Why the Gang Injunctions Got Funded and What to Do about it.

Last night the City Council finally decided to vote on the gang injunctions, the original ones in North Oakland and the new ones proposed for most of the Fruitvale. I say “finally” because the City has spent big bucks on instituting and litigating these injunctions before the council had even made a determination to do so.  Wow, even though the vote confirmed what the City Attorney’s office and OPD went ahead and did, it seems that the tail has been wagging the dog for awhile.

Considering that most of the general fund goes to pay for the police department,  maybe it’s only fitting that they make policy and the council follows behind. I asked one of the City’s leading citizens or leading lobbyists, depending on your definition, why he supported the injunctions and he said it was because Chief Batts wanted it. “Whatever Chief Batts wants, I support.” While I understand wanting to back the Chief, I don’t think he should be the one making policy. It’s like putting the generals in charge of the federal government. There’s a word for that and it’s not democracy.

I have been hearing that the police department and the city attorney’s office would offer a comprehensive report on the usefulness of these expensive “tools” for our very expensive police department. Maybe I missed that, please forward those reports to me if I did. So far I have heard no rational explanation on the usefulness of injunctions.

Back to the “tools” the Chief wants. I’m using that term because that’s what all the proponents use to describe its necessity. I could suggest that adult education is an important tool, in that it prevents crime as much as it promotes economic development. When we still served a significant number of students at Oakland Unified, it cost around $11 million for that tool. By this June, Adult Ed in our city will probably be wiped out altogether.

I still can’t think of a more important economic development tool for the folks who can’t find work in this town than that. 40% of Oakland children do not get their high school diplomas the first time around (for many reasons). Now they can’t get them at all; so let’s see, gang injunctions or school for them. Now the Council has chosen. To be fair, the CC (City Council) did not make the decision to close down the adult schools but neither did one of them, not one, object or raise the issue when they were shuttered.

Okay, back to the meeting. Young people arrived at the CC meeting in droves, signed up to speak and speak they did. As Council Woman Libby Schaaf pointed out, there were many powerful women speakers, a new generation of leadership, as many CC members noted. But hold on, not yet. You are not the voices they are ready to hear.

About a half dozen older folks showed up to talk and one guy even quoted Richard Nixon. I’ll bet he wakes up with a start one night and wonders how that happened. He noted that the “silent majority” was with him. And many of the CC members bought it. They said that the folks (who really counted) and didn’t come, didn’t show because the young folks intimidated them.

This is an old story and a sad one. Young people get diminished, ignored, or shunted aside, and then get loud and sometimes obnoxious when they finally try out their voices. It happens.

Were they dangerous, were they intimidating? Maybe if you didn’t try to know them or find out about their lives? But, after all, they are our children and grandchildren. It seems the generations have truly separated since the 60s and developed distinct cultures that are virtually impenetrable to one another. But that’s a subject for another time.

What I expected from city officials I didn’t find. I didn’t hear any rational, fact-based explanation for the usefulness of the injunctions, much less the bang for our bucks.

The City Attorney and the Chief talked to us at an emotional level about violence and loss of life. Chief Batts is so expert at pulling the heartstrings, that you actually believe you hear violins playing when he talks. He invariably brings up his childhood in South Central as his credentials. Then he asserts, in church-like tones, that he is the guy to interpret the needs of the community and this is what he wants.

I used to teach my students- before they closed my school-to listen for the facts and respond to them. I urged them not to repeat spin and then spin it further into, “they say,” kinds of arguments, but this is all I heard from city officials last night. No one, no one, made a case for how the injunctions would change the violent situation many neighborhoods live with.

As Councilwoman Desley Brooks stated, it was a fear-based argument. She pointed out that no one on either side of the dais suggested that they did not want safer neighborhoods. But how to get there, we haven’t yet had that discussion. Ms. Brooks did point out that the stats for the North Oakland injunctions proved that the money was not well spent as it had not reduced violent crime.

I thought Pat Kernighan inadvertently made the points that the youth could learn the most from. What she said is that the people who come to her meetings and to the neighborhood meetings under the aegis of the Neighborhood Crime Prevention Councils, talk about how afraid they are, how much they want more police, and want to give more “tools” to the police.

The CC members see these folks every month and at every meeting, including the town halls presently taking place. These folks also vote and they work on campaigns. Many of them are homeowners so the CC members believe they have more of a stake in their neighborhoods.

Last night I heard young people, by the way, when you all, I’m talking to the council  members now, say the injunctions don’t affect youth, you should reconfigure your terminology. Youth encompasses a broad range-anywhere from 12 to 30.

For a police officer or most of us, the average 28-year-old looks like an 18-year-old and will be treated accordingly. The average Black or Brown 30-year-old walking down the streets of our country knows that he or she is subject to completely different standards by government officials, that is cops, judges, case workers, and yes, some teachers, than any older voter or homeowner. And I don’t mean that we are inclined to offer them a lollipop.

So here’s what I’m suggesting; in fact, it has become my mantra and my students heard it frequently. If you want them to hear you, don’t give up. I know that you put your heart and soul into last night’s event. Really, even the CC heard the hearts speak from deep within the souls of Oakland’s youth. They heard you enough to make a deal with the Chief that there would be no new injunctions without a study to prove their usefulness.

Yikes, I know, another study means more money spent on those damn injunctions; but politicians love studies-that’s one of their weaknesses. Although there is no proof that these “tools” will prevent any crime, they may reflect well on the CC’s desire to fight crime and in turn be good for our shaky image.

There’s one fly in that ointment in that real estate values and probably business values will be hurt by imposing these injunctions over a wide area. A real estate agent made that statement but it was ignored. I can’t imagine why. It was probably the most important argument for a CC looking to improve their business image with this broad brush approach to policy.

But back to the deal. I have no inside information, folks, so don’t quote me on this, but it seems the deal was made to stop with the Fruitvale injunctions before the CC arrived at the dais, at least with some CC members. Then Pat Kernighan made a significant concession and asked to have the 70 slots that had been left open by the City Attorney removed so that the injunctions could not grow and encompass unknown individuals.

If you decide not to give up, your next move, not a fun one, I concede, is to start attending those little neighborhood meetings where these plans get hatched and where the CC members get “trained” by the voters. If you show up, you will not only get heard by the CC members but by your older neighbors. They’ll get to see that you have concerns and ideas and are working hard to build a better community, too.

If you fantasize that just running for office-an expensive and grueling way to spend your days-and winning will change things then look no further than some of the CC members who voted against your arguments.

Ignacio de la Fuente was once a firebrand union leader who got arrested on a regular basis. But the public trained him that they wanted a leader who would crack down on crime and promote downtown business interests, and they donated to his campaigns when he did. He has been voted back in for decades since he learned those lessons.

If you get elected without a strong grass roots foundation, you will become another politician who hews to the interests of downtown and a reactionary electorate. You can start your new career on Saturday by coming to the District 7 Town Hall meeting at Castlemont High, 1 to 3:30 and taking part in the break-out sessions, then following up in your neighborhood meetingss.

I want to thank Nancy Nadel, Rebecca Kaplan, and of course, Desley Brooks for their cogent arguments against the further funding of the divisive and dubious injunctions. And I want to ask the passionate, hard working, thoughtful, and determined youth of Oakland to keep on keeping on-as some of us old folks used to say.

Some quaint language from the US Constitution:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

The Revolution will not be uploaded today.

Today I’m writing what a real blog, I mean the kind of narrative on life and its discontents (or contents) that blogs were originally created for. Maybe some folks write blogs when they are in a blissful state, dunno, I probably don’t read those kind.

Lately, I’ve been playing around with making little videos. I started out wanting a video camera so I could interview women and maybe some men about the subject of abortion and birth control, Planned Parenthood, etc. You know that really radical socialist idea that women might have some say in how or when or why they bring children out of their bodies and into the world?

I recorded a couple of clips but got shy of asking the average woman-on-the-street if she had ever had an abortion or might want one. These days a person can get hurt for telling what most women already know that 3 out of 5 women have had one, 3 out of 4 or just most of women I know?

Then I started carrying around this baby camcorder in my purse. It’s about the size of a thick credit card. The videos and the videographer are pretty amateurish but we were having fun.

Now, I am a person of a certain age, I’m a Boomer-sounds nicer than I’m almost an official senior-yikes! My kids are grown and gone; and while I’m old enough to have a teenage grandchild, my kids don’t  seem to be thinking about providing me with any grandchildren at all. That’s relevant because without an adolescent around, you should probably just give up on technology right now.

I’ve always been hopeless with electronic things and cannot really see all the little crappy symbols, words, arrows, etc. that appear in the various nooks and crannies of the toolbars, dashboards, or whatever they’re calling them today. It may be that I’m ADD, because I can’t even take a class as I space out a few minutes into instruction; and most things that I’ve learned, I’ve learned by intuiting the process. I don’t use recipes, I don’t sew anything that I can’t visualize in my own head first-I even mix my colors when painting without having any idea which ones I added and how much. I’ve run out of paint and remixed the colors and had them come out the same so this approach usually works for me.

Ha, Anca at Tech Liminal helped me set up my blog or that wouldn’t even be happening. Geez, I just had to enter that sentence 3 times to get it in the next paragraph. I am not sure if it’s just me because every time I told one of my aging friends  that I wanted to start a blog, they told me they heard it was easy. “Really,” I’d say, “then come over and help me,” after which they would blanch and run away as fast as their blown-out knees and bad backs could take them.

Actually, it is me because typing was one of the few courses I was ever in danger of flunking in high school. The other was Home Ec, couldn’t ever remember to wear my damn hair net; and you might not think it, but Home Ec teachers tend to be very authoritarian. I think if you have ever read anything I’ve written- nuff said about how well I handle authority figures.

So I was amazed when I was able to put together a few short videos and even added music, clipped and cropped, played with the transitions, titles, credits and surprise endings. It was my little artistic venture.

I used to paint, make mosaics, make stuff from recycled items, collages, have stenciled my front patio to look like a brick path, and there’s my car which most people remember once they’ve seen it. It is not yet an art car, but I’m working on it. However, arthritis has its drawbacks and since it has lodged mostly in my fingers, it’s so bad that I have to ice them after even a short stint of weeding.

Now I’ve hit the wall and find that my internet and electronic world is closing in on me. No, it’s not that I think I spend too much time on it, I know I do. But since I’m only partially employed, so what? It’s that I just can’t keep up with the levels of knowledge that are required by each new level of technological development. It’s too much!

The other day, for instance, walking with my friend and her teenage daughter, I wondered if I could turn off the sound on my newest little camcorder-the one that has just brought me down-since the wind was blowing mightily off the Lake and I had learned that filming in any wind will sound like a hurricane in playback.

My friend said, “Here give it to Raquel.” So I did and she turned off the sound in an instant. So, ok, then it took her a few more minutes to show me how to do that. The rub comes the next time I go to use it as you know I will forget that it’s off, worse yet, will I even remember how to turn it on again?

So I have made videos with this damn new camcorder that have to be converted to different files before being downloaded, excuse me uploaded (that difference is not intuitive) to youtube but not to vimeo which then doesn’t always-but sometimes-seems to be able to make it through my email program so that someone besides me can see it!

I’ve learned that tech support for anything electronic is almost non-existent-no phone numbers are available anymore or if you get someone on the phone, they will always want to levy another  charge OR worst of all, you can’t register the blasted thing without finding out the serial number which requires a mind-numbing search of its own.

Then I head over to the internets, as my people are prone to call them/it, and make a query about how to work around the problems caused by my limited knowledge. Sometimes I miraculously grasp the solution, sometimes I play with it until I find one, but frequently I’m hit with a language barrier that I cannot surmount.

“The files for bladeblah have to be converted or down/uploaded by attaching a dps-unlv (no, part of that’s a basket ball team, disgraced, I think), after looking in the upper right hand corner of the page you just closed where the telltale instruction or serial number to the gizmo or gizmet you haven’t yet purchased/downloaded resides.

All your troubles lie just a free download away OR alternatively a computer virus -where all your family heirlooms, your secret longings, and your official self – lies that same download away- gone in a flash (and I don’t mean drive). But that software you previously downloaded and pay paled for twice at least, that’s supposed to provide security (didn’t the 60s prove to us womenfolk that security was a thing of the past), turns around, electronically, and says to you, “Do you know this guy/program/download?” That’s why I thought I hired you, you think to yourself, while backing slowly away from your desk before your finger twitches and everything inside your computer explodes.

While I was doing all this, a truly elderly friend called to tell me about her difficulty getting onto her facebook page, bless her for trying, and she ended up in password hell. It might have been less frustrating trying to get into Tahrir Square during the revolution than it  is to get out of password hell. Oh well, you wouldn’t have known about the revolution anyway unless you had already conquered password hell.

Right now I’m stymied and am turning to something I still know how to do, except of course, for the typing part. I will try and post the videos I’ve made (2 of them are somehow already on my blog) so someone can see the hours I’ve put in and what fun it all was during the brief period I imagined I could handle this new world.

Now, I’ll just go read a book and relax awhile. Let me see, my kids got me a Kindle for Mother’s Day maybe I’ll see if I can upload a new mystery……don’t you know this is just another trick, another bit of payback from those guys you punished by making them clean their rooms? Without them or a small child lurking inside the packing crate to set it up for you, you may find yourself languishing permanently in password hell. Haven’t I suffered enough?

Momentary relaxation....

Thank an Oakland Public Worker Today

New Lakeshore Newsracks

I know it’s not fashionable these days to praise public workers, but I just have to do it anyway. Given layoffs, attrition, and furlough days, city employees are working harder than ever before.

A trio of folks from the Community Economic Development Agency performed a small miracle in our Lakeshore shopping district just in time for the 24thAnnual Easter Parade and Derby (hat) Decorating Contest. For years a group of us who care about our neighborhood shopping centers (I am the Director of the Lakeshore Business Improvement District), had been trying to get our city-installed newsracks cleaned up and downsized. The City had passed an ordinance but could not implement it without the agreement and assistance of all the news organizations themselves.

Lakeshore getting ready for the parade

It was a coordination nightmare and often seemed hopeless. No sooner would the City get a company to fix their broken-into box, than another one would be broken into. During that period the print news and advertising business shrank and ever more racks became abandoned. Additionally, every person with an ad or a cause continues to use them to stick up their posters then leaves them to disintegrate. The racks, which were installed to solve the problem of a jumble of unsightly boxes, got tagged and battered until they became a blight and a danger on the sidewalks.

Under the leadership of Bill Quesada, a planner with the Organization and Infrastructure section of CEDA with the assistance of Keith Pacheco and Ken Gunari, both Specialty Inspectors, an agreement was hammered out to remove the dangerous or unsightly racks while reducing the number over all and developing a maintenance plan.

The news racks on Lakeshore and Grand Avenue were reduced or moved (to more convenient locations that don’t block pedestrian access) and cleaned up just in time for our annual parade. We hope the media distribution guys can keep up with the taggers and posters and that most folks will think again before creating new blight. If you see a stand-alone box, often dirty plastic, and unsightly, those are not legal and can be reported to the City for eventual removal (following a noticing process).

So that’s the Community and Economic Development Department. I want to send out a hearty thank you to the Public Works guys and gals also. Recently I had to call them because some of the strands on our necklace of lights were not in sync and lighting at the wrong time, and they responded quickly and cheerfully, as they always do.

I can’t thank these public workers enough. From the garbage lockout of recent years (when city workers had to empty our street cans) to the mowing of the grass on the Mandana Green, yes, sometimes the work has to get on a list and wait its turn; but they always come through and not just on Lakeshore.

When I worked at the now-closed Edward Shands Adult School, (did I mention, it’s completely closed down now, no more students in East Oakland can get help there-just checking that you saw that) we had a problem with a crack house on an adjoining property. It was truly awful for the students, the staff, and the neighborhood. The police would close it down and someone would break it open again. The landlord was not very responsive.

Once again, city workers stepped in. They fenced off the driveway and building entrance, painted over the graffiti, and prevented an easy return of the criminals. We all breathed a sigh of relief and carried on with teaching and learning until, of course, the state cut off our funding and we abandoned the school and the students.

I meant this just to be a letter of thanks to Bill Quesada and his co-workers but I really hope it makes us all rethink our attitudes towards those who serve us in government. I read a note on our neighborhood listerve the other day in which the writer stated that he could not support the small parcel tax that the Mayor and most of the City Council are requesting, but the writer implied he would support a bond for our deteriorating streets.

I share that neighbor’s concern over the state of our potholes, as they could be rightly called rather than streets, but I’m not sure I would put streets, roads, and cars above all other concerns in our city, knowing the needs of our young folks and seniors as I do.

Let’s pass the small, $80 parcel tax so that the everyday and not-so-everyday things that our city’s workers do for us can continue to be done, albeit in an even more reduced capacity. Don’t kid yourselves that this is not as big a catastrophe as Loma Prieta and the Oakland firestorm put together. The difference is then; we got lots of help from the federal and state governments. But this time, no one is coming to save us.

At town halls and other meetings, our new Mayor has asserted that she is determined not to abandon our seniors, or our libraries, or our parks. I hope we won’t abandon them either.

Young Parade goer gazes warily at the Easter Bunny