User:Jen3774/draft of ella baker center

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Motto Working for justice in the system, opportunity in our cities, and peace on our streets.
Established 1996
Exec. Dir. Van Jones, esq.
Headquarters Oakland, CA, USA

The Ella Baker Center for Human Rights is a non-profit strategy and action center based in Oakland, California. The stated aim of the center is to work for justice, opportunity and peace in urban America.[1]

The Ella Baker Center for Human Rights works primarily through four campaigns to break the cycle of urban violence and reinvest in urban centers. The organization calls for an end to recent decades of disinvestment in cities, excessive and sometimes racist policing, and over-incarceration in order to stop the cycles of violence and hopelessness in poor urban communities and communities of color.[1] Instead of communities with more prisons and more police, the Ella Baker Center works to implement better schools, cleaner environment, and more opportunities for young people and working people.[2]


The Ella Baker Center works toward its goal of "justice in the system, opportunity in our cities and peace on our streets through four campaigns which promote alternatives to violence and incarceration: Books Not Bars, Bay Area PoliceWatch, Reclaim the Future and Silence the Violence."[3]

Books Not Bars[edit]

Books Not Bars works to close California’s current youth prison system and replace it with effective alternatives.[4]

Books Not Bars targets California's eight youth prisons that are frequently described as "draconian lockup units" under the authority of the California Division of Juvenile Justice, or DJJ.[5] The campaign focuses on the fact that inside the California Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), formerly known as the California Youth Authority (CYA), young people are subjected to unusually harsh conditions, as instances of 23-hour-a-day solitary confinement for months at a time, lock-ups in small cages during class time and denial of basic medical care are common.[6] Five young people have died over since 2004 in these prisons.[7]

Books Not Bars criticises the DJJ as not only as an abusive system but also an ineffective one. The existing system costs California $160,000 a year for every young person behind bars.[8] Even so, the rate of recidivism is 75%.[9] By these standards, California has the nation's most expensive, least effective juvenile justice system.[9]

Books Not Bars uses a number of different tactics to acheive its goals. It works to:

  • Advocate for policy reforms that place young people in appropriate rehabilitation programs instead of youth prisons.
  • Educate the public with rallies and events, media work, a website, and documentary screenings.
  • Organize parents and families of incarcerated youth through local chapters of "Families for Books Not Bars", the state's only network of families with incarcerated children.
  • Unite prosecutors, judges, business leaders and teachers calling for reform.[4]

Bay Area PoliceWatch[edit]

Bay Area PoliceWatch is the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights campaign in support of victims and survivors of police abuse. Since 1995, Bay Area PoliceWatch has "worked to protect everyday people from dangerous police officers who go too far."[10] The initiative has enjoyed numerous hard-fought sucesses and has influenced the strengthening of San Francisco’s Office of Citizen Complaints (OCC), the publicly-funded investigatory agency that has the authority to discipline wayward police officers, including firing them.[11] It is one of the nation's only bar-certified lawyer referral services.

The staff and volunteers of Bay Area PoliceWatch:

  • Provide lawyer referrals and guidance to survivors of police abuse.
  • Lead preventative “Know Your Rights” trainings for youth and community groups.
  • Respond aggressively to substantiated reports of police abuse and speak out for vigorous investigations and tough discipline.[12]
  • "Police the police" with a database which tracks reports of abuse, helping pinpoint trouble-makers and trouble spots in local police departments.[10]
  • Advocate for policies and reforms that increase transparency and accountability.

Reclaim the Future[edit]

Reclaim the Future, the most recent Ella Baker Center endeavor, is a green job creation initiative. It is working to "build a green economy that is strong enough to lift people out of poverty."[13]

Ella Baker Center unveiled this campaign at the United Nations World Environmental Day Conference in 2005. Carla Perez, an organizer at fellow Bay Area non-profit Communities for a Better Environment, states, "Ella Baker Center really opened up the door for the whole local environmental justice movement to come together and reach a wider audience through this event."[2] As billions go into eco-friendly construction, clean technology, urban agriculture and renewable energy, Reclaim the Future works to ensure that low-income people will be able to take part in these new opportunities.

The initiative works to turn investment into “green-collar” job opportunities in Oakland. As the lack of meaningful work opportunities for at-risk youth and formerly incarcerated people in society becomes a bigger problem, Reclaim the Future catalyzes workforce opportunities in the burgeoning “green” economy, creating dignified jobs for low-income families.[14][15]

The Reclaim the Future initiative works to:

  • Convene the Oakland Apollo Alliance, a coalition of labor unions, environmentalists, businesses and community organizations working to create living-wage jobs in the clean energy economy.
  • Campaign for policies that attract green businesses, such as Green Enterprise Zones and a comprehensive Green Economic Development strategy for Oakland.
  • Educate Oakland residents through "Solutions Salons," community newspapers and local media work.
  • Work at the national level to ensure that the ongoing conversations about race and the environment, global warming, and green enterprise include its call for green-collar jobs. Its national work includes a high school teaching curriculum, a speaking tour and aggressive media work.[13]

Silence the Violence[edit]

Silence the Violence is Ella Baker Center's "comprehensive campaign to win peace on the streets."[1] It focuses on the neighborhood violence that takes young lives in the Bay Area, as homicides were up more than 60% in 2006 and three-quarters of those involve people under 28.[1]

The goal of Silence the Violence is to sharply cut youth violence in 2007. To acheive this goal, the campaign works to:

  • Spread messages of nonviolence through music and art. Through its CD project, magazine, online/viral marketing campaign and partnership with the region's leading hip-hop radio station, Silence the Violence reaches young people at the street level. It is building a "culture of peace" from the ground up.[16]
  • Provide recreation to help young people stay out of trouble. Timed to provide alternatives when violence tends to peak – holidays, weekends and the summer – concerts and programming give young people something positive and fun to do.[16]
  • Advocate for smart policies proven to stop violence, like expanded funding for recreation and entertainment, job opportunities and street-based mediation campaign.[17]



The Ella Baker Center for Human Rights grew out of Bay Area PoliceWatch, a small initiative founded in 1995 as a hotline for victims of police brutality. The hotline was based in a closet-sized office donated by the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights.[18] The need for assistance was great, so Bay Area PoliceWatch quickly outgrew the space and Van Jones officially launched the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights on September 1, 1996.

Named for one of the lesser-known civil rights leaders, the Ella Baker Center proclaimed early on, “This is not your parents’ civil rights organization.”[19] The group was known for a passion and willingness to take on tough fights that few other organizations would tackle and chose its mission: “to document, challenge and expose human rights abuses” in the criminal justice system."[19]

The Ella Baker Center for Human Rights’ first large campaign was for Aaron Williams, an unarmed black man killed by San Francisco police officer Marc Andaya in 1995.[19] Andaya took part in a beating and kicking Williams, emptying three cans of pepper spray into his face, and restraining him in an unventilated police van where he died.[20] Andaya was known for past misconduct, including involvement in the death of another unarmed black man, 37 formal complaints of racism and brutality, and five lawsuits filed against him.[20] Bay Area PoliceWatch helped lead a community-based campaign, “Justice for Aaron Williams,” that put Andaya on public trial. After long disagreement, the Police Commission fired Andaya from the San Francisco Police Department.[21] Van Jones, the Executive Director, states, "This case became a question of not letting the authorities get away with this level of wholesale disrespect and disregard for human life and for the rule of law. Community witnesses, several dozen of them, all said that after Aaron was down on the ground and handcuffed, the policeman was kicking him in the head with cowboy boots, and that he was identifiable because he was the only officer in plainclothes."[18]


The Aaron Williams victory began a period of growth for the Ella Baker Center. New campaigns and organizing projects included youth group Third Eye Movement, New York City PoliceWatch, a transgender activist collective TransAction in connection with Community United Against Violence and INSWatch, an initiative with La Raza Centro Legal.[19]

Third Eye Movement spent its first few years working on local issues including the police murder of Sheila Detoy.[22] Then Proposition 21, an initiative that increased a variety of criminal penalties for crimes committed by youth and incorporated many youth offenders into the adult criminal justice system, made it onto the California ballot. Third Eye Movement worked together with a coalition of youth organizations in the Bay Area to oppose Proposition 21.[23] Third Eye Movement became a national example of a new generation of hip hop activism. Hip Hop News and the FNV Newsletter stated in December 2000, "Third Eye Movement was one of the leading Hip Hop organizations here in the Bay that helped led the fight against California's infamous Prop 21 [Juvenile Crime Bill]. They had made a mark for themselves by using Hip Hop as a tool to help bring about social change. Over the past couple of years, it has not been unusual to see these cats show with as many as 500 people and shut down a business or spark up a rally. People are still talking how earlier this year, the group came through with close to 300 people and surrounded the Hilton Hotel in downtown San Francisco and shut it down. The owner of the Hotel chain had apparently contributed a bunch of money in support of Prop 21."[22] Due in part to this movement, Bay Area counties were the only ones in the state to reject Proposition 21 in March 2000.


When Proposition 21 was passed in the rest of California, the youth movement went through a period of "despair, mistrust, and infighting."[19] Third Eye Movement split and the Oakland chapter became a new Ella Baker Center campaign, Let’s Get Free. Let’s Get Free focused on police accountability in Oakland and the rest of Ella Baker Center launched a new campaign, Books Not Bars.[19]

Books Not Bars and its ally, Youth Force Coalition, focused on derailing the creation of one of the nation's largest new juvenile hall in Oakland's Alameda County.[24] Alameda County agreed to cut the proposed expansion by 75 percent and to relocate the hall much closer to the families whose children were going to be incarcerated.[19] This campaign marked the growth of Ella Baker Center from protest tactics to a combination of protest and policy agenda and gave the group experience in managing the complex coalition fighting the jail expansion. The video produced by the Ella Baker Center after this success was highly acclaimed at festivals such as the Human Rights Watch Film Festival 2006.[25]


After protesting the juvenile hall expansion, the Ella Baker Center focused on campaigning proactively to spread its vision of what the juvenile justice system should look like.[24] In early 2004, a series of reports substantiated Ella Baker Center’s longtime stance that the California Youth Authority, now the California Division of Juvenile Justice, was abusive and ineffective.[26] Books Not Bars took the opportunity to change the whole system of warehouse-like prisons and campaigned around that.[19]

In the past two years, the youth prison population has lowered by more than 50 percent and the Ella Baker Center has built a statewide network of over 500 member families with children in the Youth Authority.[19] Books Not Bars’ vision for reform now focuses on a rehabilitation-based model similar to Missouri’s system. The campaign once known as Let’s Get Free is now Silence the Violence.[17] Reclaim the Future, bringing jobs in the green economy to Oakland, is the newest Ella Baker Center campaign.[19]


  1. ^ a b c d "The Basics". Ella Baker Center for Human Rights website. EBC. Retrieved 2007-01-24. 
  2. ^ a b "UN Social Equity Track". Common Dreams. Retrieved 2007-02-08. 
  3. ^ "Campaigns". Ella Baker Center for Human Rights website. EBC. Retrieved 2007-01-31. 
  4. ^ a b "Books Not Bars". The Witness website. Witness. Retrieved 2007-01-31. 
  5. ^ "CYA goes to reform school". Sacramento News & Review. Retrieved 2007-02-01. 
  6. ^ "Settlement Will Bring Reform to CYA Facilities". The Daily Californian. Retrieved 2007-02-01. 
  7. ^ "List of recent deaths at the hands of law enforcement in the Bay Area". Mahtin. October 22 Coalition. Retrieved 2007-02-01. 
  8. ^ "California Budget Bulletin". Commonweal. Commonweal. Retrieved 2007-02-01. 
  9. ^ a b "CJCJ Bulletin" (PDF). Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice. CJCJ. Retrieved 2007-02-01. 
  10. ^ a b "Bay Area PoliceWatch". Ella Baker Center website. EBC. Retrieved 2007-02-06. 
  11. ^ "The challenge of policing police brutality". News. Retrieved 2007-02-06. 
  12. ^ "On Criminal Justice". The San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2007-02-06. 
  13. ^ a b "Reclaim the Future". Ella Baker Center website. EBC. Retrieved 2007-02-06. 
  14. ^ "Lawmakers to Revamp Prison System". Mike Ward. American-Statesman. Retrieved 2007-02-08. 
  15. ^ "Alternative Visions". Matthew Hirsch. San Francisco Bay Guardian. Retrieved 2007-02-08. 
  16. ^ a b "Hyphy". Lisa Hix. San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2007-02-08. 
  17. ^ a b "Getting Down to Town Business". Kwan Booth. NovoMetro. Retrieved 2007-02-08. 
  18. ^ a b "Van Jones, Speak Truth to Power Defender". Kerry Kennedy. Speak Truth. Retrieved 2007-02-08. 
  19. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "History". Ella Baker Center. EBC. Retrieved 2007-02-08. 
  20. ^ a b "Panel Finds SF Cop Guilty". Jim Herron Zammora. San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2007-02-08. 
  21. ^ "SF Warned About Officer". Susan Sward. San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2007-02-08. 
  22. ^ a b "Third Eye Movement Take on PoPo". Davey D. Hip Hop Daily News. Retrieved 2007-02-08.  Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Third Eye" defined multiple times with different content (see the help page).
  23. ^ "New Youth Movement". Elizabeth Martinez. Zmag. Retrieved 2007-02-08. 
  24. ^ a b "The New Face of Environmentalism". Eliza Strickland. East Bay Express. Retrieved 2007-02-08. 
  25. ^ "Books Not Bars". HRW. HRW. Retrieved 2007-02-08. 
  26. ^ "Where Hope is Locked Away". Karen de Sá and Brandon Bailey. Mercury News. Retrieved 2007-02-08. 

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