Jan 052015

aclustudnetsA lawyer from the ACLU has contacted a member of SAFE and explained that they are starting a review process on the tracking of kids’ online activities and the keeping of records on kids through graduation.   At their last City Council meeting, the Council approved a grant that will provide the San Leandro Police Department with resources to spy on students using social media and to maintain a database of any student behavior that could label a child as being “at risk,” this starting in elementary school.

The ACLU is working to determine if the SLPD’s proposed tracking and monitoring operations will be breaking any laws and if the policies and procedures around such tracking can be clarified in a way to build transparency and trust with the community.

The ACLU asked that we send in any additional information that could be helpful to their review.  This would include official documents on the social media monitoring, but also personal accounts of such experiences.  Please e-mail me anything you would like to pass on to the ACLU.

Dec 082014

Police-ShootingOver the last three days, we’ve had two shootings of women  driving allegedly stolen cars by San Leandro Police Department officers.  One of them is in critical condition.   Police missed the other, a 16 year-old girl, though one bullet wheezed past a bystander and another hit a parked car a block away.  Fortunately, nobody was reportedly injured in that incident.  Shooting at a fleeing subject who is not a threat to the life of others is against the law.

There is no doubt that moral blame lies on the officers who did shoot. But the real culprits, the ones where most of the blame lies, are SLPD Chief Sandra Spagnoli and City Manager Chris Zapata.

While there are surely police officers who are itching to shoot someone, I believe most of them follow the protocols established by their chiefs of police. It would seem that SLPD’s protocols condone the shooting of fleeing vehicles.  The buck must thus stop with Chief of Police Sandra Spagnoli, who created such protocols.  But Spagnoli could only establish these protocols because City Manager Chris Zapata has disavowed any oversight of the police.  When I met with him a couple of months ago to discuss police misconduct, Zapata stated that the only time he has ever denied a request by the Police Chief was when she proposed that the City spend $60 million to build a new police department.  Zapata determined the City could not afford it.

Zapata did state that, contrary to the wishes of the Police Chief, he would disable the hidden microphones present in the surveillance cameras that were to be installed at City Hall.  But he admitted that he took that position after consulting with the City Attorney and learning that secret audio recording of private conversations, even in a public space, violates California’s wiretapping law.  Zapata stopped short of creating any audit requirements to ascertain that the microphones were, indeed, disabled.


Beyond these two situations, Zapata has given Spagnoli free reign.   The only “oversight” of the Chief there is, are weekly meetings with Assistant City manager Lianne Marshall, where, according to Marshall, the Chief informs her of the needs of the police department.

Mayor Pauline Cutter and the City Council have no direct oversight of the Chief, but they do of the City Manager. It’s time they demand accountability from him.


The City Council will hold their annual work session on the Police Department TONIGHT, Dec. 8, 2014, at 8 PM – after the swearing in of the new Mayor and City Council members.

On Thursday, Dec. 11th, the Police Department will hold an informational meeting on the police shootings. It will take place at the Senior Center (13909 E. 14th St.), from 5:30 to 6:30 PM.

Aug 172014
photo "borrowed" from Think Progress

photo “borrowed” from Think Progress

The New York Times has a story,titled “Around St. Louis, a Circle of Rage” about how police harassment and political ostracism of African-Americans has given fuel to the protests we see in Ferguson.  You can substitute “Oakland” or “San Francisco” for St. Louis and get the same story. People of color – mostly, but not exclusively, African-American – are tired of having their children shot and being the object of police harassment.

When you add to these issues, the fact that the middle class is being decimated, that jobs and opportunities for youth are disappearing and that America is no longer a democracy, we have a volatile situation.

The federal government, owned by Wall Street, has responded by militarizing the police and creating a surveillance state to try to identify leaders-in-the-making. As the NYT said in another article, the protests in Ferguson suffer from lack of leadership.

The repression of peaceful protesters and journalists in Ferguson should not be considered casual. It”s intended, at least in part, to serve as a warning to other communities that may rise up and specially to the middle class, which still has something to lose. State terror exists because it works.

May 132014

Video release of California Senate candidate’s shoplifting raises questions about ethics and privacy

Note: This article has been updated since it was first published.


The woman absently browsing through the racks of clothing that afternoon at Neiman Marcus looked haggard. Her dyed hair appeared uncombed and unwashed, her usually perfectly made-up face was bare and she was wearing a less-than-flattering jogging suit. As she shopped, she was encumbered by a large purse, a shopping bag from Nordstrom’s and another from Neiman Marcus. Her movements between the racks seemed random. Once in a while, she’d select a piece of clothing or two and hand them over to a saleswoman to take to the dressing room. Sometimes she would look at her phone. To the casual observer, she looked like a tired housewife trying to kill time. None of the other shoppers that afternoon seemed to have paid her any attention.

Assemblymember Mary Hayashi, however, had caught the eye of the security team at Neiman Marcus. A dress had disappeared the previous week after a woman matching her description tried it on. For an hour, the store’s high definition cameras followed Mary’s every move, zooming in on her face, bags and even the screen of her phone. Meanwhile, loss prevention agents in white t-shirts followed her discreetly on the floor.

leavingIt was one of the loss prevention agents who watched Mary through the slats of her dressing room door, installed backwards for such purpose, and allegedly observed her dropping a pair of leather pants, a leather skirt and a white shirt into one of her shopping bags. The cameras did record Mary later, at the counter, purchasing a gold shirt and a pair of red pants, while returning some items of clothing she retrieved from her Neiman Marcus bag, for which she had a receipt. Mary chatted with the saleswoman, glanced at her phone and just lingered while waiting for her purchase to be rang up and packaged. If she was distracted, it wasn’t by a phone call.

marysupplyWe see* Mary making her way out of Neiman Marcus with her three shopping bags on tow. We see* her being stopped just outside the store, and brought back inside to have her bags searched. She does not dispute that she had not paid for the leather pants, skirt and shirt that the loss prevention agents found inside one of her bags, with a total value of $2445. She pled no contest to shoplifting, an offense which has the intent to steal as one of its key elements (i.e. you cannot shoplift without meaning to). She has, however, consistently claimed she did not intend to shoplift.


Like many other observers of local politics, I was titillated when news broke of Mary Hayashi’s shoplifting arrest. I had supported Mary when she first ran for Assembly, and I was a novice about local politics, but had grown disenchanted by her “pay to play” approach to politics. There was something deliciously ironic about her being caught stealing at a high-priced department store.

As I knew very little about shoplifting, I decided to school myself on the subject before starting to thrown any stones. Fortunately, there are plenty of books, websites, studies and law cases on the topic. I learned, for instance, that “it was Neiman Marcus policy not to stop a suspected shoplifter unless a loss prevention officer actually observes the suspect removing the item in question from the rack and continuous surveillance is maintained,” so that any evidence against Mary Hayashi was likely to be rock solid. But I also learned that shoplifting is a psychological disorder which afflicts as many as 10% of Americans. While a tiny percentage of shoplifters do so for profit, the vast majority do it to fulfill psychological needs, to fill an emptiness inside or get a high from getting away with the theft. About a third of shoplifters report having been diagnosed with depression. Shoplifting can quickly become addictive, specially as the chances of getting caught are low: shoplifters report being caught about once for every 48 times they steal. Treatment, meanwhile, is very difficult, though a drug used to treat alcoholism shows promise.

Before becoming a member of the California Assembly, Mary Hayashi was a mental health advocate for Asian women. She wrote in her book Far from Home how her passion came from her experience with her own sister’s suicide. It seemed likely that Mary’s shoplifting was based on emotional rather than (at least exclusively) economic needs. Her arrest was a perfect opportunity for Mary to confront her own mental health issues, and in doing so, bring attention to a disorder that afflicts many people from all sorts of lives.

Instead, Mary coped out. Though she plead no contest, basically admitting her guilt, she continued making excuses, claiming she was distracted and later insinuating that a benign tumor she was suffering from, might have played a role in her actions. The latter may actually be believable. Studies have shown that damage to some areas of the brain can interfere with decision making processes, including kleptomania. Mary did not press the issue, however, as admitting faulty decision-making abilities can be a problem for a politician who wants to remain viable. Still, her inability or unwillingness to come clean about her mental health issues – issues to which she had previously dedicated her life -, seem contemptible to me.


Mary Hayashi, now, is running for state Senate. She has a very large campaign chest and no scruples. Perhaps that, too, is a consequence of her brain tumor. She has attacked her opponent mercilessly, suggesting that he supports rapists because he voted against an early version of a bill that took away judicial discretion on division of assets after a divorce. She should not be in Sacramento. That is half of the story.

The other half is the issuagente of privacy, surveillance cameras and see-through dressing room doors. The latter matter is, perhaps, the most blatantly obnoxious. Many people are modest and don’t want to be seen naked by others – be they store employees or anyone else walking by. That’s why dressing rooms exists in the first place. While in this case the loss prevention agent actually caught Mary hiding store merchandise, it’s likely that in many cases they observe completely innocent people in their underwear. I think that at the very least consumers should be informed that they can be seen while changing with the doors closed.

zoominThe surveillance issue is also troubling. Mary was in a store and she probably knew that there were cameras. I doubt, however, that most consumers realize just how intrusive these cameras can be. Shoppers are unlikely to be aware that a camera mounted on the other side of the room can zoom on their faces so precisely that someone could read their lips and eavesdrop into private conversations. They are probably not aware that the cameras can also zoom onto the screens of any papers or screens they have with them, potentially recording private information. A shopper who sees a person looking at what they are holding or studying their mouth movements, would probably walk away; cameras do so undetected.

More and more municipalities are putting cameras like these on public spaces, again without notifying citizens of how much information about their every day lives they can record. Surely sometimes – like in this case – they are useful (though it’s telling that none of the actual elements of the crime of shoplifting were recorded), but it is important for the public and lawmakers to also be aware of the negative uses of surveillance technologies.

Mary Hayashi’s arrest did not lead to the conversation on mental illness I wanted. I hope that the release of the video of her shoplifting incident will lead to a public discussion on the needs of surveillance versus privacy.

Full Shoplifting Trip Video

Mary Leaves the Stores and Gets Arrested

Some Stills from the Video:


* An earlier version of this article said that we didn’t see Mary after she left the counter. That’s because I had only watched one of the two surveillance videos provided by the SFPD. The second video shows her exiting the store, being detained and being brought back into the store.  Stills from the surveillance video have also been added.

Mar 122014

Resolution In Support of Civil Liberties in Oakland and Alameda County

Adopted unanimously at the Mar. 10, 2014 Alameda Labor Council Delegates’ Meeting.

Whereas the Alameda Labor Council, AFL-CIO, supports and promotes American freedoms and constitutional civil liberties;

And, whereas the particular rights to peaceably assemble and speak freely are essential to the collective exercise by working families and their unions of their rights to organize and to bargain collectively;

And, whereas the Alameda Labor Council advances the struggles for justice by organized labor, and others seeking fairness and equality including previously expressing support for the movements for civil rights, against apartheid, and against police brutality;

And, whereas political surveillance and repression were historically used by both the federal and local governments against such labor and human rights leaders as Harry Bridges of the ILWU and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.;

And, whereas City of Oakland officials said under their proposal for the Domain Awareness Center (“DAC”) they intended to use its planned mass surveillance capacity to control the protected activity of Oakland residents and visitors to assemble and speak freely chilling the exercise of these First Amendment rights in Alameda County;

And, whereas, under an existing political surveillance program a worker in Alameda County was recently fired from his job after the police photographed him participating in a demonstration and then shared the photographs with his employer;

And, whereas, while we acknowledge the Oakland City Council’s vote last week to limit the DAC to the Port of Oakland only, the DAC proposal had contemplated warrantless surveillance to collect and stockpile comprehensive information about City residents and visitors who engaged in no wrongdoing whatsoever potentially violating the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition of unreasonable search and seizure;

Now therefore be it resolved, under the privacy protection provisions of the California State Constitution, and under the First and Fourth Amendments of the United States Constitution, the Alameda Labor Council, AFL-CIO urges the City of Oakland and its elected representatives to continue to protect the privacy and constitutional rights of working families and affected visitors to and residents of Oakland and Alameda County.

Josie Camacho
Executive-Secretary Treasurer