What Brown v. Brooks Means For Black Folk, Part 2

February 27, 2018

When we were last all together, we were beginning a discussion about the repercussions coming out of the 2015 argument and physical confrontation between Oakland City Councilmember Desley Brooks and former Black Panther Party Chairperson Elaine Brown. It’s a complicated issue that can’t be summed up in 280 characters on Twitter, or in this case, even a single thousand-word column. So if you’re looking for quick answers, or answers without the benefit of context, you’ll have to look elsewhere. This ain’t that kind of party.

But if too much word count is a worry for you, I won’t review what was already talked about in the original column; you can review it yourself (“What Brown v. Brooks Means For Black Folk”). I’ll only say that my premise in that first column was that “regardless of which one of the women got the blame and who was actually at fault [in the confrontation], this was going to end up being bad for Black Folk in Oakland and the Bay Area as a whole.”

Meanwhile, we’ll continue where we left off, with the San Jose Mercury News/East Bay Times publishing a joint editorial in January calling for voters in Oakland’s Council District 6 to turn Ms. Brooks out of her City Council office in next November’s election because of what the editors called the Councilmember’s pattern of “abuse of power.”

A collection of members of the Oakland City Council weren’t content to wait that long, however, for Ms. Brooks to be punished for what these Councilmembers perceived as her political and personal transgressions. Neither did these Councilmembers care to leave that punishment in the hands of District 6 voters. So last month, resolution was introduced for City Council consideration with the somewhat bland title of “Adopt A Resolution Amending Council Rules Of Procedure ... To Authorize The Council President To Change Committee Membership And Committee Chair Assignments” that many  observers felt was aimed directly at taking a considerable block of power away from Ms. Brooks.

Brief background note: Ms. Brooks currently serves as chair of Oakland City Council’s powerful Public Safety Committee, with a two-year term that ends following the November Council elections. Until now, City Council rules contained no provision for removing a committee chair in the middle of that term. The proposed new rule reversed that position, allowing the City Council president—currently Councilmember Larry Reid—to remove both committee chairs and committee members at his will, without cause or explanation.

According to an East Bay Times article on the proposed council rule change and Ms. Brooks’ position on the Public Safety Committee, “At least one council member this past week questioned whether Desley Brooks is fit to remain as chair on the council’s public safety committee, in light of recent controversies surrounding the Oakland politician.” Reacting to the fact that the civil jury in the Brooks v. Brown case had listed “elder abuse” as one of the reasons they ruled against Ms. Brooks (Ms. Brown was 72 years old at the time of the confrontation while Ms. Brooks was 54), the East Bay Times article added a quotation from City Councilmember Annie Campbell Washington that “[t]o be honest, the fact that a jury found [Ms. Brooks] guilty of elder abuse I think it’s very problematic to have her remain as chairperson of the public safety committee.” (“Should Desley Brooks Chair The Oakland Public Safety Panel?”)

Ms. Campbell Washington, it should be noted, was one of the three Oakland City Councilmembers  who co-sponsored the proposed Council rules change resolution (Council President Larry Reid and Councilmember Lynette Gibson McElhaney were the two others).

Had Ms. Brooks been actually been found “guilty” of a serious crime—such as assault and battery, for example—in her confrontation with Ms. Brown, removal from her post as Public Safety Committee chair would have been an appropriate measure for the Oakland City Council to take. But contrary to what Ms. Campbell Washington asserted in the East Bay Times “Should Desley Brooks” article, Ms. Brooks has never been found “guilty” of any actions in connection with her 2015 confrontation with Elaine Brown. She was found liable—or responsible, in lay terms—in a civil trial for Ms. Brown's injuries resulting from that confrontation, but that is a far different thing altogether, with absolutely no criminal implications. “Guilt” has no connection to a civil trial. The serious finding of “guilt” of a crime cannot be determined in a civil trial, but only in a criminal trial, and no criminal trial has ever taken place in the Brown v. Brooks confrontation. In fact, the Alameda County District Attorney specifically declined to bring criminal charges against Ms. Brooks in the Brown v. Brooks matter.

According to a May, 2016 article published online by CBS Local television of the Bay Area, “A spokeswoman for [Alameda County] District Attorney Nancy O’Malley said in a statement, ‘After a thorough review, we have determined that no charges will be filed against Desley Brooks in [the] matter [of the confrontation with Elaine Brown at Everett & Jones Barbecue]. We do not believe that there exists sufficient evidence to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that a crime was committed.’” The District Attorney’s spokesperson went on to say in the  CBS Local article that “‘There was a delay of 16 days before the incident [between Ms. Brown and Ms. Brooks] was reported to the Oakland Police Department. Due to the late reporting, law enforcement was unable to secure what may have been important video evidence from the restaurant, as the video recordings were no longer available. ... Police conducted interviews with witnesses and there are conflicting statements as to whether the incident was mutual combat or even a battery.’” (“Alameda District Attorney Not Charging Councilwoman Desley Brooks For Alleged Attack” CBS Local May 4, 2016)

That finding by the Alameda County District Attorney did not deter the sponsors of the “Change Committee Membership And Committee Chair Assignments” proposed rules change to the February 6th meeting of the Oakland City Council.

At the February 6th Council meeting itself, however, members of the Council who supported the rule change insisted that it had nothing to do with Ms. Brooks or her position on the Council Public Safety Committee, and that the changes had been proposed by Ms. McElhaney several years before the Brooks/Brown controversy. Despite overwhelming public opposition to the resolution and support for Ms. Brooks at the February 6th meeting, Council passed a slightly-amended rules change 5-3.

While at the time of the writing of this column, City Council President Larry Reid has not yet exercised his newly-allocated power to recommend removal of Ms. Brooks from her position as Public Safety Committee chair nor—for that matter—even publicly indicated that he ever actually intends to do so, the threat to Ms. Brooks’ status on the committee remains.

And it is certain that the Brown v. Brooks confrontation will become an issue in Ms. Brooks’ run for re-election to her Council seat in November. Just this week, Alameda County Probation Department management analyst Natasha Middleton announced her candidacy for that  District 6 Council seat with the thinly-veiled reference “Let’s fight the problems, not each other. Oakland needs more leaders who are focused on finding solutions.”

I’m not at all certain how Elaine Brown is feeling about all of these recent developments growing out of her confrontation with Ms. Brooks. She has has a more than $4 million civil jury award in hand, pending possible appeal by either the City of Oakland or Ms. Brooks or both. The West Oakland affordable housing project that was the source of the confrontation between the two women appears to be moving forward, with generous financial assistance coming from both the City of Oakland and Alameda County.

But if Ms. Brown is feeling generally good about the sum total of these developments, caution should be advised. Whereas Ms. Brooks is the one who has been taking much of the blame in the media for the confrontation and its aftermath, particularly following the civil jury verdict against her, that tide may be turning. Not only is there a good chance that Ms. Brown herself may see future bad consequences growing out of the Brown v. Brooks confrontation, but that is almost certainly in the works for Oakland’s African-American population in general as well. But that, my friends, will have to be the subject of the third installment of this discussion, since we have once more run out of time and space.

Again, until then...


Contact Jesse Allen-Taylor at safero@earthlink.net
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