“The whole is better than the sum of its parts” – Reflecting on Bell Hook’s feminist theory

In Bell Hook’s article titled “Black Women: Shaping Feminist Theory,” she discloses some insight on why some feminists are not being recognized in the feminist movement at large. Being a refugee and an American citizen is conflicting sometimes, its a conflict most in exile face. At heart, we’re refugees, but we have the privilege of carrying a passport that welcomes our existence. Having lived in four different countries, I’ve been able to gain some knowledge in viewing the differences between different cultures and its traditions, but recognizing that at heart people just want to belong and be respected. In hook’s statements, all feminists unite in categorical ways, but the risk is that the common good of the “majority” will take over the distinctive good of the minor differences that shape how one identifies their self. The very essence of what makes the individual experience is unique.  Hook makes the example of Betty Friedan and the second wave’s movement shaping and defining the feminist movement as a whole – without acknowledging the different social and class distinctions that played a great disadvantage to many silent feminists in the movement – those who did not have the means to speak up.

Democracy, standing in line with the majority in numbers often tend to undermine the minority.  The system itself is set up in a way where you focus more on the quantity instead of the quality. By simply quantifying the majority’s personal beliefs and their opinions will not delete the the minorities of unsatisfied people; in this case, minority women leaders. The main reason why democracy isn’t always what it lives up to be is largely due to the unequal platform upon which it was started to begin with. The wealthy and the powerful, the ones who can afford the time and finances to voice their opinions get heard. All the while, many are simply living  the 9-5, trying to step up in the status quo, and cannot afford the time nor resources to contribute. That should not go to say that their voices will not be heard, they are still very much present in the political debates that weight in on the outcome of this country.

I agree with Hook’s statement that Friedan had not thought about the different American women of that time, the ones that were not college educated because they were doing the domestic work while Friedan was attending school. White women of that time had a head start in entering the academic institutions and were eager to learn.  The “other,” couldn’t fully participate because their focus was survival. They were not able to speak on the oppression in the sexism world of white men having power over white women’s lives, because they were the ones taking care of the white babies while the white mothers fought the ‘good fight’. The oppression felt by White and Black women were outrageously different.

“There is much evidence substantiating the reality that race and class identity creates differences in quality of life, social status, and lifestyle that take precedence over the common experience women share” (Bhavnani, pg 34). In the statement above, Hook points out that even though the shared common experiences of women are a good point; they are not necessarily in the order of precedence for all women and generally never experienced in the same way. The difference in placing importance on the above mentioned versus something such as culture and tradition is not taken into account, and it’s generalized towards all women  without considering their different circumstances and opportunities.

At the same time, this issue of diversity not being acknowledged in the feminist movement is not only of race, class and socio economic back ground, but also one of location, and mainly, colonialism. It is the direct effect of the changing world heading towards being more educated and “civilized” in the western cultural perspective. Many people come to the United States for a better education but do not realize that while living in the west, they themselves are also losing parts of their national and cultural traditions due to assimilation in their new environment.  Patricia Hill Collin’s article titled “The Social Construction of Black Feminist Thought,” explains the need for Black women to also emphasize on trying to understand the differences between Black and Afro American because their origins are not the same, thus their experiences are not the same. She points out that it is not good enough to be knowledgable, but just as imperative to know the wisdom in order to make judgments and statements that define all black “African” feminists.

This shows that the problem is not of one simple defining category, but of multiple historical instances that have created a huge divide in the people on such issues of identity. Many women who are also feminists have not even been taken into account because they lack the resources to speak out on the matter. However, the few Black women who have gained some credibility in academia should look into highlighting the  different types of inferiority experienced by Black and African American women all together.

In considering the feminist movement, it is important for the leading feminists who have access to reach the masses to re-consider their notion of what feminism truly is, and what characteristics constitute being a feminist. Most notably, it is important for them to not only know the difference but also understand it before they make statements on behalf of all feminists or even “Black feminists alone.” More writers and leaders in the movement are using terms such as “third world feminism” to distinguish other feminists with diverse cultural and traditional backgrounds.  It’s imperative that we acknowledge the differences amongst feminists world-wide. That would be a step forward towards acknowledging women of all different backgrounds, facing similar struggles of power,  yet working towards finding some common ground in the form of having the choice to have their voices heard.

Peninsula Humane Society found homes for all adoptable animals in 2010 despite 7 percent increase – San Jose Mercury News

Peninsula Humane Society found homes for all adoptable animals in 2010 despite 7 percent increase – San Jose Mercury News.

By Tenzin Shakya
San Mateo County Times
Posted: 02/04/2011 09:41:09 PM PST

Despite a 7 percent increase in animals surrendered to the Peninsula Humane Society in 2010, officials said the shelter was able to place 100 percent of adoptable animals into new homes for the eighth consecutive year.

In 2009, an estimated 2,955 pets were surrendered by owners who were no longer willing or able to care for their animals. In 2010, that number grew to 3,162.

There were 3,749 animals adopted from the center in 2010, of which 3,077 were dogs and cats. The others were small domestic animals.

“The numbers really don’t tell the story. The story is in the relationships we form with them” said shelter president Ken White. “They are living, sentient beings who add so much to a family and really ask for very little back.”

Rachel Evans, 40, of Burlingame adopted her current hound-mix dog from the shelter in 2007.

“It’s been a great and wonderful experience,” she said. “I named him Lucky, but really I’m the lucky one.”

Evans said she was not surprised by the increase of homeless animals arriving at the shelter.

“We hear a lot of sad stories about people having to move to a new place where they couldn’t have a pet,” she said. “The upkeep can get challenging sometimes, especially in this economy.”

Stephanie Halliday, 30, of Foster City started volunteering at the shelter when she was a teenager.

“Every animal deserves to have a loving home, and since I can’t take them all home with me, I want to help them find their forever home,” she said.
The shelter has an open-door policy that allows animals with medical conditions to be placed in care. Currently, it has five veterinarians, 14 veterinary technicians and more than 1,400 volunteers who dedicated more than 135,000 hours in 2010.
Mark Borson, 52, of San Mateo adopted two dogs from the shelter while volunteering there.

Though Borson’s 8-year-old dog has medical insurance, his 15-year-old dog was declined. “It’s a good idea to plan ahead with health insurance for your pets before they become seniors,” said Borson.

Pet care costs for dogs range from $1,314-$1,843 annually for the first year, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Medical bills could go even higher depending on the dog’s breed, heredity, pre-existing conditions and age.

“It’s best to prepare for things that are unplanned for,” said Borson. “A $300 bill could be astronomical for some, but for others it’s just another expense for the family.”
In addition to achieving the 100 percent adoption rate last year, the shelter investigated nearly 600 animal cruelty calls.

“No dog is ever ignored,” White said.

Society’s 2010 highlights

Getting fixed: 6,583 spay/neuter surgeries performed at the shelter’s low-cost clinic plus an additional 1,091 in the shelter’s mobile clinic, which provides free “fixes” in targeted communities. Total number of spay/neuter surgeries was 7,674.

Back to nature: 1,290 wild animals rehabilitated, then returned to their natural habitats.
Training: Three classes of dogs graduated from the TAILS program, a partnership with the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office which pairs shelter dogs with inmates in a minimum security facility for eight weeks.

Saving animals: Rescued more than 1,000 animals from harm’s way, including dogs stuck in traffic, down horses, ducks trapped in storm drains, and deer snared in fencing.

Source: http://www.peninsulahumanesociety.org/about/news.html

Total number of animals 
adopted during 2010
Total number of cats placed 
in new homes during 2010
Number of dogs adopted, 
a 7 percent increase
Number of rabbits, birds 
and other animals adopted

Prop 8 backers call for reversal of court ruling

by Tenzin Shakya and Audrey Arthur

Photo Credit: Steve Rhodes (Flickr)

Proponents of Proposition 8 presented their case to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Monday, citing procreation and children’s well being as a rational basis to appeal an Aug. 4 ruling deciding that the proposition is unconstitutional.

A three-judge panel, consisting of Judge Stephen R. Reinhardt, Judge Randy Smith and Judge Michael Hawkins, reviewed the case brought forth by protectmarriage.com.

“We believe there is clearly a rational basis justifying the traditional definition of marriage,” said Charles Cooper defense attorney to the appellants. “The key reason that marriage has existed at all, in any society and at any time, is that sexual relationships between men and women naturally produce children.”

Proposition 8 was passed by California voters in 2008 defining marriage as an institution between one man and one woman. However, in an August ruling, Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker said the proposition is unconstitutional and infringes upon equal protection rights of gay and lesbian couples. Proposition 8 proponents then issued an appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Although the court has no time limit, most cases heard by the Ninth Circuit are decided between 3-12 months. If the judges decide the proponents have legal standing, their case may continue to the California Supreme Court. Else, the federal appeals court may issue a decision without referring to the Supreme Court.

Cooper argued that the historical definition of marriage has existed now and “for all time immemorial.” Society has no interests in relationships such as platonic male-female relationships or same-sex relationships because of their inability to produce children, Cooper said.

Protestors outside of the San Francisco 9th Circuit Court of Appeals

“When a relationship between a man and a woman becomes a sexual one, society immediately has a vital interest in that,” Cooper said. “Society needs the creation of new life for the next generation.”

The interests of society are threatened by unwanted pregnancies and pregnancies out of wedlock, Cooper said, because such instances often leave the mother to raise the child alone. Cooper suggested that the traditional home of one father one mother is the most beneficial environment to raise a child.

“Society will have to step in and assist that single parent in all likelihood, that is what usually happens, in the raising of that child,” Cooper said. “But as well as the undeniable fact that children raised in that circumstance have poor outcomes.”

Judge Reinhart of Los Angeles responded, “That sounds like a good argument for prohibiting divorce.” The statement initiated a wave of laughter throughout the courtroom.

He also questioned how such an argument would invalidate a same-sex couple from raising children in California and creating a happy, healthy family unit.

Cooper stated he was attempting to give examples of procreation to exhibit the clear distinctions among same-sex couples and opposite sex couples.

Chief Deputy City Attorney Therese Stewart responded to Cooper’s statements.

“It doesn’t matter how the child comes into the world,” said Stewart. “Family law in California recognizes that same-sex couples do procreate.”

To portray opposite-sex couples as traditional or ideal is demeaning toward same-sex couples, Stewart said, in that it implies gay or lesbian couples are less desirable.

“California does not discourage that in any way or say one is more desirable than the other,” Stewart said.

Theodore Olsen, an attorney who has led the challenge against Proposition 8, reacted to comments made in the appellant’s brief referring to problems that may occur with children if Proposition 8 is overturned.

“Proposition 8 needs to be enacted because the existence of same-sex marriage will make children prematurely occupied with issues of sexuality,” the brief read.

“That is nonsense,” Olsen responded. “If that was the course of justification, it would equally warrant the banning of comic books, television, video games and conversations with other children.”

Olsen criticized campaign methods of Yes on 8 and their emphasis on protecting children from potential harm of same-sex marriages.

“That was the original rationalization–protect our children from thinking that gay marriage is okay,” Olsen said. “Well, what is the matter with that? It must be something with the gay people.”

Olsen said such campaign strategies promote the idea that children must be protected from “these people.”

Judge Norman Randy Smith of Pocatello questioned the validity of any argument due to the equal rights that all couples share.

“What is the rational basis then if homosexuals have all the rights that heterosexual couples have?” asked Smith. “We’re left with a word: marriage.”



Expensive dish causes controversy

by Tenzin Shakya, Staff Writer

Fishermen capture millions of sharks each year, cutting off their fins and then throwing the used bodies back into the sea. Shark fins are a highly prized ingredient used in the traditional Asian delicacy, shark fin soup.

Bay Area animal rights activists and environmentalists recently petitioned for legislation to ban all shark fin products in California in an effort to raise the shark population and restore balance in the ecosystem.

The San Francisco-based Aquarium of the Bay collected more than 3,600 individual letters that will be sent to the National Marine Fisheries Service in hopes of raising awareness for a ban on shark finning.

The tradition of the soup began centuries ago during the Ming dynasty in China as a delicacy fit for only emperors and noble members of society. The soup became a symbol of statues and families began serving it at banquets and weddings across Asia as a way of honoring special occasions.

In the Chinatown district alone, there are more than 20 restaurants serving the soup for an average of $32 per serving. The soups are priced as high as $100 per serving at some high-end restaurants.

“It’s a way of sharing expensive, rare items to tell others that they are special,” said SF State alumni Christopher Winn, an advocate for the protection of sharks from overfishing and a volunteer with Sea Steward, a non-profit shark conservation and documentary film organization.

Making shark fin soup is a tradition that SF State student Kim Nyugen and her mother practice.

“My mother makes it occasionally and a shark is just another fish for her,” she said. “It’s pretty tasty and we only serve it on rare occasions.”

The shark finning process results in more than 73 million shark deaths annually, according to Oceana, the largest international organization focused solely on ocean conservation.

“Shark fins are the most unsustainable seafood product being served,” said David McGuire, director of Sea Steward. “The problem is that fins are coming from other countries, almost entirely certainly from the finning fishery.”

However, some cooks have found creative ways to take the ‘shark’ out of shark fin soup.

Award-wining San Francisco chef Corey Lee, of Benu restaurant in San Francisco, has cooked up his own alternative for consumers who wish to enjoy the controversial dish.

Lee serves faux shark fin soup to his customers in the belief that the flavor and nutrients actually come from the other ingredients that are used to prepare the soup.

“The ‘shark fin’ that we have on our menu is not really shark fin,” said Carey Snowden, administrative manager at Benu. “Chef Lee, appreciating both the unsustainability of the dish and the culinary importance of it, used hydrocolloids to develop a faux shark fin for the soup.”

By definition, hydrocolloids are substances that mix gel and water together. Many hydrocolloids come from natural substances and have been used in various cultures around the world.

Congress banned the practice of shark finning in U.S. waters in 2000. However, transporting shark fins by sea is not illegal, which allows fishermen to practice shark finning elsewhere and export the fins to the Bay Area.

The Shark Conservation Act of 2009 planned to close these loopholes. The legislation passed the House of Representatives last year only to be blocked in the U.S Senate by Sen. John Rockefeller in a filibuster blocking all committee votes.

Over the summer, Hawaii became the first state to pass a law that banned not only shark finning but also made it illegal to possess, sell or distribute shark fins in the state.

If the SCA, also known as SB 850, had passed in the United States, the loophole that currently allowed the transporting of fins to the country would be illegal. However, many sharks are still protected by the Endangered Species Act of 1973.

With the 111th Congress nearly out of session, activists are unsure of where SB 850 stands. However, that has not stopped them from localizing the issue by campaigning for local legislation in cities worldwide.

Though many other species impact life under water, sharks affect the nature of the sea the most, swimming high on top of the food chain. Within the last two decades, the shark population has decreased by nearly 90 percent, according to Sea Steward’s website.

Some consumers have no plans to quit consuming shark fin soup, however.

“I eat it because it is good and there are several different ways to make it,” said Luly Lui as she stepped out of Mayflower Seafood Restaurant in Chinatown. “Also, it’s good for you since it has a lot of nutrients in the soup. Unfortunately it is a bit pricey.”

Aside from the animal rights argument, some groups have also said that the dish may not, in fact, be safe for consumption.

Studies conducted by WildAid, an organization with a mission to reduce consumer demand for endangered wildlife products and to encourage responsible energy consumption behavior, show that sharks have the highest levels of toxic mercury among other fish and that shark fins are a health hazard, especially for pregnant women.

According to the U.S Food and Drug Administration, most sharks have more mercury intake than is considered safe for humans.

Using digital media to raise awareness, WildAid started producing campaigns online featuring some of China’s biggest celebrities, such as Jackie Chan and Yao Ming, in an attempt to change society’s attitudes toward the soup.

For some, these campaigns have swayed them away from the tradition.

“When I lived in Hong Kong, I had a lot of shark (fin) soup” said Kwan Lee, a resident of Chinatown. “Last year, I saw a movie about it and it was so sad that I stopped eating shark fin soup.”


Bay Area protests language policies in Tibet

Photo Credit : Yangkyi Deteng

Dozens of pro-Tibet activists gathered outside San Francisco’s Chinese consulate on Oct. 29 to demonstrate against the Chinese Community Party’s proposition to make Chinese-Mandarin the official language in local schools.

A series of protests began Oct. 20 in Western China involving thousands of students following the announcement and activists are saying that this policy threatens the identity of Tibetans and other minorities established in China.

“These policies targeting a set of minorities resemble the tactics used back in the 80s during the Cultural Revolution,” said SF State student Lhamo Dolma, 21, International Relations major.

Dolma’s parents fled Tibet after the Chinese invasion in 1959, and settled in a remote village in Southern India before immigrating to California in 1996. Since then, Dolma has been active in the Tibetan movement by helping coordinate events and volunteering with Students for a Free Tibet, an organization campaigning for “Tibetans’ fundamental right to political freedom and independence.”

The online Tibetan news site Phayul.com reported more than 1000 students in Tibet marching through the streets of Western China and Beijing carrying banners reading “Protest ethnic minority languages, carry forward Chinese civilization.”

Photo Credit: Yangkyi Deteng

“Even though China is massively progressing in the world economy, policies like this proves the weakness of a government not able to protect the rights of its citizens,” Dolma said.

Protesters used bull horns to amplify their slogans while shouting “Equality of race and freedom of language.” The Tibetan advocates accuse the CCP of detaining 20 students already since last Saturday’s protests in China.

According to Article 4 of the Chinese constitution “The people of all nationalities have the freedom to use and develop their own spoken and written languages, and to preserve or reform their own ways and customs.”

Xinhua News, the official press agency of the People’s Republic of China released statements from officials denying allegations of targeting the Tibetan identity through the oppression of their language.

China was scrutinized many times for their ways of operating internet censorship and government controlled media.

Google experienced this first hand when it announced it’s decision to pull out of China back in March after the company discovered China-based cyber-attacks trying to breach Google’s infrastructure. The company moved to Hong Kong and China’s internet system is currently censored by government authorities.

Education Department Director Wang Yubo of the Qinghai province in China said “the program to teach classes only in Mandarin Chinese was not aimed at wiping out Tibet’s native tongue,” according to Xinhua.  Officials were reported saying that they will respect students and parents viewpoints before enforcing the policy but no promises have been made yet.

However, according to the document submitted to Qinghai government in China, over 300 teachers have signed their names to a letter requesting the Chinese government to reconsider their proposal, stating that it does not benefit the education system.

“Freedom to speak one’s own language is inherent to the principles of freedom and equality and are being forcefully denied to Tibetan students as a direct result of China’s illegal occupation of Tibet,” said Giovanni Vassallo, SF State alumnus and president of Bay Area Friends of Tibet.

Photo Credit : Yangkyi Deteng

The tension between ethnic minorities and the dominant Han Chinese has become an issue in the world arena since the March 2008 protests in Tibet that left over 200 people dead, and resulted in a ban against foreign correspondents and journalists to China. Ethnic groups in China were seen on cell phone videos uploaded on youtube demanding for the halt on Han Chinese migration to their rural towns through the new railway system which they said was hurting their local economy. San Francisco witnessed this first hand during the controversial Beijing Olympic torch‘s arrival back in April of 2008.

Thousands of activists opposed the torch relay ceremony that was held in San Francisco – the only city to receive it in North America. Advocates condemned China’s conduct in relation to human rights, including torch bearer Majora Carter, executive director of Sustainable South Bronx.

“So, although I have no longstanding connection to Tibet, I would not be able to call myself a drum major for justice if I did not speak my concern for Tibetans inside Tibet who are being persecuted by the Chinese government for expressing their desire for freedom,” Carter said in her statement to the press that day.

Though opposition groups accuse this policy of being a human rights issue in China, the Chinese government officials claim their intent is to bridge the education gap between China’s various ethnic groups and promote development in ethnic minority areas according to Xinhua.

According to Director Jiaxin Xie of The Confucius Institute at San Francisco State University “Language not only connect people, it connects the culture and economy.”

Xie said it’s good to teach different languages but “Every country needs a predominant language.”

Mandarin is the common language spoken by more than 90% of the Han Chinese population however, majority of immigrants tend to speak languages of their own dialect as a mean of preserving one’s culture.

Jenny Leong who works at the Chinese Cultural Center of San Francisco’s China Town District said the center does not take any political stance regarding China’s policies. But, in regards to the importance of languages other than Mandarin, she said “Cantonese is spoken more than Mandarin in China Town and majority of the first Chinese immigrants spoke Cantonese, not Mandarin.”

Despite differences of political views, language has historically been marked as one of the key ingredients in preserving ones cultural background, and ethnic identity. A study conducted by the American Forum for Global Education cites language of choice as “a major way of asserting ethnic identity. Ethnicity in turn is tied to language loyalty: staying with a language even when you might expect economic forces to turn you away from it.”

“We call upon the Chinese government to adhere to its own constitution and respect these principles at the heart of the ethnic Tibetan identity, they must allow the Tibetan language to be respectfully taught in all of Tibet,” said Vasallo.


AB 12 extends foster care to young adults

By Tenzin Shakya, staff writer

Photo Courtesy of All Saints Church

Foster children will now have the choice to remain in foster homes till age 21 or move out at 18 with federal assistance. The California Fostering Connections to Success Act, signed by Gov. Schwarzenegger on Sept. 30 has made this possible for thousands of foster youth who under current law are legally emancipated without state support at age 18.

The legislation, also known as Assembly Bill 12, will be effective January 2012 and will require youth to attend school, college, career oriented programs or work a minimum of 80 hours a month in order to receive funding. The bill also provides transitional housing support to those who qualify until age 21.

Amy Lemley, policy director for the John Burton Foundation for Children without Homes in San Francisco, said the bill is an entitlement and “if all of California’s foster youth elect to participate, we are legally required to pay for them.”

San Francisco had an estimated 189 foster children emancipated within the last year according the database of the California Department of Social Services and the University of California at Berkeley. California had a total of 63,553 foster youth last year of which 5,332 were emancipated.

Carroll Schroeder, executive director of the California Alliance of Child and Family Services, a co-sponsor of the bill said, “AB-12 takes advantage of funding opportunities provided for the first time by the federal government toward California’s Foster care system.”

SF State communications major and former Guardian Scholar, Jewel Boone, 19, said statistics provide data on the number of kids in foster care, but does not provide information on how it impacts them directly.

“Identity issues of not knowing who you are is a psychological task and a big responsibility for children and young adults,” Boone said.

Boone was declared a “ward of the court” since birth and has been placed with two foster families. Last year she was legally emancipated without choice after turning 18. Boone enrolled in SF State through the support of the Guardian Scholars Program, an organization founded under the mission to “create a system of support that will meet the academic, social, emotional, and financial needs of college-bound students who are transitioning out of the foster care system.”

She still considers herself “one of the few lucky enough to have a strong family support system.” She said a lot of her friends in the foster care system did not have that. “A friend of mine was kicked out at 11:58 p.m on his 18th birthday along with a bag that had all his things in it,” she said.

Boone credits the Guardian Scholars program at SF State for supporting people like herself.

“Without the state’s funding programs for foster care, chances of going to college is almost an impossible battle,” she said. “There would be no alternative for students like me, and I would not be able to afford SF State.”

Amid celebrations of the bill’s passing, Richard Wexler, executive director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform said AB-12 does not solve the problems faced by foster youth. “It’s not enough because the this bill simply makes it less bad than other wise.”

Wexler compares this bill to a “catch-22” scenario. “It’s a case of treating the wrong wound when a worse wound is hidden and unseen.” He said AB-12 simply funds the foster families to allow the foster care youth to stay in their foster homes until age 21 with at least three meals a day, and “one would hope that love and support from the foster family would also be there.”

Wexler said the real problem is children being placed into foster care when they don’t need to be. “Poverty, neglect, and housing for homeless parents separate children from their families, which could simply be solved by providing decent housing and daycare centers for single parents,” he said.

Boone acknowledges that the Foster Care system is still a “fairly flawed system, and a lot needs to be done to improve it.”

She said, “Sometimes the system just reinforces the disadvantages we feel but legislation such as AB-12 is the move in the right direction.”

Currently the Transitional Housing Placement Plus Program administered by the California Department of Social Services is able to assist one out of five foster youth after they are emancipated according to Lemley. “Now, they do not have to compete for the limited number of slots available, instead every one of them would be helped if they voluntarily elect to enroll in the program.”

Jennifer Rodriguez, staff attorney at the Youth Law Center said, “AB 12 provides opportunities for youth to live in college dorms, with family members, or transitional housing- making for the first time college a real possibility.”

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San Francisco fights to protect sanctuary laws

By Tenzin Shakya , staff writer

October 15, 2010 10:38 PM

San Francisco’s sanctuary status since 1989 is battling with the federal government’s immigration enforcement program which city officials fear will lead to racial profiling.

Secure Communities is an agreement between the California Justice Department and Immigration and Customs Enforcement that was enacted in June. The program requires local police officials to share arrest data with ICE and check an individual’s legal status by running their fingerprints through a national database. If they are found to be in the U.S. illegally, they face deportation under custody.

Photo Credit (Flickr, Steve Rhodes)

“There is a serious problem with lack of transparency and secrecy regarding the so-called Secure Communities program,” said Angela Chan, police commissioner and staff attorney at the Asian Law Caucus. She said even if the arrested individual is found innocent of charges against them, they still face deportation.

Virginia Kice, western regional communications director at ICE, said S-Comm does not require San Francisco to enforce immigration laws. Instead, data is shared with the FBI and immigration officers as it has been for years.

“ICE independently enforces the immigration law as appropriate if a person in criminal custody is subject to removal,” she said.

According to a letter addressed to the Justice Department by Secure Communities Executive Director David Venturella, S-Comm is meant “to improve community safety by identifying, detaining, and removing all aliens convicted of serious crimes who are held in state or local correctional facilities.”

ICE’s website describes plans to have S-comm in every jail in the country by 2013.

Although S-Comm is aimed at high-level offenders, data shows that many arrested have been deported for low-level crimes and misdemeanors related to traffic citations. California has deported nearly 15,000 people through the program, the highest number among states where S-comm is active. Data from ICE shows 3,875 individuals were deported after being arrested for non-criminal charges between Oct. 27, 2008 and June 30, 2010.

“This is a setback in a society,” said Raul Barrera Esteva, 20, an organizer with People Organizing to demand Environmental and Economic Rights. “It is really sad that society and the government is wasting all the undocumented students which are the future doctors, teachers, lawyers and many other important professions that are needed in this country.”

Esteva is an undocumented student but is able to attend college in California without worrying about ICE gaining information from the school about his legal status.

According to Ariana Gil, Outreach Coordinator for the Mujeres Unidad y Activas, five protesters were arrested on Oct. 5 after refusing to leave the immigration rights rally outside California Attorney General Jerry Brown’s office in the city.

“Five percent of the deported individuals happen to be U.S. citizens,” Gil said. “So this program actually impacts everyone, not just immigrants.”

Immigration activists expressed disappointment that Brown refused San Francisco Sheriff Michael Hennessey‘s request to opt out of the program in May. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano confirmed to the Washington Post that ICE does not “consider Secure Communities an opt-in, opt-out program.”

City officials and activists claim S-Comm makes individuals fearful of cooperating with the police in reporting and solving crimes.

“This law affects our community as a whole because if an undocumented person sees somebody getting robbed or killed, they are more likely to not call the police for help out of fear even more that they will be deported in the process,” Esteva said.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors approved a resolution in May to boycott Arizona’s Senate Bill 1070 immigration law. They compared it to S-Comm saying, “Secure Communities police/ICE collaboration program, like Arizona SB 1070, compromises the safety of local communities by eroding the hard- earned trust built over the past decades between community members and local law enforcement.”

Concerns about S-Comm involve the creation of distrust between immigrant residents, local law enforcement agencies and impact on family members, especially children.

“I know many people who has been deported for not having papers and it is extremely sad to hear the stories of people who have been affected by it,” he said.

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Terrorist Liaisons hired by the San Francisco Police Department

By Tenzin Shakya, staff writer

Hundreds of Bay Area residents gathered in front of the Human Rights Commission Sept. 23 to voice concerns regarding the San Francisco Police Department’s decision to hire additional Terrorist Liaison Officers.

“San Francisco, a city which prides itself on its progressive values, just hired 40 new terrorist liaisons and none of us even knows what that means,” said Veena Dubal, staff attorney at the Asian Law Caucus.

“Since Sept. 11th, we have received harrowing accounts from clients and ourselves witness the McCarthyist tactics of the FBI and Joint Terrorism Task Force against both political activists and the Muslim community at large,” Dubal said.

TLOs are active duty police officers who volunteer to receive training from other government agencies.

At the meeting, community members related their experiences after 9/11 and argued that San Francisco Police Chief George Gascón’s desire to change department rules on gathering intelligence infringes on their First Amendment rights.

The first speaker was Josh Singh, an 8-year-old Sikh boy who donned a red “patka,” a religious head garment. He said when he was at San Francisco International Airport, officials separated him from his parents and told him to remove the garment. His mortified parents stood aside, separated by a glass wall as they saw their young son go through the search. Singh said he continued to ask what he did wrong, but was not told anything. He asked, “Why was I the only boy behind the glass box?”

Sgt. Troy Dangerfield, a spokesman for the SFPD, said TLOs do not watch religious organizations or specific groups of people. Police officials must prove reasonable suspicion of criminal activity before opening an investigation, according to staff attorney Julia Mass of the American Civil Liberties Union.

“The definition of First Amendment protected activity includes expression, advocacy, participation, expressed conduct to further any political or religious opinion,” Mass said.

SFPD’s “One Year Retrospective Report” was released by Chief Gascón in August 2009 and reported that Homeland Security decided to increase the number of TLOs from 40 to 100.

According to the report, TLOs reach out to the community by educating business owners about terrorist threats and reporting protocol.

In 2008, California Homeland Security Director Matthew Bettenhausen testified before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and urged them to give more authority to local governments by allowing full access to information gathered by terrorism prevention institutions created after 9/11.

Consistent with the 9/11 Act, homeland security grants states at least 25 percent of Urban Areas Security Initiative appropriated funds to go toward anti-terrorism efforts.

“We need local legal safeguards to prevent intrusions on the civil liberties of San Francisco’s residents,” said Hararah. “Because of police collaborations with the FBI or ICE, our communities do not feel we can rely on the local law enforcement for help.”

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Californians face marijuana legalization decision in November

by Tenzin Shakya, staff writer

Photo Credit Samuel E Heller

On Nov. 2 California voters will decide if marijuana should be legalized for individuals over 21 years of age to possess and cultivate despite the federal government’s disapproval.

If the measure passes, Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) plans to make the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control responsible for regulating the cultivation and sale of marijuana by taxing commercial use. Anyone over age 21 would have the legal right to consume less than an ounce of marijuana freely in non-public places without being penalized and would be allowed to cultivate marijuana in personal spaces limited to 25 square feet.

Ammiano’s introduction of Assembly Bill 2254 which is currently pending, would tax $50-per-ounce and directly fund the state’s drug related education programs.

“It’s a 21 and over law and varies from county to county and if LA does not want legal weed, they don’t need to have it. If San Francisco wants it, it can,” said Joshua Nermon, president of the SF State Student’s for a Sensible Drug Policy. “You have to start somewhere and everything in the past decade has built up to this moment, legalizing marijuana and starting to look at our whole drug policy in a totally different light.”

Nermon said Proposition 19 would reduce the penalty for possession, send fewer people to jail and address the public’s use of marijuana. He said medical marijuana is designed for patients, but people have abused it by using it for recreational purposes.

According to the World Drug Report 2010, provided by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug in the world.

“But in a way, it’s a good thing because it has opened people’s eyes to how harmless it is,” said Nermon. “Marijuana does not create a dependency as other drugs like heroin.”

Max Mier, a medical marijuana patient and the creator of the iPhone application “Herb Converter,” gathered signatures for Proposition 19 by the Dolores Park Cafe in San Francisco’s Mission District. He said, “Marijuana is a much safer alternative to relieve stress versus the currently available alcohol which does, in some cases, destroy families.”

At SF State, “the typical consequence for possession (of marijuana) is completion of an educational module,” said Ellen Griffin, spokesperson for SF State. However, a “student with an intent to sell is automatically evicted from University Housing.”

SF State’s policy on marijuana is in compliance with the federal government’s Controlled Substances Act which recognizes marijuana as an illegal drug and does not acknowledge the difference between medical and recreational use of marijuana.

“Local or state laws do not apply on campus, so Proposition 19, if passed, will not affect the University,” she said.

Proposition 19 is estimated to generate $1.4 billion in tax revenue and help fund state programs. Despite revenue generated, opponents are in disagreement.

“This free-for-all measure is deeply flawed and poorly written and it’s doubtful that we’ll see the revenue listed by proponents,” said Roger Salazar, spokesperson forNo on Proposition 19.

He said unlike alcohol which is regulated statewide, this measure would leave it up to 536 different counties and cities to enforce and regulate laws in local jurisdictions. It would be “costing law enforcement more time and money to control marijuana and regulate authorized dispensaries.” Salazar called Proposition 19 a “jumbled legal nightmare” and said he doubts it will pass.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, District Attorney Kamala Harris and Mayor Gavin Newsom have announced their opposition to Proposition 19 and are calling on their supporters to vote against it.

“California will not see a single positive result if Proposition 19 passes,” Senator Feinstein said in July when she announced that she would co-chair the No on Proposition 19 campaign. “It is a poorly constructed initiative that will cause harm to Californians on our roadways, and in our schools, workplaces and communities,” she said.

Opponents predict legalized marijuana would lead to a decrease in its price, and the revenue generated from taxes will not be worth the efforts. It would also mean cheaper marijuana for patients who use it for medical marijuana purposes.

According to a study released by the RAND Corp, a non-profit research institute, the retail price of marijuana could drop to as low as $38 per ounce compared to the current estimated $375 per ounce.

In an email to [X]press, San Francisco based pro-marijuana activist and blogger Dragonfly De La Luz said that cities would have the right to levy unlimited taxes on cannabis and “possessing cannabis of any amount will be illegal if it was bought anywhere other than a licensed dispensary, restricting our coming freedom to possess whatever cannabis we choose.”

Frances Hsieh, chair of endorsements at the San Francisco Women’s Political Committee, supports Proposition 19 and said it would help bring money into general funds.

“The amount of money spent on law enforcement could be better spent on social programs involving the youth, family and children,” she said.

The cost of education has been increasing with the state’s budget cuts. Before Proposition 13 of 1978, People’s Initiative to Limit Property Taxation, California schools were funded by local property taxes. After it passed, CA school systems became dependent on state general funds. Proposition 13 limited property taxes in California to no more than one percent of a home’s assessed value, shifting the focus of control from local school funding, to the state.

“We’ll be much better off if we wait until 2012 and vote for the California Cannabis Hemp and Health Initiative (also known as the Jack Herer Initiative),” said De La Luz. “It’ll give us an opportunity to vote in on a legalization initiative that is actually worthy of the name, and that will make fewer people criminals, not more.”

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Student suing SF State after fee increase

by Tenzin Shakya, staff writer

A suit against SF State for breach of contract was denied Monday, August 30, by San Francisco City commissioner Paul Slavit after a two and a half month battle in a small claims court over the school’s 30 percent fee increase.

The plaintiff is SF State student Angela Yuen Uyeda, a communications major graduating next semester. According to court documents, Uyeda requested a reimbursement of a $336 fee increase.

“The increase was a retroactive fee increase for one semester after a fixed amount had been agreed to and paid,” she said in an e-mail sent to [X]Press. “I understand that the fees can be raised, but a deal is a deal.”

Uyeda adds that the “Cal State University system has made a series of rapid-fire tuition and fee increases that have caught students by surprise and created financial turmoil for students and families.”

Due to the latest rounds of California’s budget cuts, the California State University board of trustees voted to raise student fees on June 22.

An email was sent out by the SF State registrar’s office notifying them of the fee increase and another notifying them of of their inability “to register during their Early Priority Registration date and time unless all appropriate fees have been paid.” The fee deadline for students to make final tuition payments was July 8.

Had Yuen not paid the additional $336 she would have lost her priority registration date, requiring her to compete for her classes just weeks before school started.

“The issue with raising student fees is due to the state budget cuts,” said Mike Uhlenkamp, Spokesperson for the CSU system. “We had to find other resources to provide access to the students and it was an unfortunate option but one we had to investigate and implement. ”

The commissioner ruled in favor of the University, citing that no money was owed to Uyeda, meaning the she will not be reimbursed the $336.

“We appreciate the court’s quick and thorough decision, said SF State Spokesperson Ellen Griffin. “Fee increases are truly unfortunate, but as this decision demonstrates, the University acted appropriately.”

Uyeda believes the court ruled in SF State’s favor because she may have failed to make clear to the judge that the retroactive fee increase was not set in stone at the time she paid for the July 2009 tuition.

“I believe the University successfully misrepresented that this policy had always been in force,” she said. “Well, I’ll be better prepared next time. Anyway, the real issue is much larger than my personal law suit.

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