Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Over 2,000 March and Rally in San Diego for $15 Minimum Wage

SDSU Event One of 230 in a Nationwide Mobilization April 15

by MARK GABRISH CONLAN

Copyright © 2015 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

Teachers and Students United

Rev. Cornelius Bowser and Mark Jones

Rallying the Crowd

Upside-Down Sign

United Domestic Workers

Clapper and Fist in the Air

Lyrical Groove hip-hop band opened the program

In All Languages

Fight for $15 for All

Richard Barrera (center)

Rev. Beth Hansen (center)

Taking It to the Streets

Reclaiming SDSU for Justice

April 15, 2015 was more than just the day federal and state income taxes were due. A nationwide mobilization bringing together labor unions, faith-based groups, civil-rights organizations for people of color, and student and teacher groups staged actions in 230 U.S. cities to highlight the growing inequality of wealth and income in this country and propose a $15 per hour minimum wage as one part of a solution. Various events were held throughout San Diego, including an informal march through North Park at 7:30 a.m., but the big rally and march were scheduled for 4 p.m. at the vast plaza that serves as the entrance to San Diego State University (SDSU).
Organizers of the SDSU event put together an unusual rally program. Instead of inviting elected officials and prominent community leaders, they used ordinary workers to tell their tales of how hard it is to live on today’s wages. Richard Barrera, secretary-treasurer of the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Federation, led off the program, but he was virtually the only traditional “community leader” on it.
Barrera explained that the “Fight for 15” movement being pushed at the rally began with the heroic struggles of workers at fast-food restaurants, many of whom lost income and put their jobs at risk by picketing their employers during business hours demanding minimum-wage increases. “These courageous fast-food workers are now joined by the United Domestic Workers (UDW), United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), janitors, laborers, construction workers and people all over the labor movement. Our message — the fight for a living wage and to organize and join a union — is a struggle the public supports.” Barrera called the “Fight for 15” movement “the rebirth of the labor movement, the middle class and democracy.”
“All my life, I thought if I worked hard I’d get what I worked for,” said Sarah Martin, adjunct professor of English at San Diego City College. “I went to college, got a master’s degree and accumulated $60,000 in student loans, but there just aren’t that many jobs for teachers.” Martin said that 25 percent of adjunct professors — who not only get paid considerably less per class unit they teach but don’t have tenure or any other guarantees of job security — “are enrolled in at least one public-assistance program.”
Another professor, Alberto Macias, said he has to have three jobs to make ends meet: a part-time lecturer at SDSU, an adjunct at City College and a staff position at the Centro Cultural de la Raza in Balboa Park. He said his pay at SDSU is $63 per hour — but only for 10 hours per month, no matter how much time he actually puts in at his job. He linked his own struggle to the decline of the percentage of American workers in unions, which was 20 percent 20 years ago and is now just 11 percent. “The union jobs have left the country,” he said.
According to Macias, universities are doing major cost-shifting that’s harming both teachers and students. “More universities and colleges are taxing students with the bill for their education,” he explained. “Education should not be for sale. It’s a fundamental right. Especially in the U.S., with the greatest accumulation of wealth in the world, education should be free.” Macias said the U.S. could easily afford to fund a college education for all students who could benefit from one if it cut back its defense budget and abandoned its imperialist agenda overseas.
Macias was followed by Jeanette Corona, an SDSU senior who talked about her own struggles to survive and stay in school. “We need to raise wages, roll back fees and end student poverty,” she said. “I’ve struggled with my housing. I’ve had to manage my bank account very carefully because I don’t know how I’m going to get food the next day. I’ve been told it’s all my fault, that I should just take out another student loan. I don’t want another loan; I want everyone who’s been humiliated and shushed to stand up. Education is a right, not a privilege.”
“I’m 22 years old, an undocumented immigrant, Chicano and Queer,” said another SDSU student, Jesus Daniel Mandel Carvajal. “The issue is larger than us. Students are exploited daily and have to take one, two, even three low-wage jobs to survive. I don’t just want to survive; I want to thrive.” Carvajal said he spoke for “folks who don’t have access to health care and have to take pill after pill to cope with their headaches, heartaches and soulaches; folks who can’t afford good food and have to resort to 99-cent noodles. We must hold this university and others like it accountable to providing job protections and living wages.”
The program also featured people in more traditional “working-class” jobs, including janitors Ricardo Cortez and Rosa Lopez. “I live paycheck by paycheck, and that’s not making it for me,” said Cortez, a member of the Service Employees’ International Union (SEIU). “We as union members need to stand up and fight.”
“Everyone who works hard deserves to make a good wage and be treated with respect,” said Lopez, who like Cortez is a janitor represented by SEIU. “I work 365 days a year. I can’t afford to miss a day. I have to decide what bills to pay. I go to school, work seven days a week and take care of my family. That makes this work really hard.”
Contrary to the stereotype many people have that the only workers making minimum wage are young people just entering the labor force, the rally presented single parents — both women and men — who are trying to support their families on minimum-wage jobs.
“I have three children, and the money I make is just not enough,” said hotel worker Joanne Corona. “It’s a very hard, difficult job. They pay us every two weeks and give us barely enough to make the rent. We still have other bills, including gas, food and clothes. Our children ask for recreation that we can’t afford to give them. I am a single mother because the Border Patrol assassinated my husband. Sometimes I have to leave my children alone at home because I can’t afford day care. That’s why I’m in unity with you. We need a dignified salary because it is a heavy workload.”
“I’m a single dad with three children,” said Armando Teyes. “I’m a veteran. Many of us have been deployed and come back unemployed and homeless. We are protecting our rights in this community. Many veterans may not know it’s important to continue the fight.”
Among the most aggressive supporters of “Fight for 15” are the in-home caregivers for people with disabilities. They are represented by the United Domestic Workers (UDW), a strong participant in the “Fight for 15” coalition. [Full disclosure: this author is an in-home caregiver under the public In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) program and makes $9.85 per hour taking care of three clients.]
“I’ve been a proud member of the union since 2012,” said Victoria Lara. “Before that I was a food worker, so this fight really hits home for me. You work hard and are paid so little because they can get away with it. I get $9.85 per hour for three clients, including a quadraplegic. Don’t we all deserve dignity? Yes, we do. Today I am proud to stand with all workers. We will tell the corporate CEO’s, lawmakers and university officials we will continue to fight for a union for all workers.”
Doug Moore, executive director of the San Diego local of the UDW, also spoke. “Home-care providers make an average of $10 per hour,” he explained. “We’ve been in negotiations with the County of San Diego for two years for us to get a 25-cent raise. Rallies are good, but we need to make broad changes that will take control of this country and take our democracy back.”
Mark Jones, president of the Black Students’ Coalition at SDSU, made the connection between Martin Luther King’s well-known commitment to civil rights for African-Americans and his much less-known work for economic equality and labor rights. (When King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee in April 1968, he was there to support a strike by municipal garbage workers against the city.) “As Martin Luther King realized, you cannot have social justice without economic justice,” Jones said. “Social and economic justice are the same thing to me.”
The faith community was represented by Reverend Beth Hansen of the Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice (IFCWJ) and Pastor Cornelius Bowser of Charity Apostolic Church in Santee. “You are not alone,” said Rev. Hansen. “Faith communities stand with you. Clergy stand with you. We are fighting together because this is a struggle for all of us. This is a wave that will not stop because it is a struggle for justice. The stories we’ve told today are accounts of the battle for justice. Everyone who works should be able to live with dignity. No one should be forced to live in their cars.” Rev. Hansen said she’d already committed civil disobedience last September to awaken the consciences of corporate officials, and promised she’d do more.
“In 19 years as a pastor, I’ve seen people doing two or three jobs and not being able to participate in the community,” said Rev. Bowser. “A low-wage worker is like a man in water up to his nose. If anything happens, they will drown. I’m proud to be with all of you to stand and fight for $15. Low-wage jobs and irregular work schedules hurt our families. Parents can’t participate in their children’s lives. In my church I have a parent of two children who works at a fast-food restaurant, and after nine years she still makes barely more than minimum wage. She needs a roommate to survive.”
After Carvajal’s presentation — which he billed as a “poem/speech” — the organizers led the crowd on a march through the SDSU campus and onto the streets. The mood was determined, and the sight of wave after wave of people — many of them dressed in purple, blue, green or red shirts with the logos of the organizations they were in — pouring through SDSU’s hallways and under arches emblazoned with the names of 1-percenters who’d donated to the university was inspiring. After the march toured the campus, it hit College Avenue and poured into the streets. Though attendance at the 4 p.m. start of the rally had been sparse, enough people joined it in progress that by the time the group was ready to march, over 2,000 people were on hand to support a $15 per hour minimum wage and basic justice for working people.

Monday, April 06, 2015

Class War in San Diego?

Councilmember Gloria Attacks Business Community’s Use of Referenda to Reverse Progressive City Legislation

by MARK GABRISH CONLAN

Copyright © 2015 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

San Diego City Councilmember Todd Gloria

Out of all the issues facing San Diego — ensuring livable incomes and affordable housing, fixing the city’s infrastructure, restoring cuts in city services, expanding the Convention Center, keeping (or not keeping) the San Diego Chargers in town — City Councilmember Todd Gloria named “reforming the referendum” as the most important political concern when he spoke March 26 at the predominantly Queer San Diego Democrats for Equality in Hillcrest. He admitted that to most of his audiences, this is pretty much insider baseball — “mostly when I talk about this issue, the group is pretty uninitiated,” he said — but he stressed that the achievements of the hard-won Democratic City Council majority are at risk from Right-wing business interests who can spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on referendum campaigns to get them reversed.
The referendum is the flip side of the coin from the initiative, which far more Californians are familiar with because it’s the source of the long lists of propositions that frequently clutter up the state’s ballots. The initiative allows citizens to write their own laws, overriding elected legislatures, if they can get enough signatures to put them on the ballot and get a majority of voters to cast ballots for them. The referendum allows voters to overturn a law already passed by a legislature. If the referendum organizers get enough signatures to put a law on the ballot, the legislature that passed the law in the first place has two options. Either they can repeal it themselves, or they can put it before voters — and if the voters choose to override their representatives’ decision, out it goes.
Along with the recall — the ability of voters to circulate a petition to get rid of a sitting elected official and have another election to replace them — the referendum and initiative were originally added to the California state constitution as part of Hiram Johnson’s reform movement in 1912. Back then, they were sold as ways for citizens to attack the power of well-financed special interests in general, and the Southern Pacific Railroad in particular, to control the political process through campaign contributions. But Gloria and other opponents of the referendum argue that this original purpose has been turned on its head; now, most of the referenda being pushed in San Diego and elsewhere in California are being pushed by big corporations and developers to reverse progressive legislation that might cost them money.
“It really reflects a lot of what Senator [Elizabeth] Warren and others are talking about,” Gloria told the Democrats for Equality. “It’s really a separate set of rules for wealthy folks. We’ve seen that in the tax code and in various different things, but to see it in our democracy that if you cannot get the outcome you want through the normal legislative process, if you have a couple of hundred thousand dollars, you can purchase the result you’re looking for.”

A Tool for the 1 Percent

The transformation of the referendum and initiative from tools to control the 1 percent to strategies used by the 1 percent has been going on for decades, especially as getting measures on the ballot has itself become a major business — and a source of quick money for homeless and other economically marginalized people, who can circulate petitions and make from $2 to $12 for everyone they get to sign. But the current spate of corporate referenda in San Diego really began in November 2010, when a Democratic-majority City Council passed a law aimed at controlling the expansion of Walmart and other large big-box stores. Fearful that Walmart would crush local businesses and damage the city’s economy, the Council overrode Republican Mayor Jerry Sanders’ veto of a bill that would require an “economic impact review,” as well as an environmental impact review, before the Council could approve such stores.
Walmart reacted with both barrels blazing. According to Gloria, who wrote the economic-impact law, they spent up to $2 million to circulate a referendum to put it on the ballot. “At the time,” Gloria told the Democrats for Equality, “the city’s ordinance said the election had to be called within 90 days” of the County Registrar of Voters’ certification that the referendum had enough valid signatures to qualify. With no regular city election scheduled for 2011, the cash-strapped city would have had to spend $3.4 million just to have an election on Walmart’s referendum. So Gloria joined seven other Councilmembers and voted to repeal his own ordinance because “there was no way I could justify spending that kind of money” on a special election, especially a low-turnout one in which Walmart could vastly outspend the ordinance’s supporters, appeal to more conservative voters and likely win anyway.
At the time, Walmart’s local opponents in the small-business community and organized labor were hopeful that their problems would be solved at the state level. Then-State Senator Juan Vargas, a former San Diego City Councilmember, pledged to introduce a bill that would impose the economic impact review requirement on big-box superstores statewide. He got it through both houses of the legislature, but Governor Jerry Brown vetoed it — and Walmart began building superstores all across California, including one in Sherman Heights that wiped out an historic farmers’ market and caused a number of small businesses in the neighborhood to close even before Walmart moved in, so sure were they that the giant chain would destroy them financially.
Walmart’s success in getting the city to back down from an ordinance that would have put the brakes on their expansion plans in San Diego led other businesses to copy the strategy. Jerry Sanders, the Republican mayor who had vetoed the economic-impact bill in the first place, was hired as president of the San Diego Chamber of Commerce after he was termed out of the mayoralty, and under him the Chamber became aggressive at using referenda to impose their will on the city and thwart the efforts of a Democratic Council to hold businesses accountable.
In the face of referenda, the Council bailed on at least two other pieces of legislation, one to raise the fees developers are required to pay the city to fund affordable-housing programs and one to regulate medical marijuana dispensaries. The latter backfired on the dispensaries, Gloria told the Democrats for Equality. “It hurt patients,” he said, because the Council ultimately passed “a more restrictive ordinance” than the one the dispensaries had challenged by referendum.

Barrio Logan Loses Its Plan

But, according to Gloria, the issue that most vividly showed how the referendum has become a tool of “the wealthy versus those who are not” was the battle over the Barrio Logan Community Plan in 2014. “We spent millions of dollars and years updating the community plan for Barrio Logan,” Gloria told the Democrats for Equality.”All of that just went up in smoke when you basically had three defense contractors decide that it wasn’t to their benefit. So they were able to purchase the result they weren’t able to get from the City Council. … They spent money and got signatures telling people a whole bunch of lies, like about how the Navy was going to leave San Diego.”
Gloria, who was serving as interim mayor at the time following the resignation of Bob Filner, brought the Secretary of the Navy to assure voters that the Navy wasn’t going to abandon San Diego if the Barrio Logan Community Plan was passed. Supporters of the plan went to court to stop the referendum organizers from having their signature gatherers lie to voters to get them to sign — and the judge ruled that they indeed had lied, but they had a constitutionally protected right to do so and so the referendum qualified for the ballot. In the June 2014 election, voters overwhelmingly rejected the Barrio Logan Community Plan on the basis of a six-figure TV ad campaign that repeated all the lies the referendum supporters had told to get the petition on the ballot.
“It really just comes down to money,” Gloria told the Democrats for Equality. “If you have enough money, you can get this other result. People talk about ‘this is about the citizens having the right to petition the government,’ and I just say, ‘Baloney.’ If the roles were reversed, does anyone in this room seriously believe that the residents of Barrio Logan could marshal the hundreds of thousands of dollars necessary to overturn the City Council’s action? No, of course they couldn’t. And that’s exactly what we’ve seen time and time again.”
The next referendum campaign to get on the ballot in San Diego is to repeal the proposal Gloria pushed through the City Council when he was its president to raise San Diego’s minimum wage to $11.50 per hour. The original proposal was for a $15 per hour wage, but that got talked down first to $13.09 and then to $11.50 after owners of small businesses — real small businesses — convinced Gloria they couldn’t support $13.09 but would be O.K. with $11.50. This time, however, the plan ran afoul of the San Diego Chamber of Commerce, which organized a political action committee called the “Small Business Coalition” to sponsor a petition drive to qualify a referendum to stop the minimum wage increase.
What the Councilmembers and public supporters of the minimum wage increase didn’t know until after the referendum qualified was that the so-called “Small Business Coalition” had only two bona fide small businesses among its members. “The rest were the big hotels, the National Restaurant Association, the National Franchisees’ Association,” Gloria told the Democrats for Equality. “Big lobbying groups spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to delay the minimum wage. What I thought was really ironic was that we got reports that they were paying up to $12 a signature to defeat a $11.50 per hour minimum wage. I mean, this is insane. But they’re business folks, right? Ultimately they looked at it and made a business decision that it would cost them more actually to increase the minimum wage than to spend a couple of hundred thousand dollars to delay it.”
The not-so-small businesses in the “Small Business Coalition” have already delayed the minimum wage increase until June 2016, when it goes on the ballot, and it’s anybody’s guess whether San Diegans, faced with a major TV and direct-mail ad blitz and with a history of economic conservatism at the ballot box, will vote for it. Meanwhile, as veteran San Diego political reporter Matt Potter wrote in the April 1 Reader (http://www.sandiegoreader.com/news/2015/apr/01/radar-referendum-renderings/), the San Diego Chamber of Commerce has quietly put the “Small Business Coalition” out of business now that it has served its purpose.

When Elephants Fight …

Meanwhile, San Diego is seeing another no-holds-barred referendum fight over a planned development in Carmel Valley called One Paseo that has the distinction of having big-money interests on both sides. The developer of One Paseo was a company called Kilroy Realty Corporation, and once their plan got through the City Council on a 7-2 vote (with Gloria one of the Councilmembers who voted for it), a supposedly grass-roots organization called “Protect San Diego’s Neighborhoods” arose to start a referendum petition to block its construction. Only it turned out that “Protect San Diego’s Neighborhoods” was largely funded by Donahue Schriber, a rival developer who owns a shopping center next to One Paseo and developable land nearby.
Schriber, worried that his land would be less valuable if One Paseo were built, launched a referendum drive and got current City Council President Sherri Lightner, San Diego County Supervisor Dave Roberts, and San Diego Community Planners Committee chair Joe LaCava to appear at the press conference announcing the campaign. Once the “Protect San Diego’s Neighborhoods” signature gatherers hit the streets, however, Kilroy fought back. They launched an advisory petition to support keeping the San Diego Chargers in town, allegedly to hire so many signature gatherers that the anti-One Paseo forces couldn’t find people to circulate their own petition. Kilroy also sent out 27,000 postcards to people who’d signed the anti-One Paseo petition asking them to take back their signatures.
The anti-One Paseo referendum is currently before the San Diego County Registrar of Voters, whose staff have the unenviable task of figuring out not only how many signatures are invalid for the normal reasons (like people not being registered to vote at all, or not being residents of the city of San Diego) but also how many people who signed the petition originally used Kilroy’s postcards to take their names off. This rare spectacle of seeing big-money interests on both sides of a referendum campaign recalls the ancient proverb, “When elephants fight, the grass gets trampled.” It also puts the two most prominent Gay male elected officials in San Diego, Todd Gloria and Dave Roberts, on opposite sides.
Gloria’s proposals to reform the referendum process are modest, largely because most of the rules regarding referenda are set by the state constitution. “But there are two things we could do locally that I think would be really meaningful,” he told the Democrats for Equality. “Number one is with regard to disclosure. … As candidates for elective office, we have to disclose who’s contributing to our campaigns. Towards the ends of our campaigns those disclosures have to be on a 24-hour basis.” Gloria said “the same rule should prevail” for referendum campaigns, especially since they only have 30 days to collect the estimated 33,000 signatures needed to get on the ballot.
“At least give the citizens the information,” Gloria told the Democrats for Equality. “You can choose to sign it or not, but if you’re being told that this is being sponsored by small businesses when it’s really just Fortune 500 companies and big corporate CEO’s, maybe that would make a difference in the decision-making process of those who are asked in front of Trader Joe’s or Ralph’s to sign this.”
Another change Gloria would like to see in the referendum process is to allow the elected officials whose decisions are being challenged by referendum to be in the room at the Registrar of Voters’ offices when the signatures are being validated. “Currently, only the people who are proponents of a referendum can be in the room,” Gloria explained. “I’m not allowed to be in that room to say, ‘That signature does not match the voter record. I challenge that one.’ There’s no one there on the opponents’ side to represent that point of view. I don’t think that’s fair; I don’t think that’s right. We need to change that.”

SDG&E Encourages Climate Change

Gloria fielded audience questions on various other issues facing the city, from the huge gap between the need to fix its infrastructure and the money available — “at least $3 billion, probably more like $5 billion … far larger than the pension debt,” Gloria explained — to the prospects for a new Chargers stadium (the current proposal, he said, is for a $1.4 billion stadium of which the Chargers and the National Football League are committed to only $200 million each, leaving a $1 billion shortfall they’re expecting the public to pay), the status of the Balboa Park Centennial and the condition of the park’s rose garden.
But the issue that most engaged him besides the referendum was yet another case of a giant corporation trying to sabotage one of the progressive issues Gloria pushed through the City Council when he was its president. That was the city’s historic plan to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and other sources of human-caused climate change. This time the culprit is San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E), whose new proposal to restructure electric rates would actually penalize people for using less energy.
Currently, Gloria explained, “SDG&E has four different tiers of charges. The lower your tier, the less you pay. If you have your lights on all the time, you pay more; that’s tier 4. They’re arguing to collapse it into two tiers instead of four, and make it so there’s not as much differential between the two tiers.” What’s more, Gloria said, SDG&E also wants to impose a flat “base fee” of $5, later raised to $10 (“and if you believe it stays at $10 I’ve got some beautiful properties somewhere in Florida to sell you,” Gloria joked), on all customers, no matter how much they use.
“Pretty much everyone in my Council district will end up paying more,” Gloria said, “because we have smaller homes, we’re closer to the coastline, and most of our homes aren’t particularly air-conditioned.” He added that when he asked an SDG&E representative what the impact would be in his district, the SDG&E rep said “roughly 70 percent of my constituents in Old Town are in tier 1” — and therefore they’d be hit by the “base fee” and the higher rates from collapsing the tiers. What’s more, the SDG&E rep couldn’t or wouldn’t give him a straight answer when Gloria asked just what that arbitrary “base fee” was for.
SDG&E’s rate proposal now goes before the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), which is supposed to regulate utility rates but over the last two decades — especially since the appointment of former Southern California Edison (SCE) CEO Michael Peevey as its head — has acquired a reputation as a rubber-stamp for whatever utilities want to charge. The CPUC is currently in a state of flux as Peevey resigned following allegations that he received favors from utility executives.
Gloria tried to get the City Council to approve a resolution not only asking the CPUC to vote down SDG&E’s rate proposal but to ask SDG&E themselves to withdraw it. He had Council support for the resolution to the CPUC, but several Councilmembers balked at the idea of a government agency actually making a request to a private corporation to change a business decision. The Council passed the watered-down version 7-2, but Gloria and former Mayoral candidate David Alvarez voted against it because they didn’t think it went far enough.
“I don’t understand how this was substantive,” Gloria told the Democrats for Equality. “I don’t understand why we couldn’t ask SDG&E, our franchisee — we provide them a franchise to do this in our city — to ask them that. I didn’t see any harm in doing that, and I still do the head-scratcher as to why that happened.”

Monday, January 05, 2015

Marc Solomon Tells the Story of “Winning Marriage”

Queer Activist’s Account of Equality Struggle Mixes Idealism, Hard Work

by MARK GABRISH CONLAN

Copyright © 2015 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

Marc Solomon

Genius, the great inventor Thomas A. Edison was fond of saying, is “two percent inspiration and 98 percent perspiration.” The same could be said of political and social activism. That’s the lesson vividly brought home in Marc Solomon’s new book Winning Marriage. A 20-year veteran of the struggle for marriage equality for same-sex couples and currently the national campaign director for Freedom to Marry, Solomon has seen such a rapid growth of support for the cause that people who used to tell him it was “impossible” are now convinced it’s “inevitable.” But, as Solomon explained both in his book and his December 5, 2014 appearance at the San Diego Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Community Center to promote it, “impossible” and “inevitable” are both dangerous words to use about a movement because they discourage people from doing the hard work needed to change a lost cause into a winning one.
“I wanted to show that campaign work — and civil rights work, ultimately — is hard work,” Solomon said at the Center. “It’s sort of a slog. We need visionaries, we need a big principle to be fighting for, but when it comes down to it it’s going out and talking to people whom you’d rather not be talking to. It’s having these difficult conversations with people. It’s not holding rallies in Hillcrest; it’s going out to Riverside and San Bernardino Counties and having tough conversations with voters and talking about why marriage is important to you. Here in California, it was picking up after the most devastating loss that we all felt” — the passage of Proposition 8 in November 2008, which canceled marriage equality in this state for nearly five years — “and people like Jacqueline Palmer with Equality California, who started organizing volunteers in San Diego to go out to those suburban and rural communities, and having those conversations, engaging people at the door and building ongoing popular support.”
Solomon divided his book into five major sections: the campaign to preserve the Massachusetts court decision for marriage equality, announced November 18, 2003, from four years’ worth of efforts by opponents to reverse it either in the legislature or at the ballot box; the effort to get the New York state legislature, including a Republican-dominated State Senate, to pass a marriage equality bill in 2011; the steady triumph of anti-marriage initiatives at the polls in 2004 and 2008 until hard work by activists in four states — Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington — reversed the trend and won marriage rights at the polls; the lobbying campaign to get President Obama to “evolve” on the issue and support marriage equality; and the U.S. Supreme Court rulings in 2013 declaring part of the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act” unconstitutional and throwing out Proposition 8 on a technicality.
But the Massachusetts section is by far the longest, the most detailed and the most moving — largely because it was not only the campaign in which Solomon was most deeply and intensely involved but it’s the one on which he cut his teeth as a marriage activist and which taught him what worked and what didn’t. The Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled in 2003 that not allowing same-sex couples to marry violated the equal-protection clauses of their state’s constitution. But opponents were confident that they could amend the constitution to restore marriage inequality. They had two options: they could get the state legislature to pass an anti-marriage amendment in two successive sessions and thereby place it before voters; or they could circulate an initiative petition. But, unlike in California, the initiative would not go before the ballot unless at least 25 percent of the legislators in both houses approved it.
At first, it seemed like virtually a done deal that the constitutional amendment would be approved by the legislators and put before the voters. Just about every major elected official in Massachusetts from both major parties, including Republican Governor Mitt Romney and Democratic Senator (and 2004 Presidential nominee) John Kerry, were against the Massachusetts court decision. So was the Roman Catholic Church, a potent political force in the state that supplied the only Catholic President in U.S. history. The state’s Catholic hierarchy formed an unprecedented alliance with the Protestant-dominated radical religious Right to repeal the marriage decision — and they were strongly supported by African-American ministers who argued (as many later would in California during the Proposition 8 campaign) that the Queer community was “belittling” the African-American civil rights struggle by invoking it as a model.
Meanwhile, as Solomon recalled in his book, the grass-roots activist groups seeking to defend the decision were underfunded and split by long-standing antagonisms. Solomon said that when he first started going to meetings of MassEquality, the coalition formed to protect the court decision, “I was shocked at the level of acrimony between leaders who were all ostensibly working for the same thing.” Solomon demanded that MassEquality hire a paid coordinator and concentrate on lobbying the legislators. They got one lucky break; some legislators who opposed the marriage decision were willing to compromise and create a separate “civil union” status for Queer couples, while other opponents — including the Catholic church — weren’t willing to give same-sex couples any legal recognition.
But the biggest thing the Massachusetts activists did was to recruit same-sex couples themselves to meet with legislators and put a personal face on the marriage issues. If Solomon’s book has any true heroes — and it has several — the most heart-wrenching and moving ones are Deb Grzyb and Sharon Murphy, who lived in the rural town of Charlton. They’d been a couple for 24 years when they married almost immediately after the Massachusetts courts allowed them to, but according to Solomon, until then “they’d told next to no one they were Lesbians or a couple. In fact, a few days after they applied for their wedding license, they each raced around the state coming out to family members … because they’d learned the local paper was going to print the names of all those who had applied. They were glad there were activists who fought for equality for Gay people. But that just wasn’t who they were.”
That changed dramatically when officials from MassEquality realized that Gryzb and Murphy were just about the only married Lesbians or Gays in the district of state senator Steve Brewer, whose vote the group’s political strategists thought would be crucial. They got a meeting with a member of Brewer’s staff, which went well but didn’t give them any indication of how Brewer would vote. Then they were asked by MassEquality officials to set up a meeting with Brewer himself. Though they were terrified, Solomon said, “the middle-aged senator welcomed them into his office. He’d served in the Senate for 16 years …
“Sharon took the lead,” Solomon wrote. “She told the senator that the two of them were regular people who lived in Charlton, both working for one employer … for nearly their whole careers. They’d met in Boston 25 years before; it was love at first sight, and two months later Sharon had moved in with Deb at her home in Dudley, where they lived today. In a million years, they never expected to be able to get married. But now that they were married, Sharon explained, they recognized how important marriage was for their relationship.” Brewer listened patiently, occasionally interjected, told them he’d attended the wedding of a close friend to her same-sex partner, and finally told them that though he didn’t want them to release the information publicly, he was going to vote against amending the constitution to ban same-sex marriages.

The California Debacle

Though there were other decisive elements — including MassEquality’s hiring of Gay Republican organizer Patrick Guerriero to lobby GOP representatives on the issue and help build the three-quarters legislative majority that would keep the anti-marriage initiative off the Massachusetts ballot, and a largely successful electoral campaign to target the legislature’s most vehement marriage opponents and replace them with Queer or Queer-friendly candidates — Solomon came away from the Massachusetts campaign convinced that the best advocates for marriage equality for same-sex couples were same-sex couples themselves and their families. It was a lesson lost on the activists in California who tried to defeat Proposition 8 in 2008. Though Solomon didn’t come to California until the closing weeks of the Proposition 8 campaign, he viewed the No on 8 TV commercials from afar in Boston — and he didn’t like what he saw.
“Most of our side’s ads looked like typical political spots,” Solomon recalled. “Our side needed to make the most emotionally compelling case we could. However, that’s not what I thought we were doing. The arguments we were using in the ads appealed to the head: protecting the Constitution, highlighting the support of key elected [officials], and protecting fundamental rights in the abstract. They didn’t elicit emotions. Our opponents were masterful at conjuring up fears about what would happen to society, to the institution of marriage, and to the family if Gays were allowed to marry. The only antidote to fear was love, empathy, connection, and an appeal to people’s better angels. That required using real people talking poignantly about why marriage was important to their family — their parents, their children, and themselves. If we didn’t evoke those emotions in a powerful way, I felt, we’d be in serious trouble.”
Solomon said he tried to share some of these concerns with the people running No on 8, but he was circumspect about his advice. Having been successful at keeping the marriage issue off the ballot in Massachusetts, he’d never actually worked on an initiative campaign, while the No on 8 campaign’s consultants “had multiple victories on thorny social issues in California. … I was wary of ‘armchair quarterbacking’ — asserting based on my own different experiences that I knew what to do to win and that those in charge were getting it wrong.” Also, though both sides on Proposition 8 raised and spent about the same amount of money — $40 million each — according to Solomon, the No on 8 money didn’t really start coming in until the last two weeks of the campaign, once polls showed the original 15-point poll margin against it had disappeared and Queer and Queer-friendly activists and contributors in California realized they would quite possibly lose.
“Unpredictable last-minute money is difficult to put to good use,” Solomon warned. “Television buys need to be placed at least a few days in advance, ideally as part of a well thought-out sequencing plan. So the No on 8 campaign was scurrying to put in place last-minute paid phone-calling programs until the night before the vote, trying desperately to spend as much as they were taking in.” Solomon recalled that after Proposition 8 won — ironically, in the same election as Barack Obama’s election as President, in which California gave him the electoral-vote majority that put him over the top — “I was devastated and knew the spirit of the Gay community — in California and nationally — would be broken until Proposition 8 was lifted. That meant we had to figure out how to win at the ballot.”

Getting It Right

According to Solomon’s account, the turning point that showed marriage equality activists how to win at the polls was the involvement of one of his book’s most interesting characters: Thalia Zepatos, a straight ally from Portland, Oregon and an experienced community organizer who in 2010, at age 54, took on the task of figuring out a winning strategy. Hired by Freedom to Marry as director of public engagement, Zepatos “spent much of 2010 culling through literally hundreds of polls and focus group reports from multiple marriage campaigns. In her second-floor home office, Thalia had stacks of yellow legal pads with her notes, the pages folded back on the sheets that had the most interesting tidbits. ‘I know this sounds silly,’ a middle-aged woman in northern California had said, ‘but I never thought about it — that Gay people could get old!’ Another, a man from Oregon, said, ‘I just don’t get it — why would a Gay person want to get married?’”
Drawing from her experience not only with No on 8 but a similarly unsuccessful attempt to defeat an anti-marriage initiative in her native Oregon in 2004, Zepatos came to the conclusion that one reason marriage equality campaigners kept losing at the ballot box was they were making their motives seem too mercenary. According to Solomon, she recalled that in the 2004 Oregon campaign, organizers went door-to-door with a leaflet “listing the rights and benefits that came with marriage and arguing that it was wrong to deny same-sex couples those rights. The reports back from the organizers were that voters seemed really uninterested. Instead they wanted to talk about the Lesbian physician on the popular television show ER. The character’s partner — a firefighter — died in the line of duty, and the physician faced a painful custody battle with the deceased partner’s parents. To Thalia, it was as if the campaign and voters were speaking two different languages: one, a list of benefits; and the other, a powerful human story about a committed couple and their family.”
One striking result from a poll in Oregon convinced Zepatos that the marriage equality movement had to change its messaging. The poll had asked Oregon voters, “Why do people like me get married?” An overwhelming majority — 72 percent — replied, “For love and commitment.” Only 18 percent said, “For rights and benefits.” When the same poll asked why same-sex couples got married, 42 percent of the respondents said “rights and benefits,” 36 percent said “love and commitment,” and 22 percent said they didn’t know. “What a huge disconnect this was,” Solomon recalled. “Straight people thought Gay couples had completely different reasons for wanting to get married than they did.”
Zepatos’ analysis suggested that the Queer community had focused too much on the material benefits straight couples got from marriage and they didn’t, and not enough on the values committed straight and Queer couples shared: what Solomon called a “deep and abiding love and commitment and a desire to profess that love and commitment in front of their family and friends and have it respected by the state.” It also argued that the best spokespeople for marriage equality were straight people who were close to same-sex couples — “parents, grandparents, clergy and neighbors” — who could talk about their own struggles to overcome their traditional notions of what “marriage” meant and accept their Queer children, grandchildren, parishioners and neighbors as equally entitled to the freedom to marry.
“There was no higher priority for me when joining Freedom to Marry than reversing our streak of losses at the polls,” Solomon recalled in his book. “It was the one talking point our opponents had that we couldn’t rebut: that every time this issue went to a popular vote, our side lost. And after shuttering the California ballot effort” — an attempt to put an initiative to repeal Proposition 8 on the 2010 ballot, abandoned when a group unaffiliated with California’s Queer establishment filed a federal lawsuit challenging it instead — “I was doubly hungry to help bring about a win at the ballot.” Solomon personally worked on the initiative in Maine, where a previous marriage-equality ballot measure had failed in 2009 with a namby-pamby campaign similar to No on 8’s. In November 2012, aided not only by the new messaging strategy but the higher voter turnout in a Presidential election year, marriage equality won at the polls in Maine — and in Maryland, Minnesota and Washington.

The “Inevitability” Myth

Marc Solomon told his audience at the Center December 5 that he started thinking about a book on the marriage struggle right after the 2007 victory in Massachusetts, but as the community got more sophisticated on how to fight for marriage and public support grew, the story he had to tell also grew and changed. His final book included the struggle to get the New York legislature to pass a marriage equality bill — an often sordid tale of political egomania which can’t help but remind the reader of the old adage that laws are like sausages: you don’t want to watch either being made. It also includes the story of how an old friend of Michelle Obama’s became the key figure in lobbying her husband to “evolve” on the issue from opposing to supporting marriage equality.
“We’ve had so many victories over the course of the last five or six years,” Solomon told his audience at the Center. “A lot of people are now saying that we’re done. I want to caution against that notion. People say it’s ‘inevitable’ that we’re going to win. I think that in some ways it is inevitable, but the question of whether we’re going to win in 10 years or five years or two years or one year makes a big difference in the lives of same-sex couples in places like Texas, where it’s very difficult to adopt if you’re not married; or in Florida, where we’ve been working with a woman who got married in New York, moved back to Florida, and her partner passed away. She is now moving out of her house because of Social Security survivor’s benefits that don’t apply to married couples if you didn’t get married in the state where you reside. Then there are the human costs, including parents who are getting older and want to be able to go to their children’s weddings. There really is truth to the notion that justice delayed is justice denied.”
Solomon said he and a lot of other marriage-equality activists got “heartburn” when U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who’s in her 80’s and who refused to retire despite calls for her to do so while the Democrats still controlled the Presidency and the Senate, got a heart attack and was hospitalized late last year. He reminded his audience that the Supreme Court’s 2013 Windsor decision invalidating the part of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act that denied federal recognition of same-sex marriages was decided by a 5-4 vote — and if Ginsburg dies or retires while a Republican President is in office and the GOP controls the Senate, her replacement is likely to swing the next marriage equality decision 5-4 against us.
“When people talk about ‘inevitability,’ I think back to where we started about a decade ago when so many people said, ‘It’s impossible,’” Solomon said at the Center. “‘Impossible’ and ‘inevitable’ have a lot in common. They both allow you not to work. If something is ‘impossible,’ you don’t have to do anything because it’s impossible. And if something is ‘inevitable,’ then of course you don’t have to do anything because it’s going to happen anyway. The sweet spot of this movement, and the sweet spot of any real movement, is between ‘impossible’ and ‘inevitable,’ and doing the work to make what many people think of as ‘impossible’ happen and make it inevitable. So let’s not let up. We have great momentum, but we still have one-third of the country where same-sex couples can’t marry. Let’s finish the job, and then we can have a big party and celebrate the ‘inevitability’ of it being done. But we shouldn’t move on or rest and say, ‘It’s going to happen on its own,’ because even with powerful momentum, this stuff really doesn’t happen on its own.”

Monday, December 01, 2014

Thoughts on the Ferguson Demo

by MARK GABRISH CONLAN

Copyright © 2014 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

Crowd at Opening

Injustice Becomes Law

Fuck the Police

Not One More Life

Demonized

Justice 4 the Black Community

Niggod

R.I.P. Michael Brown

No Justice, No Peace

On the March 1

Stop Police Brutality

On the March 2

On the Courthouse Steps

Crowd Photographing the Speakers

Human Speaker Pedestal

Our Lives Matter

Peace through Revolution

Film the Police

White Solidarity with Black Power

No Justice …

Resistance Becomes a Duty

Emmett & Amadou …

I’m not going to write a sober, “objective” news story about the situation in Ferguson, Missouri or the demonstration I witnessed in downtown San Diego November 25 protesting the decision of the grand jury in Ferguson not to indict police officer Darren Wilson for the fatal shooting of unarmed 18-year-old Black man Michael Brown last August. Frankly, I was saddened but not surprised that Wilson wasn’t indicted. What would have been the point? Not long ago, a Florida jury acquitted George Zimmerman for killing Trayvon Martin after a reluctant district attorney was pressured into prosecuting — and Zimmerman wasn’t even a sworn police officer but a neighborhood watch wanna-be.
Six days before the protest I’d been at a meeting co-sponsored by Activist San Diego (ASD) and its community radio station, KNSJ 89.1 FM, on whether the police are just doing their jobs or going too far. The panel consisted of three retired law-enforcement officers — all white males — and three police critics. But it was ASD executive director and board member Martin Eder who summed up the perception that underlay the events in Ferguson, both Darren Wilson’s actions and the Black community’s response to them. African-Americans and other U.S. people of color, Eder said, see the police as an occupying force with “the ethic of controlling the streets and shooting first and asking questions later. Racialized justice has been the norm, not the exception.”
This perception on the part of law enforcement seems to rule the day whenever police officers and people of color confront each other. From New York City’s thankfully abandoned official “stop-and-frisk” policy that basically regarded every young man of color on the city’s streets as a criminal with the affirmative duty to prove he wasn’t (a reversal of the “presumption of innocence” on which our criminal justice system is supposedly based) to the myriad anecdotes about people being stopped for “driving while Black” or “driving while brown,” to the bizarre arrest of Harvard professor, PBS show host and Presidential friend Henry Louis Gates, Jr. for breaking into his own house, it’s clear there’s an institutional bias in U.S. law enforcement that regards that “protect and serve” stuff as reserved to white people. For people of color, the police don’t protect and serve: they contain and control.
And this institutional bias remains no matter how many people of color get appointed or elected to office. The U.S. can elect an African-American President, and the police perception of themselves as occupiers in the communities of color continues. San Diego appointed a Latino police chief, David Bejarano, and the number of officer-involved shootings in the communities of color actually went up. (He’s since been replaced by a white man, who in turn was replaced by a white woman.) The U.S. police seem stuck in this social role — with the approval of the older, whiter portion of the American population that actually votes — regardless of how many paper advances are made in civil rights and human rights for marginalized populations.
So I wasn’t surprised that Darren Wilson got to “walk” after killing a young Black man. Indeed, Wilson’s self-justification that Brown “looked like a demon” when he shot him is one of the most chilling aspects of the case. So is the defense offered by Wilson’s attorney that he was just following standard police procedures when he brought down and summarily executed Michael Brown for the “crime” of walking on the street instead of the sidewalk. Wilson probably was following standard police procedures — and that’s precisely the problem.
I also wasn’t surprised that what passes for a Left in San Diego County wasn’t able to mount a powerful, unified demonstration against the grand jury’s cop-loving cop-out. While protesters in other cities trooped out to the streets the night of Monday, November 24 — the day the grand jury’s decision was announced — leading to some unintentionally funny coverage in the mainstream media where hundreds of people were visible on the footage but the commentators solemnly informed us there were only “dozens” of participants — the San Diego organizers decided to wait until the following day. What’s more, they announced two separate demonstrations, one in City Heights and one downtown, while UCSD students staged a third, unannounced one and actually briefly blocked Interstate 5.
I chose to go to the downtown protest, partly because it was easier to get to and partly because it seemed likely to be more interesting. I didn’t see the protest flyer and I got there about 20 minutes late, so I’m not sure who all the organizers were, but the main impetus seemed to come from the African People’s Socialist Party and a white subsidiary organization called the Uhuru Solidarity Movement (“uhuru” means “freedom” in Swahili), along with the Raza Educators’ Association. The speakers from these groups were heavy on rhetoric attacking President Obama, calling for revolution and denouncing the calls from everyone from Obama to Michael Brown’s parents asking that the demonstrations stay “nonviolent.”
But it wasn’t the sort of event you go to for the speakers. What impressed me most about it was the irrepressible energy of the crowd, the way they were willing to march on the sidewalks in a helter-skelter route around several downtown blocks. At times it seemed even the march leaders didn’t know where the march was going to go next, which was a good thing. What’s more, I was pleased to be at a march where there was virtually no one there I actually knew — and goodness knows, it’s easy enough to be depressed by the small size of the San Diego Left and wonder if we’re all just the same 12 people at each demonstration. I was impressed by the commitment, the energy and the power of this crowd.
On November 25 there was not much more that needed to be said about the events in Ferguson — but there was a need to say it anyway, especially in an action dominated by people of color saying they’re fed up with being contained and controlled by the police (and the corporate-dominated economic and political system of which the police and the U.S. military are the enforcement arms). What was said by the people with the bullhorns and the P.A. was less important than the statement the crowd made simply by being there and saying, “Enough Is Enough.” It was a powerful, energetic evening, and I was proud to be there and be a part of it.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Police Call Their Uniforms “Babe Magnets”

Retired Officer Shocks Crowd at Public Debate Nov. 19

by MARK GABRISH CONLAN

Copyrigh © 2014 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

Michael Maryland, Marjorie Cohn, Catherine Mendonça

Jack Bernanker, Bob Kundland, Thomas Streed

“Law enforcement officers are aware of the implications of a single man coming into contact with women in a patrol car,” Thomas Streed, 23-year veteran of the San Diego Sheriff’s Department, said at a public forum on police practices sponsored by the San Diego Debate Club and Activist San Diego’s public radio station KNSJ (89.1 FM) at the San Diego Repertory Theatre November 19. “One thing I was taught in the police academy is that the uniform is a ‘babe magnet.’ Officers are taught to be alert to this particular thing. Some officers have psychopathologies that drive them to victimize people.”
Though the forum was announced as being a debate over whether police in general are doing their jobs or going too far, the words “babe magnet” galvanized the audience and hung over the rest of the event like a cloud. Most of the attendees were skeptical of the police to begin with, and the words “babe magnet” seemed to summarize the whole attitude of law enforcement, especially towards women. It didn’t help that all three of the panelists defending the police were white men of retirement age — the other side included a white man, a white woman and a Latina — or that Streed’s comment was a response to the lead panelist on the other side, Catherine Mendonça of United Against Police Terror — San Diego, telling about how she was a victim of police abuse herself.
“I was sexually assaulted by a Los Angeles police officer a few years ago, and it opened my mind to what police can do with impunity,” Mendonça said. “Rates of sexual assault and domestic violence among police officers are higher than in the general population. I work in a domestic-violence shelter and many women there say they have called police when they’ve been endangered, and the police have done nothing.”
The other two panelists on the “police are going too far” side pointed to Streed’s “babe magnet” remark as evidence of the attitude women victims of sex crimes and domestic violence get from officers, and why such crimes are often not reported at all. “‘Babe magnet’ is quintessential ‘blame the victim’,” said Thomas Jefferson School of Law professor and former National Lawyers’ Guild president Marjorie Cohn. “Women don’t report rapes because they’re afraid the first thing they’ll be asked by the police is, ‘What did you do to deserve it?’”
“Words fail me to describe the nonsensicalness of that statement,” Streed replied. “To suggest that law enforcement officers are challenging women and blaming victims of sexual assault sickens me. In my 23 years in law enforcement I don’t recall anyone suggesting a woman brought sexual assault upon herself.” Streed also tried to explain his “babe magnet” remark, saying that back in his days at the police academy “one thing a training officer said is that in some cases that uniform can constitute a ‘babe magnet.’ Women may be attracted to the uniform.”
The third police skeptic on the panel, civil rights attorney Michael Maryland — who specializes in lawsuits against police departments and individual officers alleging abuse — mentioned the recent conviction of San Diego police officer Anthony Arevalos on six charges from an indictment alleging 21 cases in which Arevalos made improper advances or solicited bribes from women he stopped. The city has also agreed to nearly $9 million in settlements of civil suits brought by women Arevalos victimized. What’s more, allegations have surfaced that Arevalos was merely the tip of the iceberg, and that other officers assigned to the San Diego Police Department’s Sex Crimes Unit, which investigates rapes, routinely made disparaging remarks about women and hung posters in their precinct officers reflecting what women activists call “rape culture.”
Streed’s “babe magnet” comment “raises for me the stories we’ve had of sexual assaults by uniformed SDPD officers,” Maryland said. “The officers who did that felt they could get away with it, and supervisors and middle managers let them get away with it.”
“It’s important we not say ‘all women’ or ‘all police officers,’” said Bob Kundland, a panel member who worked for the SDPD, the Sheriff’s Department and the Marshal’s Department before retiring. He admitted that he didn’t have personal knowledge of “the issues regarding the chain of command” — Maryland’s allegation that SDPD officials let officers they were supposedly supervising get away with sexually harassing women — but said during his time at the SDPD three officers had observed a colleague behaving inappropriately, “and one of them reported it to me.”
“The problem is one of power,” said Maryland. “The police officer has enormous power, and certain people, given that power, will abuse it. The question is how we’re dealing with the small percentage of officers who abuse that power.”
Asked by the debate moderator, former San Diego city attorney Mike Aguirre, if the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department had had similar problems to the SDPD, Streed said, “Every police department has a problem with some police conduct. I provide expert testimony in court as a witness on that kind of behavior. I happen to be concerned with that.”
“There’s tons of evidence that the SDPD sex crimes unit has a number of victim-blaming posters on their walls,” said Mendonça. “Anthony Arevalos was able to get away with it for years.”
“One of the problems is the code of silence,” Maryland added. “Officers are afraid to blow the whistle on other officers. I have represented police officers who have been driven out of their departments for doing the right thing. The police culture makes it difficult for good officers to blow the whistle on their colleagues.”
“If there is a code of silence, it’s disgusting,” Streed replied. “It’s based on a fear of alienating someone who’s around and may not provide backup when it’s needed. But we recognize it and we have put mechanisms into place to address it.”
Aguirre also asked a question about the allegations over the last 30 years that the San Diego Police Department received reports of the murders of 20-plus prostitutes and did little or nothing about it.
“I was the lead investigator on that series, and I haven’t felt safe talking about it since 1983,” Streed said. “We found a lot of people who didn’t do it. There are a lot of questions. At one time we had 48 dead prostitutes. The head guy [on the investigation] said, ‘Get out front with the media,’ and one guy said [at a press conference], ‘Let me assure you. We don’t have a serial killer.’ I turned and looked at him, and one of the other reporters asked me, ‘Dr. Streed[1], do you agree with that?’ I said, ‘Yes, we have 28 dead bodies and 28 different people could be killing them exactly the same way and dumping them in the same place.’”
Marjorie Cohn reminded the audience that, despite Streed’s arguments with his colleagues, “these crimes were not properly investigated and solved.” She also said you can’t address the issue of police misconduct without talking about race, and in particular the tendency of police officers to treat people of color more harshly than whites in similar situations. “Even President Obama has been pulled over because of his color,” Cohn said. “When you’re Black or brown you’re much more likely to be arrested, convicted and sentenced to death.”
“I represented a police officer who was a victim of racial profiling by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA),” said Maryland. “It can happen to anyone, and we have to make sure law enforcement addresses it.”
“Those engaged in sex work are referred to by police as ‘NHI’ — ‘No Humans Involved,’” said Mendonça. This term, which was first publicized in San Diego in the early 1980’s about the prostitute murder cases, also includes homeless people and Transgender people. “Police have this view based on who they are, not what they do,” Mendonça alleged. Her argument was that by writing off certain classes of people as “not human,” police ensure that they’re more likely to be convicted of crimes and less likely to be protected against crimes in which they’re the victims.
An audience member named Erika asked why 97 out of 100 rapists never get punished at all. The source for her statistic was a recent report by the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), available online at https://rainn.org/news-room/97-of-every-100-rapists-receive-no-punishment.
Retired San Diego County deputy sheriff Jack Bernanker, one of the pro-police panelists, replied, “First of all, if they’re unreported, we don’t even know that [these rapes] occurred.” The RAINN statistics say that 46 percent of rapes are reported to police, but only 12 percent of rapists are arrested, 9 percent are prosecuted, 5 percent are convicted of a felony but only 3 percent ever serve time.
Bernanker also said that when he was in law enforcement, “if there was a rape allegation, it was investigated and a special unit would write the case up and submit it to the D.A.’s office.”
“There is a systemic amount of violence in the U.S., especially against people of color and communities which are underserved,” said Activist San Diego executive director Martin Eder. “Two-thirds of Latinos feel they are likely to be discriminated against by police. The number of unarmed shootings of youth of color, especially Black people, speaks to a police force that has the ethic of controlling the streets and shooting first and asking questions later. Racialized justice has been the norm, not the exception.”
Eder’s comment was the first time anyone alluded to the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri last August. The debate took place five days before the refusal of a Missouri grand jury to indict Wilson for killing Brown touched off demonstrations throughout the U.S., many of which ended in riots. One of the allegations against authorities in Ferguson is that their heavy-handed restrictions on street protests just escalated the situation and made violence more likely.
“Ferguson is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Cohn. “Young Black people are hassled and shot by police every day. [In Ferguson] they’re trying to keep people from protesting, planting officers to spy on protest leaders, making false arrests and staging raids on churches and homes, using acoustic devices and chemical and other weapons, and arresting reporters. When you read the press coverage, think about that.”
“You’re dealing with a lot of people in the community who are going to protest and let their voices be heard,” said Kundland. “What do you do when someone fires a gun, throws something or creates an issue? When does a peaceful protest become a mob and a riot?”


[1] — As Streed explained it while introducing himself at the event, while working as a San Diego County Sheriff’s Department homicide detective, he also went back to college and majored in psychology to learn more about why criminals behave the way they do. He earned a Masters’ and eventually a Ph.D.