Stop Talking about Looting

Cartoon by Steve Sack Minneapolis Star Tribune

Got your attention, eh? So am I pro-looting or anti? Is that a stupid question or what–no, I’m not pro- looting. Having run my own shop and having worked with store owners who actually “put their business in the street,” by putting their trust and life savings out there, no. Yeah and most of them are not covered for broken windows, have deductibles, etc. [To help them go to http://www.oaklandindiealliance.com/] It shouldn’t be the topic that causes us the most concern nor should it be championed. Oaklanders like folks in other cities need businesses and jobs, especially now.

Is Looting Strategic?

Okay, I’m almost done with talking about looting, but one more question, is it strategic? Does it demonstrate anger at businesses that have treated people in the community badly and so deserve to be looted? Clearly, that was true in the 60’s, likely not now.

The point among some intellectual revolutionaries may be the desire to “heigthen the contradictions” duh, haven’t they been heightened enough? Do we have to do that on the backs of workers and entrepreneurs? It’s not the worst thing, but here we are talking about it again. So I won’t say, “yeah, I understand the anger that leads people to do that, ” cause it depends on the people.

Now, can we talk about how to limit police power in our society?

It would seem that most thinking Americans and some whose thinking is very limited (even right wingers are considering this) have figured out that militarizing the police and allowing them to act with impunity is wrong, stupid and expensive. This weekend’s police overeaction may as well be titled the full employment for lawyers show. We can ony imagine the huge sums that cities and states will be paying out while also dealing with economic disaster.

But first, I’ve gotta take a step back because I have read missives that say, oh but there are two sides to issues with the police. Two sides? No, police are not a side, they are government employees. They are not a class of people to be protected, they are folks who chose that job for whatever reason-some good, some bad.

No one who has the kind of power that police have, should have that without stringent oversight. It’s not just the power of life and death-and why do they have that anyway?-it’s the power over ones everyday dignity. There is likely no Black person or Latinx (or many other poor and working class folks) who have not had some kind of police threat flung at them when they least expected it. We rarely react as a society to that kind of mind-numbing-Jim-Crow-living kind of existence but it routinely sucks the lifeblood, the heart and creativity out of whole communities

Our City Should be on Our Side

So, puhlleeze don’t give me that two sides thing, there are no sides, there is only the side, that of the citizen’s (not in Trumpian terms, nothing to do with papers) right to be protected from bad actors or from violations of the contract of a civilized society that no one should endure. [Which Trevor Noah just argued are regularly violated so why not violate the contract that says thou shalt not loot. True, but then we’re back to talking about that instead of police power in our society.]

Home of the Black Panthers

Here in Oakland we have a long and storied legacy of police brutality, such that the Black Panther Party was founded here to defend the Black community from police-the original outside agitators-as the vast majority do not live in the cities they police. It has taken us decades to even acknowledge the severity of the problem. It has taken millions of dollars in lawsuits, federal oversight and multiples of devastated families to begin to fix it.

But finally we have evolved into the city with the most independent Police Commission in the country but despite that Measure LL altered the city’s charter, which dictates how we are governed, this administration stonewalled the Commission and continues to attempt to prevent that body from fullfilling their duties as stated in the charter-and the legislation to implement it.

This administration with the backing of Mayor Schaaf has denied the PC their staffing and independent counsel, and other aspects of that legislation like an independent Inspector General.

As a result of that and other tweaks that might clarify who is responsible for what, the Coalition for Police Accountability asked the City Council to consider putting those necessary fixes on the ballot. After much outreach and working with many community groups, councilmembers and the city attorney, a new measure for the November ballot was developed.

But under pressure from the Mayor who either misunderstands how the Commission is designed to operate-for instance, there is no way that the PC can or ever would want to control day-to-day operations but she did indeed warn her followers that that was on the table. It was not.

Martial Law Proposals?

Unfortunately, what was on the table went from a few items of clarification to an orgy of amendments including many that either reversed the charter measure’s independence or gave the police department broad powers never considered by any mayor or council before. Indeed, one amendment offered the power to the chief to unilaterally declare martial law for up to 60 days! That declaration could make this weekend’s nationwide overreactions look minor.

The Only Way Forward-No Impunity for Misdeeds

So here we are. We wrote and voted for the strongest police accountability body in the US, not as strong as it should be, but a clear step forward and it seems that some folks who are looking to climb the political career ladder hand-in-hand with law enforcement, just can’t wait to weaken it. Be ever vigilant and watch this page…

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