Archive for the press release Category

Press Release: Community Groups Demand More Than “Lip – Service” From LAPD as the Nation Prepares for Ferguson Indictment Decision

Posted in press release with tags , , , , , , on November 21, 2014 by Cangress

November 20, 2014
For Immediate release
Contact:
Pete White, Los Angeles Community Action Network, petew@cangress.org
Hamid Khan, Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, hamidk@cangress.org

Community Groups Demand More Than “Lip – Service” From LAPD as the Nation Prepares for Ferguson Indictment Decision – and Stands Against Full-Scale Militarization and the Criminalization of Dissent

Many activists and community organizers react to LAPD’s statements related to the Ferguson indictment decision with a healthy dose of trepidation and skepticism.  During the November 18, 2014 Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners meeting, Chief Charlie Beck reported that the LAPD had conducted “outreach to community leaders” in advance of the Ferguson, Missouri indictment verdict. Commander Andrew Smith, LAPD Communications Department, also stated to the press that the LAPD would be prepared for protests and other related activities.  LAPD and other police forces around the country, including Ferguson, seem to be preparing for violence and increased efforts to stop First Amendment activity, instead of responding to the real issue raised in Ferguson – reducing and eliminating police violence and suppression in our communities.

Militarization of police in our collective understanding came to light in full force with the murder of Michael Brown by law enforcement in Ferguson, Missouri and their response to protests by community members demanding justice. Images of grenade launchers, assault rifles, stun grenades, tasers, rubber bullets, tear gas, rocket launchers along with long range acoustic devices, mine sweepers, tanks, helicopters, and several types of surveillance equipment in the hands of Ferguson police dispelled any faith, if we still had any, about “protect and serve,” and laid bare the real purpose of law enforcement in the United States operating more as a counter-insurgency force. This is, unfortunately, not an anomaly!

The LAPD is no stranger to violating the rights of those simply exercising 1st Amendment protected speech and activities, nor to extreme violence and murder. The well-documented “Mayday Melee” on May 1, 2007 is a clear example of such violations – when the dust settled scores of protestors and members of the media were pummeled and the City of Los Angeles had to payout $13 million and promised many reforms to LAPD’s practices. On May 21, 2010, in City Council chambers, LAPD Central Division swarmed a crowded room of renters which included many seniors and children, beating and tasing renters that had waited more than five hours for a vote to reform the City’s Rent Stabilization Ordinance – again, thousands of dollars in payouts to protestors.  On July 13, 2012 LAPD deployed a massive and militarized effort to violate the rights of protestors simply writing chalk messages on the sidewalk during the downtown Los Angeles Artwalk, a monthly event for artists and revelers.

As with the other examples, use-of-force, the firing of projectiles, military grade crowd control weaponry and other tactics defined their response to constitutionally-protected activities.

As we approach the pivotal moment of whether even the slightest semblance of justice with the indictment of Darren Wilson will be served in Ferguson, Los Angeles residents continue to buckle under the weight of similar circumstances by our own LAPD. In August Omar Abrego was beaten to death in front of his own home. Ezell Ford, a young African American man living with mental illness, was shot in the back by LAPD within days of the Michael Brown incident in Ferguson, Missouri.  Are people angry? Yes. But people also demand that their constitutional rights be respected, protected and upheld and police officers be held truly accountable for murder.

Instead of baseless assertions that infer the LAPD is reformed and engaged with indigenous community leadership, we demand they (LAPD) publicly lay out their post-verdict response in detail which clearly outlines their operational plan including staffing specifically assigned to the response, identification of LAPD “hot zones,” and the list of crowd control equipment that will be deployed.

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New Sentencing Guidelines Could Shorten Drug Sentences for Thousands

Posted in press release with tags , , on November 4, 2014 by Cangress

For Immediate Release
Contact: Eric Ares (213) 228-0024
November 4, 2014

New Sentencing Guidelines Could Shorten Drug Sentences for Tens of Thousands of People Currently in Federal Prison 

Change is Latest Step to Reduce Mass Incarceration and Scale Back Failed Drug War  

Los Angeles, CA The Los Community Action Network (LA CAN) recently joined dozens of organizations across the U.S. to highlight changes to federal drug sentencing guidelines. On Saturday, November 1st, courts began considering petitions from incarcerated individuals for sentencing reductions. Thousands of people who are currently serving long, punitive drug-related sentences in federal prisons could be eligible to apply, although no one who benefits from this reform may be released for another year, or prior to November 1, 2015.  USSC estimates that close to 45,000 people currently behind bars would be eligible to have their cases reviewed to determine whether their sentences should be reduced. This change could save taxpayers billions of dollars and would reunite thousands of families with their loved ones.

“This is huge news for residents of Skid Row and South Los Angeles – where the failed War on Drugs has destroyed communities and lives for decades,” said LA CAN organizer General Dogon. “We still have a long way to go to fix this broken prison system, but this is a big step forward.”

The changes that took effect on Saturday follow a July 2014 vote by the United States Sentencing Commission to retroactively apply an amendment approved by the same government panel in April 2014 that lowers Federal Guidelines for sentencing persons convicted of drug trafficking crimes. Federal judges may now begin referencing the reduced guidelines in the course of sentencing persons convicted of drug trafficking crimes and individuals who were sentenced under the old drug sentencing guidelines may begin petitioning a federal judge for a hearing to evaluate whether their sentence can be shortened to match the reduced guidelines. The underlying drug guidelines amendment that shortened the length of drug sentencing guidelines was approved by the United States Sentencing Commission and submitted to Congress for review in April.

The United States Sentencing Commission’s decision reflects efforts underway in Congress and by the Obama Administration to reform federal drug sentencing laws, as well as a broader effort to adapt federal policy to overwhelming public support for reforming drug laws, ending marijuana prohibition, and reducing collateral consequences of a drug conviction. In 2010 Congress unanimously passed legislation reducing the crack-powder cocaine sentencing disparity. Bipartisan legislation reforming mandatory minimum sentencing, the Smarter Sentencing Act, has already passed out of committee this year and is awaiting a floor vote in the Senate. Attorney General Eric Holder has made numerous changes this year, including directing U.S. Attorneys to charge certain drug offenders in a way that makes ensures they won’t be subject to punitive mandatory minimum sentencing.

According to the U.S. Sentencing Commission and a recent report by the Congressional Research Service, mandatory minimums have significantly contributed to overcrowding and racial disparities in the Bureau of Prisons (BOP). The BOP operates at nearly 140 percent capacity – and is on track to use one-third of the Justice Department’s budget.  More than half of the prisoners in the BOP are serving time for a drug law violation. Even though African-Americans are no more likely than Whites to use or sell drugs, evidence shows they are far more likely to be prosecuted for drug law offenses and far more likely to receive longer sentences than Whites. With less than 5% of the world’s population – but nearly 25% of the world’s prison population – the U.S. leads the world in the incarceration of its own citizens.

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6 Months’ Have Passed Since Renters’ Day LA, Still No Government Action

Posted in press release with tags , on October 22, 2014 by Cangress

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: Mike Dennis
626-824-6797
mdennis@elacc.org

SIX months HAVE PASSED SINCE THE birth of the Renters’ Day LA movement

Yet no substantive government action resulted and Los Angeles’ housing affordability crisis is predicted to get worse

Los Angeles, CA – Amidst perhaps the most severe housing crisis in the history of Los Angeles, LA renters converged on Los Angeles City Hall exactly six months ago seeking the recognition of April 23rd as “Renters’ Day LA.” Championing their cause, Councilmember Gil Cedillo introduced a symbolic declaration that day, establishing April 23rd as a day to recognize the significant contributions of renters to the LA economy and voice support of renters’ grievances.

Beyond the pursuit of a holiday of recognition, the Renters’ Day LA movement sought to establish April 23rd as a call to action, to city councilmembers and renters alike, and an annual marker of progress in the implementation of legislative solutions to the city’s housing crisis that both preserve existing affordable housing and prioritize funding for the creation of new affordable units. “We will fight until every woman, man and child has a safe, healthy and affordable home in which to live. We are here to invite our government to enter into partnership with us, the renters, to make this dream a reality and we insist that in one years’ time, on the second Renters’ Day LA, that there will have been great steps taken towards our goal,” proclaimed Watts resident Lorena Garcia through the cheers of her fellow renters. However, instead of the “great steps” imagined by Garcia, renters have been hit by a steady stream of academic reports and forecasts of continued and unprecedented rent increases followed by a resounding silence from City Hall.

In its July 2014 study, Impacts of the Widening Divide: Los Angeles at the Forefront of the Rent Burden Crisis, the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs demonstrates how “rent burdens have been severe for low-income renters since the 1970’s” and that “Los Angeles consistently exceeds the nation in both the share of renters burdened and the severity of the burden.” The report concludes that Los Angeles is the most unaffordable rental market in the country, and proposes that simultaneous to increasing minimum wages, “affordable housing production and preservation needs to accelerate.” In October, USC’s Lusk Center for Real Estate predicted that over the next two years the cost of the average apartment in LA County will grow over 8%. Despite these warnings by the City’s two most prestigious universities, LA City Councilmembers remain apathetic to a problem they have the tools to address. Undeterred, the Renters’ Day LA groups will continue to mobilize renters and would-be renters from every corner of the city until we move our legislators towards policies that accelerate the preservation and production of affordable housing, the very recommendations proposed for years by renters and with the added legitimacy of our academic institutions.

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Skid Row Residents and Orgs. Sue DTLA BID and City of LA for Unlawful Seizure of Property

Posted in press release with tags , , , , , on September 22, 2014 by Cangress
Skid Row Residents and Organizations Sue DTLA BID and City of LAW for Unlawful Seizure of Property

LOS ANGELES, CA (September 19, 2014)—Los Angeles Catholic Worker, Los Angeles Community Action Network (LA CAN), Harry James Jones, Louis Grady, Lloyd Hinkle and Walter Shoaf filed a lawsuit in federal court today against the Los Angeles Downtown Industrial District Business Improvement District (LADID), Central City East Association (CCEA), and the City of Los Angeles to stop the LADID and City from seizing the personal property of homeless individuals on Skid Row, in violation of their constitutional rights.  They are represented by the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles (LAFLA) and Schonbrun DeSimone Seplow Harris and Hoffman, LLP.

The City of Los Angeles is already under a federal court injunction prohibiting it from seizing property that is not abandoned, an immediate threat to health or safety, or evidence of a crime. Despite the injunction, LADID’s cadre of public safety officers in red shirts continue to take unattended property from homeless people living on the streets of Skid Row.

The seizures at issue are separate from street cleaning by the City and are not part of an organized maintenance schedule.  Instead, BID officers take people’s property without any notice – with seizures often occurring during times that officers know that homeless individuals are receiving services or eating at area missions. People step away from their property for often only minutes at a time to get a meal, go to a medical appointment, or even use the rest room.   When they return, all of their worldly possessions, including tents, bedding, and warm clothing, are gone—taken by truck to a location at the edge of the district.  The location is hard to reach and a far distance for people to transport property back to the places they regularly sleep, particularly without the assistance of the trucks that took the property away.  These seizures serve no purpose other than to make life even harder for homeless residents in Skid Row.

Last year, Harry James Jones, a disabled Vietnam War veteran, neatly packed up all his belongings including his identification card, his life-saving medication, tent, and clothing.  Same as every day, he went to get some food.  While he was gone, LADID officers took all of his property.  They left no receipt for him to retrieve the property when he got back. “I was only gone for a little while.  When I came back, all of my things were gone,” said Mr. Jones. “I had no way to know the Red Shirts would take my things when I was gone.  I didn’t have my medicine for weeks, and I didn’t have my ID to get a refill. I got very sick and wound up in the hospital.”

Lloyd Hinkle, another Vietnam War veteran, had similarly neatly packed his property, and a neighbor was watching over it while he went to eat. LADID officers, with the assistance of the LAPD, seized his belongings, despite being told they were not abandoned by both Hinkle’s neighbor and members of LA CAN, who videotaped the incident.  LAPD officers prevented witnesses and members and staff of LA CAN from intervening to stop the LADID officers from taking Mr. Hinkle’s belongings.  The LAPD officer insisted that BID officers were doing their jobs and that she and the officers were only taking abandoned property, even as LA CAN members insisted that the owner of the property was nearby. Mr. Hinkle was unable to predict the seizure, and he has no way of knowing when they will come for his property again. “Since they took my stuff, I’m less willing to leave, even to get a meal or see the doctor,” said Mr. Hinkle.  “I don’t want to risk the red shirts coming and taking my stuff again.”

Plaintiff Los Angeles Catholic Worker (LACW) distributes shopping carts to homeless people in Skid Row.  The carts are given to people so they can store their belongings and also use the carts to assist them in moving their property from one location to another.  LACW also provides meals, toiletries, and foot care to hundreds of homeless people in Skid Row every year.  “Because of ill-fitting shoes and poor foot care and the challenges of being homeless, so many people on the Row have problems just walking and getting around.  The carts not only give people a place to put their things, but they also help many people just walk down the street,” said Catherine Morris, one of the group’s organizers. “The BID’s constant taking of people’s things and our carts make it harder for people to live on the street and harder for us to do our work.”

Media Contacts:
Jeff Dietrich, Los Angeles Catholic Worker, 323-267-8789 or 310-627-7308
Becky Dennison, Los Angeles Community Action Network, 213-840-4664
Shayla Myers, Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, 213-640-3983
Fernando Gaytan, Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, 213-640-3831
Catherine Sweetser, Schonbrun Desimone Seplow Harris & Hoffman, LLP., 310-396-0731

Spanish speakers available upon request.

HUD Rejects Los Angeles Housing Authority’s $30 Million Grant Application

Posted in Media Advisory, press release with tags , , on March 21, 2014 by Cangress

via the LA Human Right to Housing Collective and the National Economic & Social Rights Initiative.

HOUSING AND ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE ADVOCATES CALL ON HACLA TO USE THE TIME CREATED BY HUD’S REJECTION OF $30 MILLION GRANT APPLICATION FOR JORDAN DOWNS TO FULLY MITIGATE TOXINS

The granting of redevelopment funds would have created a fast-track timeline that, in all likelihood, would have led to HACLA failing to fulfill its responsibilities to protect residents from the health impacts of toxins.  

March 18, 2014, Los Angeles – The LA City Housing Authority’s billion dollar plan to convert the 700 unit Jordan Downs public housing development in Watts into a “mixed income urban village” were stalled on Monday when the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced that the Choice Neighborhoods Initiative (CNI ) grant application for Jordan Downs was unsuccessful.

Last week, at a community meeting on the redevelopment, HACLA environmental advisor, Matt Rhoda, told the packed auditorium that no one needed to worry about lead in their community.  Some residents expressed frustration that HACLA continues to refuse to test the soil and groundwater under their homes – something several hundred residents requested via petition – and were concerned that had this CNI grant been awarded, a full testing for toxins and subsequent clean-up might have been sacrificed to meet the strict project timeline. Residents also expressed feeling intimidated due to an onslaught of legal notices and aggressive evictions served on residents – which may affect their good-standing and ability to access the new units.  Although, the removal of residents and the refusal to test for toxins have always been unacceptable, the  denial of the CNI application affords HACLA the opportunity to immediately engage in area-wide groundwater and soil sampling, create a comprehensive clean-up plan and support residents in maintaining their housing stability.

Jordan Downs’ resident and single mother, Ely Acevedo has been organizing with other concerned mothers and residents to hold HACLA accountable for securing the health of current residents, who are expected to stay on site during the redevelopment of the neighborhood. Ely said, “They are playing with our health and the health of all the small children that live here. How dare they tell us that we shouldn’t be worried about lead in our neighborhood?”

HACLA’s own studies confirm levels exceeding 6,000ppm of lead at the vacant Factory site inside Jordan Downs. 80ppm is the state of CA standard. Earlier this month, Thelmy Perez, of the LA Human Right to Housing Collective, testified before the County Board of Supervisors: “We cannot comprehend how or why state, county and local officials can make such a fuss over the Exide contamination and ignore Jordan Downs, where there the same toxins have been found. All of our communities – especially where the majority of residents are children and people of color with little resources and the lowest life expectancy in the state – have the right to their health and to a high level of accountability from government when their health is in jeopardy.”

The Housing Collective members and allies at the Center for Public Environmental Oversight, Legal Aid Foundation of LA, Natural Resources Defense Council, Physicians for Social Responsibility-LA and National Economic and Social Rights Initiative believe HUD’s decision provides HACLA with an immediate opportunity to ensure an adequate and comprehensive environmental testing and clean up is conducted, which fully protects the community’s health. The CNI program is ongoing and another application could be submitted after all environmental health and other community concerns are addressed. While HUD has chosen not to give a CNI grant to HACLA, the Watts community is entitled to adequate federal funding to secure their human right to housing, without it needing to be contingent on  redevelopment. CNI is not the panacea, there are many federal funding opportunities, including from the Environmental Protection Agency, which should be actively sought by our local officials in an effort to uplift and preserve the cultural richness of Watts and its residents.  After decades of neglect, it’s time to invest in the people of Watts.

“U.S. Treatment of Homeless Persons Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Say UN Experts”

Posted in press release with tags , , on March 17, 2014 by Cangress

via the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty:

U.S. Treatment of Homeless Persons Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Say UN Experts
U.N. Human Rights Committee Questions U.S. Delegation

Geneva, Switzerland – On Thursday, March 13, the U.N. Human Rights Committee reviewed U.S. compliance with a major human rights treaty, raising concerns of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment for the practice of criminalizing homeless people for performing necessary life functions such as sleeping and eating in public when they have no private alternatives.

The criminalization of homelessness in the U.S. is documented in a report, Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading: Homelessness in the United States Under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, submitted to the Committee by the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty (“NLCHP”) and the Allard K. Lowenstein Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School.

The U.S. review, which takes place periodically under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (the last review was in 2006), follows a U.S. report to the Committee, submitted on December 30, 2011.

“I appreciate that the federal government is acknowledging that the criminalization of people living on the street for everyday life activities, such as eating, sleeping, sitting in particular areas…raises serious human rights concerns…,” said Walter Kaelin, a Swiss member of the Committee, “There are ample reports about how criminalization of the homeless is discriminatory; how, as stressed by several UN Special Rapporteurs, and also federal agencies, how such instances of criminalization often raises concerns of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.”

Kaelin continued with specific questions, “Do you already provide, or do you plan to provide incentives for decriminalization? Do you plan to withdraw funding for local authorities that continue to criminalize the homeless in a discriminatory way, in a way that may amount to inhuman treatment, degrading treatment? Do you plan to sanction criminalization policies, or are your activities really limited just in sensitizing local authorities, something very important, but probably not sufficient.”

Rather than responding to the specific questions, Kevin Washburn, Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, US Department of the Interior, responded with a general list of issues being worked on by the US Interagency Council on Homelessness, including efforts to encourage cities not to criminalize homelessness, exactly the sort of efforts the Committee said were “important, but not sufficient”.

“The U.S. government knew these topics would be on the Committee’s agenda since last March, when they put it on their list of issues for discussion, and last July, we held a meeting to discuss specific recommendations for action,” said Jeremy Rosen, Policy Director at NLCHP, in Geneva for the review. “The lack of specificity in the government’s response is pretty disappointing.”

Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker continued on behalf of the U.S. delegation by explaining his city’s more constructive approach of providing housing rather than criminalizing, which has led to a 75% decline in chronic homelessness in the state. The mayor said this makes him “surprised when he hears homeless even in the same breath as criminalization.”

However, as documented in the report submitted to the Committee by NLCHP , Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading: Homelessness in the United States Under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights-one of the “ample reports” of criminalization to which Kaelin referred-the approach demonstrated by Salt Lake City is far from universally implemented.

“As homelessness becomes more visible in American communities, some, like Salt Lake City, have made generally positive responses,” said Mr. Rosen. “Unfortunately, we’ve also seen an increase in communities passing ordinances banning camping or sleeping outdoors, despite providing no alternative, forcing people to make the cruel choice between sleep and being arrested.”

“Sleep deprivation and hunger are widely recognized as techniques that are cruel, inhuman and degrading when used against prisoners. It shouldn’t matter if the prison is bricks and mortar, or one of economic policies and draconian ordinances,” said Eric Tars, Director of Human Rights and Children’s Rights Programs at NLCHP. “As Committee Member Kaelin stated, the federal action on this issue so far is ‘not sufficient,’ and our government must do more to protect homeless people from these policies.”

“We expected more concrete responses from the federal government at this review,” Maria Foscarinis, Executive Director at NLCHP, concluded. “But we look forward to working with the government on additional-and stronger– measures in response to the concerns and questions raised by the Committee.”

The Committee will issue its final recommendations to the U.S. government, called Concluding Observations, on March 26.

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LA Times: “Skid row activists file lawsuit accusing city of stifling dissent”

Posted in civil rights, Media Advisory, press release with tags , , , , , , , on March 11, 2014 by Cangress

Below you will find a Los Angeles Times piece by Gale Holland covering the announcement of the LA CAN lawsuit against the City of Los Angeles, Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), Central City East Association (CCEA), Downtown Industrial District Business Improvement District, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, LAPD Lieutenant Shannon Paulson, and former CCEA Executive Director Estela Lopez.

Click HERE for the full press release.

Deborah Burton
By Gale HollandMarch 10, 2014, 4:29 p.m.

A federal civil rights lawsuit filed Monday accuses the city of Los Angeles of malicious prosecution for charging a skid row community organizer with assault after she blew an air horn during a demonstration.

City Atty. Carmen Trutanich charged Deborah Burton, 62, with misdemeanor assault and battery for allegedly blowing the horn in officials’ ears during a 2011 skid row protest. Burton was acquitted of all charges last July. The suit says the charges were aimed at stifling political dissent.

Police conspired with business leaders, distorted crime reports and lied on the witness stand to frame Burton for crimes she did not commit, the suit says.

City Atty. Mike Feuer, who succeeded Trutanich, said in an earlier interview that the Burton claim had no merit.

“We proceeded in that case in a highly professional way,” he said.

LAPD Lt. Andy Neiman said the department would not comment on a pending lawsuit.

The suit, brought by the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles on behalf of Burton and the Los Angeles Community Action Network, also accuses police of harassing and intimidating group members and falsely arresting its leaders.

The actions were designed to silence the group’s protests against the displacement and “criminalization” of poor residents of skid row, the densest concentration of homeless and extremely low-income people in the country, the suit says.

“Many business interests and the City officials who support them apparently see the existence of high concentrations of poor people in the area, especially African American men and the highly visible homeless population, as an obstacle to planned business expansion and development,” says the suit.

Also named in the suit are the Downtown Industrial District Business Improvement District, whose security guards patrol skid row on bikes; Central City East Assn. and its former director, Estela Lopez, who ran the improvement district; the Los Angeles Police Department; Police Chief Charlie Beck; and Lt. Shannon Paulson.

“Really, the city should have been helping them fight against homelessness, not put every barrier in their way and blatantly violate their 1st Amendment rights,” said Legal Aid Foundation attorney Barbara Schultz.

The suit seeks an injunction to halt interference with L.A. Community Action Network’s civil and constitutional rights; a declaration that the rights of Burton and her group were violated; and general, special and punitive damages. It was filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles.