from our coalition allies, Critical Resistance- Oakland:
In the news…
In Friday’s headlines, Oakland residents witnessed one more time how the City of Oakland’s twisted priorities could put its youth in jeopardy. News broke that the West Oakland Youth Center—a project five years in the making and developed by youth and grassroots organizers—may not open due to lack of funding to operate the center and staff its programs. The Mayor’s budget proposal assumes that Oakland cannot absorb these operating costs, amounting to roughly $340,000, while the city has had no problem throwing good money after bad in support of policing consultants and policies that continue to fail Oakland. According to Councilperson Desley Brooks, “We’re talking about $340,000 for both programs combined out of a $1 billion budget. You can’t tell me that we can’t find $340,000 for our kids.”
Even as investments in policing continue to increase (totaling more than half of general fund expenditures), Oakland can’t seem to find less than one third of one percent of its budget to invest in safe spaces and quality programming for its youth. According the KPIX news reporting on the issue, the Mayor’s budget “sacrifices costs for both youth programs [slated for the West Oakland Youth Center] in favor of putting more cops on the streets.” These trade-offs should not surprise us.
In January, for instance, no belt tightening or shortfalls were predicted when the City Council agreed to extend Strategic Policy Partnership’s contract with the OPD to the tune of $250,000. The City pursued the contract despite overwhelming opposition to the inclusion of William Bratton in the contract and insufficient support to suggest that any additional consultants to the OPD were even necessary, especially given the fact that Oakland is already paying the Frazier Group and independent monitors to stem the devastating harm that OPD cops continue to do to Oakland communities (Frazier was also just named OPD compliance director with a salary of $270,000).
To add insult to injury, after repeated assurances that Bratton would only play a minor role in the consultancy and minimal public presence, the Council and OPD have begun to refer to the contract as “The Bratton Contract,” and “the Bratton Group” indicating their complete lack of commitment to their word or respect for their own constituents.
So where do we go from here?
Policing fails Oakland. Oakland continues to pay the social and economic costs of the legacy of the Riders, and feel the antagonism generated between community members and cops through policing projects such as gang injunctions, sweeps, raids, and stop and search. The impacts of investing in quick fix policing approaches rather than in the kinds of programs and services that have been proven to stabilize communities in the long term, such as community centers, illustrates a stubborn, blind dedication to misguided solutions.
Councilperson Libby Schaaf, for instance, continues to cling desperately to outmoded, police-heavy approaches despite clear, consistent messages from a wide range of Oakland residents about what they want instead. In an email blast to her district residents on May 31, Schaaf herself reminds Oakland that when it comes to policing in our city “there are a plethora of dusty plans sitting on shelves” but then goes on to implore us to “stick to the plan”.
Although it’s been said over and over, it obviously bears repeating—Oakland cannot police its way out of poverty. No revolving cast of police chiefs, or board rooms full of consultants, or shelves full of policing plans will prevent policing from failing Oakland. It’s high time that Oakland invests in its future by investing in its youth, its families, and its neighborhoods rather than continuing to invest in policies and practices that destabilize and separate our city. As West Oakland Councilperson Lynette McElhaney stated, “Make no mistake about it we are going to spend money on these kids. We will either spend it in a proactive way, through youth centers and positive programming, or we will spend the money on arresting them, incarcerating them, putting them in juvenile hall or God forbid to treat them in emergency rooms because they’ve fallen victim to violence.”
Building community…from the ground up
Yet while the City makes desperate moves that destabilize and separate our city, every day we see the hard and true work of community members using all the resources they have available to build a better, healthier city. The West Oakland Youth Center is not yet a dream deferred, it is a possibility. All of us continue to build. We’re coming off the heels of an amazing Malcolm X Jazz Festival, in its 13th year of bringing thousands of Oakland residents together in celebration, art, politics and education. Next weekend, on June 8, the Stop the Injunctions Coalition will be having a Saturday workday in the thriving Community Garden at 28th and Foothill. We look forward to planting possibilities together in what seems like an impossible time, continuing to grow into our vision of what Oakland can be.