On the eve of the Oakland City Council meeting when two proposals to increase police staffing put forth by Mayor Libby Schaaf and City Councilmember Sheng Thao would be considered, the Anti Police-Terror Project released a report challenging the manufactured staffing level crisis by Schaaf and Oakland Police Department, Chief of Police LeRonne Armstrong, as well as, the assertion that this “staffing crisis” and defunding movement are responsible for the current crime surge.
Urban cities everywhere are seeing unprecedented levels of “crime.” Many agree that the violence is a direct result of the economic effects that came with the COVID-19 pandemic, which exacerbated preexisting conditions in communities of color that left us vulnerable to the worst consequences: losing jobs, housing and loved ones as we had high levels of death.
People have to survive. Locking them out of the above-ground economy pushes them into the underground economy, which is where you will currently find thousands of Black communities and people of color languishing.
Rather than address root causes, Schaaf’s and Thao’s proposals roll back the promise of Reimagining Public Safety.
Schaaf proposes spending an additional $5.8 million on police — on top of the council’s current allocated budget to OPD of about $317 million. Thao wants to bring officers from other cities via lateral moves and offer them a $50,000 signing bonus. Lateral moves allow bad cops to run from bad behavior and bring violence into new communities. Ask Alan Blueford’s mom, whose son was shot and killed by former OPD officer Miguel Masso.
That money could be used to pay experienced community violence interrupters who are already doing the work for free or on bare-bones budgets.
Schaaf’s and Thao’s plans will not have police hitting the ground until 2023. This is political grandstanding at best. Plans that continue the false narrative that more police means less crime, though there is no definitive data.
I live in the Oakland flats. If I spit in any direction, I hit a cop car. Yet, crime abounds. Other neighborhoods — such as Schaaf’s — have little police presence and little crime. What they do have is grocery stores, good schools, clean streets and open parks. We need social services, equitable distribution of city dollars and investment in preventative measures.
We cannot incarcerate our way out of poverty or the pandemic. Police budgets have remained the same or increased while access to services has dramatically dropped.
We seem destined and determined to keep repeating the same failed public safety policies and rinsing our hands of the responsibility for the failure.
The role of policing remains the same as it ever was: protecting the status quo of race-based capitalism and serving as front-line soldiers of white supremacist global violence and dominance.
Oakland gives its police department almost half of the general fund, which OPD has spent more than its allotted budget for more than a decade due to rampant abuse of the overtime system, and yet we are no safer. What is the magic number of staff or dollars that will allow them to do their job?
Our decisions today will ripple for generations. Black communities are still rocked from the last time we responded to “crime” that rose as a result of the state dumping crack into our communities — though federal agencies have denied being responsible. Democrats escalated Nixon’s War on Drugs, which criminalized and incarcerated tens of thousands of Black bodies and tore families apart. Violence increased because a key driver of safety is healthy and connected families.
What is really happening here?
Despite having nearly half of the city’s general fund, OPD merely has a violent crime clearance rate of less than 20%. With crime “surging,” it is demanding more. What other profession gets to turn its failures into higher pay and more resources?
OPD got a $38 million budget increase this year but claims it’s been defunded. Schaaf’s and OPD’s antics are not about safety. They are about doubling down on a failed strategy that will continue to get people killed.
A survey conducted by the Urban Peace Movement asked how to increase safety. Its results received four key responses: good-paying jobs, violence prevention, affordable and stable housing and addressing the root causes of poverty and violence.
RichmondBUILD has helped hundreds of local youth and the reentry population secure good-paying jobs with benefits. This pre-apprenticeship training program supports folks in finding trade careers.
Knee-jerk, fear-based reactions never work. We won’t achieve peace with violence. Policing is seemingly one of the most violent institutions in the world.
We have an opportunity to disrupt the status quo, but we must stay the course. They know our movements are growing and winning. That’s why they are striking back, here and across the country.
We demand real, root-cause solutions that prevent violence by getting to the gun before the bullet flies.
Stand up Oakland. Wake up, Bay Area. Fight back — not with violence. Let them have that ground. Fight back with love, justice, organizing, a demand for equity and the knowledge that we can build and we deserve a world where everyone thrives.
See you in the streets.
Oakland City Council will reconvene on this issue Tuesday, Dec. 21.
Cat Brooks is the co-founder of the Anti Police-Terror Project