law and an attitude of, if we can skirt safety regulations, we will.”

Taser debate takes off once again at Police Commission


At a police commission meeting last night, commissioners delayed the vote on a controversial agenda item: adding tasers to the SFPD toolbelt. Specifically, Chief Greg Suhr proposed discussing a pilot program that would allow tasers for the 74 officers who have been trained through the department’s Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) program, created last year.

This is not the first time a police chief has introduced the possibility of tasers. In February of both 2010 and 2011, the police commission discussed adding the less-than-lethal weapon to the SFPD arsenal.  But community opposition, ACLU opinions, and commissioners concerned about the risks of tasers thwarted the effort.

Suhr says he brought up the issue in light of the July 18 killing of Pralith Pralourng. Suhr said he believes that if the officer involved had been equipped with a taser, Pralourng, who wielded only a boxcutter, may be alive today.

Several members of Proalong’s family attended the commission meeting last night. His sister, Savee Pralourng, read a statement asking that her brother’s death not be politicized for police department purposes.

“The SFPD wants to use his death to justify getting tasers,” said Pralourng.

She added other concerns about the police deparment’s handling of the death.“We have not been given any information about his last moments or how he died,” she said. “They need to know how to deal with mental illness, police need to address them differently.”

“This is an issue of the department having options available to them to mitigate the need for lethal force,” Commander Mikail Ali said at last night’s meeting.

But opponennents say that issuing tasers will lead to officers using them in questionable scenarios.

Tasers are called less-than-lethal, but can result in death. The risk of death is increased if the tased individual is child, elderly, pregrant, very thin, has acidoss, or on cocaine or methamphetamine. Police are trained to aim their guns for center mass, but with tasers the risk of death is increased if the subject is hit in the chest– the electric shock’s proxmimity to the heart can cause ventricular fibrillation.

“You have pepper spray, you have billy clubs, you have rubber bullets. What more do you need?” activist Debray “Fly Benzo” Carpenter admonished the police chief.

As a result of last year’s iteration of the year’s-long debate, the police department was tasked with preparing a report on the  potential use of tasers and what other less-lethal options were available.

The report was never completed.

This concerned several commissioners, as well as ACLU attorney Micaela Davis, who presented at the meeting. The ACLU sent a 12-page letter to Mayor Ed Lee outlinging their issues with tasers, and has reported in the past that police use of tasers in Northern California is dangerously unregulated and leads to death at a surprising rate.

Of the top 20 largest police departments in the coutry, San Francisco officers are the only ones without tasers. Even Memphis, the city with a police traning program for interacting with mentally ill people in crisis that has become a national model, recently voted to allow tasers. San Francisco’s CIT program is based on the Memphis model.

The conversation may have been happening for years but, commissioners decided, this new attempt was too hasty. Many were surprised to see the item on this week’s meeting agenda. Many members of the public were angered as well that no public comment period was sheduled for the item, and expressed their opposition to tasers during comment periods meant for other topics.

“The virtue of good government is patience and consideration,” said Commissioner Julius Turma. “I don’t feel fully informed on this issue.” Turman, along with Commissioner Angela Chan, called for a delay on the vote.

Commissioner Petra DeJesus said that if more notice had been given on the vote she would have “asked the city attorney’s office for an opinion on wheather we can tase just a certain population.” The proposed pilot program would put tasers in the hands of only officers who have been through CIT program, a training for interacting with mentally ill people.

Suhr said that was a false characterization. The police department would not be “singling out a demographic of people they might be used on,” he said. Instead, CIT officers simply “have done more training to deal with the mentally ill.”

The CIT program is meant to train officers who will be dispatched to respond to calls involving mentally ill people in crisis. However, these officers do not work exclusively in these situations.

The CIT training, whose formation marked a rare consensus between the police department, commission, community mental health organizations and advocacy groups, have begun but are running behind schedule. Davis argued that to distribute tasers to the officers in the training before they complete it would be premature– and that, if they know that at the end of the training they will get tasers, they may be less inclined to practice crisis intervention using other, less dangerous tools.

Carpenter, who was thrown out of the meeting after he and other activists shouted “he’s lying!” when Suhr reported the number of officer-involved shootings over the past year as well as other interuptions, said the prospect of tasers worries him. “I’ve been pepper sprayed for no reason before,” said Carpenter. “If they had tasers, would they have tased me?”

The comission will continue to research and discuss the issue, and, with more notice, public input into the issue promises to mount. The next police commission meeting will take place August 15. The controversial topic, which has produced what Police Commission Vice President Joe Marshall called “robust conversations” several times before, is likely to produce another in the next few weeks, both in and outside police comission meetings.

“The violence in the southeast sector over the past four days has been devastating to our City– we know we can do much better.  Let’s work together to and create San Francisco solutions to San Francisco problems. The Black Young Democratic Club is open to help facilitate this conversation,” reads a statement the club released yesterday in response to the taser proposal.

“I can guarantee you, you look at the communities of color, those are going to be the folks that are dealing with the police and the tasers,” said Theo Ellington, president of the San Francisco Black Young Democratic Club.

Bay Area activists join in anger over Anaheim police shootings


Last weekend in Anaheim, police shot and killed two young men. Every day since, protesters have taken to the streets. This weekend, a national day of protest following the killings helped spread the call for justice in Anaheim spread to the Bay Area. 

Manuel Diaz, 25, was unarmed when he was killed by Anaheim police July 21. When a crowd gathered at the scene as Diaz lay bleeding, police fired rubber bullets and pepper balls into the crowd. One police dog got loose, charged at a baby, and bit the child’s father. Police say they used crowd control because the people had grown rowdy, and that some were throwing rocks. The next day, police shot a 21-year-old, Joel Acevedo, who they say shot at officers while fleeing. 

Anaheim police shot another man the next day, a suspected burglar, marking the eighth officer-involved shooting in Anaheim so far this year. Five of the shootings resulted in death, and all but one of those killed were Latino.

“What’s going on here in Orange County is symbolic of a problem with the system,” Eduardo Perez, a 21-year-old student who attended Sunday’s protest told the Orange County Register. “This wouldn’t happen to white people. This is racism, simple as that.” 

Saturday was a designated a national day of action, and protests in New York, Oakland, Seattle, and Chicago took place, while a smaller group marched Friday in San Francisco. 

Tensions boiled over between protesters and Anaheim police Tuesday. Police say that protesters smashed windows and set fires. They shot at a crowd of hundreds with rubber bullets, beanbags and pepper balls, arresting 24 by the end of the night. That was what an Occupy Oakland medic, who preferred to be quoted as Elle, want to head down. 

“I saw an insane amount of force being used to disperse protesters who I think are rightfully angry. I noticed there was nobody there as a medic, reaching out to do first aid,” Elle said. 

On Sunday, protesters rallied at the APD headquarters and attempted a march to Disneyland. Law enforcement officers in camoflauge uniforms, toting tear gas launchers, blocked them the crowd from getting near Disneyland.

“They were stopped by the SWAT team that apparently wears desert camo,” said Elle, noting that Anaheim police and Orange County sheriff’s deputies, many on horseback, also confronted the march. 

Although Elle says that she did observe mounted police “using their horses almost as batons to shove and hit protesters onto the street,” she only treated minor injuries as a medic. 

”The unfortunate thing about being a medic is that these people who are being arrested need your help the most,” she said.

“The arrests they made were pretty violent, the ones that I saw. They hit one guy over the head with their baton as they were taking them to the van. They carried another woman out from a back alley, and she was crying and terrified. They were pretty brutal to the people they were arresting.”

Elle says she wanted to go help in Anaheim in part to help build a unified movement.

“We’re building a movement in Oakland around a really similar situation,” she said.

“If our state, community, country is going to make these murders stop all these communities need to rise up together and say this is unacceptable, we need to stop. It’s going to take a lot of people getting out there into the streets and building constant popular support to say this is an unacceptable use of our tax dollars.”

That “constant popular support” has been mounting in the Bay Area so far in 2012. Occupy Oakland started off the year with a march to the Oakland City Jail, and, the next day, joined with the Oscar Grant Committee for a march and rally commemorating his death. As officer-involved shootings have continued throughout the year, family and supporters have continued to take to the streets in response. 

“I also wanted to help build a bridge between Oakland and Anaheim,” Elle says of her trip. 

“If every community is issuing statements saying we want police to be held accountable for these deaths, we want to revoke the police officers’ bill of rights, we want active legislation preventing stop and frisk, active legislation to protect people’s fourth amendment rights, I think it could accomplish something,” Elle said.

Janitors continue pressure as negotiations’ close draws near


As contract negotiations with several employers come to an end August 1, the SEIU Local 87 janitors union has been coming out in force. More than 1,000 rallied in Union Square and marched over the weekend. Today, 500 janitors marched through the financial district.

“If we don’t get no contract, you don’t get no peace,” the crowd chanted as it marched down Market, before turning on First towards Mission. The group periodically stopped to picket intersections.

In negotiations with the city, the Westfield Mall, and Macy’s, janitors risk a significant increase in monthly healthcare costs.

Members have voted to strike if demands are not met.

“Our members clean up after companies that got bailed out, and we’re getting screwed,” said Olga Miranda, president of Local 87.

“We depend on our hands. We work hard for our money, We’re not looking for hand-outs.” a union janitor who preferred to be quoted as Elhady said.

“The trash can outside your office? The bathroom? The hallways? No matter how dirty it is, we do it,” Elhady said. “And we’re not given respect.”

After marching, leaders switched from English to Chinese to Spanish to Arabic as they rallied the crowd to continue fighting for health care benefits.

“We clean these buildings, and we’re proud of it,” Miranda said to cheers from the crowd. “Don’t take away my family’s health and welfare.”

Miranda laid out the next few days, telling that if they have not heard that a resolution has been reached by midnight August 1, “it means we have no contract.” However, she said that the strike would not begin immediately Wednesday.

Another action is planned for tomorrow at 2pm.

Workers launch global Hyatt boycott, hundreds picket at Union Square


As shoppers scurried around Union Square yesterday, a picket that drew more than 300 people could be heard for blocks. The grand-scale noise-making was in front of the Grand Hyatt, where workers and supporters demonstrated against what they say is unsafe and unfair treatment of hotel workers.

UNITE HERE Local 2 has been supporting a boycott of a couple Hyatt locations in San Francisco for years now. But this week the national union, along with a broad coalition of supporters, has called for a worldwide boycott of the hotel chain.

Wong says the boycott will end if the Hyatt capitulates to three demands. Two of these are a “fair and mutual process for non-union workers to organize” and to “agree to a fair contract for thousands of unionized Hyatt workers that have been without contract for three years.” But the most important, according to Local  2 spokesperson Julia Wong, is to implement the workplace safety measures that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently outlined in a letter to the Hyatt corporation and its CEO, Thomas J. Pritzker.

Year after year, boycott organizers say, Hyatt adds new worker abuses to its track record.

“In 2009, Hyatt fired 100 housekeepers in Boston and replaced them with temporary workers making minimum wage,” Wong said. Rose Sia, a 31-year San Francisco Hyatt worker, recalls being alarmed that Boston workers who had held their jobs for 15 and 20 years were made to train their minimum wage-earning replacements. “They were treated like trash that day,” Sia said.

In a July 2011 incident, Hyatt workers in Chicago were picketing in 100-degree weather when their employers turned on heat lamps to beat down on them.

“They’re continuing to spread subcontracting around in more cities,” Wong said. “In Baltimore there used to be 40 or 50 in-house housekeepers. Now there are only eight or nine, and everybody else is subcontracted.”

Most recently a Hyatt worker in Indianapolis, Elvia Bahena, was fired, she believes, as a direct result of speaking out about her negative workplace experiences at a city council meeting.

Mona Wilson, who has worked at the Grand Hyatt since 1980, says that learning the difference between how union and non-union hotel workers are treated at Hyatt was an “eye-opening experience.”

Many Hyatt workers must clock in 30 every week to receive heathcare benefits, and meeting that quota can be a struggle. “I’ve met with people who work in banquets,” Wilson said. “The guys that move the tables around. They bring them all in, they’ll rush them through to hurry up and finish the job, and then send them home before the shift is over, so they never make enough hours to qualify for healthcare. I’ve met with one guy whose been working there for three years and he hasn’t been able to get healthcare.”

“He’s a regular hired worker, but it’s a non-union hotel,” Wilson said.

Even in San Francisco, where most Hyatt workers are unionized and experience relatively fair treatment, Hyatt workers have seen their workloads increase to back-breaking proportions and had to fight to get raises and benefits.

Sia says Local 2 has been instrumental in improving working conditions. “They are the ones helping us get our pension, get our raise, get everything. Without the union, we’re nothing,” she said.

Workers in San Francisco have been locked in contract negotiations for three years. One of their key issues is the freedom to protest in solidarity with other workers, which Sia says is particularly important as non-union Hyatt workers continue to suffer abuses.

Picketers sing labor songs at yesterday’s demonstration

Hotel workers are largely women, and UNITE HERE’s Hyatt Hurts campaign has always called out their mistreatment as a feminist issue. They protested on International Women’s Day, focusing on two sisters who experienced disrespectful treatment and objectification of their bodies at the Hyatt Santa Clara. A few weeks later, the Reyes sisters met with Gloria Steinem, who pledged her support for the boycott.

Women’s rights groups like the National Organization of Women, the National Women’s Health Network, and the Feminist Majority Foundation have endorsed the worldwide boycott of Hyatt hotels. GLBT rights groups like the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the National Stonewall Democrats, the National Black Justice Coalition, and Pride at Work have also signed on. So has the national AFL-CIO.

A more unusual supporter, the NFL Players Association, is also getting behind the boycott, promising that the organization will not spend it’s money at Hyatt and discourage players from staying there.

“Many football players were raised by hardworking men and women who punch time cards just like the hotel workers at Hyatt. This is why we decided to get in the game and support Hyatt housekeepers who suffer abuse and debilitating injuries at work,” said DeMaurice Smith, the association’s executive director.

This kind of support is keeping spirits high for union organizers and workers as they escalate their tactics, but the fight may not be over any time soon.

“It took us seven years to bid the Mariott,” said Chito Cuellar, head of UNITE HERE’s hotel division. “It took us five years to defeat Park 55. It’s been three years that we’ve been fighting the Hyatt. And we don’t know how long it’s going to take, but we know we’re going to win.”

Activists rally for alleged victim of illegal foreclosure


A few dozen rallied in front of the building that houses a branch of PNC bank July 26, demanding that the bank not foreclose on Yin Wong, an elderly Bayview resident who says the bank is foreclosing on her illegally.

Wong says she never missed a mortgage payment on the home that she and her family have lived in since 2001. She was paying through electronic transfer, where payments were automatically transferred from her bank account monthly. She says that in October 2009, she discovered the bank had rejected her previous two payments. The next month, she received a foreclosure notice for non-payment. 

“I never said I cannot pay,” Wong says. She says after she was tracked for foreclosure, all efforts to pay were refused, even though she had the money.

“If it happened to another person, I wouldn’t believe it. But it happened to me,” Wong said, adding that “In other countries all over the world this wouldn’t happen…just America, of freedom and democracy.”

Protesters chanted in support of Wong and blocked the main entrance to 575 California, where PNC has offices. A security guard said the building hadn’t seen that kind of demonstration since it housed Chevron.

Activists compare Wong’s case to that of the Cruz family, who also had their electronic transfer payments to PNC rejected without explanation, resulting in being tracked for foreclosure and eviction from their Minnesota home. Their case galvanized national support and made headines when they travelled with supporters to PNC’s Pittsburgh headquarters last week.

Wong has received support from the Eviction Defense Collaborative (EDC), and two attorneys from the group were at the rally protesting on her behalf. One EDC lawyer, Deepa Varma, said that even with fairly obvious illegal foreclosures such as Wong’s, homeowners usually lose in the courts. The EDC would often warn clients that fighting against banks in these cases was a largely unwinnable uphill battle.

But she said the recent push to fight back against foreclosures, fueled largely by various Occupy efforts, has changed all that.  

“A year before Occupy, the position in our office was to say, you’ll just have to move,” said Varma. “It would have felt impossible”

But now, Varma said, “there’s more of us, and people have actually made it happen. The turning point for me was seeing Josephine get back in her house,” she said. Josephine Tolbert, 76, was locked out of her home was little warning last fall. After pressure from activists, including Occupy the Hood SF, Occupy San Francisco, and Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), Tolbert has now received a loan modification and is back in her home.

“After that I was like, anything is possible so long as they realize we’re not going to keep quiet outside the courts,” Varma said.

Wong has been working with the EDC since she was served her first eviction notice three years ago. 

California is a non-judicial foreclosure state, meaning local governments automatically enforce foreclosures that lenders call for. Foreclosure cases are generally not reviewed unless a homeowner challenges a lender legally. Then, according to Varma, lenders need only prove that they filed appropriate eviction paperwork to prove their case—not that the foreclosure itself has legal merit.

Wong wanted to go to trial to prove her case, Varma said. “She said, I did everything right. I have nothing to hide.” But PNC wanted to settle the case through a series of motions of summary judgment. “They filed motion after motion,” recounts Varma, saying that courts almost always decide in favor of lenders in these types of motion. But Wong’s case was unusual– “we kept beating them.”

After three years, PNC finally beat Wong at a bench trial last month when a judge ruled against her. Their win was only based on being able to prove to the judge that they had record of the appropriate paperwork in Wong’s foreclosure preceedings, not that Wong had missed payments, meriting the foreclosure in the first place, according to EDC attorney Josh Schieber. 

Scheiber said that while he’s been working on Wong’s case, she has consistently tried to submit her payments and on the occasions offered to pay the whole mortgage. The bank doesn’t seem interested.

But Wong refuses to give up, and she hopes that the confrontation yesterday might have reopened those lines of communication.

Wong and an interpreter from Occupy Bernal waited in the building’s lobby about 45 minutes while supporters chanted “keep Yin in her home.” 

“They want to make me become homeless, but they still don’t want to talk to me,” Wong said as she waited, guessing “they’re scared because they know they did the wrong thing.”

PNC sent down a representative to meet with Wong who assured her that he would fax the documents that she had brought with her, evidence of the unlawful foreclosure, to corporate headquarters

Wong and her family are scheduled for eviction Wednesday.

“I hope they postpone it so we can keep talking,” Varma said.

Medical marijuana patients demand an end to federal raids as President Obama arrives in Oakland


As President Obama arrives in Oakland for a fundraiser today, medical marijuana activists have already made a point with a rally on the steps of Oakland City Hall this morning. Protesters demanded that the President halt raids of dispensaries and other operations legally allowed by California law.

Present at the rally were representatives from Oaksterdam University and Harborside Health Center, two Oakland medical marijuana businesses that have been the target of federal attacks in recent months.

Speakers argued that Obama should use his power to stop threats to these institutions. Oaksterdam, the school that teaches the politics and history of cannabis along with practical knowledge for working in the industry, was raided April 2. Harborside, a dispensary that also offers free health services such as acupuncture and yoga, received a letter from US Attorney General Melinda Haag filing federal forfeiture action July 9.

“This is the time to show them what we’re made of,” said Harborside co-founder Steve DeAngelo at the rally.

DeAngelo emphasized that Harborside complies with state regulations and that the city of Oakland benefits from its success, not least with tax revenue.

Marijuana is illegal under federal law and is classified as a Schedule 1 controlled substance. Schedule 1 drugs “have a high potential for abuse” and “no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States,” according to the DEA.

But a procession of medical marijuana patients and caregivers at today’s rallies said that their experiences conflict with the DEA’s claims. Patients recovering from surgeries and suffering from cancer and HIV/AIDS said that medical marijuana provided pain relief and lessened their symptoms without the detrimental side effects of other medication.

“If the federal government takes away my medical cannabis, I could go blind,” said David Goldman, 61, a retired teacher who uses cannabis to treat his glaucoma.

The Compassionate Use Act, which passed in California in 1996 when voters approved Proposition 215, allows both patients and designated primary caregivers to legally purchase marijuana at licensed dispensaries.

One such caregiver, Evelyn Hoch, said that she has been caring for her best friend, a survivor of stomach cancer, for more than 20 years. “She had 90 percent of her stomach removed,” said Hoch. “They gave her six months to live.”

Hoch’s friend survived, but had to choose between constant pain and medication that left her “like a zombie,” according to Hoch. She was prescribed barbituates that, as a side effect, suppressed her breathing. Hoch said her friend was resistant to cannabis recommendations that her doctors gave her unofficially, even before medical marijuana was legal, because she “just didn’t like pot. It wasn’t her thing.” But after she began using medical marijuana two years ago, she has improved significantly.

“She can’t believe the difference,” said Hoch. “She can read again. She’s got a little bit of life. She’s not in bed 24/7, compromised from the side effects of other medication.”

Hoch is a Harborside customer, and says that if medical marijuana dispensaries close, “the only choice patients are going to have is buying it illegally.”

A march was leaving Oakland City Hall at 3pm to bring the message as close as possible to the president.

Guardian feminism panel calls for change, gang activity


In the interest of behaving badly, let us first say that we won’t apologize for the “roving feminist gangs” comment, nor the laughter that ensued at our July 11 “Bay Area Feminism Today” panel. In the light of the sexual attacks that have terrorized Mission District residents this year, Celeste Chan’s joke (actually a reference to comments made by Fox News in reference to the New Jersey Seven) has to be read as a self defense tactic — and source of comfort and strength to the women living in the neighborhood. Not a threat to men. Unless they’re commiting sexual assault, of course — but then, women commiting sexual assault will probably have the gang’s wrath to face as well. 

Seven women from all walks of Bay Area activism — arts, nightlife, immigrant advocacy, domestic violence organizations, and more — came together at City College’s Mission branch to discuss what our SF progressive community needs to work on, recent feminist victories, whether they even believe in the term “feminism,” and everything in between. Our “Faces of feminism” cover story announcing the event attracted a decent-sized crowd of around 120 (mainly young women, with zero male elected officials in attendance.) We laughed, we nearly cried, we came away with a lot to think about. Here’s some of the general topics that were discussed. And here’s to this being a spark for continued talks, however a Fourth Wave Bay feminism may take shape.


Reproductive justice

Reproductive justice has long been a feminist goal, but with the recent spate of attacks on birth control and abortion access it’s come up again. Are we here in the Bay Area isolated from the War On Women?Some panelists thought we can affect the country’s situation positively.

“Part of what we do here in the Bay Area is we send strong women to Washington,” the Drug Policy Alliance‘s Laura Thomas said. “We are responsible for a significant amount of women in Congress.” But California’s reproductive justice situation is more complicated than it may seem. St. James Infirmary‘s Stephany Ashley noted that reproductive health here is under attack with “criminalization of HIV-positive people,”  and that California “just cut all funding for HIV prevention for women.”


Chan, founder of Queer Rebels Productions, added that California is cutting domestic violence services through slashing CalWORKS funding. Mujeres Unidas‘ Juana Flores noted that the Bay’s Latino communities can find it difficult to support aspects of reproductive health because of religion and tradition. But she said that people need to work together and realize that “it’s a real war. It’s a real war on us.” She warned that “politicians are not going to fix things just because they want to improve our lives. We need to fight back.”

Transgender activist and member of SF’s Youth Commission Mia Tu Mutch said that part of the war on women has been a wave of anti-trans legislation across the country, as well as a wave of hate crimes, especially against trans women of color. Some legislation in Tennessee is making it more difficult for trans people to go the bathroom, she said. “Reproductive justice is important, but we also need just the simple right to pee.”

But what about the word itself?

Does feminism have power as its own concept now, or has its work been rightly subsumed into the queer movement, the civil rights movement, and other forms of activism? “A lot of us can agree that there isn’t something you can point to and say, this is the feminist movement in San Francisco,” Ashley said. “But there are many important feminist projects happening.”
Alix Rosenthal, who created a controversial women’s slate in her bid for re-election on the SF Democratic County Central Committee recalled how “30 to 40 years ago, we all had to join together because there weren’t enough of us. Now people have splintered off.” Chan brought up the bicycle scene in 1983’s feminist sci-fi film Born in Flames, and quoted Audre Lourde: “for so long, we’ve been on the edge of each other’s battles.”

Tu Mutch said that she “would rather identify as fighting for LGBT rights, progressive rights” than as feminist. But, she continued that it is “under the system of patriarchy that we’re all getting screwed over.” She said that women are treated as second-class citizens, and trans and gender non-conforming people are treated as third class citizens in our society.  Edaj, longtime Bay Area DJ and director of the Women’s Stage at Pride for a decade, agreed that the word feminism “sparks a lot of emotion in people” and can create obstacles in growing support. Said Flores: “it’s a big word. People call me a feminist when I claim my rights. When I see another women who is suffering or being abused it’s unbearable to me,” Flores said. “When someone calls me a feminist, I feel proud.”

The inward gaze: how does the San Francisco progressive community do on feminist issues?

In a word: okay. But there’s work to be done even here, in “progressive” San Francisco. Thomas led the charge, talking about the state’s current legal ability to shackle women prisoners during childbirth. Tu Mutch expressed a need to stop “pitting groups against each other,” and to get rid of a City Hall attitude that says “my budget is more important than yours.” Tu Mutch said “there’s still rampant transphobia and gender essentialism,” that affects not just women, but the “countless people born with intersex conditions and who identify outside the binary.”

Ashley pointed out that “even some of our favorite male progressive politicians, you don’t see them cultivating leadership among women, queer people, trans people.” She talked about how that’s a traditional feminist organizing principle, “mentorship and meaningful participation, not just tokenizing participation.”

As a (not) side note, there wasn’t a single male politician in the audience that day. As Ashley put it, “patriarchy is really the problem.” Ashley and panel moderator, SFBG culture editor Caitlin Donohue shared the fact that they’ve felt diminished by remarks made by and in the company of the city’s so-called “progressive politicians.”

Recent feminist victories

But enough depressing stuff. How about recent feminist victories, asked an audience member.

This question was met with a disconcerting silence. Until Chan jumped in: “I’m really inspired by the place queer arts are at right now.” She told of the “lineage of resistance” of art that deals with questions like “how do people survive the unimaginable? How do people survive the truly horrific?” Disturbing incidents like that of transgender prisoner Cece McDonald beg the question, “is the perfect victim a dead victim? If you fight back, you’ll be criminalized? Now more than ever we need a movement. We really need to come together,” concluded Chan.

Rosenthal saw hope in surprising places. “Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachman,” she said. “These women are so incompetent. But they made it. They really made it.” She talked about how usually women have had to be five times better than the men they competed with, but “Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachman are not five times better than anyone. But they made it.”
Laura Thomas was inspired by Julia Bluhm, the 14-year old ballet dancer from Maine whose online petition led Seventeen to promise to stop using Photoshop to alter women’s body types. Ashley acknowledged Tu Mutch’s advocacy work, and said she was recently inspired by a “take back the plaza” event Tu Mutch had organized. Edaj was inspired by being named a Pride Grand Marshall, and the feeling that the Pride organization was acknowledging the importance of the space created at the Women’s Stage. She was also inspired by Morningstar Vancil, a Filipino vet who is a two-spirit drag king, and Vancil’s commitment to disabled veterans issues.

Action items

In response to a question that asked what the 2012 action plan for Bay Area feminists should involve, Ashley said “principles of intersectionality, anti-colonialism, anti-capitalism” had to be valued more than they have been in past feminist movements. They’re there in Third Wave feminism, Ashely said, only they are “wrapped up in theory and academia.” Those guiding principles should have “more on the ground” applicability. What needs to happen right now, speaking of on the ground? Back to 2012’s spate of sexual violence in the Mission, there’s a distinct necessity for “a perfect community response that doesn’t involve the police, so that we all of a sudden feel really comfortable taking a walk at 3 in the morning through our favorite neighborhood.”

Flores said that any new form of feminism would need to be about “mutual respect” and “against any form of injustice,” to which Thomas agreed, saying it needs to be “less theory, more practice.” It also, Thomas said “has to deal with gender in a different way. A new feminism needs to go beyond gender, or deal with gender differently” in the sense of respecting gender non-conforming identities. A tricky prospect, she admitted. “How you develop a gendered movement that doesn’t use gender as a defining construct, I don’t know.” More specifically, she underlined the importance of “progressive revenue measures,” and “an end to cuts to childcare and domestic violence programs.” “Our economy’s not coming back through more cuts. We need revenue, more taxes,” she said, to cheers from the crowd. Well this was a Guardian forum, after all. 

Edaj reiterated that “that word scares off a lot of people who might otherwise want to join.” Tu Mutch underlined that it would need to “take up the idea that men and women are opposites. That only serves to degrade women.” A new feminism, she said, would be about “turning away from that and realizing there’s lots of different genders.”

Tu Mutch said she would like to see success for her organization to fight for trans healthcare rights, FEATHER. “People have to spend ridiculous amounts of money to transition,” she said. “We need universal healthcare for all, including trans people.”

Chan pondered the question. In the end, she concluded, “roving feminist gangs,” inspiring at least one angry letter from a slighted middleaged white man in the crowd. Which wasn’t the only reason why we deemed the panel a success, but an important one.

Killing of suspect with box cutter may have been legal. But was it necessary?


Police officers have dangerous jobs, and when confronted with subjects who may threaten their lives, they have to think fast under stress. When a subject has something classified as a “deadly weapon,” police are justified by law in shooting to stop the threat.

As SFPD spokesperson Carlos Manfredi explained to me for an article in this week’s paper, the official policy isn’t “shoot to kill.” But subjects are often killed, since officers are trained at the police academy to aim for the body’s center mass and to shoot until any threat to their life is neutralized.

It seems many tools and common items can fall under the “deadly weapon” category. The SFPD’s third fatal officer-involved shooting this year occurred July 18 when Pralith Pralourng apparently lunged at an officer. His deadly weapon? A box cutter.
In January 2011, Raheim Brown Jr. was shot by Oakland School Police. He was allegedly wielding a screw driver. Last July, Charles Hill was shot by BART police. He was drunk, lying on the ground, and hurled a pocketknife at police, missing them by 10 feet.

When used just right, a box cutter, a screwdriver, or a pocket knife can certainly be deadly weapons. But when a subject is exhibiting likely mental disability, drunk and lying on the ground, or 20 years old and in a car, isn’t there any other type of combat police could use to neutralize the threat?

At a press conference today Police Chief Greg Suhr said that police do take defensive tactical training, which trains officers in using less than lethal weapons. But the July 18 situation warranted the use of lethal weapons, Suhr said.

“The officer was facing a life or death situation. She had to do what she could to protect herself.,” Suhr said.

Suhr explained that the officer had been on the force 20 years, during which time she had received multiple trainings in crisis intervention training, which he called the “most progressive in the country.”

That training deals with psychology and teaches how to deescalate situations in which a subject is a “danger to himself,” Suhr said. But, since the subject had already allegedly attacked a co-worker, the the officer’s life was considered in danger.

Meanwhile, Occupy San Francisco activists who still protest and sleep outside the Federal Reserve on Market Street attained video and audio of people who claim to be witnesses who contradict the police story. One says that “he was on his back, then [paramedics from] the ambulance turned him facing downwards…they but a bag over his body and his head. Next thing, when everybody started looking at they got nervous and they started acting like they were doing CPR even though the guy was gone. It took the ambulance 20 minutes to get there.”

In a video that has been viewed more than 17,000 times on youtube, another man who claims to be a witness says “they had him in cuffs, and they shot him.” In another video shot by the same man, Robert Benson, another man says “he was in handcuffs and they shot him twice in the chest…I saw it.”

The Bay Guardian has not been able to confirm these accounts.

Pralourng’s death was likely legal. He could likely have injured an officer with the six-inch box cutter he carried, although it may have been difficult to kill her. But his crime did not merit the death penalty, and he now joins the ranks of Hill, Brown and others who’s small blades and screwdriver were considered weapons deadly enough to justify their deaths by the SFPD, BART Police, Oakland School Police respectively. It’s hard not to ask—did Pralourng have to die?

Trust the police?



On July 16, 2011, Kenneth Harding Jr. lay bleeding on the ground. He was surrounded by San Francisco Police officers, who were in turn surrounded by neighbors and community members. The minutes ticked by and no ambulance arrived. After 28 minutes, Harding was dead at 19. The official story: after being stopped in a Muni fare check, Harding ran from police, drew a gun, and shot himself.

A year later, family members and community supporters maintain that the official story is a lie. A protest on his death’s anniversary this week shut down Muni service for an hour in his honor.

But protesters weren’t speaking of just Harding. Since he was killed by law enforcement officers, so were Charles Hill, Alan Blueford, and Derrick Gaines. All have led to varying degrees of protest that feed tensions between the cops and segments of the community.

Hill’s fatal shooting by a BART cop in San Francisco sparked last summer’s OpBART demonstrations, the energy from which flowed into early manifestations of the Bay Area’s Occupy movement, which was also marked by tense standoffs with cops that were followed by “fuck the police” marches throughout the Bay Area.

Despite such lingering tensions, Mayor Ed Lee recently suggested curbing gun violence by giving cops stop-and-frisk authority, a controversial idea that has been the subject of massive protest movements in New York City where what critics say is widespread racial profiling heightens tensions between police and communities of color.

Lee’s idea was widely criticized, triggering the Board of Supervisors to pass a resolution on July 10 criticizing the idea, urging Lee to abandon it, and saying it would destroy trust between the community and police.

There has always been tension in San Francisco between police and segments of the community, but a series of emotional, high-profile episodes and unsatisfying official responses over the last year has frayed that relationship even more than normal.



When Harding was killed, his mother Denika Chatman moved from Seattle to San Francisco. She wanted to convict the officers she believes murdered him. But the SFPD announced within weeks of the shooting that Harding had shot himself.

Now, Chatman and attorney John Burris have filed a federal lawsuit. “I know that it was murder,” she said. “I know his human rights had been violated.”

Chatman and other family members and friends maintain that when Harding was stopped while off-boarding the T train by SFPD officers and asked for proof of paying the $2 fair, he was unarmed. Harding ran, and those officers drew guns and shot him.

Police say that Harding had pulled out a gun as he ran and shot at police, prompting their return fire. They didn’t recover a gun at the scene, but after a weeklong “community effort,” police say a neighbor turned in a gun found at the scene.

The gun shot .38 caliber bullets, police reported—smaller than the .40 caliber bullets in a standard-issue SFPD weapon. The police crime lab then concluded Harding’s fatal wound was from a .38 caliber bullet, a finding confirmed later by the Office of the Medical Examiner.

A widely circulated video show’s Harding on the ground, bleeding to death, as police stand around him.

But as SFPD spokesperson Carlos Manfredi tells it, “The officers did not just stand around. Officers had just been involved in a violent confrontation, they were fearful for their lives…A hostile crowd began surrounding the officers.”

“It wasn’t until more officers arrived on scene to assist the primary officers and prevent them from being surrounded by a hostile crowd that could have potentially escalated the situation. Not to mention, the ambulance would not be able to enter a violent scene that could potentially put their lives at risk, until we feel it is safe,” he said. “Remember, the officers did not know if Harding was laying under the gun. Approaching an armed gunmen who was shooting at officers is extremely dangerous and life-threatening.”

But many say the police shouldn’t be afraid of the community it patrols. When Chatman moved to the Bay Area, she says, she found a community in Bayview-Hunters Point. She also found support in a movement against police violence, made up largely of grieving mothers.

When hundreds marched in San Francisco demanding that George Zimmerman be charged with murdering Trayvon Martin in Florida, Chatman joined other African American mothers in condemning police killings of their sons. Since Martin’s death, similar deaths have continued in the Bay Area.

Alan Blueford, 18, was killed May 6 in Oakland three weeks before he graduated high school. Derrrick Gaines was 15 when he was fatally shot June 5 in South San Francisco. Each case feeds anew the fears and resentments some communities feel toward the police.



Some Occupy reactions continued a tradition of a certain type of radical response to police: just get them out. For many, police are like foreign occupying forces in neighborhoods, afraid of locals they don’t understand and willing to shoot to kill in mildly threatening situations. Harding and Gaines were running away when they were shot; Blueford was allegedly wielding a screwdriver. In all these situations, shooting to wound likely would have sufficed for self-defense.

When asked how she would like to see police interact differently with Bayview-Hunters Point residents, Chatman didn’t see much potential. “Not at this point,” Chatman said. “There’s been too many murders. Things would have to change drastically. And the mayor trying to implement a stop and frisk? Kenny is a worst example of stop and frisk and racial profiling.”

Indeed, at the end of a tense year, Mayor Lee’s idea of adopting the stop-and-frisk tactics used in New York and Philadelphia has been met with intense dissent. Sup. Malia Cohen — whose District 10 includes Bayview-Hunters Point — and former Mayor Willie Brown, two of the mayor’s supporters, immediately came out against the idea.

“San Francisco should remain focused on community policing that values both law enforcement and building relationships with communities who live with gun violence. Anything less would undermine decades of hard work in building trust between local law enforcement and our neighborhoods,” she wrote in a San Francisco Chronicle op-ed.

Even the SFPD is wary of the idea.

“We are not passing stop and frisk,” Manfredi told the Guardian. “It’s not even an option on the table for the department. We’re using the same method we’ve been using this whole time: probable cause and reasonable suspicion.”



The anniversary of Harding’s death comes a week after the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement released a highly circulated report that concluded an African American is killed by a police officer or someone “deputized to act in their name” every 40 hours.

“We call [the killings] ‘extrajudicial’,” the report notes, “because they happen without trial or any due process, against all international law and human rights conventions.” The report notes that only nine people have been charged in the 110 killings it looks at, and none convicted.

On paper, San Francisco isn’t having a particulary bad year. Manfredi said there have been “two officer-involved shootings and at least one was a fatality” so far in 2012. That’s compared to eight officer-involved shootings with three fatalities in 2011 and 14 officer-involved shootings with three fatalities in 2010.

But community perceptions and unease can linger for a long time when incidents don’t seem properly investigated or atoned for.

“It’s very alarming. Especially the rate that it’s happening at. And anybody is paying attention, they’re starting use all the same stories for all these young black teenage males that they’re murdering,” Chatman said.

Alan Blueford, 18, was killed by Oakland Police on May 6. He was confronted by police on suspicion of hiding a gun and ran away. Police first said he had drawn a gun and shot an officer as he ran; an investigation later revealed that the officer who was injured shot himself in the foot. There has been no evidence uncovered that Blueford had a gun.

A month later, Derrick Gaines, 15, was confronted by South San Francisco police, again for looking suspicious. Police say he ran away and drew a gun, and that they needed to fire in self-defense. At a community speak-out July 13, Gaines’ mother, Rachel Guido Red, said she had just received the coroner’s report. It’s conclusion? “Derrick was shot in the back.”

She related what she believes happened: “He was running. He was scared. He was tripped by the officer, and he didn’t have a chance to pick himself up because this man played judge, jury, and executioner.”

Over and over, police investigations clear the cops of wrongdoing, as an investigation of Hill’s shooting on a San Francisco BART platform recently did. Chatman said lawsuits like the one she filed are often the only way to seek justice.



Chatman wants to see shoot-to-kill policies changed. “I would like to see a bill passed making these people responsible for murder,” she said. “And then maybe they’ll start going back to original ways, of maybe wounding somebody, firing a warning shot, or doing something to injure the person, instead of shooting to kill. Because now they all come with their guns drawn. How come every police man there has to shoot? Why do they all have to shoot? Why can’t one officer shoot, and just shoot to wound?”

Manfredi said the policy isn’t shoot-to-kill, but it isn’t shoot-to-wound either. Instead, it’s to aim for “center mass” (the torso area) and shoot until there is no longer a threat. “We never, ever had a shoot to kill policy,” he said. “We shoot to stop the threat. And once we assess the threat and realize there’s no longer a threat, then we stop.”

Sharen Hewitt, founder of the Community Leadership Academy and Emergency Response Project (CLAER) is also indignant about Harding’s murder. “I don’t think that I should pay for Kenneth Harding to be shot down in my streets because he didn’t have two dollars,” she said.

In her decade of work with CLAER, Hewitt has overseen many projects that improved conditions for families whose children were killed by police, from funding funerals for families who can’t pay to bury their dead to counseling for family members other than biological parents of murdered kids. CLAER also sends emergency responders to sites of murders.

“We thought it was important to deal with the immediacy of the homicide and provide support so we could mitigate the possibility of retaliation,” Hewitt said.

Hewitt also has ideas for how to increase trust in police. “They need to understand the nuances, so they see Johnny with the hoodie on and know, he’s a star quarterback. I’d like to see my cops, paid by my tax dollars, not going to Sonoma County to spend them. One day the officer might be out running and he’ll have a hood on, and he’ll understand the nuances of what people are going through,” Hewitt said. She also advocates for housing set-aside for police in every neighborhood, insuring that officers live in neighborhoods they patrol.

We asked Manfredi about this idea. “I’m a big proponent of having officers live in the community where they work, because then they can engage with the community,” he agreed. But, he said, “one of the major issues about San Francisco, the cost of living is extremely high. To buy a home out here, we’re talking in the millions of dollars. That’s just too expensive.”

He said that to make the idea work, the city would need to “implement some type of program or plan where they offer discounts for public officials so they can afford to live in the city.” He explained that even in less expensive areas like Bayview and Sunnydale, the cost of housing would be too high for police officers to raise a family.

The current entry-level salary for SFPD officers is $88,842 to $112,164. By comparison, the median household income in San Francisco is about $71,000. According to city-data.com, the median household income in Bayview is $47,147. In Sunnydale, Hewitt’s neighborhood, that figure is $33,641. “I would say, the police are part of the community,” Hewitt said. “And they must be held to community standards. What I’d like to do is make it part of common thought that they are perceived as community members.” She said the African American community has differing ideas on how to address police-related problem, but the tension is widely felt. “It’s not like the black community is monolithic,” she said, “although we are bearing the collective brunt.”

Black Young Democrats rally against stop and frisk


A group organized by the San Francisco Black Young Democrats rallied at City Hall today. Their message: no to stop and frisk.

Members of the group, as well as the ACLU and the Asian Law Caucus, said the policy would violate the civil rights of San Franciscans.

Supervisors Malia Cohen, along with Avalos, Campos, and Mar also attended the rally and expressed their support. They co-sponsored a non-binding resolution, introduced by Cohen,  that condemned the idea of implementing stop and frisk in San Francisco.

Mayor Ed Lee said he was considering implementing the controversial policy a few weeks ago.

Under a stop and frisk policy, police have the leeway to stop and search people that they consider suspicious. On average, 85 percent of those stopped in New York City are young African American and Latino men.

Opponents say racial profiling is inevitably involved and that, for people who may be carrying minor contraband but no dangerous weapons, this racial profiling leads to selective enforcement of laws. About 87 percent of those stopped in New York were completely innocent, according to numbers compiled by the New York Civil Liberties Union.

Lee said he suggested the idea after a spike of gun violence in June. But it has generated a backlash, and at today’s rally about 75 showed up to present a petition signed by more than 2,000 asking the mayor not to implement the policy.

Joaquin Torres, director of that office, accepted it on Lee’s behalf.

Lee himself didn’t engage with the protesters, but he did issue a statement not an hour after they left City Hall “clarifying his position” on stop and frisk.

“I want to be clear that I have not considered implementing a policy in San Francisco that would violate anyone’s constitutional rights or that would result in racial profiling,” the statement reads.

Ellington said the statement was not enough. “We want Mayor Ed Lee to say that he will not implement stop and frisk in San Francisco, nor any policies that are like stop and frisk. No policies that infringe upon our civil liberties,” Ellington told the Guardian.

“These are predatory policing practices that we don’t want in our city,” he said.

Morning Muni shutdown commemorates death of Kenneth Harding, Jr.


More than 50 protesters disrupted Muni service for about an hour this morning before peacefully leaving to march down Market, in commemoration of the death of Kenneth Harding, Jr., on July 16, 2011.

After gathering at 14th and Market, the group marched to the intersection of Duboce and Church, where Muni trains headed outbound exit the tunnel. Soon, at least four outbound trains and two inbound trains were backed up.

Buses replaced their service.

Some passengers were angered, while most took literature from protesters on their way to catch another train. A few joined in the picket line. Drivers, meanwhile, were mostly nonchalant. “I’m just enjoying the show,” said one driver.

“They shoot us down, we shut it down,” protesters chanted. They also mentioned the names of Raheim Brown Jr., Derrick Gaines, Oscar Grant, and other young African American Bay Area men killed by police.

As a police line closed in, one protester shouted at cops, “you are all complicit!” The group left the intersection around 7:30 without much confrontation with police.

Denika Chatman, Harding’s mother, has been organizing a movement demanding that the police who shot him be charged with murder since his death.

Harding, 19, was stopped by police last year as part of a ticket check while exiting the T train at third and Palou. He ran, and police shot at him. He fell and bled for about thirty minutes, while police surrounded him, before he was taken to a hospital.

Police say Harding pulled a gun out as he ran and shot at them, and that the fatal bullet in his neck was his own. They say that, since the bullet that killed him was from a .380-caliber handgun and police carry .40 caliber guns, Harding shot himself. No gun was found on Harding, but police acquired a gun a week after the shooting that they believe Harding used.

Police have pointed to a video which they say shows a man picking up the gun at the scene, while Harding’s family members and supporters say the object is a cell phone.

By no accounts did police know Harding’s identity before shooting.

Officers Richard Hastings and Matthew Lopez have recieved medals of valor for their handling of the incident.

Dorian Maxwell, a whistleblower former Muni driver who refused to operate his bus and made noise about unsafe conditions on Muni, attended the protest as well. He said Labor Black and Brown, one of the organizations who planned the protest, supported him after he risked his job.

“Your life is in danger if you’re riding the Muni,” Maxwell told the crowd, pointing out what he identified as partially flat tires on a nearby 22 Fillmore.

“We wanted to combine the brutality of the police with the workers getting victimized,” said protest organizer Charles Du Bois.

Chatman has also connected her demonstrations to the movement for free Muni tickets for youth.

“I wanted to organize a Muni shutdown, and it just started growing from there,” Chatman said. It was in honor of Kenny, and to unite the community as well. Because a lot of them witness these horrible murders and I wanted to do something to give back to a community that has supported me since this happened.”

After marching down Market stopping traffic every few blocks, the group ended with a speak-out in front of SFMTA headquarters. There were no arrests. A vigil is planned for 5pm at Third and Palou, in Mendell Plaza, the spot when Harding died. Supporters call the plaza Kenny’s Plaza in Harding’s honor.

Caught in the FBI’s net: the extended interview


From June 20 through June 23, the FBI and local police departments and district attorney’s offices throughout the United States were engaged in Operation Cross Country, three days of stings targeting pimps for arrest.

According to the FBI, the mission was successful. “Nationwide, 79 children were rescued and 104 pimps were arrested for various state and local charges,” a press statement released the following week reads.

In the Bay Area, the operation resulted in “the recovery of six children, who were being victimized through prostitution, and the arrest of seven individuals, commonly referred to as pimps.”

Also caught up in the Bay Area sweep: 61 adult prostitutes — ten consensual sex workers for every underage victim.

The Guardian caught up with one such consensual sex worker swept up in Operation Cross Country. “Maya,” 22, an escort in Richmond, was targeted because officers believed she looked under 18 in her ads.

This is an extended version of the interivew with “Maya” published in this week’s paper.

Bay Guardian: Tell me about the arrest.

Maya: I got a phone call. All he said to me was that he was nervous and had never done this before, and that he was looking for somebody to party with. So I never said anything sexual, and he didn’t either. There was absolutely no premise.

So I went to the hotel room. I walked in the door and I said, I’m glad that I found the right room. I put my bag down. I turned to the side and there was another man standing there, and my immediate thought was that I was going to get taken advantage of by another person. But then- I can’t even, I don’t know how many officers it was. Some came out of the bathroom, and they said Richmond PD, you’re under arrest, put your hands behind your back. They arrested me.
They had me in handcuffs, they questioned me for a while. Then they took me back to a different place where they read me my rights and questioned me, then they took me to a different police station to get booked. So all in all, I was in custody for about six hours. So I guess the way that it works with that is, the phone call is initiation and showing up to the hotel room is an act in furtherance. Entrapment is legal for that in California.

BG: What was the questioning like?

M: You know, I’ve been through a lot of things in my life. Family tragedies. Just like a lot of people. But that was definitely hands down, probably top five most traumatic events in my life.  I’ve never felt so degraded. Because of the questioning, because they really badgered me and broke me down. And I’ve always been such a strong person that I think that was the hardest part of it, they really took advantage of me and put me in a very vulnerable space. Because they were very, very adamant about, basically getting me to say that I have sex for money.

They didn’t read me my rights until about an hour and a half after I was in custody. And they were sitting there asking me, why do you have condoms in your bag? I had a vibrator, I had lube, and I had condoms with me. So they just sat there and asked me about it.

There were four men and one woman in the room, and they were all sitting there making jokes. One of the officers was very adamant about telling me that he would never pay me that much for my services.

BG: You’ve said they lied to you, what did they lie to you about?

M: They told me that that day they had caught an underage girl, but then I read the newspaper article about the sting about it, and they said the youngest girl that they got that day was 20. So they were trying to make it seem like they were helping all these women, helping all these girls get away from this lifestyle, when in reality they’re just busting girls like me. Who totally- this has made my life infinitely worse.

They looked through my phone and looked through my pictures, and questioned me about every picture in my phone. They were like, is this your pimp? They read my text messages, they listened to voice mails from my family. They don’t care.

BG: Did you tell them that you didn’t have a pimp?

M: Yes.

BG: And they didn’t believe you?

M: Well, not at first. Because when I got arrested- my boyfriend is my safety call. I call him after I get into the room to let him know that I’m OK, and then I call him when I’m leaving . And if I don’t call him and let him know that I’m OK, that means that there’s a problem. So I knew that he was going to call and I didn’t want him to have a heart attack worrying that I was hurt or something like that. So I had to tell them that he was going to call, and they assumed he was my pimp because of that. But after they talked to him and all that, they realized that he wasn’t. Like, I’m saying they- you know, they’re trying to deal with these girls who are completely not in the realm of who I work with and what I do. Whatsoever.

BG: Have you experienced an arrest before?

M: No, never been arrested before.

BG: The sting was for underage people being trafficked.  Do you think that’s a big problem? What do you think about that issue?

I do think that it’s a problem, absolutely. But this is the very unfortunate thing about what I do for work. Whether you want to call it prostitution or you want to call it escorting. So I do think absolutely it’s a problem, but it’s very important for people to know that it’s not the same thing, it’s really, really not.

I love my job, it’s unfortunate that this happened. I went to school for psychology, my main interest in human sexuality, and I was sort of doing this as a way to get into the field, essentially. I would absolutely consider it a form of therapy. Absolutely. Because I genuinely care. That’s why it’s the girlfriend experience. So yes, human trafficking is absolutely a problem. It’s not in my realm. I don’t support it, of course not. But there’s nothing that I can do about that unfortunately.

BG: Do you have any thoughts on how police could better track down trafficking in a way that doesn’t put you and other people who are in a totally different line of work in danger?

M: Yeah, I think that they need to not go after the girls, they need to go after the pimps. That’s it, period. It’s not fair to prosecute us…When it comes down to it, they say that they’re really trying to go after the pimps, but it sure doesn’t seem like it.

For me, for instance, I’m probably going to get two years’ probation, up to 60 days in jail and hundreds of dollars in fines. Now I’m out of work, can’t get a job, and I have prostitution on my record. You know, it’s just- it doesn’t help anybody.

BG: You’re out of work?

M: I can’t put ads up. I don’t have another job right now. So of course I can find work in the future, but it’s- it was abrupt. Basically everything that I’ve worked for. Because I’ve been doing sex work since I was 18. So people might not look at it this way, but its sales. It’s marketing. I’ve built my little empire with that. I’ve built the reviews, and I’ve built the experience, and essentially they just swiped it all away from me.

People I’m sure will read this article and either be completely unsympathetic or, if they take the time to really think about it, it’s a service, like any other service. This is the oldest profession in the world. If you, I’m a good and caring person. People give it such a bad name. Like the police, they think that us girls are just hustlers and pieces of shits and we’re just trying to make money and we don’t care. Which is absolutely not the case. Three quarters of the reason I do this job is because I care.

BG: It strikes me what you were saying about the police officer saying I wouldn’t pay that much. Were there other degrading things said?

M: In total I probably talked to about 10 different officers. Every single one of them, their first question was, how old are you? And when I said 22, they got this look of disgust, and they were like, oh, you’re so young. I had multiple officers tell me, you’re a victim and you don’t even know it. Just trying to break me down.

I don’t care if they’re officers, I don’t care what they do for a living. They’re still men.  And when you come in and you’re a prostitute, they look you up and down. And they’re thinking about that. And I had the officer asking me questions like oh, how do you clean your vibrator. Just unnecessary questions, where obviously they’re getting some sort of gratification out of it. My interest is human sexuality and psychology, and I know, also because of this job, I know how to read a man and how to read what they’re thinking. And like I said, when you get booked as a prostitute you just get treated like a piece of meat and they all look at you like one. They’re just completely unsympathetic, I had to sit in a jail cell in Richmond, there was blood on the walls and there’s MS-13 tags everywhere…. And they keep telling me, you did this to yourself, you put yourself in this position, and it’s your fault you’re here. And they kept telling me, you need to get out of this life.

They all just joked, they were all laughing and joking. I had an officer, I was telling them why I have condoms and he said “I call bullshit!” and they all fucking laughed at me. I was a joke to them. They were all just sitting around laughing the whole time. And they’re sitting there watching the A’s game, I’m just sitting in handcuffs in the corner crying.

It was bad enough that it took me about a week before I could even see people again. It was, yeah.  I couldn’t see anybody, I couldn’t tell anybody about it. Pretty much cried all the time.

BG: I was wondering if you could talk more about pimping, because people have told me that the definition of pimping has led to peoples boyfriends getting busted for pimping. Could you talk about pimping in general, what it means, what falls under it?

M: I can only tell you so much because I don’t have a pimp. But for the standard they use to evaluate if someone’s a pimp or not, I know they were asking my boyfriend if he set up dates for me. So I think it’s the setting you- I imagine if he had driven me to my appointment, he probably would have gotten in trouble also. So it’s the driving them, being the driver, setting up appointments. And I know they asked me a lot, and I heard them asking another girl who got arrested around the same time as me, they kept asking her if she gave him money for anything. So I think that’s it, if you give them money, if they drive you, if they set up your dates. They asked me, because my boyfriend got surgery recently and I’ve been helping him out with that. And they kept prying, asking if I gave him money for groceries, if I gave him money for anything. They try to trick you. But other than that I don’t have any thoughts on pimping, other than its terrible.

BG: Have you ever met people who were forced into what they’re doing?

M: No…I mean, we’ve all done things for money. You know, desperate times. Whether it’s working some shit job- I mean, I look at it as a job. So in the past when I was younger yeah, you know, trying to make rent. You know, maybe I’ll do something that I wouldn’t want to do as much, or not get paid as much for it. But it’s like shit, beats working at Taco Bell. You know, that’s the way you look at it. I’d rather have one appointment with a guy instead of making the same amount of money working 20 hours that week. Its’ just the way you look at. It takes a certain kind of person to do this kind of work, its now- people sometimes think it’s easy money. It’s not easy money. It takes a certain person, it takes an emotionally stable and sexually stable person to do this work sustainably. It’s definitely tolling. It’s tolling because its therapy. It’s tolling because I listen to people’s problems, it’s not tolling because of the sexual aspect at all. You know, that’s anatomy. It’s not the way that people think. People always concentrate on the physical attributes, when realistically there’s so many more psychological attributes that go into this kind of work.

BG: Have you gotten any help from sex workers rights organizations?

M: I did have a therapist that’s sex-worker friendly offer me free sessions. I might take him up on that, but- you know, the event was traumatizing. I’m not traumatized by my work. I can tell the story and that’s pretty much enough for me. I don’t really need therapy for being a sex worker. I love my job. It makes me happy, its great.

BG: What do you love about it?

M: I love meeting different people, I love the psychological aspects. I just have so many fantastic stories, and amazing people that I’ve met. I saw a guy recently who, after our session he was telling me that his wife had died about six months previous that he had married to for 42 years, and he started crying. And my mother passed away when I was younger, and so we were able to relate on that. And I gave him my lessons on how I dealt with it, and he had never really had somebody tell him that, and he was very touched. And I know that he will take those lessons that I taught him and use them for his grieving process.

So it’s things like that. People don’t realize how much therapy it really is, how many of these people just want some intimacy…we’re human beings, we need sexual outlets. That’s just the way that we are.

“Maya” invites anyone who has been in a similar situation or wants to talk to contact her at mayaarticle8719@yahoo.com.

Healing the Hood


Fifty people were sitting in a circle July 8, talking about what was weighing on them that week. And the weight was heavy. Poverty, violence, addiction, racism. Crushed by debt, foreclosed and evicted. Seeing family members deported, imprisoned, and killed. Continued repression of the Ohlone and other Native peoples. After telling her story, Vivian Thorp said she got together the money to seek medical treatment.

“So I go to the doctor,” she said. “And they tell me, you’ve got anxiety. I go, no shit.”

The others in the circle understood. This was the second day of Healing the Hood, a weekend of workshops, art, cooking, biking, spirituality, and communtiy building. The Poor Magazine project is aimed at resisting corporate control of food, medicine, the environment, and other survival necessities.

For many of the people present, “anxiety” doesn’t quite describe the oppression caused by abuse and violence, by fear of police and prison, by having not enough money to feed their families, by injuries and stress incurred by working for that money. No pill can cure that anxiety, even if you can afford it.

Healing the Hood is supposed to be some part of the real cure. Day one was spent in the Mission district, where Poor Magazine has it’s office. Day two was in East Oakland on a plot of land that Poor has purchased as part of its Homefulness project.

I arrived around lunchtime. In the hot East Bay sun, Needa Bee was preparing a salad while teaching a workshop on food. As she chopped the lettuce and carrots, she talked about how Monsanto and other agricultural industry giants control most of the food that’s available in supermarkets. She discussed resistance movements to Monsanto, telling of farmers in India and China who burned their GMO fields lest they infect other plants. Her lesson ended at the same moment that she topped off the salad with sesame seeds and coconut vinegar.

“This is all fields, backyard, street, Halal markets, Southeast Asian markets,” she said of the feast, recommending those sources as places where GMOs and factory farmed products can be avoided.

Tiny Gray-Garcia, Poor Magazine’s co-founder, smiled as 50 people lined up to eat. Gray-Garcia helped bring together the many sages present at Healing the Hood. The event is steeped in a deep yearning to preserve and teach cultural and medicinal knowledge, made all the more difficult because, as Gray-Garcia put it, people must “try to do it within this capitalist society, whose oppression is in everything, even our food.”

The weekends teachers were more than cooks; herbalists and nutritionists, gardeners and mothers, poets and dancers. After the food demonstration, nutritionist Tanya Henderson and Poor Magazine scholar Estrella gave a presentation on native herbs and foods and their medicinal properties. Next, youth from 67 Suenos, an organization that rejects not just attempts at harsher immigration laws but the colonial notion of borders in the Americas itself, led a discussion.

“Borders aren’t real. They’re a construct. They’re part of the plantation system,” one of the members said. The group supports the concept of a path to legalization for young people embodied in the DREAM Act, but takes issue with policies that would help successful students– “good immigrants”– while still allowing for families to be torn apart and ignoring the reality of students who are delayed in their success, often by that very fear of deportation of themselves or family members.

“Sadly, no one’s talking about a path towards legalization for every undocumented person in this country,” one of the members noted, recalling protests in 2006 and 2007, when many groups demanded “legalize all.”

Luis Rodriguez, one of the weekend’s special guests, is an author and poet based in the Los Angeles area. He was in town partly to promote his new book, It Calls You Back, and will soon be heading to El Salvador for an event celebrating a gang truce that has more than halved the country’s homicides since it was brokered.

“Earth Mother” Iyalode Kinney, founder of the Richmond urban gardening project Communities United Restoring Mother Earth, passed around leaves of comfrey and sprigs of fragrant German chamomile, plucked from her garden that morning, explaining their medicinal properties. Attendants rode bikes and recited poetry as the sun set.

The Healing the Hood initiative didn’t end Sunday. Poor Magazine will be meeting again August 5 to plant the Pachamama Garden as part of Homefulness.

“We as poor peoples and indigenous peoples are in constant struggle to survive and resist the violence of poverty, racism and colonization and if we are to not only survive but thrive, we most focus some time on healing our bodies, minds and spirits with out lives and ancestral knowledge not tied to the Western Medical Industrial complex, big pharma and corporations,” the Healing the Hood event descriptions reads.

In their many publications and its everyday work, the folks at Poor Magazine speak a sort of revolutionary language. The US is Amerikkka, deals that gentrify and displace are devil-opment, and Mama Scholars and Poverty Scholars spread their knowledge while the merits of establishment “akkkademia” are questioned. It’s a the language of a culture of empowerment and resistance, whose people have found violence and destruction in the things most valued in capitalism.

Rodriguez closed out the healing circle. He said a prayer to the Earth, and each attendant named a suffering or dead loved one as he and ceremonially spilled water on a newly sprouting plant.

The preservance, the survival, the regeneration. The suffering and the healing. As Rodriguez said as he closed it out, “Capitalism can’t reconcile with this circle.”

Caught in the FBI’s net



The mission: Rescuing sexually exploited children. Who can argue with that?

From June 20 through June 23, the FBI and local police departments and district attorney’s offices throughout the United States were engaged in Operation Cross Country, three days of stings targeting pimps for arrest.

According to the FBI, the mission was successful. “Nationwide, 79 children were rescued and 104 pimps were arrested for various state and local charges,” a press statement released the following week reads.

In the Bay Area, the operation resulted in “the recovery of six children, who were being victimized through prostitution, and the arrest of seven individuals, commonly referred to as pimps.”

Also caught up in the Bay Area sweep: 61 adult prostitutes — ten consensual sex workers for every underage victim.

Operation Cross Country was part of an ongoing effort called the Innocence Lost National Initiative, which the FBI describes as beginning in the Bay Area in 2005 with the Bay Area Innocence Lost Working Group. According to FBI spokesperson Julianne Sohn, this June’s crackdown was the sixth Operation Cross Country in the past several years.

“The FBI and our partners are looking for those who are exploiting minors for purposes of prostitution,” Sohn told the Guardian. “But in the process of doing this we also pick up pimps exploiting adults, and adult prostitutes along the way.”

“What we’re looking at are people who traffic children for prostitution and solicitation,” she said. But the pimping arrests under Operation Cross Country don’t necessarily have anything to do with children. “Those are just pimps, generally speaking,” said Sohn.

As Caitlin Manning, a sex workers rights advocate, put it, “This emotionally laden appeal to save children who are forced into sexual slavery is being used to further the criminalization of all sex work, these lines are being blurred. There are always a large number of consensual sex workers involved in these stings.”

The Guardian caught up with one such consensual sex worker swept up in Operation Cross Country. “Maya,” 22, an escort in Richmond, was targeted because officers believed she looked under 18 in her ads. After her entrapment, arrest and interrogation, she convinced them she was older. She says that sex trafficking is a terrible problem, but criminalizing working people like her is no solution.

Bay Guardian: Tell me about the arrest.

Maya: I got a phone call. All he said to me was that he was nervous and had never done this before, and that he was looking for somebody to party with. So I never said anything sexual, and he didn’t either. There was absolutely no premise.

So I went to the hotel room. I walked in the door and I said, I’m glad that I found the right room. I put my bag down. I turned to the side and there was another man standing there, and my immediate thought was that I was going to get taken advantage of by another person. But then- I can’t even, I don’t know how many officers it was. Some came out of the bathroom, and they said Richmond PD, you’re under arrest, put your hands behind your back.

They had me in handcuffs, they questioned me for a while. I was in custody for about six hours. So I guess the way that it works with that is, the phone call is initiation and showing up to the hotel room is an act in furtherance. Entrapment is legal for that in California.

BG: What was the questioning like?

M: You know, I’ve been through a lot of things in my life. Family tragedies. Just like a lot of people. But that was definitely hands down, probably top five most traumatic events in my life. I’ve never felt so degraded. They were sitting there asking me, why do you have condoms in your bag? I had a vibrator, I had lube, and I had condoms with me.

There were four men and one woman in the room, and they were all sitting there making jokes. One of the officers was very adamant about telling me that he would never pay me that much for my services.

BG: You’ve said they lied to you, what did they lie to you about?

M: They told me that that day they had caught an underage girl, but then I read the newspaper article about the sting about it, and they said the youngest girl that they got that day was 20. So they were trying to make it seem like they were helping all these women, helping all these girls get away from this lifestyle, when in reality they’re just busting girls like me.

They looked through my phone and looked through my pictures, and questioned me about every picture in my phone. They were like, is this your pimp? They read my text messages, they listened to voice mails from my family. They don’t care.

BG: The sting was for underage people being trafficked. Do you think that’s a big problem? What do you think about that issue?

M: I do think that it’s a problem, absolutely. But this is the very unfortunate thing about what I do for work. Whether you want to call it prostitution or you want to call it escorting. So I do think absolutely it’s a problem, but it’s very important for people to know that it’s not the same thing, it’s really, really not.

I’m probably going to get two years’ probation, up to 60 days in jail and hundreds of dollars in fines. Now I’m out of work, can’t get a job, and I have prostitution on my record. You know, it’s just … it doesn’t help anybody.

BG: It strikes me what you were saying about the police officer saying I wouldn’t pay that much. Were there other degrading things said?

M: I don’t care if they’re officers, I don’t care what they do for a living. They’re still men. And when you come in and you’re a prostitute, they look you up and down. And they’re thinking about that. And I had the officer asking me questions like oh, how do you clean your vibrator. Just unnecessary questions, where obviously they’re getting some sort of gratification out of it.

BG: Have you ever met people who were forced into what they’re doing?

M: No…I mean, we’ve all done things for money. You know, desperate times. Whether it’s working some shit job. I mean, I look at it as a job. So in the past when I was younger yeah, you know, trying to make rent, maybe I’ll do something that I wouldn’t want to do as much, or not get paid as much for it. But it beats working at Taco Bell.

People sometimes think it’s easy money. It’s not easy money. It takes a certain person, it takes an emotionally stable and sexually stable person to do this work sustainably. It’s definitely tolling. It’s tolling because its therapy. It’s tolling because I listen to people’s problems, it’s not tolling because of the sexual aspect at all.

BG: Have you gotten any help from sex workers rights organizations?

M: I did have a therapist that’s sex-worker friendly offer me free sessions. I might take him up on that, but — you know, the event was traumatizing. I’m not traumatized by my work. I can tell the story and that’s pretty much enough for me. I don’t really need therapy for being a sex worker. I love my job. It makes me happy, its great.

BG: What do you love about it?

M: I love meeting different people, I love the psychological aspects. I just have so many fantastic stories, and amazing people that I’ve met. I saw a guy recently who, after our session he was telling me that his wife had died about six months previous that he had been married to for 42 years, and he started crying. And my mother passed away when I was younger, and so we were able to relate on that. And I gave him my lessons on how I dealt with it, and he had never really had somebody tell him that, and he was very touched. And I know that he will take those lessons that I taught him and use them for his grieving process.

So it’s things like that. People don’t realize how much therapy it really is, how many of these people just want some intimacy…we’re human beings, we need sexual outlets. That’s just the way that we are. “Maya” invites anyone who has been in a similar situation or wants to talk to contact her at mayaarticle8719@yahoo.com. An extended version of this interview can be found at sfbg.com




Students organizing for CCSF Student Union upper level lounge, CCSF Ocean Campus, 50 Phelan, SF; www.ccsfwill.blogspot.com. 5-8pm, free. At an emergency community meeting concerning the threatened closure of City College of San Francisco July 9, many meetings were called, including the organizing to form a student union, to campaign for the parcel tax initiative to get money to CCSF, and to organize in solidarity with labor. This meeting is discussing support for the parcel tax, which could send $15 million City Colleges way if it passes in November. Come organize with labor on this issue. This meeting is a working group on student response to the accreditation report.


It calls you back 826 Valencia, SF; www.826valencia.org. A book reading and film screening with Luis Rodriguez, a poet, journalist, and fiction writer and author of the best-selling memoir Always Running, La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A. He will read from his new sequel and screen Rushing Waters, Rising Dreams: How the Arts are Transforming a Community, documenting how Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural and Bookstore is bringing art and community to the once devastated post-industrial San Fernando Valley.

Happiness Happiness Institute, 1720 Market, SF; www.meetup.com/SF-Free-School. An afternoon of yoga and a workshop on community building. This event is presented by a collaboration between the Bay Area Community Exchange Time Bank, the San Francisco Free School, and the Happiness Institute- three of the organizations that work on spending time and energy in the gift economy.


4 days for Kenneth Harding Jr. around Bayview-Hunters Point, July 13-16; www.tinyurl.com/4days4kenny. On July 16, 2011, 19-year-old Kenneth Harding Jr. was killed. He was stopped by police and asked for his transfer when off-boarding the Muni T train—he ran, and police began shooting. As far as the SFPD is concerned, the case is settled; they say Harding drew a gun and shot back at them, and the fatal bullet was his own. His family, friends, and the movement resisting police murder of black youth disagree. On this anniversary of his death, commemorate Kenny with four days of events. On July 13, a community speak out at NOI Mosque at 26a 3rd & Revere at 7pm. On July 14th, a free community hip hop show. On July 15th a free community meal at 3rd and Palou St from 10am-2pm. And on July 16th, join Kenneth Harding’s mother and a broad coalition of community and labor to shut down Muni in honor of Kenneth Harding.


Occupy Bohemian Grove Monte Rio Amphitheater, 9925 Main, Monte Rio; www.occupybohemiangrove.com. Noon, free. What, you’ve never heard of Bohemian Grove? It’s just the private club of CEOs, politicians, and their favorite performers that meet every year for debauchery and rituals such as the “Cremation of Care” at the Owl Shrine. The rich and powerful go camping among the redwoods every year, and although business talk is frowned upon, they often make deals, including, notoriously, a 1942 Manhattan Project planning meeting that led to the atomic bomb. Many anti-war activists and others who are pissed off that the 1 percent meets in this strange private camping party to plot acts of war and environmental destruction will be setting up their own protest encampment outside Bohemian Grove this year. The kick-off on Saturday will include musical performances and speakers, including the Fukushima Mothers and Cindy Sheehan.

Tardeada/ women’s social for women’s rights, 2969 Mission, SF; www.defendwomensrights.org. 2pm, $3-10. Women Organized to Defend and Resist are planning a nationwide protest August 26 to defend women’s rights. This Saturday, come share food, entertainment and political conversation to meet and bond with others who won’t stand for attacks on women’s rights.

Oakland families protest Oakland School Police killings and school closures


The Oakland School Police Department was the target of a protest today, as more than 100 marched to the department’s headquarters. The small department is devoted to patrolling and policing Oakland public schools. 

The protest group converged at the Oakland Police Department headquarters at 7th and Broadway, and several family members of young people killed by police officers spoke. 

Superintendent of the Oakland Unified School District Tony Smith sent Oakland School Police officers to shut down a sit-in and free school at Lakeview Elementary school July 3. Protesters say officer Barhin Bhatt, who issued the dispersal order at the Lakeview sit-in, should not be working in the schools; he is one of two Oakland School police involved in the killing 20-year-old student Raheim Brown last year.

“They’re no better than anyone else who’s out on the street, killing people,” Brown’s mother, Lori Davis, said at the rally. 

Brown was in a car with a friend, Tamisha Stewart, when he was shot to death. He was shot in the head and chest. Stewart, the only civilian witness, was beaten and jailed for a week.

Police say the car was stolen and that Brown tried to stab one of the officers with a screwdriver. 

Stewart recounted her experiences at the rally. “Seeing my friend get killed for no reason, and calling for help and me not being able to do anything. Being beaten, eyes swollen shut, for no reason. I’m living with the memory every day,” she said. “We need more people to come and stand with us, because we can’t do it alone.  We have single parents, mothers without children, fathers, brothers without their brothers and sisters.”

Brown’s young son and his mother were also present at the protest.

“Of course people make mistakes. And Raheim made mistakes, ” another protester, Jabari Shaw, said through a megaphone. “But what happened to him was police terrorism. What happened to him was murder.”

The group marched to the Oakland School Police headquarters at the former Cole Middle School in West Oakland. On the march, protesters chanted “justice for Raheim Brown” and carried banners that read “jail killer cops” and “stop school closures.”

At the Oakland School Police department headquarters, the group continued to rally. One protester, Jeremy Miller, expressed anger that Cole Middle School had been closed and the building turned into a police station. Earlier this month, the school district closed five elementary schools in order to save about $2 million.

“They don’t have enough money to keep schools open, but they have the money to police our schools,” Miller said. “We know that our children are safer with no police in their schools.”

Another speaker noted that Cole Middle School had an innovative restorative justice program in place, an alternative to zero-tolerance policies. The program cut down on suspensions by 87 percent.

“I feel like the police shutting down a school that had a model restorative justice program is a slap in our faces,”  she said. “This was such a wonderful program, and it could have been copied and duplicated and modeled all across our city”

Sgt. Bhatt was appointed interim chief of the Oakland School Police Department in August after the previous chief Pete Sarna resigned. Sarna had been accused of making racially disparaging remarks about other police officers while drunk after a golf tournament.

Bhatt has been acquitted of wrongdoing by Alameda County prosecutors. But now Brown’s death, as well as Sarna’s racist remarks, are the subject of a federal grand jury investigation of the Oakland School Police Department. The department received a letter from the FBI May 17 announcing that they as well would be looking into the police force.

“I’m so grateful that the federal grand jury got involved,” Davis said at the rally. She told of dealing with the Oakland Police Department the morning after her son’s death. 

“I called down to OPD to find out what happened,” Davis said. “They gave me the runaround. They didn’t want to tell me. And then when they finally did say something, they said that the police killed my son. I was in shock. And they said, oh no, it’s not OPD, it’s not us. It was the school police. That’s not our department, we’re two separate divisions.”  

Davis said that she had been denied victim compensation and other services usually offered to families of crime victims since her son’s death had been caused by a police officer. A community effort was launched to raise funds for Brown’s burial. But Davis hopes that the government will bring her family some justice.

“I’m praying that the federal grand jury,” along with, Davis said, her attorney John Burris, “will get justice for little Raheim.”

The People’s School



Oakland elementary schools that were packed with kids until a few weeks ago are now closed for the summer — and five are closed for good. In October the school board voted to close them in a move that would save about $2 million per year.

But many Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) residents are not pleased. At the Oct. 26 meeting where the vote was cast, 500 protested. Concerned parents and teachers have been petitioning and meeting with school board members and Superintendent Tony Smith for months, trying to reverse the decision.

“No one wants to close schools, but the OUSD made this difficult decision because it’s in the best long-term interest of students,” reads a June 22 press release.

Resistance to that decision now continues at one school that was supposed to close June 18. To the dismay of the district, it remains open. Lakeview Elementary is the site of a sit-in and free school, orchestrated by parents and teachers.

“Lakeview has strengths,” the June 22 press release goes on to say. “It has shown improved academic performance in recent years and, boasts a strong sense of community and close alignment with its afterschool programs.” But low rankings in attendance and test scores overshadowed those strengths in the decision to close the school.

Yet it seems that “strong sense of community” seems to be more powerful than the school board thought.


Joel Velasquez, a parent of three and PTA member who has had children at Lakeview for 10 years, didn’t think it would come to this.

“I’ve watched everything that went on as a parent here for 10 years,” Velasquez said. When the school was threatened, “I probably spent 20 hours a week meeting, talking, emailing, researching, sending, forwarding — I mean, this is something that has been ongoing.”

“I met with Tony Smith for an hour,” Velasquez said. “I sat with board members.”

But as the end of the school year approached, he was growing more desperate, so he ended up making an announcement: “On the last day of school, I’m not going to leave. And I hope that people join me.”

They did. Lakeview’s building is slated to be turned into administrative offices, and that process was scheduled to begin two weeks ago.

Now, the school that should be filling up with district employees’ office supplies still has children running around its grounds. Organizers opened the People’s School for Public Education, and classes, taught by an army of credentialed teachers and qualified volunteers, run from 9am to 3pm, Monday through Friday.

At a June 27 visit, I toured the school and sat in during a Social Justice class. In the People’s School’s organic garden, a smiling gardening teacher had to stop an overzealous six-year-old from drowning the kale. “They love watering!” he shrugged. Another child, still mesmerized 30 minutes after the official end of music class, improvised on the djembe along with the drumming teacher. From a balcony, a volunteer called to him: “There’s ice cream!” he looked up, considered, and then kept drumming.

The group of kids has grown since the school opened June 15, as parents hear about the summer school and come see it for themselves. The Lakeview sit-in is unlike other recent occupations in the careful vetting process each visitor gets. After all, protecting the kids and their education is the most important goal of the project. But during school hours, parents are permitted to come inside and stay with their children as long as they want, seeing what the school is like.

Still, getting parents to send their children to a summer camp that isn’t technically legal isn’t always easy. “I think our society, not just parents, are really reluctant to do something like this,” Velasquez said. “But I see it as a positive service to the community. We’re using the building for what it’s intended to be used for.”

Julia Fernandez, a high school math teacher, got involved with the effort to save the schools through the Occupy Oakland Education Committee, and her two children, ages 2 and 4, are enrolled in the summer school.

As a nine-year resident of Oakland, Fernandez says, the cuts affect her and her family. She’s taking part in the demonstration partly “for my own kids,” Fernandez said. She said the cuts “affect the school where my kids would go. It’s likely that it’s going to be closed or turned into a charter school.”

“But the thing that motivates me the most is all these attacks that are happening against people,” Fernandez said. She guessed that it was adversity of many kinds, not just school closures, that motivated many parents to join the protest and send their kids to the People’s School.

“People are really upset about all the attacks that are being done on regular working class people. People are losing their homes, they’re getting laid off, and now their schools are closing. It just seems like all these services, all these rights people should have, are being taken away”


Organizers emphasize that the money saved seems paltry, just $2 million for five functioning schools.

“Think about it, this is not very much,” Velasquez said. “And they’re wasting almost $4 million to do these transitions to close the schools. They’re spending more than the savings.”

OUSD spokesperson Troy Flint confirmed that the savings will be “in the $2 million range,” and that the total cost of the transition is about $3.7 million.

These expenses include about $117,000 one-time moving related costs and about $200,000 in staffing, including paying a transition director.

They also include $95,000 in transportation costs, which may not be one-time expenditures; they may “as needed for an additional year or more,” Flint said in an email.

Meanwhile, about 1,000 students will be displaced by the move. Many will move to Grass Valley and Burckhalter, and these school’s capacities will be expanded with portable classrooms.

“The promise that we made to students was that we would guarantee students at the closing school a place at a school that was higher performing than the one we were leaving. We were able to live up to that promise,” Flint said.

However, there was a problem: “Most of the schools that perform in the top tier are already subscribed to capacity, so we had to expand the capacity using portables.”

Will these high performing schools remain high-performing as an influx of new students show up at their doors in the fall? After all, Oakland has many more elementary schools than comparable districts, a result of the small schools movement, a policy adopted in 2000 that led to the closure of some larger schools, which were replaced by smaller ones. According to a study conducted by Brown University’s Annenburg Institute for Education Reform, Oakland small schools are “safer, calmer, and more welcoming to families” than the schools they replaced.

But as private donations from those excited about small schools, notably the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, run out — along with federal and state money — Oakland may be reverting to larger institutions.

And as the OUSD sees it, that may not be a bad thing.

“To build toward the day when every OUSD school is a high-quality school, we need to concentrate our time, attention and resources in a manageable number of sites instead of spreading ourselves too thin,” he said in an email. “Quality over quantity is the goal when we can’t do both and the current financial environment prevents us from properly caring for 101 schools.


One of the reasons for the stated school closure is that it ranked in “the bottom quarter of elementary schools in terms of the number of children living within a half-mile of the school or within the attendance area” and the “lowest percentage of neighborhood students attending the school (30 percent).”

The school is also 99 percent children of color.

As Oakland Tribune education reporter Katy Murphy has written, about half of students in Oakland attend schools outside their district. As a statement from the group Decolonize Oakland points out, “We have to question why the families of black and brown students who live outside of Adams Point have chosen Lakeview.”

Maybe it’s that strong sense of community? All of the other schools slated for closure are also in the flatlands and serve mostly African American and Latino students.

Root, formerly Occupy the Hood Oakland, has played a big part in the organizing. So has Education for the 99 Percent, Occupy Oakland’s education working group, and other Occupy Oakland volunteers.

“A lot of people from Occupy have been extremely supportive and we wouldn’t be able to do this action without that support,” Velasquez said. “For example, the food, they have come every single day to feed, not just breakfast, lunch and dinner, but snacks and drinks.”

The sit-in has also received support from labor groups. A letter signed by more than 50 teachers’ union leaders and local school employees declares, “An injury to one is an injury to all. Let’s seize this opportunity to fight alongside parents, students, and community. We will mobilize our members to support this struggle.”


The demonstration has not, however, received support from the city of Oakland. Officers from the OUSD Police Service has visited the school several times (and Velasquez says they have done so without warning, despite agreeing to call first to avoid scaring children). Oakland police have been on site as well, and the protesters have received warnings to leave.

“I still remain hopeful that the protesters will see that the most forward-looking resolution to the standoff is to disperse peacefully and to concentrate their efforts on improving the school district for the year 2012/2013 and beyond,” Flint told me. “Right now we still believe that if there’s a relatively prompt resolution to the standoff, we’ll be able to meet our targets to get the facilities ready.”

“It’s not clear why they’re doing this sit-in in Oakland, an overwhelmingly Democratic district where Republicans can’t get elected,” Flint said. “The fundamental problem with this issue is all the Republicans have taken a no taxes pledge.”

Velasquez agrees. “It’s criminal what the state of California is doing right now,” he said. “But we’re focusing our attention on Tony Smith and the board because they’re accepting these conditions, and they shouldn’t…So if they feel that way, why are they not doing something about it, instead of accepting the conditions, and hurting the families and the students? Most importantly the kids.” Flint said the board would be willing to work with the group, but that the sit-in is pointless. “I don’t view this current action as something that is providing us any additional leverage,” he said, though he noted that his office had not attempted to use the sit-in to pressure the state. “We’ve coordinated people across the state, sending in postcards and petitions,” he explained. But when asked what worked best, he said nothing has. “I can’t name a time we’ve been successful,” he said, “because I don’t think we’ve been successful.” As budget cuts sweep the country many governments are feeling this kind of defeatism. The Peoples School for Public Education may not last forever. But they’ve taught 30 kids for free for more than two weeks now, and despite limited time and resources, show no sign of stopping.

Sit-in at Lakeview elementary raided, free classes continue, rally at 5pm


This post has been updated

A sit-in at Oakland’s Lakeview Elementary School ended early this morning as police from the Oakland School Police force entered the school building, making two arrests.

The dispersal was calm by all accounts, although protesters say that officers threatened to use chemical weapons to disperse the crowd, which included young children.

Officers from the Oakland School Police force, the Oakland Housing Authority Police force, Oakland Police Department, and California Highway Patrol were deployed to end the protest, according to a statement from OUSD Superintendent Tony Smith.

“There were children there, parents and teachers and a few occupiers,” said Lola, an organizer with Occupy Oakland who was supporting the sit-in on 4am security duty when police arrived.

There were 20-25 sit-in participants present when police arrived, according to Lola and another Occupy Oakland participant who was on the scene, Alyssa Eisenberg. “There were at least 15 police cars when I drove up,” Eisenberg said.

“The officers were saying, we’ve given you notices now we’re going to give you 15 minutes to leave. Then they gave an official dispersal order and they said, ‘If you do not disperse we’ll use chemical agents against you,’” Lola recounts.

Oakland parents, teachers, elementary school-aged children and supporters had been demonstrating at the school for 17 days. The school is one of five marked for closure by the Oakland School Board, a move that parents and teachers opposed.

The demonstration consisted of a free day camp for children called the People’s School for Public Education, a community garden, and a 24-hour sit-in involving half a dozen tents on the school property.

As protesters left the school, “it was very calm,” Lola said. “All the people that were there left willingly except two,” a parent organizer and an alum of the school who sat in a classroom rather than leave when police arrived. The two were cited for trespassing and released.

Police then erected a new fence outside the public school, and demonstrators went to a park across the street with the goal of continuing to teach free classes to children.

“Officers wouldn’t let [National Lawyers Guild] legal observers or journalists into the building,” said Lola, describing these observers standing on concrete structures outside the gates of the school in order to see what happened.

Organizers have planned a rally in protest of the raid and the ongoing school closures. They plan to meet today at 5pm outside of Lakeview Elementary.

“People who were occupying said this isn’t the end, they have more direct action civil disobedience plans,” Lola said.

Undocumented youth hold ‘graduation’ at Civic Center


“I’m undocumented and unafraid, queer and unashamed!” Javier Hernandez declared as he took the stage in front of City Hall June 30.

He was one of hundreds of undocumented students from across the western United States who showed up in Civic Center Plaza to celebrate undocumented immigrant youth and students.

During the ceremony, students, dressed  in caps and gowns, told their stories. Many involved a struggle to get through school while unable to work, and uncertainty and fear about their own fate and that of their families. 

Angela Davis spoke in support of the students.

Later, Pomp and Circumstance played as the students marched down the aisles, each taking a turn on stage to say speak their names and their undocumented status, followed with a bold “and I’m unafraid!”

“Our core message today was to celebrate how far the undocumented movement has come,” said Blanca Vazquez, a senior at San Francisco State studying child and adolescent development. “It’s been 10 years since the DREAM Act was first proposed.”

Many protesters were made more hopeful by President Obama’s recent “deferred action” Department of Homeland Security policy directive, calling on officers to defer the depaortaton of many undocumented youth.

“This is a huge win for our communities,” Hernandez said to a cheering crowd, “and you made it happen!”

For Vazquez, the directive is an important step, but there is still much to be done. She participated in a sit-in at Obama campaign offices last week. On day two of the sit-ins, Vasquez said, Obama issued his policy directive.

Vazquez said the group wanted an Executive Order, not a policy directive. They stayed to continue the sit-in, but after the policy directive passed security guards at campaign office stopped allowing them to eat or go to the bathroom. After enduring those conditions for a day, the students stopped the occupation.

Vazquez promised they would be back, however, if “Obama doesn’t implement the policies he promised.”

A video made by immigrant youth in support of the “(und)occupation” of the campaign offices points out that although the policy directive allows DREAMers to apply for deferment and work permits, it does not guarantee either and denied applications can lead to the start of the deportation process. 

One speaker said the was grateful for the directive and hoped to get a work permit, especially after living in fear of deportation her last year of high school. But as an 18-year, she said she was still worried at the prospect of being left alone if her parents are deported to Indonesia. 

“Deportation is not just a Latino issue!” the young woman, a member of Asian Students Promoting Immigrant Rights through Education, reminded the crowd. 

Hernandez was among dozens who emphasized the intersections between undocumented and queer movements. 

“We want to find a way to bridge communities affected by homophobia and xenophobia,” Hernandez said. “It’s the same struggle.”