Recent News

Recent news : Summer 2016 Newsletter.

Topics

  • Rev. Ann Gray Byrd  honors activists.
  • How can we achieve fairness in  election campaign financing?
  • David Grabill, a determined fighter for the underdog.
  • County law enforcement auditor outlines plans to supervisors.

Rev. Ann Gray Byrd  honors activists

 

2016 ACLU lunch-09The Rev. Ann Gray Byrd, President of the Santa Rosa-Sonoma County NAACP, reached out to fellow activists of the past – and to those in the room – as she accepted the 2016 Jack Green Civil Liberties Award.

“This award . . . is gratefully accepted on behalf of all the activists in this room because you indeed are the activists,” she told the audience at the Flamingo Hotel in Santa Rosa upon receiving the award June 5 from Nancy Palandati, Chair of the Sonoma County ACLU Chapter.

“You see, I remember a time when membership in the NAACP and the ACLU was called un-American and a lot of other unfriendly things,” Rev. Byrd said. “You are the activists, so acknowledge yourselves right now for being a part of all that the ACLU has spoken about, in partnership with the NAACP.

“So this is for you.”

“I want to thank you for sharing so many values, experiences, as we together continue our struggle and our battle toward equality and justice. None of this is accomplished alone. No one person can do this.”

Rev. Byrd shared the story of two Santa Rosa activists who particularly inspired her to say the course of civil liberties struggle, E. A. Al Brown, a carpenter and union organizer; and a young attorney forced to relocate from Sonoma County after daring to challenge misuse of redevelopment funds by the city of Santa Rosa.

She said when she went to work for Al Brown, “He inspired me to join a union, the Office and Professional Employees, Local 3. He then groomed me to become a member of the Labor Council representing my union and, boy, did I learn some things!”

Rev. Byrd said Al Brown “had a story, he had a secret that was kept for many years. He was with Jack Green the night of the tar and feathering. He escaped and for many years stayed hidden and that information was not revealed. He came to be a labor organizer but the information was hidden for many, many years.”

The second inspiring figure Rev. Byrd mentioned was an up-and-coming young attorney in Santa Rosa who filed a lawsuit on behalf of the NAACP in Federal Court in San Francisco for misuse of redevelopment funding. Money intended to eliminate blight was used instead to open Courthouse Square and subsidize construction of the downtown mall, she said.

“The young man was ever so courageous,” Rev. Byrd said. “His name is Philip Mattingly (Maxie?). I lost touch with Philip years ago because he had to move his practice and his family to another state” as the result of hostility from the local community.

Rev. Byrd also paid tribute to the example of Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, founder of Bethune-Cookman College and a former cabinet official under President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

“Dr. Bethune left us a legacy of love, hope, a challenge of developing confidence in one another, a thirst for education, respect for uses of power, faith, racial dignity, a desire to live harmoniously with all people and a responsibility to our young people,” Rev. Byrd said..

“Dr. Bethune instructed us to cultivate and use these tools for the task of completing the establishment of equality.

“. .  .Today’s political atmosphere tells me that these tools are needed today as never before.”

“I want to thank you for sharing so many values, experiences, as we together continue our struggle and our battle toward equality and justice. None of this is accomplished alone. No one person can do this.”

Rev. Byrd shared the story of two Santa Rosa activists who particularly inspired her to stay the course of civil liberties struggle, E. A. Al Brown, a carpenter and union organizer; and a young attorney forced to relocate from Sonoma County after daring to challenge misuse of redevelopment funds by the city of Santa Rosa.

She said when she went to work for Al Brown, “He inspired me to join a union, the Office and Professional Employees, Local 3. He then groomed me to become a member of the Labor Council representing my union and, boy, did I learn some things!”

Rev. Byrd said Al Brown “had a story, he had a secret that was kept for many years. He was with Jack Green the night of the tar and feathering. He escaped and for many years stayed hidden and that information was not revealed. He came to be a labor organizer but the information was hidden for many, many years.”

The second inspiring figure Rev. Byrd mentioned was an up-and-coming young attorney in Santa Rosa who filed a lawsuit on behalf of the NAACP in Federal Court in San Francisco for misuse of redevelopment funding. Money intended to eliminate blight was used instead to open Courthouse Square and subsidize construction of the downtown mall, she said.

“The young man was ever so courageous,” Rev. Byrd said. She said she had lost touch with him years ago “because he had to move his practice and his family to another state” as the result of hostility from the local community.

Rev. Byrd also paid tribute to the example of Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, founder of Bethune-Cookman College and a former cabinet official under President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

“Dr. Bethune left us a legacy of love, hope, a challenge of developing confidence in one another, a thirst for education, respect for uses of power, faith, racial dignity, a desire to live harmoniously with all people and a responsibility to our young people,” Rev. Byrd said..

“Dr. Bethune instructed us to cultivate and use these tools for the task of completing the establishment of equality.,” she said.

“Today’s political atmosphere tells me that these tools are needed today as never before.”

How can we achieve fairness in  election campaign financing?

 

2016 ACLU lunch-20Can anything be done to keep massive amounts of private money from playing a decisive role in American elections?

Abdi Soltani, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, confronted that issue June 5, in his keynote speech at the Annual Awards Celebration and Lunch of the Sonoma County ACLU Chapter at Santa Rosa’s Flamingo Hotel.

Soltani traced the process that led to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United Decision of 2010, which said that nonprofit and for-profit corporations and labor unions are permitted to spend unlimited money in independent expenditures for and against political candidates.

Troubled by the results of that decision, he said he plunged into a review of American history – going back to rereading the Federalist Papers, the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense,” and the many developments that shaped efforts to make elections fair and effective in promoting democracy. .

He cited the U.S. Supreme Court’s Buckley Decision of 1976 that struck down limits on spending by campaigns and citizens.

“Long before Citizens United, the Supreme Court ruled that there can be no limit on what a person can spend independently of a candidate – for or against that candidate,” Soltani said.  “So when we hear people say we need to reverse Citizens United, they’re actually not looking far back enough because it was the Buckley Decision, a precedent that is now 40 years old and quite firmly established, that prohibits limits on what wealthy people can spend for and against candidates.”

“What the Koch brothers want to spend, if they want to spend with

their friends $900 million in an election cycle, has nothing to do with Citizens United. It has everything to do with the precedent that is now 40 years old.  If George Soros or Tom Steyer wants to spend $50 million or $100 million it’s not because Citizens United allows it, it’s because the Buckley decision allows it from 40 years ago.”

Soltani spelled out some of the complications of campaign finance reform, including the difficulty of restricting spending without limiting free speech rights for everyone who wants to have a voice in politics and legislation. He noted the ACLU has even broader concerns.

“The ACLU is about freedom of speech and the freedom of association but we’re also for equality,” he said. “Equality as was expressed in the Declaration of Independence, equality as was expressed in the movement —  in the battle — against slavery, equality as was expressed in the fight for woman’s suffrage, equality as was expressed in the battle against Jim Crow, equality as was expressed here in Sonoma County in the ability of workers to form unions and to have a collective voice just as management had.

“And another civil liberty concerns representation.  Freedom of speech is important but so is representation . . .  And I don’t think our current system of campaign financing allows for the best equal representation of all of our community.”

He said the search for solutions won’t be easy but held out hope for creative approaches like government matching funds for campaigns.

“In New York City, when a person makes a $20 contribution to a candidate it’s matched five-to-one by the public financing. So it’s a very nice way of aligning the public financing with the level of support the candidate’s building and it’s equally available to all candidates,” he said.  “So there’s some really nice solutions.”

He said he hopes current discussions by the Board of Directors of the ACLU of Northern California will lead to an effort to come up with ideas for solving the problems of campaign financing.

“I didn’t come here with much worked out,” Soltani concluded. “This is a work in progress. We expect that by next year, 2017, we will be actively deploying some strategy to take up some piece of this question in some responsible way.”

David Grabill, a determined fighter for the underdog

 

David Grabill — May 9, 1942-June 11, 2016

David Grabill — May 9, 1942-June 11, 2016

Sonoma County lost one of its most determined fighters for the rights of the underprivileged June 11 with the death of David Grabill, 74.

David was recognized as one of the region’s leading advocates for affordable housing. He helped organize and served as legal counsel to the Santa Rosa-based Housing Advocacy Group (HAG), which forced local governments to provide hundreds of homes for low-income residents and promoted the creation of dozens of shelter beds for the homeless.

He played a key role in the successful campaign for rent stabilization and just-cause eviction rules in Santa Rosa and earlier championed farmworker rights as a lawyer for California Rural Legal Assistance.

A longtime ACLU activist, David won the 2012 Jack Green Civil Liberties Award of the Sonoma County ACLU Chapter. He served on the chapter’s board of directors from 1996 to 2003 and again in 2005, was vice-chair from 1997 to 1999 and co-chair from 1999 to 2001.

He was honored by the Sonoma County Bar Association last year for having a career of distinction.

“He was a fierce advocate, a compassionate human being and a brilliant mind,” Davin Cardenas, co-director of the North Bay Organizing Project, told the Santa Rosa Press Democrat.

David was born in Cleveland, Ohio, and grew up in Washington, D.C., where he attended Sidwell Friends School, a Quaker institution. He graduated from Yale University and the University of Pennsylvania law school. He moved to Southern California in the late 1960s, working with American Indians and the United Farm Workers union before opening a law practice in Venice catering to low-income clients. He later moved to West Virginia, where he assisted miners with black lung ailments and worked with the state’s first women’s clinic on a lawsuit to overturn its ban on abortion.

David and his wife, Dot Battenfeld, moved to Santa Rosa in 1981.

He signed on with California Rural Legal Assistance in San Francisco, helping Central Valley farmworkers, then became directing attorney in the Santa Rosa office. He went into private practice in Santa Rosa in the mid-1990s.

David is survived by his wife Dot; daughters Holly Rhodes, Megan Rhodes and Jane Battenfeld; son Christopher Grabill; and five grandchildren.

On July 17, much of Sonoma County’s liberal community – and others – crowded the Dutton Pavilion at Shone Farm to pay tribute to David with music, stories, a slide show and fond reminiscences.

County law enforcement auditor outlines plans to supervisors.

 

Jerry Threet, newly hired head of Sonoma County’s Independent Office of Law Enforcement Review and Outreach (IOLERO), outlined his plans for the office to the Board of Supervisors at their Aug. 9 meeting.

Threet said the office has received six complaints in the three months since it opened. He said three of the complaints involved improper use of force, two say that an officer acted rudely and the other alleges mistreatment at the County Jail of a person with a medical disability.

He said the complaints will be investigated by the Sheriff’s Office Internal Affairs Bureau, in a process expected to take about two months. He said he will monitor and audit the investigations.

In addition to complaints received by his office, he said he will monitor and audit any allegation that comes to his attention involving unlawful use of force; use of deadly force; unlawful arrest, search or seizure; and racial, religious, sexual orientation or gender bias.

Threet said any disagreement between his office and the Sheriff’s Office on investigation findings will be published in an annual report.

“If there’s a disagreement, all we can do is get the information out there,” Threet said, noting that there is no mechanism for disciplinary action against an officer who has been cleared by the Sheriff’s Office internal investigation.

During public comment, several speakers and voiced anger over news reports that Sheriff’s Deputy Erick Gelhaus

had been promoted to sergeant in May, 17 months after he fatally shot 13-year-old Andy Lopez of Santa Rosa.

“I’m very upset about this,” said Elaine B. Holtz.  “It is so disturbing to me. … I do not feel safe in my community anymore.”

The supervisors did not comment on Gelhaus’ promotion.

The auditor’s office was created as one of the suggestions made by the 21-member task force the supervisors appointed in the wake of Andy Lopez’s death.

Threet outlined his plans year to build trust between county law enforcement officers and the communities they serve over the next year.

He said hie proposes to create civilian review of Sheriff’s Office policies on use of force, use of firearms and rules surrounding public disclosure of digital recordings – the video obtained from bodycams that sheriff’s deputies have been equipped with.

Threet also outlined plans for a series of community meetings to bring the public and officers together to address issues before they lead to formal complaints.