Last week, 80 Oakland Police officers received pink slips in response to the City’s large budget deficit. OPD has opposed this action, claiming that the risk to public safety is too great to layoff police officers. Yet, many residents understand that policing does not bring about real safety.
In addition to harassing and killing, policing serves to funnel Black & brown bodies into the prison system. The United States continues to imprison a higher percentage of its population than any other country in the world, and California just broke ground on history’s largest prison construction plan, as authorized by AB900. Yet, communities of color have yet to experience the safety and security imprisonment and policing are meant to offer.
Instead of investing in inherently violent and repressive institutions, what’s Oakland actually doing to address real safety? Decades of studies have linked long-term safety with secure employment, adequate education, and accessible health and mental care. Yet, we continue to see cuts to these social services, while policing powers expand. From the introduction of a controversial gang injunction in North Oakland, to the conversion of West Oakland’s Cole Elementary School into a police headquarters, steps are continually being taken to expand the use of law enforcement at the cost of programs and services our communities need to be safe.
The cuts to law enforcement should be seen as an opportunity to begin shifting the flow of public funds away from punitive, short-sighted policies towards services and programs proven to bring about long-term security. Oakland needs real jobs, access to healthcare –including substance abuse and mental health services. Furthermore, we need an adequate public education system that provides our children with the tools they need to live up to their full potential, with after school programs that offer art and music lessons, or teach kids how to approach conflict without turning to guns.
Oakland would be better off to invest in maintaining services that would benefit society as a whole, instead of perpetuating the same cycle of violence and harm that policing and law enforcement claim to prevent.
Helia Rasti is the communications director of Critical Resistance, an Oakland-based grass-roots group seeking safe, healthy communities that respond to harm without relying on prisons and punishment.