The March 2005 Edition of Street Spirit

A publication of the American Friends Service Committee


National AFSC AFSC Economic Justice BOSS Website



In this issue:

Truth About Care Not Cash

Resistance to Brown's Curfew

No Millionaire Left Behind

Bush Policies Punish the Poor

Bush Rigs U.S. Society for Rich

SOS! Save Our Services

Faith Reflection on Bush Budget

Plan to End Homelessness in Ten Years

Counted Out in San Francisco

Artist Portrays Act of Giving

Berkeley Protest Demands Shelter from the Storm

Transformation of Dignity Village

George Wynn's Homeless Fiction

Poor Leonard's Almanack

Poetry of the Streets


May 2005

February 2005






Street Spirit is published by American Friends Service Committee.

All works are copyrighted by the authors.

The views expressed in Street Spirit are those of the individual authors alone, and not necessarily that of the American Friends Service Committee.


Resistance to Jerry Brown's Draconian Curfew

by Sitara Nieves

A demonstrator tries to make Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown live up to his promises.

"This is the beginning -- not the end -- of a long struggle... and we're here to tell the people of Oakland: It's got to stop, or we will all pay the price." -- Linda Evans, All of Us or None

The lesson that regular people learn over and over again is that politicians aren't so concerned about our safety or our health. Polling numbers, yes. Good media spin, yes. Donations, oh yes. But when someone's running for any office, certain people become expendable: poor people who can't give you scads of money. People with felonies, who can't vote for you. And U.S. politicians callously disregard our health and safety, since they well understand that the politics of fear brings in the votes. Exhibit one: Jerry Brown's law-and-order strategy in his campaign for attorney general. Exhibit two: Brown's new curfew policy in Oakland.

Dorsey Nunn, an organizer with All of Us or None, said, "If we ain't going to be living with Jerry Brown, we definitely don't want to live in jail. We should have the right to live; so they can't run us out of the place that used to be our city where we grew up. We live here too!"

When members of Critical Resistance and All of Us or None read about Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown's curfew in the newspapers in late January, we were outraged. The San Francisco Chronicle trumpeted that Jerry Brown was establishing a curfew to make Oakland safe, reporting that, "Brown said fewer people will die on Oakland's streets this year if state parole agents and county probation officials impose a 10 p.m. curfew on parolees and probation."

The Contra Costa Times added that these "10 p.m.-to-6 a.m. curfews [are] a common probation condition for those pleading guilty to felonies in Alameda County Superior Court."

Our outrage was tinged with sadness that this was just one more assault by Jerry Brown on former prisoners, as a way to get elected attorney general of California. Brown has been working to get away from his "Governor Moonbeam" image for a while now -- schmoozing with California's infamous prison guards union, working vigorously for California's brutal Three Strikes Law, presiding over gentrification policies like the Nuisance Eviction Ordinance, and publicly blaming parolees for Oakland's problems at every turn.

This curfew scheme obviously seemed like a safe way to improve his tough-on-crime image; and the newspapers dutifully reported his opinions as fact and said he was talking to the governor about making the curfew statewide.

We also knew that a curfew meant a sure increase in racial profiling in communities of color, increased harassment of homeless people, treating people on parole or probation like children, and investing resources in the continuous cycle of imprisonment instead of the many things -- housing, schools, opportunity -- our neighborhoods really need.

Curfew smacks of racism

The curfew, like many policies aimed at former prisoners, smacks of centuries of racism. "The curfew is just like the Black Codes and South African pass laws, which prevented people of color from moving freely in their communities," said Nunn.

Knowing that Brown's curfew was just the start of even more aggressive policies against people of color, homeless people, and former prisoners, we started organizing.

All of Us or None and Critical Resistance organized folks for a large protest on January 26 at 10 p.m. -- the beginning of the evening's curfew -- at Jerry Brown's loft in downtown Oakland to wake him up and cite him for violating his commitment to the people of Oakland. Over 200 pumped-up people rallied outside Brown's loft, led by the 11-member Brass Liberation Orchestra who marched with us from the Critical Resistance office and helped energize the crowd.

We focused on the real issues, declaring that a curfew won't bring safety, that this curfew would target the homeless and brown and black people, and that we weren't going to stand for it.

"Many of us don't have housing," shouted Dorsey Nunn at the demonstration outside of Jerry's loft. "Some of us don't have a place to go after 10. I'm fortunate I do. But a lot of my friends don't have a place to live. We don't have jobs. We don't have these things. I wish Jerry was here - so I could tell him that I want a life too."

Oakland's housing crisis, along with all the other barriers to self-determination set up by the City and State, has left up to 80 percent of parolees homeless. "Is this Jerry Brown's policy to deal with Oakland's lack of housing?" asked another organizer. "Are the police going to use the curfew as a tool to stop the homeless after 10 p.m. and hustle them into jail cells?"

The demonstration outside of Brown's loft was huge, and the media coverage was bigger. All the criticism made Brown start backpedaling from the initial stories that told how broadly the curfew would be applied. He told Oakland residents that he was protecting parolees and probationers from getting "their heads blown off" by keeping them under house arrest - if they even had a house.

Jerry got defensive enough that he started a blog, which, at the date of this writing, is two-thirds about Critical Resistance, All of Us or None, and the curfew. He tried to slam us in a letter to the San Francisco Chronicle.

His pressman wrote furious missives to Indybay. In one of those, he wrote, "If you know any felons who need work, send them our way," implying that the City of Oakland both cares about the well-being of former prisoners and could actually give them jobs.

Since one of our main demands is support for former prisoners and all people of Oakland, not scapegoating, that led us to the next stage of organizing.

Ban the Box

Critical Resistance and All of Us or None decided to call Jerry on his promises, while keeping up the heat on the curfew. We took the fight to the door of City Hall on March 2, calling for jobs for former prisoners, and a ban on the "box."

"Jerry Brown is saying that the City of Oakland doesn't discriminate against people with felony convictions," said Elder Freeman, All of Us or None member, at the protest. "And so we're down here today to see if some people with felonies can be hired by the City of Oakland."
Nunn added, "If the City of Oakland were really committed to hiring people with felony convictions, they would ban the discriminatory box on the employment form -- and follow through on their word to hire us."

Our protest also came on the heels of a new study by the Urban Strategies Council of Oakland that starkly contradicted Mayor Brown's vicious assertions that 80 percent of those involved in Oakland homicides were on probation or parole. The report found that in 2004, 36 percent of homicide victims and 27 percent of suspects were on parole or probation.

"The report made it clear that Jerry Brown and his curfew is about discrimination, not safety," said Ari Wohlfeiler with Critical Resistance. "If most murders don't involve people on parole, what sense does it make to target them? He's basically saying, 'I can't solve problems around affordable housing, job creation, education or health care, so I'll cover that up by going after a vulnerable group of people.' "

"Every time I apply for a position, that box puts butterflies in my stomach," said Linda Walker at the protest. "The fact I have been out of the system for over 10 years does not negate the fact that I'm still paying for the crimes that I supposedly have paid my debt to society. How dare you continue to make me pay? How dare you take away the only way I can make a living? It is outright discrimination every time that box is checked. So I'm here today to say ban the box."

Nunn spoke powerfully at the rally in front of City Hall. "When I'm on Piedmont, I won't have to worry about the box; I won't have to worry about the curfew. When I move to the hills of Oakland, I'm not going to have to worry about them stopping me. When I stop being black, it ain't going to be a problem.

"Being black or being with a felony -- have you ever known an adjective to describe the same thing? When they use the 'N word' they mean the same thing as when they use the 'F word.' They don't get to use the 'N word' anymore, so they'll use the 'F word' instead -- Felon."

If not a curfew, then what?

It's not too hard to figure out ways to keep Oakland safe. All the research shows, and common sense backs up, that safety exists when people have what they need -- housing, no fear of harassment from the police, health care, real education, employment, and opportunities.

"People coming home from prison don't need a curfew," said Linda Evans. "They need our support to find employment, reconnect with their families and friends, get education and job training, and readjust to life outside."

In 2003, California sent 62,355 people to a prison cage solely for violations of parole. Nationally, parole violations account for about 35 percent of people sent to prison. But in California, more than 50 percent of prison admissions are for parole violations, because of how easy it is to violate parole. A curfew makes it that much easier for people to be sent back inside.

"Does sending someone to prison -- at the tune of $35,000 a year -- for being out past 10 p.m. make sense? Will it keep Oakland safe?" asked Rose Braz, director of Critical Resistance.

Instead of following expert research and plain common sense about supporting former prisoners in their journey home, Oakland is doing just the opposite -- imposing curfews, increasing the chance that they will be racially profiled, and not providing enough support, housing, or employment for people to get by.

"We are protesting to end the curfew, and to end all forms of discrimination against former prisoners. So many of us need jobs," said Nunn. "Jerry Brown needs to see how much discrimination former prisoners face, and needs to stop scapegoating former prisoners for political gain."

Ban the box and end the curfew!

Sitara Nieves is an organizer with Critical Resistance, a national grassroots organization that works to end the reliance on prisons and policing. To get involved in the fight against cages and curfews, contact Critical Resistance at (510) 444-0484.

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Oakland, CA 94612Phone: (510) 238-8080, ext. 303

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