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.