Gang injunction should be replaced with youth leadership

Here’s an article written by Manuel La Fontaine at Oakland Seen.

Oakland’s City Hall was opened this Saturday, but it was not business as usual. City officials, to my delight, as they seemingly take up too much air, space and seldom get anything meaningful accomplished, were nowhere in sight. Community members of all ages, however, occupied City Council Chambers to address alternatives to the proposed gang injunction brought forth by City Attorney John Russo. I have attended scores of townhalls before in which everyone wants to get on the mic and generally talk about anything underneath the sun that they believe is somehow connected to the topic. The ideas and solutions that people at Saturday’s townhall presented were simple and all circled around a common theme: invest in people to create a safer Oakland.

I sadly listened as people personally affected by violence shared their stories of losing a loved one to violence in the streets of Oakland. It was amazing to hear that these folks did not resort to vengeance to deal with their grief and loss, but rather found ways to heal by helping other survivors of violence and playing an active role in finding practical solutions to community violence.  Donald Lacy, founder of LoveLife Foundation, named after his daughter LoEshé Adanma, whose life was tragically cut short in 1997 by violence, hosted this townhall live on KPOO during his Saturday morning show, Wake Up Everybody. I was thrilled to see so many young people of color attend the townhall and even more excited to hear them speak in their own voices, from their own experiences, providing some ideas on how to make Oakland safer.

A youth from East Oakland shared his encounters with Oakland Police Department and how they harassed him when he went to and from school or a friend’s house because he was involved in a street organization, aka gang.  Instead of finding ways to help him overcome his quandary, he stated that OPD would detain him, search him and at times lock him up.  As he attested, with the support from people who came with him to the townhall, it took a community effort to help him leave the street life.  He is now trying to help others in similar situations.

Others mentioned the need to fully fund new and existing after-school programs, and cultural and artistic youth centers such as East Side Arts Alliance and Malcolm X Grassroots Movement. There was even the suggestion to pay youth and young people to come up with the programming and staff them.  Another person alluded to supporting and funding more alternatives to policing such as the Story Telling and Organizing Project, Communities United Against Violence, and other community-based organizations working to prevent and respond to harm. It all begged the question: if we were to cut OPD’s budget by 25%, use the savings to invest in programs like these, would residents be willing to give it a try or would they let fear continue to dictate their lives? I heard another young community organizer who I have worked with before raise the point that youth and community members from all walks of life have been providing meaningful and sound ideas on how to deal with violence to elected officials for many years now, but they have fallen on deaf ears. The townhall ended with someone quoting Pastor Martin Niemöller, First they came … It made me wonder… first the Native Americans were the It made me wonder… first the Native Americans were the target, then the Japanese, followed by the Muslims, and now the immigrants/ gang members. Who’s next?

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