A California jury has awarded Elaine Brown — the former chairwoman of the Black Panther Party — more than $4 million for injuries she sustained while being assaulted by an Oakland councilwoman during a 2015 altercation inside a barbeque restaurant.
On Monday, the jury found that Councilwoman Desley Brooks should pay $550,000 in punitive damages for attacking Brown during an argument over the former Black Panther’s nonprofit, which has been the subject of a recent ethics probe.
The same jury awarded Brown $3.75 million for pain and suffering last month, which would be paid by the city of Oakland. Jurors found that Brown, who was 72 years old at the time of the scuffle, was a victim of elder abuse and battery. Her injuries included a torn rotator cuff that required surgery.
The San Francisco Chronicle reports:
The women’s confrontation stemmed from Brown’s recent venture to build affordable housing for formerly incarcerated people near the urban farm she operates in West Oakland.
The two faced off in Everett & Jones Barbeque, a restaurant near Jack London Square, in October 2015. Brown said Brooks, 54, threatened to block her funding request and told her the project was “of no benefit to black people.”
Brown said Brooks followed her to another part of the restaurant and, after more arguing, told her “I have not moved on you before because you’re old,” shouted a profanity and punched her in the chest with both fists, sending her sprawling over a stack of chairs onto the floor on the back of her head and shoulders.
Brown’s nonprofit, called Oakland and the World Enterprises (OAW), is transforming a vacant lot into an urban farm and high-rise affordable housing development to benefit felons and marginalized youth. She said the idea is modeled after the Black Panther “survival programs” that were designed to build positive institutions for oppressed people, and the undertaking will provide ex-convicts reentering society with job training, along with employment and housing opportunities.
“I’m not some rich developer dropping into West Oakland with a plan to remove what’s left of the black community,” Brown told the East Bay Times in 2014. “We want development — nobody wants to live in blighted areas — but without displacement.”
Coincidentally, the site — located at Seventh and Campbell streets — is on the same block where a police officer was shot and killed while arresting Black Panthers co-founder Huey Newton in 1967. Last summer, the city council sold the 0.71-acre plot valued at $1.4 million to OAW at virtually no cost, and approved a $2.6 million loan to the organization to subsidize construction costs. Councilwoman Brooks abstained from the vote after questioning OAW’s financials.
As Berkeleyside, an independently owned local outlet covering the East Bay, previously reported:
The decision has not come without controversy. Oakland and the World Enterprises has been accused of improperly receiving $710,000 of country funding from District 5 Supervisor Keith Carson’s office. And on March 24, the California Attorney General’s Office sent a letter that could potentially throw the organization’s status as a nonprofit in jeopardy due to its failure to disclose 2014 and 2015 tax returns.
Nevertheless, plans seem to be moving forward, and in addition to affordable housing, Brown hopes to continue the job training program, in addition to a gym, a grocery store, and a tech center available to all members of the community.
Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson co-founded OAW with Brown in July 2014. The previous year, Carson hired Brown as a full-time staffer to work on county youth and employment reentry programs. However, after investigating a citizen complaint, a grand jury determined that Carson had employed Brown for the express purpose of helping her create the nonprofit and that county funds distributed to OAW constituted a conflict of interest.
The Alameda County Grand Jury released its final report to the Superior Court last June, concluding that OAW received “special treatment” based on its relationship with Carson, “demonstrating a failure of good governance practices by the county and the Board of Supervisors,” and:
The supervisor hired the county employee, with at least one objective being that the county employee would form OAW and get it up and running. … The county employee is wearing “two hats” because she is acting and advocating on behalf of OAW in dealings with other county agencies and with non-county persons and organizations, at the same time as she is informing the supervisor as a member of his staff about OAW’s status and activities and advising him about whether he should appropriate substantial amounts of (discretionary) funds to OAW.
After an unsuccessful run for Oakland City Council in 1973, Brown became head of the Black Panther Party the following year after Newton fled to Cuba to evade murder charges. She is the only woman to have led the radical group, but stepped down in 1977, citing problems with sexism and patriarchy within the organization.
Follow Jeffrey Cawood on Twitter @Near_Chaos.