🌉View from the 415🌉

Fighting For Immunity

Today, a piece I’ve been working for months came out in The Baffler! On July 10, both the California Senate and Assembly voted to approve and send to the governor’s desk a bill that would effectively bar police departments statewide from being able to arrest sex workers who come forward during the course of an investigation to report being the victim of or witness to a crime. It also bars condom possession from being considered as evidence or probable cause to arrest someone on suspicion of being a sex worker.

Most of the people I talked to were excited about it but all thought it didn’t go far enough. As Rachel West, the spokesperson for U.S. Prostitutes Collective put it, “Most sex workers are also mothers. Poverty pushes people into sex work, because it’s survival work.” To me, this is essentially about ‘allowing’ people to engage in whatever work guarantees their survival, even if it’s technically illegal, at a time when the cost of living across the state is pushing millions to the brink of debt, poverty, starvation and homelessness.

Another story came out from a Bay Area journalist I really admire, Darwin BondGraham, about how more people are dying on highways.

In the early 2000s, developers built thousands of new homes in east Contra Costa county cities, selling them at prices far below similar homes in San Francisco and Oakland. Many of these homes were sold to low-income buyers who borrowed from banks through subprime mortgages. When the economic crash hit in 2008, tens of thousands of people lost their homes to foreclosure and investors bought and transformed them into rental properties. Since then, many low-income people displaced from gentrifying cities like Oakland and Richmond have moved out to east Contra Costa county because of the surplus of cheaper rental homes.

“With the displacement and gentrification of a lot of East Bay cities, and cities like San Francisco, Oakland and Richmond, it’s creating this diaspora that’s being spread to the valleys up [Interstate] 80 and Highway 4,” said the Richmond city councilmember Demnlus Johnson.

Violent social networks that were previously rooted in small, geographically bound places have spread across multiple East Bay cities. “You’ve got people from North Richmond and Central Richmond both living in the El Pueblo projects in Pittsburg, and then you’ve got people in Richmond living in the vistas in Vallejo,” Johnson said. “When all of those people get on the freeway to come back to Richmond they’re gonna see each other.”

…Vaughn agrees that gentrification and displacement have created new patterns of violence by pushing people into distant suburbs and breaking up social networks that were previously located within one city or neighborhood. But he said it’s just one piece of a complicated problem that involves new and generational conflicts, and living in under-resourced communities.

“For the most part these young people aren’t being paid any attention until they do something, like a freeway shooting,” Vaughn said.

That’s in The Guardian today: “Why are so many people getting shot on California highways?”