Public Safety Summit Sends Mixed Messages: Mayor Offers Contradictory Solutions, Asks Oaklanders to Pay for Own Programs

A crowd heavily weighted with Oakland City Staff and OPD attended Mayor Quan’s Public Safety Summit at Laney College Saturday morning. Though Quan mentioned a strategy to combat violence that would involve everyone from city workers to police to residents, her clearest messages promoted law enforcement: concentrating beat officers in targeted areas and rehiring OPD officers. Similarly, the mid-morning workshops and police-oriented introductions appeared to be thinly veiled attempts to raise support for recently flagging attempts by the City to push gang injunctions, anti-loitering laws, and youth curfews. Quan presented a 10-year decline in homicide numbers, raising questions as to why statistics so similar to last year’s are being represented as dramatic spikes. The count of 70 homicides quoted by Quan did not include homicides by police, which number around 20 this year. Also not mentioned in any of the opening remarks were OPD’s recent controversial strategies and proposed legislations—gang injunctions, anti-loitering laws, and youth curfews—which were not referenced at all in the opening remarks.

No substantial resources addressing the needs of people directly impacted by Oakland’s high rates of policing, arrest and incarceration patterns were suggested during the summit. Even while pledging employment security for Oakland Police, Quan called for Oaklanders to reach into their own pockets to privately fund social programs such as community centers.

In her praise of recent police activity, Quan spoke about the federal government’s involvement (including the DEA, Drug Enforcement Agency) in recent “gang sweeps,” saying that they were “picking up the drug money, picking up guns.” No reference was made to the people who were the targets of these raids, an omission that speaks to the City’s typical way of dealing with police issues, which is to de-personalize the community targets of police activity so that real strategies for an economy or job opportunities that don’t rely on drugs never get discussed. The representation of this as a “gang sweep” to “pick up drug money, pick up guns” rather than picking up people also overshadows the over one million dollars that the City has paid in legal fees alone to impose civil gang injunctions on 53 individuals and two large neighborhoods in North and East Oakland.

Other troubling remarks by Quan in the first hour included her acknowledgement of the high financial costs of arresting and jailing youth. “It costs $65,000 a year to incarcerate a juvenile; for that price, I sent my children to Stanford. We could be sending these youth to Ivy League schools,” Quan said. She left it there though and promised no resources or strategy to assist the 1,000 Oakland youth that are on probation (half of Alameda County’s 2,000). Her next sentence shifted back to policing, “So what if you don’t live in the 100 blocks that will be getting extra police? Don’t worry: you’ll be getting policing too. You can also organize an NCPC (Neighborhood Crime Prevention Council).” She encouraged NCPC’s to “put their arms around neighborhood schools” and support them financially, to “squeeze money from a stone” like a community elder who raised private money for social centers. Over and over in the morning’s remarks, we heard the City urge us to volunteer to take care of social institutions like schools and rec center with our own fundraising. With 3% of Oakland’s funding going to these youth and family services, it is an incredibly disappointing reality that Oakland cannot make city-funding commitments to social programming, while it commits over 50% of its budget to the OPD.

During break out sessions on topics such as youth curfews and loitering as well as “call-ins,” community members raised serious concerns about the enforcement of these measures, especially since the Oakland Police Department is still under a negotiated settlement agreement resulting from the Riders scandal. Captain Ersie Joyner responded to these concerns by commenting that while training is in place for officers, holding them accountable for what they do on beats and patrols is nearly impossible. “I can stand up here and tell them how things should be done, and they can smile and nod, but it might be a completely different story when they get in their patrol cars.”

In addition, Measure Y supporters and volunteers voiced concerns that the temporary North Oakland and Fruitvale injunctions had actually interfered with the restorative justice focus of Measure Y, noting that many times those on the call in lists were the same as those named on the injunctions. A Measure Y organizer responded, “We’re pushing against top-down policy, not what’s needed in the streets. The police have to pick a lane and stay in it. We had to do a lot of damage control clean-up after the CIty Attorney put people on the Gang Injunctions lists [that had just gone through the call-in process].” “The opportunities presented to the guys who are called amount to little more than a song and dance,” said Tony Marks-Block, an educator who attended the break out group on call ins, “When is the city going to realize that investing in jobs and education are what is going to turn Oakland around?”

Measure Y organizers expressed that the street-based outreack work they do has the potential to interrupt people’s cycles back but that they struggle with only 20 street organizers for all of Oakland. They said, “We are underfunded; [the police and court system] is where the City has put its funding, so we have to work with what we have.”

Truancy, absenteeism, and school closures were also discussed during the summit. With at least 5 local schools including Santa Fe elementary school in North Oakland at risk of closure, the City offered no plans to make getting to school an achievable reality for youth when local schools close and simply getting to school becomes more of a challenge.

STIC came out to the Public Safety Summit to hear community members dialogue with city officials and the OPD about solutions that will make Oakland stronger.  Despite continued opposition and quality questions about accountability from Oakland residents, city officials want to continue to steam-roll through more resources for police without committing to long-term and day-to-day resources that Oakland is asking for.

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