NAACP raises issues of race discrimination in Berkeley

Nearly 100 people came to a town hall organized by the Berkeley chapter of the NAACP on Sunday. Photo: Lance Knobel

Nearly 100 people came to a town hall meeting organized by the Berkeley chapter of the NAACP on Sunday. Photo: Lance Knobel

A town hall meeting organized by the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) on Sunday, Dec. 8 in Berkeley examined progress on proposals intended to address a range of issues concerning Berkeley’s African-Americans, low-income families and other marginalized communities.

The three most vigorous discussions at the meeting concerned housing, the police and employment. Attendees also expressed concerns about Berkeley’s shrinking black population.

Berkeley police chief Michael Meehan, deputy city manager William Rogers, and Berkeley Housing Authority (BHA) executive director Tia Ingram were among the officials who spoke on Sunday — and weathered a barrage of comment and criticism from questioners. In addition, councilmembers Max Anderson, Daryl Moore and Kriss Worthington attended, as did city manager Christine Daniel. 

The town hall was a follow-up to a July meeting held by the NAACP, which produced a 10-page report containing numerous recommendations for action. Among the many actions urged by the report were a City Council oversight body to monitor employment practices, mandatory cultural competency training for all city and BUSD staff, a new demolition ordinance requiring the replacement of all affordable housing that is demolished, reform of BUSD disciplinary procedures including expulsions and suspensions, eliminating home visits as part of the BUSD registration process, re-creation of a distinct health services department in the city, abolition of the Berkeley Police Department’s Drug Task Force, and implementing a policy of police non-involvement with mental health services.

In terms of demographics, in the 2010 census, blacks made up just under 10% of the city’s 112,000 residents. In 2000, blacks were nearly 14% of the city. Councilmember Anderson said on Sunday that blacks once were 30% of Berkeley, and that today’s numbers were hovering around 8%.

“What would it take to stop the decline in the black population?” asked George Lippman, vice-chair of Berkeley’s Peace & Justice Commission. “The community has to say that’s not the community I want to live in. We don’t want to be Piedmont.”

Addressing the housing issue, Ingram said the BHA served about 2,000 low-income families in Berkeley. Demand remains incredibly high for the limited amount of affordable and Section 8 housing in the city. According to Ingram, the last time the BHA opened the Section 8 list, it received 30,000 applications.

William Rogers

Berkeley Deputy City Manager William Rogers: 57% of the city workforce is persons of color. Photo: LinkedIn

Brendan Darrow, a lawyer from the East Bay Community Law Center, raised the issue of discrimination in housing in Berkeley.

“Anyone who tells you there’s no discrimination in Berkeley is kidding themselves,” Darrow said. “We’d like guidance from the community as to which units or landlords we should check.”

Chief Meehan opened the presentation on criminal justice pointing out that Berkeley’s crime rate is at a 50-year low. But, he cautioned, the black community is disproportionately the victim of crime.

“When the crime rate goes down, the black community benefits disproportionately,” he said.

Meehan said the police force is 14% African American, higher than the city’s population. The BPD works hard, he said, to ensure its actions aren’t biased.

But Meehan faced a stream of questions on specific incidents where racism was alleged. He said, in each case, that he’d be happy to look into the details and get back to the individuals.

“Until words are put into action, it’s just PR,” said Joseph Anderson, to loud applause. “If you are black and you have a problem for which you call the police, you will likely end up with two problems!”

Rogers, talking about the city’s actions on employment, said that 57% of the city workforce is persons of color, and 51% of 2013 hires have been persons of color.

“The numbers say something about our commitment to diversity,” Rogers said. “But the numbers don’t tell us about the employee’s experience in the workplace.”

“It’s a serious thing with the City of Berkeley. We can’t get promoted,” said Jimmy Smith, who said he’d been terminated by the city in 2009. “We know that 90% of the makeup of the staff is African American, but we don’t have any power in the City of Berkeley.”

The city had hired Oakland-based research firm Mason Tillman Associates, Rogers said, to interview 20 people who had raised issues of discrimination with the NAACP. He expects the research to be completed in 2014.

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  • lex

    There’s a problem with our lexicon also .. terms that can be used interchangeably to describe race, ethnicity and culture are frustrating the debate. Generalize or make a value judgement about a cultural norm, and you are accused of being racist.

    Trying to speak factually or relate first-person observations related to race, culture and class is really, really hard. Especially when so many people don’t want to hear what you have to say.

    We need to be able to call a spade a spade.

  • guest

    Ditto, same problem for 30 years — that I’ve observed, probably longer.

    Is it really that hard? We don’t send our garbage trucks to pick up in Oakland, nor fire engines or police (save for mutual aid agreements), nor do we pave their roads or extend any other city services that we all pay for.

  • susankl

    Has anyone — individual, agency, school district, city == dared to look at correlation between “ethnicity,” “race,” whatever you call it == and income? Are middle-class African-American students being disruptive, mean, violent? May we talk about . . . class??

    And is it always out-of-district youngsters who are causing the problems? I would think that if a family goes to such lengths to get their children into a really good school system, they would care about those children’s academic progress.

    There seem to be some logic lapses here . . .

  • BerkeleyCitizen

    Some years ago, I took the City’s tests for an administrative assistant position and was given an A rating. However, I was never offered anything more than a couple of short-term positions, which I didn’t accept because I was looking for full-term employment. I never had an explanation for why I wasn’t offered a job by the City. However, over the years I’ve been told that (1) I’m the wrong color, (2) my problem is that I don’t know someone who is already employed by the City, and (3) that my skill level would embarass my supervisors. Oh, at the time, the job only required being able to type at 40 wpm, and I could type well over 80 wpm. Fortunately, I was able to find work elsewhere, although it would have been better in my situation to have been able to work in the town where I live.

  • guest

    Dear Berkeley NAACP:

    The more you point out the racism that you claim to be pervasive but others cannot see, the more you devalue an organization that has brought about monumental change for the better in America.

    PS Please stop claiming to speak for me (a poor black woman). Your positions and mine do not agree in any way.

  • Doc

    I wouldn’t call them logical lapses. I think instead there are enough parents and grown children who witness to the community the terrible price we have all paid by following the leadership of those who so want an African American based school system that they have created a fraudulent enrollment system to get there. Berkeley schools are bankrupt even though Berkeley families are highly taxed. Berkeley schools ought to be great, instead they are waging and ever losing war against the created achievement gap. The lapse it ideologues who cannot fold real observations into their affirmative action model.

  • guest

    My children’s school is bursting at the seams. Enforcing the residency requirement seems obvious. I can’t believe this is controversial in the least.

  • bgal4

    actually orphanages have better outcomes than foster care

  • disqus_S1ql48Vi9i

    Engage the AA parents. That is the only way.

  • disqus_S1ql48Vi9i


  • guest

    Maybe. But should we make them more grossly overrepresented than they are already just because some of them are old?

  • Three Straw Men

    >implying that anyone who has a different opinion than you is conservative
    >implying that your opinion on this makes you a liberal
    >implying that arguments you don’t agree with are tropes

  • BUSD Needs Reform

    It shouldn’t be controversial, but special interest groups like the NAACP and the Berkeley School Board want to turn it into a racial issue so that they can shut down reform by saying that anyone who supports residency requirements is a racist.

  • bgal4

    You cannot rely on parents being responsive who live 15-30 miles outside of town.

  • curiousjorge

    So is BUSD visiting homes and verifying enrollment, or not? this is the first I’ve heard of any enforcement on the supposedly rampant enrollment fraud, so can someone clarify?

  • curiousjorge

    I was at the town hall and the white city staffers in the front of the room arrived early and filled up the front tables first. So you could just as easily (and more accurately) argue that the white people segregated themselves.

  • supersickandtired

    But the meeting wasn’t about white people…so curious jorge are you saying the non whites were all tardy to the meeting? and how could the whites segregate themselves when no one else was there? should they get up and disperse themselves amongst the rest of the people? your argument doesn’t work.

  • Just sayin

    Exactly. How racist is it that even at it’s peak Berkeley’s population was 30% people of color and today the city employees are 57% persons of color???

    Oh wait, the racism goes the other way so it’s okay…

  • Adam

    The NAACP complaint is not about percentage of the whole workforce, but rather the percentage in higher/management positions.

  • oorfenegro

    My point was were these folks hired 25 or 30 years ago when there were more African Americans in Berkeley. Do the numbers appear over represented in that the Black population has dropped significantly but the Black Berkeley workforce has remained constant?

  • susankl

    There is a very large African-American middle class in Oakland — there has been since WW II. What is your point?

  • Whitty

    In Berkeley, people of color get the majority of public assistance, jobs, affordable housing…etc…I’m tired of hearing it is so bad for people of color here. As a white tax paying citizen I have NEVER been able to receive any subsidized benefits of any kind when I was desperate out of work, etc…reverse racism…
    If you keep yelling fire…when there is no fire…people will stop listening all together…