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The clinic will be offered on Feb. 20 for community members by Metropolitan Public Defenders, a legal defense nonprofit

KOIN 6 NEWS - The Center for Advocacy and Community Involvement is located in the historic Albina Art Center, a touchstone of Portland's African American community. A new resource center has opened in North Portland to assist community members with social equity-related causes. It's called the Center for Advocacy and Community Involvement and run by the police accountability group Don't Shoot Portland, the head organizer for which is activist and 2020 mayoral candidate Teressa Raiford.

The building on Northeast Killingsworth Street near North Williams Avenue was the former location of Albina Art Center, an historic art and culture hub that was a touchstone of Portland's African American history. In addition to social justice causes, the new headquarters is intended to provide a space for community activities like entertainment, social events, and to be a place for children to create art as part of Don't Shoot Portland's subdivision called Children's Art and Social Justice Council.

"We wanted to have occupied event spaces in Portland that would be open to our community for not only community organizing, but for community education, and for events and for art," Raiford told KOIN 6 News.

Raiford had previously sued the City of Portland for her 2015 arrest during a protest. The protest was in condemnation of the officer involved shooting death of Michael Brown that occurred in Ferguson, Missouri, the previous year. The charges against her related to obstructing traffic were later dropped. The $500,000 suit she leveled against the city in 2017 for false arrest was dismissed by a judge last year.

The new space held a soft launch on January 15 of this year, on Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday.

The center will host a variety of events to coincide with Black History Month that include:

• A Feb. 19 workshop in partnership with Legal Aid of Oregon about the new Fair Access In Renting (FAIR) city ordinances that go into effect in March. That's held from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.

• A Feb. 22 community event called Liberated Archives for Black Lives, in Partnership with City of Portland Archives and Records Management. It will be held from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

• A Feb. 20 expungement clinic from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

The expungement clinic is a service provided by Metropolitan Public Defenders, which is a non-profit legal defense organization. The clinic is a chance for community members experiencing economic barriers to seek free legal advice from lawyers for removing certain past criminal records.

"We help folks who are both at risk of entering the criminal justice suystem or have had a criminal record," explained attorney Sonja Good Stefani, who works for MPD's Community Law Divsion. "All of the services are geared toward stabilization–economic stabilization, housing stabilization, and staying out of the criminal justice system."

The service is one of eight such clinics, held at different venues across the city, and made possible through a $100,000 grant made available from the city's cannabis tax revenue, Stefani said.

Project Nurture, a maternity care facility for those who struggle with addiction, and Diane Wade House, a center to help African American women transition out of the criminal justice system, were two previous venues that held the expungement clinics in 2019, Stefani said. Alano Club of Portland, a recovery center, will also host one of the clinics on February 19, its website stated. Four more of the expungement clinics are yet to be scheduled for later this year.

Anyone who is a Multnomah County resident and makes 80 percent of the area median family income or lower are eligible to receive the legal advice at no cost, though there may be legal fees required by the court if expungement is pursued, Stefani said.

Not all past criminal charges are eligible for expungement. A set amount of time must have passed from when the charge occurred, usually a few years. That can vary depending on what the charge was, explained Stefani. Applicants also must currently be in good standing with the law, which means all requirements of previous charges–including fees–were met and no other criminal charges are currently pending, among other things.

The legal advice will include how to navigate new laws related to an expedited expungement process for past criminal charges related to cannabis. While most expungement requests can take three to six months to process, the court is compelled to complete requests related to cannabis in 30 days. This expedited process is due to two new state laws that went into effect January 1, known as SB 420 and SB 975.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union's analysis of nationwide data from 2001-2010, African Americans were about four times more likely to be arrested for cannabis than whites, despite roughly equal usage rates during that period.

The grant allocation by the city is an attempt to help reverse such disparities in the criminal justice system that were a consequence of cannabis prohibition. "Expungement and record clearing" was one of several spending priorities identified by a community-led Cannabis Tax Steering Committee of the city convened by Commissioners Chloe Eudaly and Amanda Fritz in 2017, the city's website stated. Other priorities included workforce development and access to capital and technical assistance to promote equitable access to the cannabis industry.

A city audit back in May determined more transparency was needed for the cannabis tax spending, which at the time stated that no money up until that point was spent on drug or alcohol treatment programs, even though that was a requirement. Millions of dollars did get funneled to police training to better identify intoxicated drivers, the city's Vision Zero Safety Program and backfill of the general fund.

The Center for Advocacy and Community Involvement expungement clinic is happening at 16 NE Killingsworth St. Thursday February 20, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. It is on a first come, first come basis and photo I.D. is required.

More information for the clinic and other upcoming events held at the center can be found at Don't Shoot Portland's website here.

KOIN News 6 is a news partner of the Portland Tribune. You can find their story here.


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