Mayor Libby Schaaf Takes a Wrong Turn

IMG_20150524_210616Last night I was very disappointed, even angry at our police department and new mayor, when the police took a hardline approach for the 2nd time this week with a peaceful group of highly disciplined demonstrators. Sadly,I had just started to feel the new mayor was on the right track in some areas. She appointed Sabrina Landreth as the new city administrator who was Mayor Quan’s budget director and helped us get through one of the worst budget periods in this city’s history.

Mayor Schaaf also appointed Claudia Cappio as the economic development director working on new retail projects with which she’s had lots of experience. She made one other move that surprised and heartened me in appointing Gary Malachi Scott, a young man I made a short video of for PUEBLO, who has real experience with restorative justice as her Measure Z rep.

I had heard her talk to business groups about preventing any more nights of destruction like that which happened to Broadway Auto Row-the remains of a once robust auto row, mostly now gone to the burbs and which generates high sales tax for the city-on the night of May Day. Fifty-seven cars had been damaged in one dealership alone that night and no one could explain why.

Schaaf thought she could reinterpret our crowd control policy to prevent night time vandalism by outlawing night time marches through downtown Oakland as the former cat and mouse strategy had not been working. Clearly, the police and her new administration were under tremendous pressure to find some solution to a problem that most Oaklanders had grown weary of, especially when it seemed to have no connection to recent local injustices; and in fact, moved the focus of protest away from current injustices.

Interestingly, Mayor Schaaf’s first instinct was to announce her decision, which she insists is not a new policy, to the media and the community but the police department discouraged her from going that route. Rather than obey her own political instincts which served her well during the election, she went with law enforcement’s analysis. That has turned out to be a huge mistake which may reverberate night after night unless she decides to fix it.

Police think about security first, policy much less citizen rights, are not their specialty, as those of us who have worked for social justice for decades learned long ago. That is not their job either. It is the policy makers job to determine the correct solutions and  and law enforcement’s job to implement them even when they don’t understand or agree. This tendency of Libby Schaaf’s should not surprise us. Though she talked little about her approach to public safety during the campaign, I remember what she did when the idea of a youth curfew came up on the council.

Noel Gallo had dredged up this old curfew idea but the council voted it down, again. When asked for Libby’s position, she replied that she had queried the chief and he said that it was not useful. So she voted against it on the basis that OPD did not particularly want it rather than on principles or data, or a combination of both.

I passed this off as election politics but now wonder if she really believes it’s appropriate for the chief to make these important policy decisions. The chief was right about this based on data, the size of our force, etc. But a mayor must have an understanding of how this kind of curtailment of activity becomes punitive in many of our communities and may lead to the expansion of the childhood to prison pipeline that Oakland youth are so familiar with. In other words, a mayor has to make political decisions based on the knowledge of a  wide breadth of how our community experiences law enforcement, schooling, and many other factors in high crime-impacted neighborhoods.

So now we’re in a situation in which the women of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, the next stage in our long American struggle for Civil Rights, have been lumped in with the masked vandals who tear up our retail districts. Unfortunately, many Oaklanders have already conflated the two-they may be excused for not paying attention but the mayor should know better. It’s her job to know who is working for a better Oakland even if their strategies differ from hers.

These women and their partners in other organizations have helped jump start this new movement, indeed the hashtag, the rallying cry #BlackLivesMatter, started with them. Though OPD has come a long way, some of our residents still have reason to eschew the “assistance” of OPD and fear the officer in their rear view mirror. There’s no need to reiterate all the ways that fear affects folks’ lives, I hope; but we still have a ways to go before each community in Oakland feels comfortable working with their neighborhood police officers.

This mayor’s confused policy directive has reminded us of our unhappy past and its consequences and it may take us back there if she doesn’t act soon. Why has she not met with the representatives of this and other groups who seek to make positive change? It’s not too late to apologize for knowing so little about the folks she shut down last night and Thursday night. It’s not too late to admit an error or a wrong turn when struggling with a difficult situation in an atmosphere of distrust. But it will be soon. See you on the plaza tonight.

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