MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
It may take a feisty economically challenged city like Richmond, California, to start breaking through "conventional wisdom" paradigms that have given the wealthy and corporations impunity while oppressing minorities and the poor.
BuzzFlash at Truthout recently reported on Richmond threatening to use eminent domain to seize properties threatened with foreclosure from banks and secondary lenders. This would allow Richmond to re-sell the houses to the owners at current market value, something the predatory banking industry has been loathe to do because it is much more profitable to commit fraud and robo-foreclose homes.
And BuzzFlash will be writing a commentary on how Richmond is suing Chevron for a 2012 refinery fire that caused an estimated 15,000 residents to seek treatment. The city is charging negligence in maintaining the plant's infrastructure. (The anniversary of the incident was the subject of a protest last weekend in which some 200 people were arrested.)
As we noted in our prior commentary on Richmond, it is an exception to news stories of a Bay Area that Silicon Valley has launched into the stratosphere of real estate values. Richmond is relatively economically challenged, a city in which minorities are the majority, and hasn't made a lot of national news because companies like Google and Tesla don't pick a town like Richmond in which to locate their headquarters. Chevron does, as is frequently the case for where polluting fossil fuel industries locate their refineries: poor minority towns.
Now, Richmond is again discarding the platitudes of politics as usual by enacting a law that prohibits employers in the city from asking if a person who has served time has a criminal background. Such questions frequently disqualify an ex-offender seeking gainful employment from obtaining it.
According to the Huffington Post,
Officials in Richmond, Calif., have approved an ordinance that forbids employers from requiring applicants to reveal their criminal histories at any point during the application or hiring process.
In a 6-1 vote, the City Council approved last Tuesday one of the nation's most comprehensive "ban-the-box" ordinances, a reference to the criminal history box on job applications. The ordinance will take affect in September.
While similar legislation has been passed in dozens of municipalities across the country, the Richmond ordinance takes it a step further by not requiring applicants to disclose criminal histories at any point, including during the final rounds of interviews or after they're hired.
This is a major breakthrough in efforts to restore former incarcerated individuals into society. It strikes a small but real and symbolic blow to the largely racist self-regenerating prison-industrial complex.
Richmond is showing progressives how feisty a city that's mad as Hell at the injustices it has endured can be:
"We've really taken it up a notch," Councilwoman Jovanka Beckles, who introduced the ordinance, told The Huffington Post. "By introducing one of the most comprehensive plans in the country, our hope is to reduce unemployment in Richmond, reduce recidivism in Richmond and give these people who want to, a chance to make a change."
Beckles noted that the ordinance is especially timely as California braces for the implementation of AB 109, a bill aimed at reducing prison overcrowding by releasing thousands of low-level inmates by the end of 2013.
"We're going to have a lot of folks coming back from incarceration and looking for work here soon," she said.
Beckles also noted that the ordinance does make exceptions for "sensitive" jobs, including positions working with children and the elderly or positions in law enforcement.
Taken it up a notch indeed. Silicon Valley -- across the bay (and south) from Richmond -- may be inflating property values in San Francisco, Berkeley and other Bay Area cities that are chic, but Richmond is leading the way in social justice.
It's a town with grit and backbone, even if it doesn't have a posh tax base.