Criminal Justice Reform
Our criminal justice system has a great deal of room for improvement at every level of government, including here in Alameda County. Nationally, our justice system has proven to be discriminatory against Black, Indigenous, and Latino Americans who all have much higher rates of incarceration compared to their white counterparts and experience more violence from police officers, as well as increasing hate crimes and microaggressions against them from civilians. This is a systemic problem which descends from a long history in America of racism; slavery, the cancellation of Reconstruction after The Civil War (“The Compromise of 1877”), segregation laws (“Jim Crow”), and currently, mass incarceration. Similar to epochs of the past, we are in the middle of a civil rights movement and I believe that we can rise to the occasion of this moment in history and stand up to injustice to make real change.
In Alameda County, I have been an open supporter of the movement to audit the Sheriff’s Department, and by extension, Santa Rita County Jail, which has a very high rate of inmate deaths and injuries. This has led to costly lawsuits. From 2013 to 2017, Alameda County paid out $15.5 million in settlements and judgments which is greater than the amount paid by any other agency in the region. In 2018, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors approved more than $2.5 million in such settlements which could have been better reallocated to serve our communities. The only way we can really know what is going on is to increase transparency and accountability with an operational and fiscal audit of their policies and budgets. It must be a top priority to determine why this is happening and what can be done to dramatically reduce incidents of misconduct within our county criminal justice system.
Our police do not need to be militarized. While I know that some calls, especially those with weapons involved, require officers to be able to defend themselves and others, I would also say that if a situation requires the use of a military tank, we might need our actual military. I’m also against the use of rubber bullets and chemical gasses on people during non-violent demonstrations. If the point of police officers is safety, then using tanks, heavy artillery, and chemicals against our own community seems counter-intuitive to the goals of creating public trust and peace.
With the continuing fight for racial justice, one of the main questions I get asked is where I stand on “Defund the Police.” What I take this to mean is that we need to examine our policing practices to see where we might be able to spend less on armed officers and use non-police services instead. For example, I’ve talked with mental health professionals who say that they can handle most of the calls they take by themselves, and that they know to call the police when a situation requires it. I would like to see a study completed of the calls that our police departments take and what was needed in terms of personnel to resolve those calls.
I have always been a strong advocate of Participatory Budgeting, where we have a transparent process with the entire community involved in deciding what the priorities for our money should be. If a given community decides that some of the funds for police officers should be moved to other services, then so be it.
Through political will and societal support, I believe we can solve most of these issues. Many other places, both in and out of the U.S.A. have had success with things such as civilian oversight commissions, community-based solutions to incarceration that address the root causes of criminal behavior, instituting education programs within prisons and jails, alternatives to cash bail, and investing in restorative justice programs as an alternative to traditional punitive approaches. Lastly, we do not need to expand our prison system, and that includes expanding juvenile detention centers. We must provide transparency to the public by ensuring all county criminal justice programs provide regular reports including success and failure metrics as well as detailed line item budgets.
One final thought: Black Lives Matter.