Friday, April 29, 2011

San Francisco International Film Festival; Exploritorium Children's Film Festival

Though I haven't seen a black director yet this season, there are plenty of films of interest to an African Diaspora audience, not to mention a socially conscious and aware audience at that.

This year marks a first for me re: multiple screenings and activism. I don't recall ever participating in SFIFF screenings as part of an organization connected to the subjects and themes in a film, in this case incarceration of women who were battered by their boyfriends and/or husbands.

The film is Yoav Potash's Crime After Crime. Talk about a defense attorney with a magic wand in his back pocket, in this case, "Yoav Potash," Joshua Safan's friend. How many attorneys do you know who enlist the assistance of an award-winning filmmaker and his team as part of one's defense? You can probably count the instances of this happening on one finger (smile).

Debbie Peagler, sentenced to life without the possibility of parole, was referred to the two attorneys, Nadia Costa and Joshua Safran, through the California Habeas Project at Legal Services for Prisoners with Children. The land use attorneys are given release time for the case from their firm which lasts longer than either had imagined when agreeing to take the case. However, no matter how bleak the scenario painted multiple times on the wall during strategy sessions, the attorneys do not admit defeat.

"Crime After Crime" shows how justice is a marathon, the form set to weed out the weary. However, the team holds each other up as together they all, with Debbie in the leading position, sail across the finish line. Justice is a collaborative project, crime doesn't occur in isolation and justice is not achieved in isolation--one needs cameras and lights to spur action. The fact that such a document like this film exists is a way to east the process for so many other women in prison with Habeas claims.

Debbie's attorneys not only withhold evidence, lie to her and her co-defendant, then have them agree to a plea bargain, to avoid the death penalty, Crime After Crime shows how this same legal team has as its key witness an informant, who perjures himself repeatedly before the deal is made and the defendants sign.

The film is a roller coaster ride, Joshua always ready with a quip, comic relief in a situation that intensifies as the years parade by, the California judicial system filing counter motions and denying agreements, like the DA's reneging on his agreement to release Debbie, as if this isn't a human being's life we are talking about. Debbie herself is such a trooper; she couldn't have been better cast.

Yoav's camera is everywhere and when it isn't, it is not too far behind. His style reminds me of Michael Moore's, in your face. He sticks his microphone in the faces of DAs like Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley (who ran against Kamala Harris for State Attorney General and lost) and lets them prove his point, which is their complicity the injustice and the absence of empathy--they really don't care about this Debbie or the countless other Debbies wrongfully incarcerated. It is amazing how much material the courts already had which the legal team with the help of its private investigator, the late Bobby Buechler, uncovered which exonerated Debbie--on paper, yet they wouldn't let her free.

The immediacy of this issue, domestic violence and women who are survivors criminalized is apparent and enhanced by the women in the audience at each screening. These women talk about their friend whose life reflects their own. Debbie's daughter Natasha and her children were present at the Berkeley screening, along with Marisa Gonzalez of the CA Habeas Project, and of course the two attorneys, Nadia Costa and Joshua Safan, director, Yoav Potash.

"Crime After Crime" is also the story of the power of media to shape ideas and perceptions; one just needs to know how to bend the tools to one's end, in this case justice. Often campaigns are ill-equipped and out-maneuvered in crucial public policy deputes, one, because they might lack the media savvy tools to compete or they might not have the funds. In Debbie's case, not only was her team aware of the power of media, they had a powerful law firm and other constituent donors available to make their plan work. Another key was they entered the contest hoping for justice, yet knowing the crooked system, prepared for the worse. Yoav was there from the beginning collecting data which when strategically necessary, the legal team used.

There is one more screening Monday, May 2, 2011, in San Francisco at 9 PM. Check ticket availability beforehand. The film will have a theatrical debut later in the summer in the San Francisco Bay Area and will open in New York before the Los Angeles opening. There is an LA outdoor screening in June, I think June 25. Visit the website:

Detroit Wild City

I have a certain affinity for the city of industry, Detroit or Michigan period. Though I've never been there, when I think of Detroit, I recall Motown (Motor + Town Records, and Berry Gordy Jr., Diana Ross and Little Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson and Marvin Gaye. I think about the Jones brothers: Elvin, Thaddeus and Hank from Flint. I think about Ogun, Ford and Firestone. I recall King Leopold and the ghosts which haunts this city today, the ancestors in Congo whose lives fertilize the soil.

Detroit is the hometown of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad and the birthplace of the Nation of Islam and the Republic of New Afrika. Detroit was the epitome of black America working, perhaps this is why it looks the way it does today --at least the way French film director Florent Tillon portrays it in its vacant vacuous despair. Detroit, the film, reminds me of Michael Moore's "Bowling for Columbine" and "Fahrenheit 9/11"--Flint, Michigan not a far stretch of the imagination from its big city sister Detroit.

Florent Tillon's "Detroit Wild City" isn't seen in Pearl Cleage's "I Wish I Had a Red Dress"--the setting for her novel a place where a woman starts a program for young girls who need mentoring and guidance. Tillon's Detroit isn't the perhaps fictive place that hosts a jazz concert each summer with Michigan native sons and daughters as headliners.

Tillon courts the voices of urban gardeners who plant food in tubs that exude radioactive contaminates as one gardener speaks of the benefits of dirt and how much she loves to get dirty. I wonder at the metaphor, brown soil on white skin? Who are the people she references who refuse to eat fresh food? Where are they? Do they only come out at night? If these people stopped eating fast food and started eating live foods would the city then come back to life as she suggests?

The only part of the film that faintly resembles the Detroit of my imagination is shown in a scene at the end of the film when the Sunday community gatherings in the park with music and food and fun. Another critic whose review I read disagrees and says this end is fanciful and unrealistic, as if African people haven't disappeared on American landscapes and then come back before, perhaps immaculately conceived--unlike the indigenous people who didn't. After all Detroit's not completely dead yet.

Robert F. Williams and his wife, Mabel Williams lived just outside Detroit and their older son told us about a program he developed in Detroit to help youth. I wonder if he is still there. He and his mother visited Oakland several years ago-- What would he and his mother say about this bleak film which looks like Will Smith film, I Am Legend. Are Florent Tillon's subjects zombies, duppies, ghosts?

One of the subjects speaks about how the unoccupied buildings have evidence of its former inhabitants as if they left in a hurry. Reels of film in the director's box at this lovely old theatre lie in a dark corner. The train station looks like the passengers are still somewhere near waiting for the next train-- The stadium--what's left of it, fenced in, is philosophically prepped for the season about to begin.
Why demolish the city's stadium is there are no people to fill the vacant housing nearby, let alone new development?

There are a lot of unanswered questions here. Who are these voyeur narrators the majority outsiders without ties to the people? Scavengers, they subside on echoes of discarded memories speculating on what is in the context of what is left. I love the scene with the burned books, all the same title--it seems like the director set the scene up the book about Detroit--the subject Black Monk (a white guy) shares its opening pages, ones he hadn't read before. We look out the window and there is a billboard with a message from God, something about the temporal nature of life and life ever after with him.

I was like "wow."

Tillon's "Detroit Wild City" is a lovely treatment of what a "Day of Absence" (Douglas Turner Ward 1965) really looks like: a world where traffic is silent, not many birds sing and the only life which is increasing is that of dogs whose noses look like pig snouts-their story another tragedy we learn of as dog catchers snare strays and then take us to the shelters where recent arrivals snarl at the camera. See

He states that Detroit is known nationally for its negative stats, such as "murder capital," "high unemployment," "citizen flight," "poor schools," that these negative assets are capitalized on by the remaining residents who live down to national expectations. How inhuman can I get? How beastly can I become?

Many residents breed dogs to have them then kill or maim each other in competitions, their owners guilty of callous abandonment of the pets or their brutal killing such as burning the dogs alive. This is the only population that is increasing, numbering in the 100s of 1000s; stray dogs abandoned wandering the streets killing and being killed.

I like the way the director projects the captor as other or outsiders as well. The subject here talks about how he is more comfortable in the woods than in the city, and as we travel the highway in his vehicle, Detroit seems to have areas dense with green landscape. The animal controller reflects on a time when he met a cheetah in the wild, as he laments the possibility that man will kill everything that can potentially maim or kill him and what such a world would look like. Detroit Wild City screens again at UC Berkeley's Pacific Film Archive Wednesday, May 4, 8:40 PM. Visit

Better this World

Another film of interest is "Better This World," which looks at FBI surveillance today and how if you think COINTELPRO ended with the killing of Martin King and Malcolm X, think again. It shows how like Hitler, the enemy is a master at seduction and uses one's passions, in this case, two young men who wanted to make the country uphold its ideals expressed in founding documents: the Declaration of Independence and its Constitution and Bill of Rights. The only problem they meet a man, Brandon Darby, a sky, on the FBI payroll who breaks the law, yet it is these two young men who take the fall.

It is an amazing story with cast and causes the San Francisco Bay Area audience is familiar with like Malik Rahim and Common Ground Relief, Robert H. King and Angola 3. Informants are not all bad, I guess, if one looks at Brandon's work at Common Ground Relief and his rescue of Robert F. King, but he definitely needed watching, his behavior then and as depicted in the film, unstable and extreme--read: "crazy."

Darby twists the boys' enthusiasm into a terrorist operation. It shows how vulnerable certain people are and how evil is manipulative and pervasive--by the time the two subjects wake up, they are captured ideologically and then physically with their arrest.

"Better This World" directors, Kelly Duane de La Vega and Katie Galloway's film is a study in how good intentions are preyed upon by scavengers who cowardly use the naïveté of youth to further ends which look sane to the uninitiated. These are the same kids we see blowing themselves up around the world, while their tutors remain safe and alive. The film screens for a final time, Thursday, May 5, 8:45 PM at Sundance Kabuki in San Francisco.


"COINTELPRO 101" (56 min 2010), dir. Claude Marks, screens, Thursday May 12 at 7:15 and 9:15 at the Red Vic Movie House, 1727 Haight Street, San Francisco. Director Claude Marks will be present at both shows for Q&A. Visit

Other African Diaspora and African American Interest films at SFIFF:

"The Black Power Mixtape 1967–1975," Göran Hugo Olsson, Sweden/USA, Saturday, April 30, 9 PM at Kabuki and Tuesday, May 3, 6 PM at New People also in San Francisco. "Children of the Princess of Cleves" screens at 4:15 PM at Kabuki and so does "The Redemption of General Butt Naked," dir. Eric Strauss, Daniele Anastasion, USA, at 6:45 PM at Kabuki; "Butt Naked," also screen Monday, May 2, 9:45 PM at Kabuki. "Kinyarwanda," dir. Alrick Brown, USA/Rwanda screens three times beginning Sunday, May 1, 12:30 PM at Kabuki and again Tuesday, May 3, 9 PM at New People in San Francisco at 1746 Post Street (at Fillmore) following "The Black Power Mixtape 1967–1975," at 6 PM. "American Teacher, dir. Vanessa Roth, USA" screens Thursday, May 5, 3:45 PM at Kabuki prior to "Kinyarwanda" and "The Place in Between," dir. Sarah Bouyain, France/Burkina Faso (you could see all three). I wanted to attend the Novikoff Ward: Serge Bromerg: Retour de Flamme: Rare and Restored Films in 3-D at the Castro, but Vukani Mawethu is celebrating its 25 anniversary at Freight & Savage Coffeehouse in Berkeley from 4-7, so that is where I will be.

The Place in Between

"The Place in Between" dir. Sarah Bouyain, France/Burkina Faso, is the story of displacement of both child and mother in a mixed race union, where father takes the child and her mother is left alone. In this case the man is French and the mother is African and child raised by his French wife with her half-brother, also white. The film takes place when the girl, now grown, wants to know her birth mother and what happens when she retraces those early steps.

The sorrow signified by fractured lives --the brokenness unrecognized --at least by the girl until she tried to find herself, is portrayed well. The juxtaposition of all affected by her birth: both mothers, siblings, other parents, and community in Africa and at large--the relationships lost and the relationships the young woman estranged from her life and from her roots cannot capture or restore, is also explored.

The girl is able to step on and off the set, since she is between worlds, neither of one nor wholly of the other. One sees her dizziness as she tries to choose, her loyalties split. She is an outsider, marked she cannot fade or pass and when she tries she is insulted by a man who sees her in traditional attire and propositions her. African women in big hotels are things not people; of course she is there for his sexual amusement. She can't be a guest.

When the young woman meets her aunt and finds that the memories she recalls are of this mother, this woman who has been waiting for her return, her world is flipped on its other side.

"The Place in Between" reflects on the role of mother in a child's life, transcultural adoptions and interracial adoptions and what the impact is on the child, who in this case, looks black, but is really her step-mother's child, socially, if not genetically. Unlike other transracial adoptions or blended families, this girl does have memories of her earlier life, one her father rescues her from, even if she loses her linguistic access.

This latent memory helps, perhaps even inspires, the quest while it destroys a life, a life built on the absence of truth. The inferno burns all connected to the story and their pain is palatable--the mothers whom love this child and don't or didn't want to let her go, and the third mother whom no one knows or considered who suffers perhaps the most.

"The Place in Between," set in Burkina Faso and France looks at African people symbolized by this displaced child and how horrific the riff between those who left or were taken and those who stayed, and how the repair is shabby and ineffective.

The historic and contemporary European presence is anything but positive here, the poverty striking in the depictions of those with means and those without. Many of the impoverished like the girl's aunt reside or float in memories to great to bear. She, like her other sisters self-medicate, her prescription of choice alcohol, a temporary cure, which only dampens and covers the loss.

The birth mother is shamed and ashamed, so she leaves without a forwarding address and her family is left bereft. The only one, seemingly not affected is the father who dies before his African child makes the journey back home.

The ending is not sweet or conclusive which I think lends honesty to this taboo subject--outside children, a further implication of the continued Maafa in African Diaspora communities. Even those of us with recent memories feel we cannot return home. Yet, the return is what heals the girl's aunt, who has been waiting, wondering, wishing for her daughter's return. Again, the film screens Thursday, May 5, 2011, at the Kabuki, 8:45 PM.

Other films still with screenings left:

Marathon Boy 4/30 1 PM, (5/3 9:15 PM), Miss Representation (5/4 5:45 PM Kabuki, "Incendies" (5/2 & 5/5), "Hands Up" 5/3 1 PM & 5/4 3:30 PM at the Kabuki and "The Green Wave" (5/2 animation) look interesting, as do: A Cat in Paris (5/1) (animation for the family), "The Tiniest Place" 4/30 6 PM PFA, 5/1 4:15 Kabuki, & 5/5 5:45 PM Kabuki; "Circumstance" (5/1 & 5/3), "Page One: A Year Inside the New York Times" (5/1). Hopefully you saw: "Microphone," set in Egypt, Hot Coffee, Pink Saris--excellent from the director of "Sisters in Law," and "Divorce Iranian Style," and "A Day I Will New Forget," Kim Longinott; Jean Gentil set in Haiti, "Women Art Revolution," "The Troll Hunter," "Life, Above All," dir. Oliver Schmitz, South Africa/Germany.

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Racialization of Justice

Good Friday

I have been getting these Happy Friday emails from artist Jason Austin for over a year. Now I kind of look forward to them--happiness on Friday. What a thought right?!

I needed an optimistic pick up this morning, but I didn't check my messages before heading to the Central California Women's Facility (CCWF) to visit 16-17 women the Sister to Sister program of California Coalition for Women Prisoners (CCWP) set up appointments with.

Anxious the night before meant I was sleep deprived— to bed late and up too early as I scrambled around getting dressed, making ginger/green tea careful to read the Yogi meditation, perhaps applicable to my immediate circumstances: "May your inner self be secure and happy."

Hum, it works.

I made organic oatmeal, set up my radio show broadcast— two hours earlier this morning and then after I sorted through books I thought I might want to read once I decided against reading student essays on the way there, I stood on the porch with TJ bag full, white ceramic bowl in my hands warming them as the food, oatmeal topped with bananas and sliced apples warmed my insides looking out onto the quiet street, birds on the high wires chattering singing shouting greetings to everyone within listening distance— I watched for my ride eating the hot cereal and fighting the overwhelming sadness that was enveloping me. I felt the same way I feel when I want to visit a sick friend, but stay away because my world is not as bright as I'd like it, and the purpose of, well, friendly visits to the sick and shut in is to make the patient feel better, not worse.


I knew once I arrived the women would lift my spirits, the same way those with so little time left make one appreciate every precious moment, if one can get there, if I could get there and I was going to get there today because I was a part of a team. Teams are so helpful when one faces such an enormously difficult task one doesn't feel her reserves will get her though not to mention there (smile).

I wore a bright lapa from Gambia, red with yellow cowrie shells, my bubu from Nigeria, lemon meringue with rhinestone chips sprinkled on a tapestry of eyelet sunflowers— oranges with white accents and lace trim. I wore a lovely scarf (borrowed from my daughter’s drawer) which repeated the color scheme, topped off with red socks with butterflies— just in case someone looked down.

I wanted to be a visibly cheery presence, so for once I left the black and white prison visit uniform in the closet. It was Good Friday, the day Jesus died and later rose again, and so I was I planning to rise to the occasion, and so were these women— on the cross or at a crossroads going to rise and walk on water too. I was looking forward to resurrection days and nights and meetings with the disciples on the other side of these prison walls in Jerusalem, Chowchilla, California.

When my friends pull up, I open the door to the van, climb in and begin to pull folders out of the canvas bag when we are almost there to learn what is going on in the women’s lives and check any notes left by staff or other visitors over the year(s). I read the files of women I know and those whom I will meet for the first time that day. The traffic is great and Sister Naeemah is a fantastic driver; she and Hafsa, the CCWP visits coordinator verbally spar in the front seats lending a lightness to the day ahead.

After parking we meet a PO from hell. Really sour like she lived on lemons without sugar, the woman made every aspect of our check-in as difficult as possible from making Hafsa cut up her bra to take the wire out to refusing to let me take my prescription glasses into the visiting room.

“We only allow one pair.” She says. Do I need a doctor’s slip for the glasses, I ask, trying to understand such foolishness and then ignore her when the male police officer hands Hafsa scissors and she and I go into the bathroom to pull the wires out of her bra. That was hard.

Earlier the guard, the same woman asks Hafsa, who had surgery less than a week ago if she could remove her surgical bandages.


Yes, that's exactly what I thought when I heard the statement.

I was further harassed over my wrist brace and chest brace which I put in the locker. Later on, the same woman is in the visiting room and asks me over and over again if I lost my locker key when one is found on the floor. It wasn't mine. Yet, even while looking at mine which I put in the bag with my driver's license, she didn't believe me.

Check-in took about half an hour, so by the time the three of us got in, our 9 AMs had been waiting for a while and by the time 3 PM was rolling around, we only had 15 minutes left to treat the women to lunch and catch up on prison gossip –just kidding; it’s not gossip and the saga is real, like televised revolutions. The women have been waiting all day to meet with us. It was crazy, but the women were happy for those few moments. Leaving them there at 3 PM was hard especially on Good Friday where outside the visiting room cute cotton tailed bunnies frolicked, hip hopping on the neatly tailored lawn, CCWF surrounded by a grove of almonds the women tended and harvested yet couldn’t eat – an ethereal place out of time.

My first conversation was with a woman who is serving her 30th year, hair styled in a cute pageboy, long bangs in the front cut in a diagonal shape tapering to a point over her right ear; Carletha has been incarcerated since 19. Best friends with Debbie Peagler, subject of the new film, Crime After Crime, directed by Yoav Potash, screening at the San Francisco International Film Festival, Sunday, April 24, 6 PM at Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, in San Francisco; Wednesday, April 27, 6:30 PM at Pacific Film Archive, in Berkeley, and Monday, May 2, 9 PM at Sundance Kabuki, the two women met in court where Debbie took a plea and Carletha, did not.

"I had a court appointed attorney and didn't understand what the deal would mean. At the time of the crime, I was frightened and the men said they'd kill me if I told." She said of the men who were both older than her.

Debbie and Carletha asked to be transferred to CCWF from California Institute for Women (CIW) a prison in Southern California, because of their good educational programs. Carletha has two associate degrees, one from Patton College in theology (1994) and the more recent one from Feather River College (2011). She is looking to hear if FRC plans to start a bachelors program, so she can apply.

In the film Crime After Crime, one sees Debbie leading the choir at CCWF, Carletha spoke about Debbie's love of singing and the choir they established there. Now Carletha is working on expanding her release employment program GOSO or Get Out Stay Out for Southern Californian parolees with One Stop. GOSO collaborates with Work Net and has served over 450 women.

Right now, Carletha's sentence is indeterminate and each time she goes before the parole board she is denied. Many women prisoners are watching the contest of Marsy's Law/Proposition 9 (to be decided on this week) which if not overturned would give prison parole boards the ability to deny parole appeals for up to 15 years at a time. Marsy's Law also gives Victim's Rights Groups more influence on the outcome in parole hearings.

"In January 2011, the US Supreme Court issued a very disturbing decision that said prisoners have no constitutional right to parole, a sign that is might be more difficult to win writs for those sentenced to life without the possibility of parole (20 percent or 33,200 of the state's 166,000 prisoners). . . .In 2009, only 193 people of the thousands eligible were paroled. Many parole eligible prisoners have received release dates by filing writs in the courts, and 29 survivors of domestic violence have been released through the efforts of the Habeas Project and Free Battered Women" (The Fire Inside 5).

Marsy's Law and trends over the past 30 years also in California "to lock people up for longer and longer times at younger and younger ages, gang enhancements and young people tried as adults, are just a few examples of harsh sentencing laws resulting in the faces of the failed judicial system like Debbie Peagler and Carletha Stewart (The Fire Inside 5).

These visits to the women yield more issues than CCWP has qualified staff volunteers, read attorneys, to address. We are interested in university law students to serve as interns under the guidance of a qualified attorney to take such cases, especially for women who do not have family to advocate on their behalf, which is often the case.

Most of the women we saw were so happy to see us— warm hugs and smiles on all of our faces. For too many of the sixteen seen Friday, these embraces were the first ones many women had received in a long time, some since they'd been inside— as their families have not been to visit them.

Now I know the Pacific Northwest is not next door to Chowchilla nor is Los Angeles county; however, good grief can't a family member get up to see a mother or sister or lover once in two, ten or thirty years? I was floored by the quiet acceptance of the excuses these women have had to live with for so long.

The California prison system in conjunction often with community based organizations like Legal Services for Prisoners with Children and Ida McCray’s Families with a Future, have several programs with transportation to help women prisoners stay connected with family, and even with its flaws it is a ride. If a visit even one as short at 15 minutes is seen as invaluable, evident in the women's smiles and eagerness to share their stories, then one can imagine the joy a family member’s or loved one’s visit would bring.

One woman, Patricia “Breezy” Wright, reminded me to not forget her as she left the visiting room in her wheelchair. Breezy, who has been legally blind since age 17, was diagnosed with cancer at CCWF and has had multiple operations, another scheduled next week. She was arrested 17 years after the crime was committed and given life, which means she is not eligible for compassionate release, even though she is dying.

Women enter the gates at CCWF healthy and over the years develop spots on their lungs and tumors elsewhere— the county's water is contaminated with arsenic among other metals and toxic substances.

Breezy, who was battered by her former husband, will be sixty this summer and all she wants is to go home to be with her grandchildren. Professor Priscilla Ocen, JD, UCLA, writes in an article: “Punishing Pregnancy: Race, Incarceration and the Shacking of Pregnant Prisoners,” “that the regulation and punishment of Black women within these oppressive systems reinforced and reproduced stereotypes of Black women as deviant and dangerous and that these images in turn animate harsh practices against all women prisoners. The Eighth Amendment, the primary constitutional vehicle for challenging conditions of confinement, however, is insufficient to combat this problem at the structural level. This is so because of its focus on the subjective intentions of prison officials at the individual level and through its omission of any consideration of how race underlies institutional practices. Instead, this article suggests an expanded reading of the Eighth Amendment and the “evolving standards of decency” language which undergirds the “cruel and unusual punishments” clause. This expanded reading, which this article refers to as the “Antisubordination Approach,” draws upon Justice Harlan’s oft-cited dissent in Plessy v. Ferguson and his underappreciated reading of the Thirteenth Amendment to argue that conditions of confinement which result from or are related to repudiated mechanisms of racial domination should be deemed cruel and unusual punishment” (abstract).

To deny a woman who is dying from cancer is certainly cruel and unusual punishment. Breezy spoke about how not just pregnant women are shackled, women who are hospitalized for illness are also shackled. I wasn’t clear if she was shackled as well, pre and post surgery. A tiny woman, now wheelchair bound, where would she go?

It doesn’t make any sense even if it made sense to shackle a person with limited mobility and legally blind. I was really happy to meet Breezy who told the story of her younger grandson (8) who told her he was going to get a job to buy her a lovely bouquet for her funeral. He said she could take the flowers to heaven too.

When she started crying. He asked why, “You’re not dead yet.”

I was speechless. What a way to remember one’s grandmother, locked up behind bars, sick and dying.

When Breezy was snatched from her life and her children’s lives, they were still minors and with no one to support them except an older sibling. They all became homeless, even though their mother owned the home they lived in—greedy aunts and uncles took their home and kicked them out.

The children who lived in shelters, have an older brother who enlisted in the military and once discharged brought his siblings together again and put the younger ones through college while providing stability and shelter for the others. Breezy beams when she states how her kids maintained high GPAs despite the difficult circumstances.

Her story and that of all the women I spoke to Good Friday exemplify the cost of incarceration on the families left behind. They are incarcerated too. The historic and contemporary cost of separating parents from their children, boys and girls, is immeasurable, yet it keeps occurring especially to black women in legally sanctioned slavery or incarceration—look at other similarities besides separation like the forced Cesarean sections on pregnant prisoners and the accelerated adoption— read theft or sale of these children without parental permissions. This is a major travesty of the rule of law, plus ethical and moral standards which are nearly impossible to mend once the child is gone for the birth mother and for society—an impact which is not being measured adequately nor often enough.

The film Juvies, dir. Leslie Neale, 66 min., which will be screening at Eastside Arts Cultural Center, 2277 International Blvd., in Oakland, 7-9 PM, Friday, May 13, 2011, addresses some of these issues.

Friday, April 22, I saw a young friend who has been in prison since 16, first offense. Hakim didn’t kill anyone and the person harmed didn’t want her to spend her life behind bars; she like other teens, especially runaways, was intimidated by an older man and threatened with death if she didn’t carry out his wishes.

In our judicial system, it states “the people of California,” but the people of California don’t really have a say in the execution of justice. The East Side event is a free and wheelchair accessible.

The California Coalition for Women Prisoners regularly visits young women like Hakim and trans folk sentenced as adults for crimes they were involved in before they were 18. Some of these people are sentenced to life without the possibility of parole (LWOP). Several women CCWP visits are featured in the film.

This event is being organized in collaboration with women organizing inside prisons in California, and the evening will include some of their writing.

The film will be followed by a moderated discussion with community groups, youth organizers, formerly incarcerated community members, and local activists who will share ideas on how to work together to stop the criminalization of youth, particularly youth of color, to learn about the recent SB9 legislation, to meet with different groups, and get updates on current youth justice campaigns and connect with continuing actions.

Breezy spoke about certain classifications, such as in her case, life without the possibility of parole that keep prisoners behind bars who are dying like herself from soliciting compassionate release. She said Debbie’s sentence was changed from life without the possibility of parole to manslaughter before the decisive parole board hearing. She spoke of another legal angle she is investigating, Senate Bill 1399 which looks at the cost to the state for certain prisoners when it would be cheaper to let them go. Right now, Breezy said, a hospital stay is $1700.00 a day. This doesn’t take into consideration additional costs for operations like the one coming up April 27 or 28.

Wearing a blue cap over a closely cropped smooth head of hair, which she said was growing back since her chemotherapy treatment, she showed me the valve in her chest above her breast bone where the medicine is poured into her body. I wondered at her ability to undergo so many surgeries—her body she said a scarred tapestry. Another mastectomy follows the liver operation—cancer spreading throughout her body, yet at Stage 4, she is denied compassion? When I mentioned to Breezy what I learned about this compassion-with-strings release, that is, if the former prisoner doesn’t die or lives too long after the release, she can be re-imprisoned, she just laughed.

Breezy speaks briefly about forgiveness—forgiving her siblings who are responsible for her imprisonment and her children’s suffering. I sit and watch her wheel herself away. We thought I’d have to get escorted to the Skilled Nursing Facility (SNF) ward to visit her, when she came to the visiting room to see us. Spunky lady indeed (smile).

Carletha Stewart writes in a poem she gave me entitled: Debbie, Mehserle and Me, “Oh I am disappointed, frustrated, and lack the understanding of why Debbie, Mehserle and Me, [were] accused of murder yet our system treated us all so differently.

“Debbie got 25 to life for murder for the death of her abuser, 20 plus years later our injustice system would agree and allow Debbie to change her plea to a lesser charge this would be. Then they change their minds can you believe.

“Heartache, stress, disappointment, frustration, anger, resentment, is what Debbie felt but those emotions are nothing compared to what would come next.

“Debbie was diagnosed with Lung Cancer in the fourth stage; let her go home dear Lord is what I prayed. On August 21, 2009, with very little time left to live Debbie was released from prison after serving 23 years. At least she will be free so what is the difference between Debbie (Peagler), (Johannes) Mehserle, and Me.”

Carletha had a motorcycle accident and the resulting injury gave her little to no use of her left arm. Given this disability, she has been able to get assigned to the lower bunk, until recently. She also was able to get an extra mattress, since she also has carpal tunnel in her right wrist and arm. Just in looking at the prison order denying accommodation, where the official acknowledges the prisoner’s disability status as he denies her accommodation, illustrates the arbitrary and unconstitutional violation these women prisoners experience day after day, year after year.

Carletha, like Breezy, has a sister who is tireless in her work to free her loved one. The women are lucky, but when a person is locked inside a prison, luck is an abstract concept one has to redefine to fit the circumstances.

I think all of the women I visited were from Southern California with families dispersed throughout the Pacific Coast, one sibling in the Pacific Northwest. What worried me about what I learned this visit was the high number of women with tumors detected when the women prisoners were in their 40s and 50s, all the women with no prior family history of cancer.

One prisoner, a cervical cancer survivor, who entered with this condition, has been repeatedly denied the follow-up therapies to make her completely functional again, the repeated denial based on prejudicial thinking about the uses of one’s vagina. Why pray tell should a vagina be functional?

Since the 2010 surgery, the prisoner has had PAP Smears every 90 days. Because of the limited to almost no vaginal opening, the procedure is bloody and painful for the patient.

I was shocked –-okay, I shock easily—no, do not bring cords or chargers, when the prisoner told me that the male official blocking her therapy at CCWF told her that “a penis was a dilator,” we discussed legal suits as an option. She will be out perhaps in July or August.

Another prisoner, Lee Ann, expressed her fear of going for months not knowing the results of lab tests; tests doctors routinely order and then take months to let patients know the results of. “One minute a person is alive and the next thing you hear is so and so died. I don’t want to die in here.” She said.

Lee Ann spoke of physicians who call her on the phone and then start talking and have to stop because they don’t have the right chart. California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is going digital with prison records, medical included, but in the meantime, charts seem to be hard to keep track of for some reason. Lee Ann spoke of the physicians’ eagerness to prescribe medications based on symptoms, such as asthma which she doesn’t have but was prescribed when she reported shortness of breath. The same is true for the stiffness in her hip.

“I don’t want to take all these medications,” she stated. “I just want to know what’s wrong.” So she refuses the medication which is sent back.

In the prison system one doesn’t have a doctor who follows one’s treatment or care for the duration of the procedure both Le Ann and Breezy told me. After six months, one might find a completely new doctor on the case unfamiliar with one’s history. The medical information delays can be a number of things from the physician simply not knowing and having to do the research to prison apathy, costs to the state, or institutional prejudice both racial and gender—all or some of these; however, the consequences are the same across the board, women suffer and often die.

Why are so many women prisoners dying of cancer? Lee Ann said just the day before we met, April 21, another woman prisoner was diagnosed with spots on her lungs. She is also a person who has been incarcerated for a long time—in her case 30 years. Is there environmental pollution or a slow poisoning of these women, either intentionally or through neglect of the population to explain the cancers?

Lee Ann said her doctor asked her if she’d ever worked in a mine or around asbestos. She didn’t even know what asbestos was and how she might have been exposed, so I shared what I knew of the substance since my step-father, Snow Banks in his work in the shipyards and factories after WW2 was exposed to such and it ultimately killed him.

Breezy suspected and asked about the Optelec 20/20 machine, PC US Serial # 9812 BD 1102, which she used to enlarge text for her legal defense work for the 16-17 years she has been at CCWF. The doctors said the cancer in her chest looked like something had been eating away at her tissue for a long period of time. Repeated letters to the manufacturer went unaddressed, but certainly the empirical evidence points to the correlation between the two— Optelec 20/20 and her cancer.

When I looked at the machine on line, that model is no longer in use and has been updated The older model is available at and elsewhere. I wonder if Optelec 20/20 sellers know its hazards. I wonder why no one in product safety responded to her queries, yet, the prison I believe ceased using it and Breezy uses a kursweil-type software program which reads to her.

Cruel and unusual punishment doesn’t even come close to describe these women’s suffering, from medical malfeasance to a blatant judicial disregard and disrespect for the rights of another human being. These women who certainly exhibit a stoic, often sad resignation to their circumstances, need to know they are not forgotten or alone.

The last woman I visited with Good Friday, which was also Mother Earth Day after shopping in the prison café, née vending machines, for in her case, a cheese burger, candy bar and soft drink read with pleasure a note Zoe (CCWP) sent to her in her file. She told me about her children, whom her brother is taking care of whom she hasn’t seen in all the years she has been at Central California Women’s Facility. Another woman prisoner said her daughters told her they didn’t want to see her locked up. We met a grandmother who wants to get a message to her granddaughter also at CCWF. All I could think of is Cheryl Dunye's film (2001), Stranger Inside, where this child commits a crime, so she can meet her mother who is incarcerated.

All I could think about in both cases is no matter how depressing one feels either before or later on, at least we can go home. No matter how bad it looks we can leave and the woman prisoner cannot evident in the tight hold each of them has on her memories of the last visit, the last letter, the last phone call. If family members only knew how much a visit means, even if it is just once a year to someone who is locked inside these walls—perhaps the excuses would then turn into action and perhaps get individual and collective butts on a bus, in a car, on a plane.

One woman said how her parents would bring her kids to visit and the kids would refuse to come in, that they would sit in the car while their grandparents visited with their mother. I can’t even imagine how that memory feels.

From lost jobs to high GPAs and kids and busy schedules, the families have to know that without these women many or them would not be here, despite a slip or fall or a tumble, and that even if mom is a recovering heroin addict, she is still mom and no matter how much she says she understands, her heart really doesn’t. And those of us who are not family we can adopt these women, many who will never see the outside of a prison wall ever again.

So why am I so hard on the apathetic family members and those of us with time to lend a hand, yet don’t? I was one of the children with a parent behind bars from birth. When I was a baby, my mother, who was a minor too, couldn’t take me to see my father, but later when my father was incarcerated again for defending his home in San Francisco with a hatchet –the SFPD came back with reinforcements and took him away, our guardian who came to get us—we were at home alone, took us to see him.

I guess Daddy used his one phone call to call the Rashids. I don’t remember the details. I just know they came to get my brother and me soon afterward which was great, because I was worried and didn’t know where Daddy had gone or if he was alive. I had read a lot of books about police and saw what they’d done to the Black Panthers and the Black Muslims, plus I had an active imagination.

I’ve been there. I was nervous going to a jail, but that’s where my Daddy was and I wanted to see him and make sure he was okay. And shortly thereafter, he was home. I also remember my mother getting picked up for driving my father’s car with expired registration and her hysteria over being in jail until my father went to the station to fix it. I think she called me from the jail and again, I didn’t know what to do. Parents take care of their kids, not vice versa. But Daddy fixed it, and Mama came home.

It is disruptive to one’s state of being and feelings of security not having one’s parents at home whether one is two, ten or fifteen. No one dreams of imprisonment or should I say no one I knew dreamed of imprisonment when I was a child. I know I never saw it as a natural state or a rite of passage for anyone. Still don’t.

California Coalition for Women Prisoners has volunteer opportunities, from letter writing to visitation to advocacy for skilled and unskilled volunteers. Call (415) 255-7036 ext.4 or visit Meetings are on the first and third Wednesday of every month at 6 PM, 1540 Market Street, Ste.490, in San Francisco.

Whatever happened to "don't speak ill of the dead?"

I so agree with Dr. Karenga's assessment of Manning Marable's posthumos critique of Malcolm X's life. In the LA Sentinel April 21, 2011, article entitled: "Reinventing Malcolm with Marable: Pursuing Pathology by Another Name," Karenga has taken the words literally out of my mouth. I am so pleased that he does not second the opinions and critiques of the New York Times and other journalists such as --believe it or not, Mumia Abu Jamal, who salute Marable's efforts. I didn't have the language--okay now I know it is called "deconstructionist." I called it defamation of character, a character Ossie Davis called "our prince," a character my students from East Africa, Somalia, said they knew and emulated as kids, looked up to as a hero.

This evening I attended a conversation with two scholars and authors, Belvie Rooks and Joy DeGruy, Ph.D., about the effects of enslavement on its descendant population--we are speaking of Post Traumatic Slavery Syndrome. In her lecture preceding the talk back with the audience and Rooks, DeGruy gave many examples of behaviors --behaviors learned or adopted on the plantations which we still exhibit, such as self-flagellation where we do not praise our own, especially to others, translate: white people.

Alex Haley's Malcolm X, for all the chapters left out, is still a man to be admired --Haley's Malcolm isn't perfect and perhaps this is one of the reasons why we love him as much as we do. Ever evolving, the character who goes by many names, among them: Malcolm Little, Malcolm X and El Hajj Malik El Shabazz, shows us how we always have a choice and we can always choose to do better once we realize what that better choice is.

I said earlier this month that Marable's passing on the eve of his book's publication was similar to August Wilson's death after he completed his final play in the 100 year cycle of ten plays--his work was complete.However, this is where the similarity ceases. Wilson is resting in peace, I'm sure, but Marable?

To have as one's final work, one long anticipated at that, a tome which maligns as it expands what we know about El Hajj Malik . . .what an epitat.

Why such an epithet?

The word humanize is used so much when one hears talk of the Marable book. What does this mean?

Dr. DeGruy says that the tendency of black people to praise and then defame the very person they once seemed so proud of has its roots in plantation culture. When the master tells a parent his son is growing up to be a responsible young boy, the mother or father might say, "Oh no sir! Toby is shiftless and always goofing off. I am always after him with a switch." This child is a model of industry, but the parents would never praise their child in front of the master. The child would increase in value and could be sold away.

It is the same with Malcolm X. Although I don't understand the market or the exchange value, obviously Marable was using a certain currency in the academic market place--Malcolm in his pocket, or so he thought. Scholars publish original work, that is something required in these ivory sans ebony towers. Malcolm X: A Life of Re-Invention certainly is new information, whether or not it furthers of enlarges the discourse in a significant way, remains to be seen.

I don't see child soldiers in Somalia reading Marable, but I do see them picking up Haley. So who is Marable's audience? Did he want to facilitate a national debate or one between scholars. Already the more inflammatory aspect of this deconstruction are what everyone is talking about--the entire book reduced to these few points,the rest ignored at least so far.

Don't worry, if there is anything salvageable in the biography, which I was looking forward to reading this week I was off, I will certainly let readers know, when I write my review (smile).

We have few black heroes in the public domain---yes, with stamps: Martin King and Malcolm X. Two men who are posed as antithesis even antagonists, when in fact they had more in common that differences. It is the same argument and deconstruction, an ongoing argument regarding the philosophical differences between Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. De Bois. It is this deconstruction that killed Marcus Garvey. This western strategy of carving out the heart and then expecting the body to continue to function without soul, is what is killing America now.

Death isn't even final; the FBI kill the man and then dig him up and shoot him full of holes again. The devil's work, it is said, is never done, but God's work lasts.

Brother Malcolm's life will rise above the present attempts to "humanize" him.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

East Oakland Summit on Human Trafficking at Allen Temple Baptist Church, Saturday, April 9, 2011

Saturday, April 9, 2011, the Allen Temple Community Room was overflowing with individuals interested in the crisis on Oakland streets, a street many had to cross that morning upon arrive, International Blvd., formerly, E-14th Street. The only international aspect of International Blvd. is perhaps its sex trafficking, which is global crisis similar to the Transatlantic slave trade, legally abolished 146 years ago in this country.

Almost a year ago to date, Victory Outreach Ministries hosted a rally in downtown Oakland called, Hear Our Cry, in support of recent legislation sponsored by Assemblyman Sandre Swanson. This event, organized by a woman who'd been trafficked and prostituted herself, was well attended despite the intermittent rain and wind. It drew those who were affected and impacted by this issue, as well as those who wanted to help.

Saturday, April 9, at the Summit, a mother who'd been trafficked testified and asked for help finding her daughter who'd been abducted and was on the streets now. Jim Saleda of the Oakland Police Department's Child Exploitation and Vice Unit, told her he'd seen her daughter three years ago, and that photos helped tremendously in locating these abducted children.

Just off a late night shift, 1 AM, Saleda, who spoke last year, said though he goes after the perpetrators or johns, the criminals in these acts of violence against these youngsters, often there is no where for the girls to go--a safe place for them to go, so a prison cell becomes law enforcements only alternative.

The despair in his voice is palatable when he tells the story of a young girl he rescues and then can't find anywhere for her to stay, so she goes back on the streets and the next time their paths cross, she is dead, her mutilated body in Mosswood Park.

"We stack the charges," he explained. "Statutory rape, lewd acts with a minor . . ." Ofc. Saleda said, to make the sentence longer and there have been recent successes--he cites a case where a john got 25 or more years. This makes potential clients think about the consequences if caught, but the laws are still not frighteningly strong enough on a consistent basis.

I arrived just in time for the musical selection, I missed the opening prayer and synopsis of Legislation AB12, California Fostering Connections to Success Act,introduced by Assembly Members Beall and Bass, which would compensate relatives who take care of children whose parents are unable to take care of them, as well as increase funding and support for children in all cases past 18 to at least 21 years of age; and AB90 which supported by Assemblyman Swanson, states on his legislative page that this bill would decriminalize the children involved in sex trafficking and bring California laws in line with federal standards. This bill also includes funding for community based organizations that provide support to victims of sexual trafficking, organizations such as: Motivating, Inspiring, Supporting, ans Serving Sexually Exploited Youth or MISSSEY, whose director, Nola Brantley, formerly trafficked herself, offered the keynote address.

Brantley, who Rev. Harry Louis Williams, II, refers to as "our Harriet Tubman," gave a polished and provocative speech highlighting the specifics of who is targeted and why so many black and brown girls are victimized. She spoke about the stages of seduction and how these girls, many in foster care, others living in extreme poverty whether that is physical or emotional or spiritual, are vulnerable to predators who capitalize on this vulnerability. These children with minimal to no support from a caring adult at home too often become trapped and subsequently enslaved.

There are many parallels between trafficked children and victims of domestic violence, Brantley stated, as she continued with the various stages: seduction or the courting stage, where the girl feels special, even if that special feeling is eventually tied to her sexual ability, to isolation where the violence begins, the notion of violence tied to the rape and sexual violation as well as beatings most girls endure and fear, the coercion and again violence as a stage by itself.

The impact of this violence on the girls was hammered home as Brantley read statements from these Commercially Sexually Exploited Children (CSEC) who talked about what this abuse, what this intimate soul searing violation, what this enslavement felt like.

Then the next keynote after a short recess, where I walked around and met organizers and picked up literature and signed petitions, Melissa Farley, Ph.D., Executive Director, Prostitution Research and Education, carried the ball Nola Brantley tossed her across the finish line as she spoke about high profile cases and the work her organization is doing to halt this abuse. She spoke of interviews with johns and shared their depictions and justification of the violence against girls both nationally and internationally. She also spoke about a model of prevention the Swedish government, where buying sex is a felony, which has been successful in halting the enslavement and exploitation of girls and women.

Farley showed how boys are conditioned to believe girls are commodities who can be bought and sold. She mentioned video games like Grand Theft Auto where one scores points if one kills a prostitute or sets up a strip club. She mentioned the messages sent to society when politicians are caught soliciting sex and are not prosecuted like Democratic New York Governor Eliot Spitzer who patronized a prostitution service called Emperors Club VIP, which ultimately led him to announce his resignation as governor on March 12, effective March 17, and now President Obama's friend, Robert Richard Titcomb, 49, of Waialua busted just this week. (The two men go back to childhood days at Punahou School.)

Titcomb and three other men were arrested in a reverse sting operation Monday, April 4, 2011. All the men were booked and released on $500-$1000 bail. Just the language of the story criminalizes the women and girls, the police response to commercial business complaints in downtown Honolulu about sex trafficking. "The maximum punishment for prostitution as a petty misdemeanor is 30 days in jail and a $500 fine", according to

Swanson states: "There are an estimated 800,000 human beings trafficked for domestic, labor, and sex slavery each year, both internationally and domestically. This number is ten times the number at the peak of the trans-Atlantic slave trade in the 1700s. People today are sold for a few hundred dollars, compared to the equivalent of up to $30,000 in the 18th century. This cheap price for victims coupled with easy access and little chance of prosecution has made this modern day form of slavery one of the most lucrative of crimes.

Brantley spoke of the stigma which is a barrier to the commercially sexually exploited child's ability to leave. The girls interpret the pimp's attention as love and as masters at what they do, these men and sometimes women understand the development stages these girls are in and use this knowledge to capture them and then often use the girls to snare peers.

It was a heavy morning; perhaps I should have had breakfast beforehand or something, all I know is afterward I was so mentally and emotionally exhausted I went home and couldn't move. I had planned to enjoy the sunny day by going for a walk or bike ride, getting by the black quilt exhibit at Niles Hall at Preservation Park, then trying to catch one last Food Event with Amara Tabor Smith at the Tenderloin National Forest, before her performance at CounterPulse April 14-28, 2011, and then riding a BART stop past Civic Center to catch a closing weekend film at the SF Women's International Film Festival at the Roxie Cinema Center.

I ended up reading a book I picked up at the Summit, Straight Outta East Oakland 2: Trapped on the Track, a novel, by Rev. Harry Louis Williams II. Talk about a page turner, I started the book in my driveway as I enjoyed the ultraviolet rays and then continued over black bean soup with left over summer squash and bok choy. When I finished the 182 pages, I fell into a restless slumber filled with images of girls and women trapped in this socially sanctioned institution.

Williams is a part of "The Allen Temple Baptist Church Street Disciples," established by Rev. J. Alfred Smith Jr., who was present at the summit, a quiet presence, so quiet I wondered if it really was him (smile). Williams's novel, part of a series the multi-talented writer and spoken word artist has written to highlight issues affecting his constituency and offer a way out via subtle messages in this case through reformed gangsters and their friends who are still in the "game" but not oblivious to its consequences or alternatives to this life choice. His protagonist, Firstborn and his best friend, Drama, co-founded a gang called the Black Christmas Mob in East Oakland.

When we meet Firstborn, he has left the gang violence for higher education. It has been a year and he is buried in his books and new life, his old life not forgotten just not a part of his current trajectory. He thinks no one knows who he is and what crimes he is complicit, at least this is what he thinks when he opens the door to Ms. Holmes--his past, and so his atonement journey begins.

Firstborn returns to Oakland, this time armed with a new philosophy, nonviolence, to try to rescue his niece, Crayon, who is a commercially sexually trafficked minor. It is here the healing begins as Firstborn reconnects with his brother Drama whom he needed to speak to about a rift based on betrayal. His return is an opportunity to mend or at least repair a debt to his deceased girlfriend, a life he could have perhaps saved. Lastly, his return allows Firstborn to understand how when he is ready he can take his knowledge of the gang culture and use it to help men like the pastor, Reverend Ray, whom he meets through his mentor Oliver, better serve the Oakland community.

Williams characters whose names say more than any character analysis: Phenomenal and his brother Black Hole, Drama and his brother Ready, Mamacide and Crayon, Knock Out, Virus, War Thug Li'l Murda, Cobra.

Straight Outta 2 also shows how boys, former friends are made into enemies and how wars are started based on this often public humiliation. Williams's character Firstborn takes liberties with Drama, no one else would because they are brothers in all but blood, yet even though he speaks out against Drama's drama and questions the sanity of his choices which appear to be at times suicidal, nothing changes, at least that is the appearance.

But later on, we see that though structurally the gang life style, that is, Black Christmas Mob is what it is, Drama and by extension his posse, do hear Firstborn and in turn Firstborn, who is about as nonjudgmental as a former gang member can get, lets his buddies who are still in the life guide him in a journey into a world he is no longer familiar with to save Crayon's life. Visit

The language is clean and message clear, so crystal clear, I highly recommend Straight Outta East Oakland 2 for middle school children 10 years old and up. It would be a great book for a city reads project like that in Berkeley and San Francisco where there is an FBI office devoted to sexual trafficking. I first heard of the FBI office in San Francisco devoted to sexual trafficking, when I attended a performance many years ago about Harriet Tubman at a small theatre in San Francisco and then again at Love Center Ministries in Oakland. It was a one woman show, and the playwright/actress made the connection between the abolitionist movement then and that now--the continued enslavement and sexual exploitation of women and girls, who as Nola Brantley stated Saturday, at the Summit on Human Trafficking, look like us--black women.

"Children are particularly vulnerable to this manipulative crime, sometimes being forced into sexual slavery through promises of work opportunities or through other forms of emotional bribery. Although California’s prosecutors have been outraged over the blatant exploitation and abuse of minors, they are constrained by a
limitation in California law. AB 90 will fix this problem", Representative Swanson states on his website.

"While federal law is clear that prosecutors do not have to prove force or coercion when a trafficking victim is under the age of 18, state law is vague regarding force or coercion. State law specifically states that it is intended to conform to federal law, but at the same time, state law requires a showing of force or coercion. This
ambiguity hinders prosecutors from prosecuting traffickers to the fullest extent possible and also fails to recognize the role that mental manipulation plays in human trafficking."

"AB 90 will also allow prosecutors to implement the fines and forfeiture provisions passed in AB 17, providing funding to community-based organizations supporting sexually exploited minors."

AB 90 and the companion legislation, AB 12 seem to be laws Californians need to get behind and pass ASAP, so drop your legislators a note and follow up with a call. Just this afternoon, as I drove up International Blvd. I saw yet another sexually exploited girl soliciting.

I was happy with the follow-up event, almost a year later. The last event was on Good Friday, the 2011 date approaching soon. Other organizations present included as already mentioned: Victory Outreach of Oakland,, (510) 905-6450, The SAGE Project or Standing Against Global Exploitation,, (415) 905-5050, and GEMS or Girls Educating and Mentoring Services,; Free At Last--A Child Sex Trafficking & Secual Abuse Abolition Series by Dawn E. Worswick,, (408) 841-2700; Deborah O'Neal's "The House of Ruth," (510) 562-1593, AAO: Against All Odds,, Twilight Treasures Outreach, Sista'D, (510) 677-6364, Polaris Project: For a World Without Slavery, a part of the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC), 1-888-3737-888,, also The project takes its name from the North Star that guided enslaved Africans to freedom; Milestones 4 My Journey: A Girls Rite of Passage Program at Allen Temple Baptist Church Family Life Center, Room C214, Rev. Barbara Jim-George, M.Div. Executive Director, (510) 532-7150,; the International Justice Mission,,, (510) 473-7283; and

Oakland Local ran a series of eight articles on sex trafficking: