Editorial by SF Bay View Editor in Chief William Palmer
On Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2022, San Francisco interim DA Brook Jenkins announced that as a Black mother, she will charge minors as adults for “heinous” crimes that “shock the conscience.” These are 16-17-year-old children. If they were your child, would you be ready to send them to prison for life? I believe all children are our children. The fundamental rights of adulthood come after one has fully transitioned from childhood. Or, at least that’s the way it should be, right?
“The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior” has been used by every psychologist in prison and by parole departments to justify their punitive approach. If this is true, then let’s examine American past behavior that will determine the future of returning our children to adult courts.
Feb. 16, 1988, I left my best friend’s house after beating him twice in a game of Monopoly. With money on my mind, it was no better time than then to go get it. I had just lost my job and was feeling depressed and desperate, ashamed and at a loss to how a 17-year-old kid was going to make it living on his own. I had no family to lean on or a support system to call for help. I made a momentary decision that would last a lifetime.
As I hid in a condominium parking garage off a Riverside golf course, my Soul senses told me to leave. I ignored it and said, just five more minutes. Moments later, an off-duty Riverside police officer detective sergeant was transferring items from one car to another. I approached the man in a ski mask and with an unloaded gun demanding his wallet. He stated he didn’t have one on him. Foolishly, I questioned, “Do you have credit cards or ATM cards?” He said yes. I ordered him to drive us to his ATM, which he did.
I believe all children are our children.
When we arrived, I ordered him out of the car, letting him know I’ll be right behind him. As he got out of the driver side door, he reached under his seat and retrieved his service piece. He immediately opened fire. I saw the first 9mm bullet whiz by my face. He proceeded to empty the other 14 rounds as he backed away, believing I may start firing back with my gun. After the explosions of bullets rained through the Chevy Suburban, there was a pocket of complete silence. I jumped out of the vehicle, ran across the boulevard and found a place to hide. When the smoke cleared from my mind I discovered I was shot in the knee.
After hours of waiting for them to move on, I climbed out of my hiding place and surrendered. They had the perimeter secured and they were going to find me. I knew I’d better give up if I wanted to live to share my story. I was placed into custody and the ambulance drove me to surgery to remove the bullet.
As they held me in a dark damp cell, the juvenile counselor was able to contact my mother. She asked him to put me on the phone. I refused, scared to death to face her. He relayed my refusal and, whatever she said to him, he made it clear that I needed to take this call. She wanted to confirm it was me and assure me that she would be there first thing in the morning. It was her love for me that got me through the hardship of being charged, convicted and sentenced in 70 days as an adult.
On Wednesday, July 27, 2022, Interim San Francisco District Attorney Brook Jenkins held a meeting of the minds at the United Playaz’s Clubhouse. Concerned citizens, business members, nonprofit organization leaders and the new District 6 supervisor were in attendance. As the executive director of Life After Next (LAN), a holistic reentry housing program for our returning citizens, we advocate for youth offender’s unique services and resources for a successful reentry. I have the expertise of lived experience to inform this interim DA why she should work with LAN to address this issue before and after incarceration.
As the DA, she has the ability to set the tone for how our population is viewed by all law enforcement agencies.
If you want to get “tough on crime,” then go after the kingpins. Go after the government agencies that shipped these drugs into our inner cities and gave them weapons to engage in turf wars. I asked her to give the children to Rudy Corpuz and the United Playaz’s (UP) services. When they return home, give them to LAN, which works in partnership with UP. “If you want us out here on the streets doing the work, our lives have to mean just as much as police officers’. That means if we get hurt, you respond the same way if an officer gets hurt.” She had no definitive answer or response, and my Soul senses told me something was not right.
I was placed in a single cell made of concrete, a narrow window with a view to nowhere and a steel door with an even smaller window to a hallway of no return. There was a thin plastic covered cotton mat for a mattress. A steel toilet and porcelain sink. We were given one wool blanket, a sheet and a thin plastic covered pillow. We dressed in gym shorts and t-shirts. Those that didn’t behave the best wore used and stained briefs and stretched socks. We were stripped of any identity of an individual, pride or greatness. The mental breaking began immediately. As I navigated juvenile hall, I got into a physical fight to establish I’m no coward. It only took one fight. The worst part, I had to start back at the bottom with those nasty drawers!
Fast forward to Sept. 13, 2022, I knew she was not the concerned politician she betrayed herself to be in the United Playaz meeting and the walk around the Mission. She was doing the political posturing that all black-face politicians perform for the “minority” vote to legitimize diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), masking the same old colonizing systems that remain in place. Just because you’re Black, female or check any other DEI box doesn’t mean these people are advocating for the reparations and reform that Black people deserve. As the DA, she has the ability to set the tone for how our population is viewed by all law enforcement agencies – agencies that have historically implemented policies that are dangerous to our population. Not even our children are spared from dying from police shootings.
How can mothers in power treat the children of mothers with no power like this?
At a time when social justice warriors have won justice for all citizens, she is returning to white supremacy policies to drain our Black community of any hope of surviving in San Francisco. San Francisco is a leader in the nation. How we treat our children here will be reflected all the way to the US capital, as the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, is from San Francisco. How can mothers in power treat the children of mothers with no power like this?
Our Interim DA is the embodiment of a white man protecting white supremacy. We have laws that prevent parents from spanking their children or they’ll be taken away and caregivers possibly jailed. The data and science are in and undisputed. The youths under 25 years old – 23 for females because we all know they’re smarter than males – do not have the cognitive capacity of adults. How can one rationalize sending 16-17-year-olds to prison?
Let’s look at the wording she’s using, “heinous” and “shock the conscience.” These are the words that the California Board of Prison Hearings (formerly known as the Board of Prison Terms) used as they practiced a four decade illegal sentencing scheme to keep as many “Black,” “Brown,” “First Nations,” and poor “White” and “Other” men and women behind bars. Governors during this time used political posturing stating, “Life means Life,” although the courts gave these convicted felons the possibility of parole.
Those of us with indeterminate sentences became known as “Lifers.” Gov. Pete Wilson stated that no Lifer would come home without a toe tag or in a pine box. It didn’t matter anymore if you had Life without parole, 1 and forever, 5 to Life, 7 up, 15 or 25 to Life. You were going to die in prison. These heinous children that schock our conscience will die in prison if left up to interim DA Brook Jenkins and her contributors.
These words are red flags that should be alarming to all people. These words are used to trigger fear in wealthy conservatives who are her financial contributors. These words are ignored by prominent Black clergy and leadership because she’s a Black female. These words are used to identify her with the purple Democrats and bring the whole of the Republican Party together. For the Bayview and all the real communities of San Francisco, these are fighting words to save the lives of our children.
The DA’s Office is saying, we must continue to rid the population of San Francisco of its Black population.
As a malfunctioning high school dropout, I found out I could barely read. I wrote my friends a handwritten letter and they wrote back, “couldn’t read it from all the misspellings.” My mom sat with me and red penned it. She encouraged me to go to school and get my education. My teacher, Mr. Anderson, gave me no breaks. The week before I would be transferred to the California Youth Authority I received my first A+ on a spelling test ever – along with a big size Butterfinger, my favorite candy bar. My mother was so proud! I felt my brain change.
Once in the California Youth Authority, I continued fighting my peers to prove myself and studying until I received my GED in 1989. Then, on to working on my high school diploma. Fighting and education would be the theme of my entire incarceration. It was there at Youth Training School – the baby pen to prepare children for the penitentiary – that I was elected as the head Student Council member. Who knew that would be the beginning of my activism in and out of prison.
As Peter Drucker put it, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.” We will either succeed or fail together as a nation. At a time when San Francisco has decided to close juvenile detention facilities and find holistic means of treatment, this DA wants to grab as many children as she can to place on the slave auction blocks. Modern day slave plantations we call prisons are seeing their livelihood affected. DAs like Brook Jenkins are securing a continual source of product. While other DAs are not showing up to hearings by the Board of Parole Hearings, Jenkins is making sure there will be more youth offender hearings to come.
The true defenders of the public work in our underfunded Public Defender’s Office within the justice system. There are no policies by this DA’s Office to end the pipeline from school dropouts to prison. We know that not one child of wealthy parents will be affected by this policy. We are asking white and Asian residents to stand with the Black and Brown at risk population against this genocide agenda.
Just as the Asians asked the Blacks to stand with them against Asian Hate Crimes, this is the time for you to show the allegiance wasn’t one sided. The DA’s Office is saying, we must continue to rid the population of San Francisco of its Black population – a population that has decreased from 14% to 4% while comprising 40% of the jail population, and of that 1-2% are juveniles.
In October 1990 at the age of 20 I was transferred to Chino Reception Center (CRC) in the California Department of Corrections (and now rehabilitation) CDC(r). It’s my first day on “The Yard,” a place for me to workout, relax and get some sun. It had showers for those brave enough to use them. As I stood looking around I knew I wasn’t in Kansas anymore. Soon the alarm sounded. An Hispanic man stood on the baseball field bleeding from the head, protecting himself with a bat from further assault. My heart raced with fear.
Two hours later after working out with two men that I later was told were Bloods, two huge Crips blocked out the sun as they stood before me. “Where you from, nigga?” Now I know what that means from two years at YTS. What comes out of my mouth could mean life or death. “He’s my cellie. He’s non-affiliated. He’s with me,” D-Loc spoke up before I could. Later in the cell, he ran down everything I did, right and wrong, as he watched over me. In 31 years of incarceration I’ve only had to learn how to make a knife, held it twice and never had to use it. I would learn to use my words to fight most of my battles that I knew my fist would lose.
In 2015 at the age of 45 years young, after both of my parents had passed away, and denied parole for the10th time, I decided to reinvent myself. Waking up from a deep depression, I had to M.A.N.U.P. (Making rational decisions, Acting with precision, Never giving up my position, Uplifting myself, family and community, Positive living). This was a peer-led program that guided me into manhood. I decided to love myself enough to stop thinking emotionally. I made a conscious decision to love others, officers, free staff and prisoners whether they treated me kindly or not.
Waiting for the prison to rehabilitate or habilitate me to be found suitable for parole would take a lifetime I didn’t have. With the pro bono services of O’Melveny & Myers, professors and students of law universities and a few legal eagle prisoners who taught me the fundamentals, I created the strategy for my release.
Our Interim DA is the embodiment of a white man protecting white supremacy.
In 2018, a decision in my case called In re Palmer became a regulation governing SB260 Youth Offenders. It not only released me from 23 years of constitutionally excessive punishment, but thousands of other youth offenders walked out of prison, too. “[E]xperts now promote intervention rather than incarceration to help reduce juvenile recidivism rates. A study on the issue found that juveniles are 38% less likely to return to crime if they enter a restorative justice program rather than becoming incarcerated.” – Point Park University, “What Are Juvenile Recidivism Rates and How Can They Be Reduced?”
On Friday, Sept. 16, 2022, at 10:00 a.m., we stood on the steps of 850 Bryant, joined together by Public Defender Mano Raju, the Public Defender’s Office and our community allies in our call to open the courts, end the trial backlog and stop the ongoing human rights crises in the SF County Jail. Called as a witness, I pleaded with interim DA Jenkins to do her job and open the courts.
I further stated that I don’t have power, but as a creation of the Most High and living the life purpose of a former Lifer, I will fight against injustice for our youth. I will fight by any means necessary when it comes to sending our children into the lion’s den of adult predatory facilities. It is a given that these children needed mental and emotional health services before they found themselves in these desperate situations. It is a given that these children will be preyed upon. We know that children are often misguided by adults and need our healing and love.
It takes a village to raise a child and an entire village to ignore a child that shocks our conscience. This DA has decided to continue the child abuse of this nation’s past. What do we expect our future to be?
Friday, Oct. 7, 2022, I accepted the offer to become the editor in chief of the SF Bay View newspaper. There is no better source of power to speak out on the dysfunction of SF politics than as the editor of this historic publication for Bayview Hunters Point, the nation and the incarcerated population. We want to highlight the policies that benefit the community. Unfortunately, the DA’s Office has ended the program and fired all the staff that protected juveniles. This is not the direction we can accept, and we will not stand by quietly.
Our law enforcement agencies have not done enough to change the tide. Police, sheriff, prison and parole unions are still powerful influencers on keeping the old criminal justice system. If DA Jenkins is elected by the people of San Francisco, there will be an organized recall for her job and a boycott against every contributor to her campaign. Your vote and contributions to child abuse will not go unnoticed or unchecked.
William Palmer, Editor in Chief of the San Francisco Bay View National Black Newspaper, an advocate for juvenile justice, social justice and reentry expert and a system builder, can be reached at email@example.com.