Los Angeles Human Right to Housing Collective Moves Out!!!
California Senate Approves Common Sense Drug Sentencing Reform Bill
S.B. 649 Would Help End California’s Overincarceration Crisis by Reducing Needless and Costly Incarceration for Low Level Drug Possession and Freeing Up Money for Programs Proven to Reduce Recidivism
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 2, 2013
SACRAMENTO – The California state Senate today approved a bill that would reform California’s drug sentencing laws for simple possession, significantly reduce incarceration costs for counties and help the state end its ongoing incarceration crisis.
S.B. 649, the Local Control in Sentencing Act, authored by Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), was approved by the Senate in a 23-14 vote, and moves now to the state Assembly for consideration.
“We commend the Senate for approving this bill at a time when lasting, sustainable and common sense solutions to California’s ongoing incarceration crisis are so needed,” said Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, senior criminal justice and drug policy advocate for the ACLU of California. “This bill will help counties break the state’s addiction to incarceration by enabling them to invest their limited resources in the community-based treatment, rehabilitation and education programs proven to reduce recidivism, prevent crime and increase public safety.”
The bill, sponsored by the American Civil Liberties Union of California, the Drug Policy Alliance and others, gives prosecutors the flexibility to charge low-level drug possession for personal use as a misdemeanor instead of a felony. The bill also gives judges discretion to deem a low-level drug possession offense to be either a misdemeanor or felony after consideration of the offense and the defendant’s record. S.B. 649, which does not apply to anyone involved in selling, manufacturing or possessing drugs for sale, will give counties the flexibility to safely alleviate overcrowding in county jails, ease pressure on California’s court system and result in more than $100 million in annual savings for the state and local governments.
“One of the best ways to promote lower crime rates is to provide low-level offenders with the rehabilitation they need to successfully reenter their communities,” said Leno. “However, our current laws do just the opposite. We give non-violent drug offenders long terms, offer them no treatment while they’re incarcerated and then release them back into the community with few job prospects or opportunities to receive an education. SB 649 gives local governments the flexibility to choose reduced penalties so that they can reinvest in proven alternatives that benefit minor offenders and reserve limited jail space for serious criminals.”
S.B. 649 will allow counties to reduce jail spending and dedicate resources to probation, drug treatment and mental health services that have proven most effective in reducing crime. It will also help law enforcement rededicate resources to more serious offenders. The Legislative Analyst’s Office estimates reducing penalties for drug possession could save the state and counties about $159 million annually.
Across the country, 13 states, the District of Columbia and the federal government treat drug possession as a misdemeanor. Drug crime is not higher in those states. A statewide poll of Californians conducted by Tulchin Research late last year showed that an overwhelming majority of Californians support this type of drug sentencing reform, with 75 percent of state voters favoring investment in prevention and alternatives to jail for non-violent offenders. In addition, 62 percent of Californians agree that the penalty for possessing a small amount of illegal drugs for personal use should be reduced to a misdemeanor.
Along with the ACLU and Drug Policy Alliance, the bill is sponsored by the California NAACP, the California Public Defenders Association, the William C. Velasquez Institute, Californians for Safety and Justice and the Friends Committee on Legislation.
This morning, LAPD officers shot into a crowd on the corner of 5th and Wall in Skid Row. At least one person was shot and killed. LA CAN is still looking into the matter and collecting information from witnesses.
However, even if LAPD were responding to a crime, why was shooting the suspect necessary? Was everyone on the corner a suspect? Why shoot multiple rounds in the middle of one of the busiest corners in Skid Row? How many innocent people were put in danger? Were more people wounded?
This is not the first time this happened. Police officers shooting suspects first and asking questions later, and shooting into crowds of civilians does not make the community safer. It is extremely dangerous and completely unacceptable. Community residents will not stand by idly and allow this to happen. We demand answers and accountability!
Yesterday the LA CAN Community Watch Team came upon the Central City East Association (CCEA) Security Guards attempting to use bolt cutters to illegally confiscate the property of a Skid Row resident. The team intervened to prevent them from stealing the private property, which was clearly not abandoned. However, when the team returned an hour later, the property was gone and the lock was cut.
A September 2012 decision of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld an injunction that bars the City of Los Angeles and LAPD from seizing the property of Skid Row residents. However, private Business Improvement District officers continue to illegally steal property from residents. They regularly claim that this property is abandoned, but LA CAN has documented time and time again that this is not the case. More often than not the property belongs to residents who step away for a few minutes to use the restroom, get a meal, or engage in other life sustaining activities.
Dozens of homeless individuals, organizers, and advocates were on hand on April 23 as the Homeless Bill of Rights and Fairness Act (also known as Assembly Bill 5, or AB 5) passed out of the Judiciary Committee of the California State Assembly with at 7-2 vote.
LA CAN sent a delegation up the Sacramento to make sure the voices of Skid Row residents were heard on this important legislation. Amongst other things, the Homeless Bill of Rights would protect homeless people’s right to use public space and engage in life-sustaining activities such as sleeping and resting. It would also create hygiene centers for people who don’t have access to bathroom or basic hygiene needs and protect homeless peoples’ right to personal property and belongings.
However, contrary to many reports (including the ABC 7 clip posted above), AB 5 would not permit anyone, homeless or not, to harass people on the streets or maliciously block sidewalks. Nor would it allow people to urinate and defecate publicly or allow homeless people to harm or interfere with local businesses’ operations.
AB 5 is not about creating special rights. Rather, it is about ensuring equal rights for homeless individuals.
The successful Judiciary Committee vote marked a win for a growing movement. However, we still have a lot of work ahead. AB 5 now heads to the Assembly Committee on Appropriations, and then, hopefully, to the full assembly by late Spring/early Summer. For more information or to get involved, visit wraphome.org.
Coverage of the Judiciary Committee Vote on AB5:
Associated Press – “Bill says homeless have right to be on the street“
LA Weekly – “Homeless rights Act Says Homeless Can Sleep Outdoors Without Arrest“
Sacramento Bee – “Updated homeless ‘bill of rights’ passes CA legislative committee“
San Francisco Examiner – “S.F. lawmaker’s ‘homeless bill of rights’ passes state Assembly committee“
San Francisco Gate – “Scaled-down homeless rights law advances“
Public Enemy Pre-Induction Press Conference: (Photo by Piero Gunti)
LA CAN Remarks
Los Angeles is a “tale of two cities.” It’s home to one of the largest media markets in the US and is also the homeless capital of the United States. Within a stone’s throw of where we sit exists the densest pocket of poverty—-skid row. Skid row can be considered the epicenter of this crisis. And to be clear, the crisis is heavily racialized with African Americans disproportionately representing the ranks of those “smothering in an airtight cage of poverty” borrowing from the words and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Since 1999 LA CAN has been on the front-lines battling poverty and against the structures and institutions that reinforce the socially crippling effects. We have used every social reform tool at our disposal, community organizing, policy reform, popular education, participatory action research, leadership development, social media, arts and culture and the list goes on and on……all to secure justice.
Two years ago, while collaborating on a book entitled Freedom Now: Struggles for the Human Right to Housing in LA and Beyond, Chuck D was struck by what he saw in skid row. I recall him saying: “I see Black until the eye goes dim” I have never forgotten that moment…
Our conversation quickly switched to the historical role of culture in building sustainable social movements geared towards healing our communities; and, dispersing our efforts to a larger audience. And the rhetorical question we wanted to answer was: Can Hip Hop make the Invisible, Visible? That conversation planted the seed that would blossom into Operation Skid Row. The answer, of course, was yes! Yes in Los Angeles, New York, Minneapolis, Philadelphia and the list goes on…that hip hop certainly makes the invisible, visible.
Additionally, Operation Skid Row was about building a platform for local artists to infuse the movement with their art and creativity–ultimately, fighting for our right to occupy the voices of those being heard on local and national media outlets. Occupy the Air! Coming to a neighborhood near you in 2013.
LA CAN congratulates Public Enemy for their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame—more importantly, we thank them for providing generations with a library of social anthems that have been used to explain social conditions, root causes, and activate the masses of those forgotten towards liberation.
I close with words of Nelson Mandela…
“Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice. Like Slavery and Apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings. Sometimes it falls on a generation to be great. YOU can be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom.”
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Becky Dennison, Los Angeles Community Action Network (213) 840-4664
The Dirty Divide Highlights the Continued Lack of Public Health Equity for Poor Downtown Resident
LOS ANGELES — On April 11, the Los Angeles Community Action Network (LA CAN) released The Dirty Divide, a participatory research project that highlights the continued lack of public health infrastructure for poor residents residing in Downtown Los Angeles – with a particular focus on trash services and restrooms.
“Dirty Divide blends science, politics, outrage and policy development; resisting the gated community of policymakers, Dirty Divide exemplifies the best of public participatory science for environmental and racial justice,” said Michelle Fine, Ph.D., City University of New York.
The report documents a growing dividing line between the “new Downtown” and Skid Row communities, with new Downtowners continuing to see an influx in resources and services of all kinds while Skid Row continues to see resources and services threatened or all together cut. While the gentrification of Downtown LA impacts for more than trash and restroom access and associated public health disparities, but The Dirty Divide provides a snapshot of the inequities that exist in the City’s center – inequities that have been increasingly scrutinized by health agencies.
“As a 30-year resident of Downtown LA, I’m seriously concerned about the growing inequality between the new Downtowners and long-term Skid Row residents,” said low-income resident James Porter. “They complain about the trash, but refuse to give us trash cans. They put in automated restrooms, but they’re always broken. We’re not going to stand for this anymore.”
In May of 2012, the County of Los Angeles Department of Public Health (DPH), at the request of the City of Los Angeles, released a report highlighting the severe water and sanitation shortcomings faced by Skid Row residents. DPH recommendations included, among other things, a call for the City to “Provide additional public toilets particularly on San Julian, San Pedro and Crocker Streets” and to “provide adequate number of trash bins with frequent, as needed disposal to prevent the accumulation of trash and debris on the sidewalk.” However, in the year since the release of the report, the City has yet to implement these recommendations.
LA CAN embarked on its own participatory research project to further its continued work on these issues. Findings include that in only 32% of 147 spot checks of public restrooms were they open, clean and stocked with supplies. In order to respond to the human rights violations outlined in The Dirty Divide and to ensure public health equity, the report offers recommendations that include: 1) Shift current political and governmental priorities and resources from criminalization to housing; 2) Place adequate numbers of trash receptacles in Skid Row and establish frequent trash collection; 3) Increase access to restrooms; and 4) Develop a community health council to address issues for the long-term.
“This report shows how Los Angeles is violating not just with its own health department’s recommendations but international human rights norm,” said Eric Tars of the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty (NLCHP). “We at NLCHP are proud to support LA CAN in this call for L.A. to live up to its human rights obligations, stop treating its citizens like trash, and start treating them like human beings deserving of their basic human dignity.”
The Drug War And Mass Incarceration By The Numbers
The Huffington Post | By Matt Sledge Posted: 04/08/2013
NEW YORK — Despite an increased emphasis on treatment and prevention programs in recent years, the Obama administration in its 2013 budget still requested $25.6 billion in federal spending on the drug war. Of that, $15 billion would go to law enforcement, interdiction and international efforts.
The pro-reform Drug Policy Alliance estimates that when you combine state and local spending on everything from drug-related arrests to prison, the total cost adds up to at least $51 billion per year. Over four decades, the group says, American taxpayers have dished out $1 trillion on the drug war.
What all that money has helped produce — aside from unchanged drug addiction rates — is the world’s highest incarceration rate. According to the Sentencing Project, 2.2 million Americans are in prison or jail.
More than half of federal prisoners are incarcerated for drug crimes in 2010, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, and that number has only just dipped below 50 percent in 2011. Despite more relaxed attitudes among the public at large toward non-violent offenses like marijuana use, the number of people in federal prison for drug offenses spiked from 74,276 in 2000 to 97,472 in 2010, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
The punishment falls disproportionately on people of color. Blacks make up 50 percent of the state and local prisoners incarcerated for drug crimes. Black kids are 10 times more likely to be arrested for drug crimes than white ones — even though white kids are more likely to abuse drugs.
A chart produced by the American Civil Liberties Union shows just how staggeringly large the US prison population has grown.
CORRECTION: This piece has been changed to make clear the drop in the percentage of federal prisoners in custody for drug crimes from 2010 to 2011.
For more information on the unjust charges against Deborah Burton, click HERE.
Over the last few weeks, we have seen an increase in LAPD presence and hostile policing on Main St. in Downtown.
This dangerous trend continued late last night when a large group of officers began roughing up a couple of black female residents.
LA CAN members were standing on the sidewalk talking when they noticed a squad car approach at a high rate of speed and stop a few buildings from where they stood. Two male officers exited their vehicle and threw two African American/Black females against the wall. One officer (the same officer in the video who says its okay to video and simultaneously leads the charge to arrest Bilal Ali & “Colonel”) takes one of the females between two buildings out of the sight of the general public. Shortly thereafter he aggressively slammed her to the ground in full view of residents and LA CAN members who were rightly outraged. LA CAN members were on hand to video and document the altercation. And when the officers decided they did not like that, they had two of our members arrested.
This type biased and violent policing has only increased since the Safer Cities Initiative was implemented in 2006. And long-term, low-income residents who have stood up and resisted have been met with repression and constant harassment. But we remain undeterred. We will not sit back and allow LAPD to intimidate and attack our community.
OFFICERS INVOLVED: (This is a short list because the LAPD routinely refuses to identify ALL officers at the scene)
Officer Rodriguez #36345
Officer Loza #39934
Sgt Severns #33807
LT. Melro #31240
The female who was slammed to the ground was released from custody. . She visited LA CAN today and inquired about the well-being of residents present, and arrested, after they demanded the LAPD to stop abusing her. She reported to LA CAN that no charges were filed against her. She had visible injuries, consistent with the abuse that witnesses reported, and is rightly upset about the physical mistreatment she endured.