City Council considers shutting out public from meetings, Council and OPD remain unaccountable

Stop the Injunctions Coalition is staying on top of the news related to public safety, policing and Oakland elected officials.  Here’s some analysis on City Council’s reactionary move to shut down their meeting the other week when Alan Blueford’s family and supporters demanded accountability from City officials and OPD.  Click on links to read Oakland North and SFGate’s news coverage.

While reading SFGate’s “Oakland Council may cut meeting access” article of September 28, 2012, Stop the Injunctions Coalition is compelled to critique the negative implications for public participation in Oakland City Council meetings.  Responding to an angry, grieving family and their supporters by shutting the meeting down altogether, the Council has made little or no effort to take responsibility for the heightened anger in the room. When Police Chief Howard Jordan fails to show up— as scheduled— to face the public, when a police report remains inaccessible five months after a police officer murders a teenager, when City Council sits idle and exercises no power to get information to the community, it is difficult to believe that City Council is acting in the interest of Oakland residents.  The obstinate presence of the Blueford family, their supporters and Oakland residents, at the very least, represents a most base obstruction to a City Council that refuses to be effective and a City Council that refuses to be accountable on behalf of its grieving residents.  It is sick irony to turn to increasing police presence and shutting people out of meetings, rather than deal with the issue at hand.

Further, it is a political jab to paint all community protest and activism as simply “Occupy,” a label which the City has already established to the larger public is a group that they will meet with repressive policing tactics, rather than attempting to address the root causes that continue to be rallying points for many Oakland residents.

To blame Occupy obscures why people mobilized to City Hall (because an Oakland employee shot and killed a teenager), and also obscures the Council’s power to address the murder: fire the officer, decrease funding to the OPD and curb the force’s power. Afterall, it is this same flagrant unaccountability that has landed the OPD under federal scrutiny and receivership.

“We’re in various conversations on how to shut down this kind of activity if it ever happens again,” Councilperson Pat Kernighan has said. “That is interfering with the rest of the public’s right to speak about other business that needs to be taken care of.”

It is reprehensible to read that Councilmembers plan to take punitive action towards the public by making plans to shut down future large turnouts to City Hall, rather than design future plans to make OPD more accountable to flagrantly murdering a teenager, or any of the other residents’ murders in the last two years.  The Council needs to understand that the OPD’s corrosive relationship with the city’s residents is a priority that they, as elected officials, have failed repeatedly to address meaningfully.

It is incredibly important to preserve the clear and regular channels of communication for communities regularly shut out of decision making, for communities regularly subject to police violence. In Oakland decision makers should prioritize meeting with the entire neighborhoods, communities and support networks that are harmed by policing. To meet only with a single family is not necessarily what the community desires. City Council must not keep individualizing this harm; people turning out by the hundreds to demand answers and accountability is a clear message that the violence of the OPD is not isolated or a case of bad apples.

Multiple times over the last two years, groups of 100-350 people have turned out to speak back to City Council against violence, proposed youth curfews, anti-loitering laws, and gang injunctions.  Even with clear statistics and historical accounts of these being failed policies in other cities, it was only the mass number of people, speaking at the microphone one after another and holding posters in the balconies, that pressured the City Council to limit imposing more gang injunctions in Oakland and to abandon youth curfews and anti-loitering laws.  We must maintain an inclusive, accountable and representative community decision-making process in our city.  City Council cannot remain deaf to the impassioned experiences of its residents.  City Council must not be allowed to shut residents out of meetings when the fever-pitch becomes too high because the City fails to hold OPD accountable.  It is crucial that people are able to speak to politicians. We must be able to stand up for each other, en masse, and mobilize against the threat of failed OPD policies and destructive OPD practices.

This election season, STIC hopes that residents consider how City politicians demonstrate good faith to a community that demands accountability from the Oakland Police Department and how willing these politicians are to be accountable to residents most affected by violence, criminalization and disenfranchisement.