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Why doesn’t the Oakland Police Department fight back?

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We all know that the Oakland Police Department is under attack. There are defunders, like Carroll Fife and Nikki Fortunato Bas, who seem to dominate the City Council. There are abolishers, who want to do away with OPD completely. There are extremists like Cat Brooks and her Anti Police-Terror Project “that seeks…to eradicate police terror in communities of color.” There are media who routinely interview Fife, Bas and Brooks anytime they need a good anti-police quote for a story. And there is the average citizen, who has little time to study the issues but who somehow feels that OPD is vaguely “racist” and must be reined in.

That is a formidable opposition. But what has OPD done to fight back? Their jobs and the very existence of a functional police department in Oakland are on the line, but for some reason, the department is strangely silent in defending themselves. For people who are supposed to be strong, OPD has been as neutered as a cut kitten.

When’s the last time you heard anyone from OPD look the public in the face and tell them the truth: “We are here to protect you. We are not the racists and terrorists Cat Brooks says we are.” Have you heard Chief Armstrong defend his own department? Have you heard from Barry Donelan, president of the Oakland Police Officers’ Association? True, he occasionally sends out a statement against defunding, but no one reads it. Have you seen rallies by rank-and-file OPD cops telling stories of their fallen brothers and sisters, and explaining how they endanger themselves every single day so that we, the people, are safe?

No, no and no. The police are not fighting back against the assault upon them. They remain strangely muted and castrated. They have a strong case to make to the public, or at least to that part of the public that is not hopelessly prejudiced against them. But they are not making that case.

The situation in Austin, Texas could hardly be more different. Although it is as liberal a city as Oakland, Austin’s cops and their friends have formed a coalition, “Save Austin Now,” that includes city council members, Democratic and Republican leaders, police union members, physicians and gun control activists. They hold press conferences that are widely viewed in the Austin area. The group plans to put a measure on next November’s ballot demanding adequate police funding, and it looks like it will pass.

If Austin can do it, so can Oakland. Our Coalition for a Better Oakland strongly supports the Oakland Police Department, but I am mystified by their passivity in the face of the onslaught against them. Our Coalition stands ready to assist OPD in educating the public, in telling cops’ stories, in presenting statistics that belie the allegations of the Fife-Bas-Brooks anti-police complex. We’re doing our best here on our website and on social media. But where is OPD? Why are they afraid to stand their ground and fight back?

(I posted this today on the website of the Coalition for a Better Oakland.)


The Father of Oakland’s “Reimaging Public Safety Task Force” has a new idea: “Abolishing the police”

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Anand Subramanium is the managing director of a social justice organization, Policy Link. He was co-facilitator of Oakland’s Reimagining Public Safety Task Force, the City Council’s infamous study group that has been associated with slashing the Oakland Police Department’s budget by up to 50%.

Subramanium and Policy Link have come out with a webinar that should scare the bejesus out of everyone concerned about crime and public safety. “Policing Can’t Be Reformed. Why Defunding and Abolishing is the Common-Sense Approach” is the title.

It’s a long webinar, some 90 minutes in length, and I’ll have more to say about it in future posts. But for now, I want to start with something that actually surprised me: Subramanium takes the basic tenets of modern police reform he once championed in Oakland and now alleges that none of them actually work.

Here are some of his claims:

Body cams should be rejected because they raise “privacy concerns.” Now, communities of color and police reformers have been demanding body cameras for years, only to be opposed by cops and their unions. But finally, police departments—under enormous pressure—have yielded, and begun providing their cops with cameras. That’s a good thing, right? Not so, according to Subramanium. His group doesn’t like body cams because a criminal suspect’s “privacy” might be violated. So throw away those body cams.

Ditto for Tasers. For years, cop reformers demanded that police use Tasers instead of guns to control non-compliant suspects. Now, Subramanium complains that Tasers “can be lethal.” So throw away the Tasers.

Nor does Subramanium think much of community policing. The police reform crowd has been demanding community policing for a long time, under the theory (which seems true to me) that if cops get to know residents, and vice versa, relationships of trust will more easily be built. But here’s Subramanium complaining that community policing is “vague,” only “PR,” and has somehow “tokenized” people of color. So throw away community policing.

Subramanium is even against so-called “bias training” for cops, which is designed to prevent them from racial profiling by making them aware of their own internal prejudices. Look: bias training, provided by psychologists and others, has become a gold standard of police education. The Oakland Police Department trains its officers in this way, and so do most other big city departments. But Subramanium is against such training. Why? It’s “unproven” and “easily ignored,” he argues. So throw away bias training.

How about “reform-minded police chiefs”? This, too, has been a demand by police reformers. We have one here in Oakland, LeRonne Armstrong, who has proven his willingness to work closely with police reformers. But Subramanium says “reform-minded police chiefs” don’t do any good, because their positions are “political,” because of “police unions,” and because the “entrenched culture” of police departments thwarts them in their efforts.

To learn all this, you might think Subramanium is some kind of rightwing militia type. Body cams don’t work. Tasers don’t work. Community policing doesn’t work. Bias training doesn’t work. Reform-minded police chiefs don’t work. In fact, according to him, nothing relating to current methods of police reform works.

And since nothing works, Subramanium demands the complete “Abolishing” (his word) of police departments! Not just partial defunding. Not just letting social workers handle mental cases and letting cops fight violent crime. Complete defunding leading to abolishing police departments is what Subramanium and his Policy Link group want.

Why didn’t Subramanium tell Oakland that when he was steering the Reimagining group? Why did he hide his radical plans?

Well, to paraphrase Churchill, Subramanium had, at least, a policy, albeit a very wrong, incoherent and dangerous one. I can hardly believe anyone could possibly think abolishing the police is sane, especially in Oakland, where violent crime is at its highest level in a decade.

But actually, the anti-cop rhetoric being hurled at cops may be resulting in something Subramanium and his Abolishing crowd want. Chief Armstrong reported yesterday that ten (10) officers have left OPD in the last three weeks, plunging the department to its lowest staffing level in six years. Maybe that’s Subramanium’s secret strategy: Make policing so odious for cops that they quit.

As for you, oh Average Oaklander, where does all this leave you? Not to worry. When you’re mugged, you can always call a social worker where a computer voice tells you you’re No. 17 in line, with an expected wait time of 127 minutes, during which you can choose to listen to a variety of music, or none at all.


With fire season here, it’s time to move the tents away from the inner city

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This morning’s San Francisco Chronicle has yet another front-page story on the fire danger posed by homeless encampments in Oakland.

The number of fires in RVs and tents is soaring, even as the Oakland Fire Department says it is “extremely concerned” by the “fire risks for the unhoused…the surrounding area, and the firefighters.” Indeed, with fire season already here, all Oaklanders should worry about an out-of-control fire that could take out an entire neighborhood.

Meanwhile, Oakland officials and pro-homeless nonprofits continue to dither. The Mayor and the City Council have no solutions. They continue to kick the can down the road, as they have for the last six years as the homelessness crisis has ravaged Oakland. Tiny cabins, solar panels, RV camps, social workers, tinkering with the police department’s budget—the rhetoric coming from the pro-homeless community is endless. But these are not solutions. They are meant merely to distract us. “We’re doing our best,” says City Council members Rebecca Kaplan. “But we have to do better.”

Then do it. There is an obvious solution to the tent camps: Relocate them all to areas where they pose no threat to the surrounding community. There are vast swaths of public lands available that, far from neighborhoods, would provide safe and clean harbor for every tent dweller in Oakland. The 400-acre Oakland Army Base has been decommissioned for more than two decades. Why not establish a vast tent community there, with all the amenities the homeless need (water, plumbing, electricity, garbage collection, social services)?

The Coalition for a Better Oakland believes that all campers should be offered the opportunity to be relocated to such tent cities, where finally they could establish real communities and work side-by-side with nonprofits and the city for permanent solutions. It would be a win-win-win situation: for homeless people, for beleaguered city officials, and for the harassed people of Oakland. If the city is not prepared to take such an obviously logical step, then let Mayor Schaaf, Ms. Kaplan and the other ditherers tell us why not.


Welcome to the Coalition for a Better Oakland!

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The Coalition for a Better Oakland is the name of a political action group I have co-founded with a few colleagues. Our goals are twofold: to end the blight of homeless encampments that are polluting our parks, underpasses and sidewalks, and to support the Oakland Police Department, which is embattled on all sides, fighting a record surge of crime and at the same time having to deal with the insanity of the “defund the police” crowd.

For the last several years I’ve felt increasingly isolated in my city. Could I be the only one worried about these twin issues of cops and camps, which after all are interrelated? During the pandemic, I turned to social media, especially nextdoor.com, to share my thoughts. I discovered that I was not alone. Many others felt the same way I did. I then found myself being censored and blocked from nextdoor.com. My political views, apparently, were at odds with those of the anonymous censors who can throw someone off the platform with no warning, no explanation, and no right of appeal. I began to see the connections between the censors at nextdoor.com and the various radical groups who seemed to have such an outsized influence at City Hall. Both were not interested in anyone’s views except their own. Both indulged in what we now call “cancel culture.” It was all very discouraging.

I have now abandoned nextdoor.com and will not return. (Their latest salvo into cancel culture was to inform users that the term “Black Lives Matter” is acceptable, but that “White Lives Matter” and “Blue Lives Matter” will be cause for expulsion.) But before I abandoned that dreadful platform I met (in the digital sense) a group of like-minded men and women and it is with them that I have started the Coalition for a Better Oakland. The exciting news is that, after months of delay, we will launch our website this Monday; and I will certainly share it here with you. We hope to become a political force in the city. We want to endorse candidates in future elections, and we want to influence the debate in the City Council, the Police Commission and in the City Manager’s office. For too long the radicals on the extreme left have been the ones to dominate meetings, hold demonstrations and intimidate politicians, including our Mayor, Libby Schaaf, into positions they clearly are uncomfortable with, but feel compelled to accept. We believe that we—the Coalition—represent the thinking of a majority of Oaklanders, most of whom are too busy getting on with their lives to be able to spend time on the computer researching issues or showing up at City Council meetings. We want to inspire that majority, rally them to our side, and tell the current crop of Oakland leaders that their day is done.

One of the things I, in particular, have had to do is protect our young Coalition from being a Trojan horse for rightwing extremists. When you’re supportive of the cops, and when you’re saying that homeless people do not have the right to set up tents wherever they want, you tend to open yourself to the charge of being a white supremacist trumper. I am a lifelong Democrat—everyone who knows my blog knows that since September 2016, I did everything in my power to take Trump and his Republican Party down. I fail to see why a moderately-progressive liberal like me cannot at the same time be a strong cop supporter. How did Democrats allow Republicans to own the issue of crime and policing? I don’t know, but it’s time we reseized the initiative.

And by the way, I’m convinced that the reason Democrats lost so many seats in the Congress during the last election, despite Biden’s victory, is precisely because of the stupid “defund the police” movement. The American people hate it, they’re afraid of it, and they find the people arguing in favor of it distasteful and irrational. My own feeling is that the reaction against the “defund” movement has already set in. Fewer and fewer politicians are using the phrase. As a political slogan, it’s easily the dumbest I’ve heard in my life. Yet here in Oakland, ambitious politicians still insist on 50% cuts to OPD’s budget—even though the local media is telling us that the neighborhoods most impacted by crime want more cops on the beat, not fewer. It strikes me that the people who are most insistent on “defunding” are (a) politicians who don’t give a damn about anything except power and (b) well-off white suburbanites who are appeasing their own guilt.

Well, I wanted to share this news of the Coalition for a Better Oakland with you. On Monday (barring some unexpected glitch) I’ll be able to give you the link, including sign-up information.

Have a great weekend!


MANIFESTO: Encampments, a blight on our city

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One of the compelling reasons we launched the Coalition for a Better Oakland is because we believe something must be done about the proliferation of homeless encampments in the town we love.

We recognize and acknowledge that the causes of homelessness and many and complex. We sympathize with our unhoused sisters and brothers, and would like to work with the city to find solutions to the current catastrophe. But our common-sense point of view, which we believe is widely shared by Oaklanders, is not being heard in the councils of government. In fact, it is being repressed.

Mayor Libby Schaaf seriously dropped the ball when she was first elected, back in 2015. Already at that time, camps were proliferating. Many people asked Mayor Schaaf and the City Council to begin managing the camps, instead of allowing them to spread in an uncontrolled manner.

What did Mayor Schaaf do?

In glowing rhetoric, she talked about “a bold new plan” to reduce homelessness, but it was always in the vaguest terms, with no practical solutions.

She assured homeless people that if they moved to Oakland, they would find housing, medical treatment, and other services.

She told homeless people Oakland would “treat them with compassion.”

When San Francisco, Berkeley and San Jose began efforts to manage the spread of camps, Schaaf assured the Bay Area’s homeless population Oakland would “shelter all residents.”

She even suggested that Oaklanders “open their houses to homeless people,” although she herself, she explained, had no room for any in her house.

With rhetoric like that, no wonder homeless people flocked to Oakland. They heard that they would be taken care of. They heard that they would be received with open arms. They heard they might even be able to live with the mayor! And they believed these things. But they were not told the truth. There was no plan, no money, no conceivable way to give them what they needed. Libby Schaaf was just making it all up.

Thus, by October, 2020, when the camp situation became so unbearable that even the most liberal Oaklanders were begging government to do something about it, the City Council, under enormous pressure, finally acted. With Schaaf’s strong support, they passed, unanimously, a resolution limiting tents to certain restricted areas, and prohibiting them everywhere else, including parks.

Schaaf promised that the new regulations would begin to be enforced in January, 2021. But guess what? Nothing happened. The City Council wouldn’t even abide by its own rules. Our parks remain overrun. Underpasses, rights-of-way along BART lines, intersections and miles of streets are lined with encampments and the piles of junk associated with them. (Take a look at Frontage Road, in West Oakland.) And, as the public has tragically seen, fires at encampments are burning down cultural centers, museums and businesses. With fire season just around the corner, that is a serious concern.

Why did Schaaf make unrealistic and unachievable promises to homeless people? It was cruel to invite them to Oakland. Everyone knew, or should have known, the city was in no shape to care for them. Maybe Schaaf was speaking out of truly idealistic motives. Maybe she was pandering to, or intimidated by, the screaming demands of the small but vocal minority of radical pro-homeless activists. Maybe she just wasn’t thinking clearly.

WHERE DOES THIS LEAVE US?

To answer this, we have to backtrack a few years and consider what Schaaf could and should have done when she took office. She should have announced that the city intended to manage the camps in a way that was both compassionate to the homeless and reasonable to the people of Oakland.

But she didn’t.

She should have made it clear that public parks, like Mosswood and Lakeside, were off limits for tents.

But she didn’t.

She should have created sanctioned places where homeless people could legally put up their tents.

But she didn’t.

She should have told the truth to homeless people: Don’t come to Oakland! We can’t take care of you; we don’t have the money.

But she didn’t.

She should have taken on the pro-homeless crowd and told them that they had no idea how to govern and that their demands for free housing, food, medical care and job training for 4,500 homeless people, possibly for life, were insane and would bankrupt Oakland.

But she didn’t.

SO WHAT’S THE ANSWER?

We here at the Coalition for a Better Oakland know this: A city that loses control of its streets is in trouble. We strongly support the City Council’s Oct. 2020 policy that restricted encampments to “low sensitivity” areas. That decision was—as Schaaf herself said—“a compassionate response to an unacceptable condition.” If camps were located in manageable areas, like parts of the Port, the former Oakland Army Base and other conglomerate areas to be identified, services could be provided more efficiently to homeless constituents. Campers themselves would be relieved of the constant threat of street sweeps, knowing that they could safely remain in approved areas. Their legitimate security concerns could more easily be addressed. Such a policy would be a win-win for everyone.

But Schaaf knuckled under to the activists. The City Council drifted further into radical, unrealistic politics after the November elections. And every day, the situation grows more dire.

Look: this issue is neither Democratic nor Republican, neither rightwing nor leftwing, but common sense. The Coalition for a Better Oakland is nonpartisan. We Oaklanders are hard-working, tax-paying, compassionate, and politically savvy. We deserve parks where kids can play—parks that have not been desecrated. We deserve a city where cultural centers and museums and small businesses are not burned down. We deserve streets where we can walk in safety and not dodge human excrement, rotting garbage, passed-out bodies, and hypodermic needles. We want to see our leaders do the job they were elected to do and manage these camps. It can be done—it should be done—it is legal—and it is morally right.


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