District 15 candidates discuss police and housing at North Oakland forum

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California State Assembly District 15 candidates convened Thursday evening at the North Oakland Senior Center to address various topics, including police accountability, adolescent brain development, community college tuition, housing justice and pension.

Ten out of the 12 candidates vying for the Assembly seat were present at the public forum, which was hosted by the League of Women Voters, including Buffy Wicks, Owen Poindexter, Ben Bartlett, Cheryl Sudduth, Jovanka Beckles, Raquella Thaman, Rochelle Pardue-Okimoto, Dan Kalb, Andy Katz and Sergey Piterman.

On the topic of police accountability, candidates were asked if they would support the newly proposed AB 931, which, according to the forum host, would authorize “deadly force only when it is necessary to prevent imminent death or serious bodily injury” and encourage “officers to defuse confrontations or use less deadly weapons.” The candidates unanimously supported the bill, resulting in fervent applause.

“In addition, I support Nancy Skinner’s bill, which would create accountability by requiring the disclosure of police shooting investigations,” Wicks said during the forum. “We also need implicit bias training for our police officers in order to rebuild trust.”

The issue of prosecuting youth as adults was also put forward. In consideration of the “great deal” of research indicating that the adolescent brain is not fully developed until the age of 24, candidates were asked to share how they would address the issue in Sacramento.

As a mental health specialist, Beckles suggested increasing mental health services.

Kalb said he supports restructuring juvenile detention centers to be “juvenile rehabilitation centers.” According to Kalb, by redirecting money from prison guards to rehabilitation services, this transition is feasible.

Although set to last two hours, the forum stretched out to nearly three hours, with audience members opting to stay longer to take photos and shake hands with the candidates. In the gradually emptying auditorium, Jillian Kathie, a special education teacher from Berkeley, voiced her endorsement of candidates who address mental health.

“As a teacher for students with special needs, I want to vote for someone who will destigmatize disability, whether mental or physical, and increase funding for mental health services,” Kathie said. “Candidates Beckles and Wicks spoke about this the most.”

Dolores Celestina, a restaurant owner from El Cerrito, also expressed her views on the ideal candidate, adding her thoughts on which candidate she thought was most likely to win.

“I have confidence in candidate Sudduth the most. To me, she has the right amount of passion, authenticity and experience working on racial justice and human rights to lead us,” Celestina said. “The reaction from the audience made me think Bartlett, Wicks and Beckles are in the lead.”

Contact Nicholas Olivares at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @nicholivares.