Dec 032015

imagesA couple of weeks ago, I attended a meeting of parents of English learners at my daughter’s middle school, here in San Leandro. I don’t usually go to ELAC meetings, but that night my daughter’s choir was going to be performing at the meeting. Before the performance, we chanced upon a presentation on online bullying by the two School Resource Officers (SROs), uniformed sworn SLPD officers which work in San Leandro public schools.  In addition to giving general information about bullying, the SROs laid out how they work at the middle schools.  I spoke to them later to get more details, and this is what I gathered from that conversation:

– The SROs are called in by teachers and administrators to talk to students. Some teachers call them directly, without going through administrators.

– There are no guidelines as to when to call the SROs, which means that factors such as teachers’ prejudices and personal dislike of specific students may very well be what first puts a student in the eyes of the police.

– Most of the times SROs are called to deal with situations that are not of a criminal nature, i.e., where there should be no police involvement. Both the SROs and SLPD professional standards personnel agreed that police should not be involved in non-criminal matters.

– The SROs don’t have any significant training in child development, psychology or social work, and are thus ill equipped to deal with the emotional and psychological needs of children.  One of the SROs specifically told me that they are forced to act as counselors, despite their lack of training, because the school does not have enough counselors.  Last year, the district decided against hiring counselors and instead proposed to allocate money to hiring police officers.


-The SROs say that they try to get kids to open up and confide in them.  But they also said that they threaten kids with arrest and jail if they continue in the path they’re in.  Basically, the SROs seem to be given kids the message “trust me, so I can betray you”.

– One of the officers told us “you are your kids’ parents, you are not their friends”. Yet he didn’t realize the irony of their trying to be kids’ friends, while being ultimately law enforcement, until I pointed it out to him.

– The SROs claim they don’t take any notes about what students tell them when they are not being formally investigated for a criminal matter, but they also say that if a kid whom they’ve threatened with arrest breaks the law, they will arrest him.   “We won’t hesitate to arrest them, they’ve been warned,” said one of the officers. This means that even if the SROs are not keeping a written log of what child did what, they are keeping a mental log and they are basing their future actions towards that child, on their past interaction with him and her – an interaction that did not concern a criminal matter and that they shouldn’t have had in the first place.

To summarize we have teachers at our middle schools arbitrarily calling the police on students who have not committed crimes, police officers conveying the message “you are going to be a criminal” to children and then using their knowledge of a child’s questionable but non-criminal behavior to inform their decision of whether to arrest that child.

What is particularly perverse about this system, and the school-to-prison pipeline, is that it does not require any bad intentions on anyone’s part.  The teachers who call police on student, may honestly believe that they are doing the kids a favor. Maybe by installing a little fear on them, they may speculate, the kid will straighten up and become a productive citizen.  If the teachers disproportionally call police on students of color, it may very because of innate racial and cultural biases of which they are not aware.  Multiculturalism can be a difficult philosophy to adopt for people whose life experiences are geographically limited.

I firmly believe that the SROs want the best for the kids, but they are put in an impossible situation: having to provide counseling without the necessary training and education to do so, while doing their actual job of enforcing the law, which invariably means arresting people, including kids, and trying to get them prosecuted.

But the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and so is the road to prison for far too many children of color:

So we end up in a situation where a teacher may develop a dislike of a student because she finds that student disrespectful and particularly sassy.  That teacher may punish the girl in little ways: yell at her, have her sit in a corner, send her to the office for dress code violations. If the girl is not easily intimidated, she may respond by being even more disrespectful and sassy until something happens that gives the teacher a “reason”  to call the police.  Perhaps there was a fight between students that included this girl, or something went missing from the classroom and the teacher thinks this girl has it.  The police will talk to the girl, she’ll be defiant and difficult – as girls are likely to be when falsely accused – and the police officers will type her as being trouble, maybe they will even make her believe she’s is trouble.  A couple of years later, someone accuses the girl of shoplifting or there is a fight with another student that turns ugly, the police are called in.  The SRO recognizes her and, already thinking of her as trouble, unconsciously interprets the situation against this girl.  Some sass in middle school can mean a jail cell as a teen.

It’s time we work together to break that pipeline.


Jan 052015
Laython "Judge" Landis

Laython “Judge” Landis

Update 2: Campaign finance reports show that Pauline Cutter returned Judge Landis’  contribution.  Deborah Cox did not.  Landis died in November 2015.

Update: Deborah Cox has given in to public pressure, this afternoon she spoke with Brian Copeland and said she’d return the contribution.

San Leandro has a long and tortuous history of racial segregation and discrimination.  The city was almost exclusively white well into the 1990s and stories of police cars guarding the border with Oakland still linger in the memory of many African Americans. Writer and comedian Brian Copeland, who moved to San Leandro as a young child, turned his experiences growing up here into a powerful one-man show, which became the longest running solo play in San Francisco.   The book based on his play, Not a Genuine Black Man: Or, How I Claimed My Piece of Ground in the Lily-White Suburbs, has earned 5 stars on Amazon.com.

While San Leandro has changed greatly since then, and we are now one of the most diverse cities in California, too many of the long-term residents who remain have kept their racist and xenophobic attitudes which they express unchallenged.  It was thus  not in the least surprising to hear that Laython “Judge” Landis, a former San Leandro City Council and current director of the Oro Loma Sanitary District Board, made an outright racist remark during a board meeting (which he later repeated thrice during a TV interview).  What was surprising is that someone actually called him on it and tried to hold him accountable for it.

Lands is well known in town for his racist and sexist commentaries; he once described President Obama as “just a monkey with ears” and has made indecent propositions to local female politicians.  But he has been an elected official for over four decades, his name carries weight with the older and white San Leandro population and he can be generous with his financial contributions.  This means that politicos keep inviting him to their events, using their names and taking his checks.

In the last election alone, Landis gave a $1,000 contribution to now Mayor Pauline Cutter and a $2,000 contribution to now Councilmember Deborah Cox.  On his radio show and on Facebook, Brian Copeland called on Cutter and Cox to return such contributions.  Cutter committed to doing so and has already taken Laython Landis off the list of the endorsers for her Mayoral run.  Deborah Cox has not personally addressed Copeland’s request, but the response of Angela Ramirez-Holmes‘s, Cox’ campaign manager, response is telling:  “I have no idea why giving him the money back is helpful. I don’t understand this call to action.

San Leandro deserves better.

Jun 012014

PAC-mailer-2 Supporters of incumbent Congress member Mike Honda have reached a new low.  They’ve sent out a xenophobic mailer falsely accusing Indian-American candidate Ro Khanna of wanting to “outsource our jobs”.  The mailer  plays on old fears of Indians stealing American jobs and is meant to both exploit any lingering racism among white voters against Indian-Americans.

It is profoundly sad that this is being done to support Mike Honda, a man who has fought against racial discrimination his whole life. It is also sad that Honda’s campaign will not distance Mike Honda from this mailer by denouncing it . I don’t want to believe that Mike Honda knows about the mailers.

It seems to me that Honda’s staffers are much more interested in having Honda elected at any cost, than they are in preserving the dignity of a man who has been a voice for the disenfranchised for a generation.  I think Mike Honda and his legacy deserve better.

Nov 132013

blackmanNeighbors Call Police for “Walking While Black”

The warning came in a neighborhood bulletin board.  A female resident of the the mostly-white Estudillo Estates neighborhood, had seen three men in their twenties, two of them black,  walking down her street.  She did not recognize them.  Some time later, she saw them again. This time they were walking on the same direction, but on the other side of the street.  She was kicking herself for not having called the police on them.  Surely they were casing houses.  Mind you, she did not say she had seen them look at homes carefully, check out doors or windows, or do anything other than walk down the street. But the mere presence of a mixed-race group of young men, walking down a street, is “suspicious.”

That a white lady in once lily-white San Leandro may hold those views probably should not surprise anyone.  What did surprise me was how popular her views proved among members of the bulletin board.  “Yes,” was the common thread in the responses, “the men were suspicious and the police should be called on them.”  “I would have done the same.”  “Thank you for alerting us.”

I was alone in suggesting that walking twice down a street is not suspicious.  People do it all the time and there are a myriad of reasons why you’d do it – from taking a walk around the neighborhood, to canvassing, evangelizing or even getting lost.   And, indeed, if it was I, a white-looking woman, rather than a mixed-race group of men in their twenties, nobody would have thought twice of it.

My comments, however, were met with derision. How dare I suggest that it’s racist to call the police on young men for walking down the street! One of the men was white, after all.

This attitude prevails in San Leandro because it’s constantly fueled by the Police Department.  The SLPD tells neighbors to report anyone “suspicious.”  The avoid the word “black or Latino,’ and instead use words like “people you don’t recognize” as a euphemism for “people who don’t belong”.   Of course, it behooves the Chief to fuel racial tensions in the community.  If nothing else, it will lead to more crime and more resources for her Department.

That said, I don’t believe that the majority of San Leandrans are racist.  But I do think the best way to stand up against racism is to challenge it.

UPDATE: Everyone is welcomed to comment on this and every other posting. But San Leandro Talk does not accept anonymous comments.  Please use your full, real name.



Jul 162013
Police Chief Sandra Spagnoli

Police Chief Sandra Spagnoli

Racial tensions in San Leandro don’t seem to be high enough for Police Chief Sandra Spagnoli.  To fuel them, today the San Leandro Police Department issued a press release about a residential robbery, specifying that the suspects were two, young, black males and the victim was a Chinese family.

There is no legitimate reason for the race of the victims to be mentioned.   Indeed, a quick look through other SLPD press releases on robberies and burglaries shows that while they always mention the race of the suspect, they never mention the race of the victim.  There sole exception was a press release about two robberies perpetrated last April in which the perpetrators were described as black males and the victims as Asian females.

There are many petty reasons why the SLPD maybe trying to exacerbate racial tension on the wake of the Zimmerman verdict.  But it is unconscionable that they do.  San Leandro residents, of all races, deserve much better.