Letters for the week of June 17, 2015

Readers sound off on diversity in the arts, protest regulations, and software disputes.

“Where Are Oakland’s Black Artists?” Feature, 6/3

Good Job, But It Could Have Been Better

It is not difficult to find artists in Oakland: The city’s Cultural Arts department has long boasted that Oakland has the most artists per capita in the United States. But Black artists are not everywhere. As Sarah Burke notes, “of the 45 galleries that take part in Art Murmur, only four are Black-owned, and only three (including Oakstop) are within the vicinity of the First Friday happenings.” That means that Black artists have been marginalized from an internationally recognized cultural phenomenon.

As welcome as an article addressing this issue is, I wish its scope extended a bit further than the “Black Artists on Art” exhibition, impressive as it is, and included quotes from folks from Eastside Arts Alliance and other neighborhoods in Oakland other than Uptown. The story also could have delved a bit deeper into the behind-the-scenes attempts at diversifying the Murmur by interviewing the Warehouse 416 owners, one of the few white-owned Uptown galleries to consistently give space to Black artists.

Eric Arnold, Oakland

Stop Pandering

Where are the Black Express staff writers? I think it’s obvious to see the motivation behind this pandering.

Clarence C. Johnson, Oakland

More, Please

Very interesting read. I’m so glad that the works of these accomplished scholars, artists, and galleries are being discussed and highlighted. There are many, many, many local artists of color who need more recognition for their work. The more exposure, the better. Please do more of these stories, Express.

Fran Osborne, Berkeley

Mills Has Many Incredible Students of Color

This is such a necessary article. One small thing bugs me, though. Despite Mills being called a “mostly white” institution in the article, it’s actually only 44 percent white, and home to many, many incredible students of color. I hope that Conrad Meyers continues to reach out to Mills for the Art Murmur. At Mills, Black artists are plentiful, mad-talented, and just waiting to be discovered. I know this article has so much more to say, but I just wanted to be sure my alma mater isn’t being misrepresented in the discussion.

Also, glad to see Betti Ono and my pal Carrie Kholi highlighted. Her work is rad!

Beki McElvain, Oakland

Black Art Has Been with Us for a Long Time

Wonderful feature. The way I understand it, the Paris Expo of 1913 featured art from around the world including Black African nations. Pablo Picasso saw this and began to copy the powerful, primitive Black art. The other Paris artists saw this and also began to use the primitive style. Thus was born the Modern Art movement. So, Black Art has been with us for a long time, and the Black artists should be very proud.

William VanMeter, Oakland

“The Mayor Plan Misses the Mark,” Opinion, 6/3

OPD Also Lacks Fiscal Discipline

Well stated. Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan also pointed out recently that OPD has been allowed to blow a hole in the city’s budget by spending $13 million more on overtime than was budgeted. Aside from the issues of civil liberties, the city also lacks fiscal management controls and fiscal discipline. When police outnumber protesters, who’s patrolling our streets to “protect and serve?”

Rashidah Grinage, Oakland

Take the Next Step

Isn’t Rebecca Kaplan on the city council already? Then why hasn’t she proposed her plan to it so it can be discussed? I have not heard one peep from any city councilmember on the mayor’s new directive. Maybe it’s time.

Pamela Drake, Oakland

Good Ideas, But Can They Be Accomplished?

Kaplan makes a lot of sense about using police resources effectively and indemnifying business owners who are harmed by demonstrations.

Whether or not Oakland can actually accomplish either of these things effectively or efficiently is another matter. We all have good reasons to be doubtful. Kaplan’s suggestions are at least a step toward understanding these problems and looking at likely real answers instead of foolishly leaping in with both feet and suffering the consequences.

Hobart Johnson, Oakland

The Whole Debate Misses the Mark

Why is there more discussion over how to punish window-breakers and stop protests than how to stop police from murdering people, and how to end mass incarceration here in Oakland?

Everyone even having this stupid debate is “off the mark.” We should be focused on moving toward ending racism instead of how to shut up the people who are pointing it out.

Matthew Gerring, Oakland

Umm, We’re Talking About OPD, Here

What in God’s name makes Kaplan believe the OPD can be this strategic when their strategic plan to stop midday car break-ins on Lakeshore Ave consists of putting up a traffic marquee warning shoppers not to have anything showing in their autos to prevent smash-and-grabs?

Arlene Kock, Oakland

The Mayor and Council Should Work Together

I am in agreement that we should have the right for peaceful demonstrations. I disagree with what Rebecca Kaplan is asking Oakland to do. I feel very strongly that the mayor and city council work together. If they have differences, they should be kept internal. It would be nice to see the leadership working together for the residents of Oakland. The election was over some six months ago and we have Kaplan going on her own!

I am personally sick and tired of the attacks on the police. I realize there are good and bad police — same for politicians and every segment of our society. There must be a fair process for all of us when accusations of wrongdoing are made. The real issue as I see it is the 86 senseless murders in Oakland in 2014, and this does not count those who were wounded or shot at! Where’s the protest for these victims and their families? Kaplan misses the point. Those legitimate protesters either know or have a good idea who is doing the damage as they are demonstrating together. Kaplan then ends up by asking Oakland specifically what to do! She is one of our leaders. Can she do something?

1. Make a real effort to identify and hold accountable those engaged in vandalism. I believe most city officials and the police are doing the best job they can.

2. Help businesses that were harmed. What a beautiful solution. Metal roll down doors and unbreakable windows? The city to compensate businesses that were vandalized? We have more important issues facing us, such as business development to create Oakland jobs, more police, programs to clean up the city, etc. If Rebecca wants to give away money then she should collect it from a friend and supporters, whom the city forgave for over $250,000 in taxes owed and then the city awards him a new contract? How do you do business with someone who has ripped off the city, has lost court cases, owes workers about $1 million, and is very involved in Oakland politics? I’m sure campaign contributions have nothing to do with it!

The point of all this is we should have all our politicians working together at election time and then get on with it! Example: The Warriors work together and see where they are going!

Marty Frates, Oakland

Protest Crowds Can Be Dangerous

Sure, ask the public to share photos, help identify the vandals — easier said than done. I was in the crowd but was terrified to take a photo of the person ten feet away from me smashing a window at the corner of Piedmont Ave and Broadway. Don’t want to think about what might have happened had I whipped out my phone at that moment. Moments before, the crowd was cheering on the torching of a car in the used car lot. Groupthink can be dangerous, and it was that night. Kaplan, please explain how this is supposed to happen.

Robin Dean, Oakland

“Broken Windows or Broken Lives?” Opinion, 6/3

Schaaf Is Right

“Protesting” at night and taking to streets is counterproductive and a cover for inciting riot and an open endangerment of citizens’ safety. Being in harm’s way, and in an auto’s right of way, unpermitted at night, for any cause is ridiculous.

I do not support your view, Rachel Lederman, and refuse to be hostage to this First Amendment hypocrisy. Have you read the internal bigoted emails of SFPD or followed the results of previous Police Chief Anthony Batts and his tacit endorsement of “rough riding?” Maybe you should target those causes. I personally am cautiously optimistic with OPD and Mayor Libby Schaaf’s tactics and applaud a rational solution.

Jeff Winemiller, Oakland

Lederman Is Right

Kudos to Rachel Lederman and the National Lawyers Guild for being there for protesters for all these years. (Like back when I got arrested in 1982 with 1,000 others at Livermore Lab protesting its development of nuclear weapons.) The mayor’s edict is so disappointing on so many levels and I think Lederman’s quote here is prescient: “Banning protest may seem a quick fix, but is not worth the cost to taxpayers or the cost to democracy.”

Karen Hester, Oakland

Schaaf and Lederman Are Wrong

Rachel Lederman writes, “It is telling that Mayor Schaaf reserves her ire for broken windows.” It’s equally telling that Lederman thus chooses to trivialize that concern (as if police misconduct, some of it in faraway places, could somehow be construed as an excuse for trashing Oakland and deliberately stunting its renaissance). Her attitude verges on keeping the vandals in reserve as a sort of blackmail — and reeks of a hard-leftist contempt for the so-called “petty” bourgeoisie.

Libby Schaaf wasn’t elected to keep Oakland poor. I only wish she had more sense when it comes to tactics; on that, perhaps she should defer to Rebecca Kaplan.

Kaplan’s recommendations regarding the vandals would be hard to pull off (and the usual suspects would undoubtedly bridle over the surveillance), but such a policy is well worth a try.

There’s no sense in belittling anger over the vandalism, nor in belittling (and thereby inflaming) anger among the demonstrators. More to the point, you don’t protect businesses by moving the crowd onto the sidewalk. What was Schaaf thinking?

Mitchell Halberstadt, Oakland

The Express Is Wrong

It seems like the Express doesn’t understand that its audience is already liberal and progressive in every way. They can’t be outflanked from the left. They don’t believe that protesters in Oakland are being repressed, that the First Amendment is being trampled on. Sorry, this rhetoric is out of touch and presumptuous. The Express is headed toward irrelevancy in the political arena.

David Cohen, Oakland

“Software Dispute Could Imperil Oakland’s Budget,” News, 6/3

Open Source Software Is the Answer

Thanks for reporting on this story. Complex software systems are incredibly important to the functioning of local governments, which typically make themselves wholly dependent on private vendors. Essentially, the brains of city operations are being privatized, with all the misaligned incentives and corruption that this entails.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Cities could get their collective acts together and create or procure free or open-source software, which would not be subject to single vendor holdups and would allow cities to collaborate to get the features they want and increase the transparency of operations. Anyone — say, a software-savvy investigative reporter — could examine the algorithms that govern local government.

This is beginning to happen with France, Italy, and India giving priority to free/open source software in government procurement. It’s a very long-term strategy that won’t fix the immediate scandal. But it’s necessary to prevent local government from being utterly overrun by such scandals and operational privatization as more and more operations and services are implemented as software. Oakland should take the lead in the United States. It’d be especially appropriate as free/open source software presents a viable alternative vision for technology that benefits everyone rather than concentrating wealth and control in an elite.

Mike Linksvayer, Oakland

Follow the Money

My question is, on what authority did David McPherson pay PSI? If there were no executed contracts, who authorized the payments? It is called misappropriation of funds and the other parties should be named in the lawsuit, as well as reprimanded for their actions. McPherson didn’t pull the funds from his personal account, someone at the city authorized payment.

Darlene Johnson, El Sobrante

“It’s Splashtime in Oakland,” News, 6/3


It will be a tough, tough, tough, close championship series. Good luck, Oakland!

Tony Daysog, Alameda

“Replenishing with Pride,” Kid You Not, 6/3

You’re Right

Self-care is so important for parents. Thanks for the reminder!

Elon Bartlett, Oakland

“West Oakland Gets a Permanent Farm,” What the Fork, 6/3

Better Analysis, Please

This subject would have benefited from the analytical approach you took in your coverage of the Oakland minimum wage law’s effect on the restaurant industry.

By the numbers on their most recent tax return, City Slicker Farms spent $575,000 that came mostly from grants and contributions and some from $27,000 in food sales. Their total direct food production was 34,340 pounds. At an average of $16 a pound, that is some very expensive organic food.

Obviously the 34,340 doesn’t include the food grown by mentored community gardens and residents who learned from the classes, but those numbers can be estimated.

As long as there are people in Oakland who struggle to pay for food, we need to look at how effective grants and contributions spent on urban farming classes are at reducing hunger/improving nutrition compared to giving that money to a few well-run food pantries.

Leonard Raphael, Oakland

“Turning Water Into Wine,” Feature 5/27

Truth to Power!

Thanks, Will Parrish, for your truth to power reporting!

Terry d’Selkie, Ukiah

“Jacking Up Rents in Oakland,” News, 5/20

Thank You!

I just want to thank Darwin BondGraham for doing this story on our situation. The article is really well balanced, contains a lot of the very convoluted facts, and, as we’d hoped, has sparked a lot of conversation about the issues we raised. Since the article, we’ve received support and suggestions from Just Cause, the Oakland Tenants Union, and the Santa Fe Community Association of Neighbors. We’ll keep readers posted on developments, and our Rent Adjustment Board Hearing date in case you’d like to attend.

Liz Lee, Oakland

“Unlicensed Workers Patrol Fruitvale,” News, 5/13

I’m Reserving Judgment

I understand the concerns over unqualified personnel handling security, but I have not personally gotten a great impression of the qualifications of the previous security officers in the plaza. You mention loitering incidents escalating — in fact last summer I witnessed a security guard engage in a pointless screaming contest with a man selling paletas for about ten minutes until a Unity Council representative came by to defuse the situation. I’ll give the benefit of the doubt to this neighborhood-based initiative for now.

Rebecca Edwards, Oakland

“The Spark that Spreads the Fire,” News, 5/13

Tia Canlas Rocks

This was a great article. I, Linda Boblitt, regret that I did not go to a jury trial. If you Google my case, the last article, “Linda Boblitt Defeats Statutes of Limitations,” will give a little more insight to the difficulties that arise from money-ego-driven attorneys. There is no doubt in my mind that Ms. Tia Canlas would have recovered at least a six-figure award for me! The day of trial (her first time), she completely defied all expectations of opposing counsel. Opposing counsel filed several motions that were handled in chambers with the trial judge, but Ms. Canlas prevailed. At that point, opposing counsel did his dog-and-pony show, arriving late into the courtroom, announcing the troops were on their way. The “troops” arrived: a law student carrying legal boxes. LOL!

Ms. Canlas is a powerhouse, and she’s just beginning.

Linda Boblitt, Sacramento

Nice Work

Good for Tia Canlas, and good for California for passing that law.

Martin Cohen, Los Angeles

“The High Cost of Driving While Poor,” Feature 5/6

How to Avoid Commissioner Taylor Culver

For those who wind up in Oakland Traffic Court and choose to remove the “kick me” sign about to be posted on their gluteal globes by the likes of the jurist whose antics were chronicled here recently, the law has provided a splendid remedy, in the form of California Code of Civil Procedure Section 170.6.

This law gives any litigant in any case, civil or criminal, the absolute right to disqualify any judge or commissioner from hearing or participating in the case. It is called a peremptory challenge. You can only use it once in any case. You must sign it or recite it in open court under penalty of perjury as show in the examples referenced below.

You must use it soon after you find out that the particular judge or commissioner you name has been assigned to hear your case. To be certain that you do not miss that somewhat uncertain deadline, you should consider filing the challenge along with your first communication with the court, perhaps filing it at the time you post bail. Enclose a copy with any other communications you have with the court to be sure it does not get ignored or misplaced.

Here is a link to a form to be used to effect such a challenge posted as a public service by the Los Angeles Superior Court.


This form, with the name of the court changed to Alameda County Superior Court, is proper for use in Oakland. You may also simply copy the language on the form either in typescript or in your own handwriting, sign it under penalty of perjury and file it. A form and text for a peremptory challenge [and much other useful advice] is also available in the book published by Nolo Press, Fight Your Ticket & Win in California, which you can borrow from the Berkeley Public Library and from many others in our area.

Tell your friends.

Sherman Kassof, Oakland

Commissioner Culver Needs to Go

I fully appreciate the Express for giving citizens and regular people the opportunity to express themselves and bring exposure to those elements that harm the community.

I believe that all who read the article and have been to the court where Taylor Culver sits will agree with every aspect of it. This man is so unprofessional, arrogant, and a phony, as well. He first tries to make jokes of your traffic situation, get you laughing, then lowers the boom on your wallet by refusing to reduce any fine for you. He speaks to everyone in harsh and unforgiving language, bringing some to tears. He reminds you of the guy on the street corner who gives you this slick rap about what he’s going to do for you, while all the while he has designs of getting into your money pocket.

The courts may certainly be aware of all the problems that swirl around this man, but may have sustained a use for him as he beats and intimidates the poor out of their money. For someone who holds court in a jurisdiction like Oakland, where the homicides run off the charts, he has stated that he “doesn’t care who in your family died, is sick or disabled, or has financial hardships. You are going to pay this money, all of it, and don’t waste my time begging for reductions.

“I’m the only one in the room that’s special and the whole lot of you are nothing.”

According to the well-composed article, this man has been hurting people for upwards of ten years and needs to go. His time there has run out and the court’s image and reputation could then be restored.

Some Black Republicans, which he certainly is, don’t mind making poor people poorer while he and cronies like him get richer — see Clarence Thomas, Ward Connerly, J.C. Watts, and Ben Carson, just to name a few. Please continue exposing individuals like them.

Jess Covington, Oakland

“Shifting Gears,” Feature, 3/18

Keep Up the Good Work, Michael Schwartz

Michael Schwartz, I am the nurse practitioner who tended to you at the accident scene. I have often wondered what happened to you and how your recovery was going. It was clear to me you had very serious injuries and would not walk for some time. I will never forget the image of your body flying though the air and hitting the pavement.

I am so gratified to learn of your recovery but also deeply grateful for your bicycle advocacy work. I am a cyclist and I choose to ride to work daily. Your accident was the type that could stop one from cycling forever. I felt myself making the choice again to stay on the road, but now with vivid real life knowledge of the dangers.

I have stayed on the road and it appears you have, too. Thank you for your service on behalf of cyclists. God bless you in your continued recovery. Keep up the good work.

Rebecca Faith, Oakland

Miscellaneous Letters

Banks Are Robbing the Poor

Last year, banks skimmed an estimated $19 million from California’s welfare system. This profit came directly from the pockets of California’s poorest families, who rely on their welfare benefits to feed and support their children. Instead of spending their money on necessities like rent and diapers, poor families are forced to fork over a percentage to banks.

Unlike in years past, welfare benefits are no longer paid out to families through checks. Welfare benefits are now paid out to families on bankcards. Families can use these bankcards at any retail locations that aren’t cash-only, just like they would a debit card. And similar to a debit card, if a family wants to withdraw cash, they can do so at an ATM. That’s where the trouble comes in.

Welfare bankcards aren’t associated with any specific bank, so in order for families to withdraw money without incurring ATM fees, they have to find a fee-less ATM — a rarity these days. At a regular ATM, families can expect to pay up to $4 per transaction in order to access their cash benefits. These fees quickly add up, especially when considering that an average welfare benefit to a Bay Area family is only $670 per month. Last year, Bank of America took in $3.6 million from welfare transaction fees, Chase earned $2.8 million, and Wells Fargo pocketed $2.3 million.

Collectively, Bank of America, Chase, and Wells Fargo earned $49.7 billion last year. A family on welfare in the Bay Area earns an average of $8,040 per year. Nineteen million dollars is a drop in the bucket for major banking institutions, but consider what $19 million looks like when compared to welfare benefits: Last year, major banks earned enough money off of welfare transaction fees to support the equivalent of more than 2,300 of our poorest families.

Individuals should not have to bear the burden of unnecessary bank fees when accessing their benefits, and it is disgraceful that banks are making a profit on the backs of families in need. The welfare system in California is funded by taxpayer dollars — taxpayers who are not expecting their hard-earned money to be lining the pockets of wildly profitable banks.

If banks truly cared about our communities, they would waive transaction fees for our welfare recipients. Given their billions in earnings last year, they certainly won’t miss the money. The US government bailed out banks when they were at their neediest. It’s high time that banks extend the same consideration to California poorest families.

Anna Salomone, Albany

‘A Riot Is the Language of the Unheard’

Are you in support of Black Lives Matter, stopping the war on drugs, stopping mass incarceration, and ending the prison industrial complex, but a part of you is outraged by the violence at the protests in Baltimore and Ferguson and think that nonviolence is the only way forward for African Americans living in the modern racial caste system? If that’s you, I’d encourage you to first take a close look at the civil rights struggle in the Sixties and compare them to the tactics of protests today. Specifically, look at Martin Luther King’s national integration struggle, the Black Panthers, Black Nationalism, the Nation of Islam, and Malcolm X’s Muslim Mosque Inc. after he left the Nation of Islam.

Looking at the history, it’s easy to see that the civil rights struggle was successful in large part by having these diverse yet powerful radical elements pushing the debate. Obviously, looking back on the history of America, no one could blame African Americans in the Sixties for radicalism. They were responding to a situation that was radical. Yet the same types of criticism you see today of protests in Ferguson and Baltimore were being used back then. White America accused Malcolm X of preaching hate. The hypocrisy of that is mind-blowing. These “radical” elements pushed legislators to take MLK’s nonviolent radicalism way more seriously and eventually pass laws. It was either make deals with MLK or the Panthers. It was either MLKs “I have a dream” or Malcolm X’s “the ballot or the bullet.”

Since the Sixties, mainstream America has been trying to whitewash the legacy of the civil rights struggle by focusing on colorblindness and building up MLK’s nonviolent tactics. If you didn’t live through the Sixties, or don’t do your own research, you may never even know who the Black Panthers and Malcolm X truly were and how their tactics influenced the entire Civil Rights Movement.

Fast-forward to today, and I’d say African Americans are in arguably as deep a problem as they were in the Sixties. If you want more info, read The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Era of Colorblindness. In a nutshell, Michelle Alexander discusses how the War on Drugs was a racist conspiracy created by the Reagan Administration in the Eighties to create a new caste system. This was to be done without racist words because that was no longer acceptable to do out in the open. Their ultimate goal was to subjugate African Americans using the built-up resentment by White America against Black gains made in the Civil Rights Movement.

Alexander is the first to admit there has been collateral damage in the War on Drugs that cut across racial lines, but the War on Drugs disproportionately targets African Americans. Ever since, the Eighties, the US has been putting people behind bars by the millions with laws on the books enforced by the US Supreme Court. And once a person is in prison, they become part of a forgotten underclass. They are forced to check off the felon box every time they look for a job, and in some cases, lose the right to vote. This has devastated Black communities all over America for the past thirty years.

When you tack this on to the Old Jim Crow and hundreds of years of slavery before that … how would you respond? You’d never truly know if you’ve lived in privilege your whole life. One thing everyone has the capacity to know, though, is that we ought to bring up violence against people by the state before we call out property destruction at the hands of the oppressed. The question we need to ask ourselves at this critical moment is not about the morality of mob mentality. It’s how are we going to put together a national movement to end the modern racial caste system. I’ll close with this quote by Martin Luther King Jr. on March 14, 1968:
“It is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard.”

Hassan El-Tayyab, San Francisco


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