Seventy-five people have been killed in Oakland this year. This terrible reality goes almost unnoticed if you don’t live or work in East or West Oakland. However, the conditions that give rise to these killings affect us all.
The August 8th tragedy of the death of an innocent child highlights this reality.
Three-year-old Carlos Nava was killed when a stray bullet hit him as he sat in a stroller on the sidewalk in broad daylight with his family standing by.
City council members Ignacio De La Fuente and Larry Reid opportunistically used this terrible incident to shove the highly unpopular and repressive youth curfews and “gang injunctions” back onto the city’s agenda.
Expansion of the city’s gang injunctions, which have already been imposed in North Oakland and Fruitvale, were curtailed by public opposition. Injunctions target particular individuals in their neighborhoods, banning anyone the city designates as a “gang member” from entering his own neighborhood or visiting his family.
The Oakland Tribune jumped on the curfew and injunction bandwagon, and now Mayor Jean Quan and Police Chief Anthony Batts are teaming up to host a “public safety summit” in October and call in more troops.
But even the grieving Nava family expressed their understanding that a police solution of curfews and injunctions won’t solve the city’s problems. They stated clearly that what the community needs is resources.
The proponents of curfews and injunctions all but ignore the dominant factor in the destabilization of the African and Latino communities: poverty and repression.
The latest U.S. employment shows that overall black unemployment is 16.7 percent. Joblessness for black youth is a now a staggering 45 percent. When you count all those no longer looking or who are underemployed you are talking about twice that, or virtually all young black people can’t find meaningful work.
An August report by the Food Research and Action Center stated that one in four California households with children reported food hardship.
According to a recent article in the San Jose Mercury News, covering a report released in August by the California Budget Project, “A record low share of working-age Californians have jobs; nearly a record high share of the state’s unemployed have been looking for work for more than half a year; and the typical California worker’s hourly wage has lower purchasing power than at any point in the past 10 years.”
Ninety-one percent of African and Latino seniors are “financially vulnerable,” according to a new report, “The Economic Crisis Facing Seniors of Color” from the Greenlining Institute.
These are the families whose children who have no jobs, no future. A program of genuine economic development and stimulus that uplifts the entire African and Latino communities is the only viable solution.
The city’s only solution is increased heavy-handed police presence and repression in what can be compared to a military occupation. The fundamentals of poverty and despair are never addressed.
Poverty is seen as a crime
The city and powers that be label the impoverished African and Latino communities as criminal communities.
When Wells Fargo Bank was found to have profited over a trillion dollars from laundering Mexican drug money earlier this year, no one went to prison, no CEO or bank employee was called a criminal. Wall Street bankers that fleeced millions of people of their homes and retirement funds and U.S. military torturers are not criminalized. Police who run roughshod in black neighborhoods and shoot down young black men pay no price.
But the label of criminality and armed repression is reserved for the most impoverished sector of the population—according to national statistics 24.5 percent of black households live below the poverty line.
The curfew and injunction supporters make no connection between the ongoing legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, historic oppression faced by African and Latino communities living in abject poverty and hunger.
Even if you moved to Oakland yesterday, you must have heard about Huey P. Newton and the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. The same conditions that sparked the Panther movement forty-five years ago exist today: the Oakland Police Department’s brutal tactics, dire poverty and the injustices and discrimination faced by black people.
In addition, Gary Webb’s Dark Alliance and many other sources have documented in detail the role of the U.S. government in imposing the illegal drug economy that has devastated the African and Latino communities. This illegal drug economy is the big business that justifies all of the military style policing in East and West Oakland and fills California’s prison system that has provided so many jobs and business opportunities for the white population.
Police Violence Then and Now, the Same Old War
The Oakland Police Department in the 1960s was not unique, but was notorious for its brutal tactics. During the Sixties, the OPD recruited many large-build white southern men to intimidate the black community.
The OPD under Anthony Batts looks different, but utilizes the same violent tactics. Batts has declared his willingness to wage a “war on drugs, gangs and guns,” the same tired code words for a war on the African community that has been carried out for decades. This war is waged against the same community that desperately needs resources to develop and thrive.
Under Batts reign, Kenneth Ross, Derrick Jones, Brownie Polk are just a few of the African men who have been gunned down by the police. A whole decade of police violence has taken the lives of Casper Banjo, Jose Luis Buenrostro, Andew Moppin, Jody Woodfox, Oscar Grant (by BART police), just to name a few. In January of this year, 20-year-old Raheim Brown was killed by Oakland schools police chief Barhein Bhatt. What should be clear to anyone paying attention is that the same conditions that gave rise to the Black Panther Party exist today.
The “Vocal Minority” Opposing the Curfews and Gang Injunctions
The Oakland Tribune described the opposition to the curfew as a “vocal minority” and “misguided individuals,” who are getting in the way of Batts’ ability to “reduce crime.”
But the vibrant young people and organizations involved in the Coalition Against the Gang Injunctions will not be so easily dismissed for they deeply care about defending the rights of the African and Latino communities and creating real solutions.
The city government, when it reconvenes on September 20th, will not be able to ignore the numbers of people young and old and of all different backgrounds who will oppose the curfew and gang injunctions. They will not be able to implement their budget weighted on the side of the police rather than community economic development, without public outcry and criticism.
Programs at the Uhuru House
The public safety strategy that will work in the long term will be massive city and private funding for independent, community driven programs that deal with the livelihood, well-being and economic development in the interests of the entire community.
The Marcus Garvey Upliftment Project is one such program that will spawn others like it at the Uhuru (Freedom) House at 7911 MacArthur Blvd in East Oakland. A free arts and education summer camp that featured classes in dance, theater, and visual arts, this program was truly a labor of love for the directors and students alike. Elementary age children wrote, choreographed, produced and performed a theatrical dance performance for the Summer Showcase on Saturday, September 3rd, that mirrored their own education at the camp about the African leader Marcus Garvey, their love and respect for each other as proud African children.
The Uhuru Jiko (Swahili for “Freedom Kitchen”) is coming to the Uhuru House in Oakland. Plans are underway to create a hub of economic and cultural life in the African community. The vision for Uhuru Jiko is an affordable community commercial kitchen for caterers, food vendors and cooking instructors. It would host nutrition and cooking classes from the African People’s Education and Defense Fund Wellness program and serve as a food business incubator for product development. It would also include the production of herbs from the APEDF backyard and collective gardens. For more info on both programs, see the African People’s Education and Defense Fund.
A Day in Solidarity with African People
This is a our national campaign that calls on white people and other allies to take the pledge of solidarity with reparations, justice and self-determination for African people, meaning the black community right here in the US. It is a national fundraising drive winning support for the self-determination programs of the Uhuru Movement such as those described above. You can get involved in building the October 13th event here in Oakland by coming to the Wednesday meetings at 7pm at the Niebyl Proctor Library, 6501 Telegraph in Oakland or by going to Uhuru Solidarity Movement’s website.
As the programs and campaigns led by the African and other oppressed communities build, we must reject and oppose the city’s cynical, and pessimistic policies that actually impose violence and despair on the community rather than transform it. These policies, such as the curfew and the gang injunctions, serve no one but the city and police officials and their pocketbooks. Programs and campaigns such as these are the wave of the future and give hope and humanity to all of us.
Wendy Snyder is the local organizer of the Uhuru Solidarity Movement. Contact her at Oakland@uhurusolidarity.org