The letter below was originally presented in “Rebecca Kaplan Calling On Oakland Police to Stop Criminalizing Oakland Youth” here at Oakland News Now. It was digitized for presentation here.
December 18, 2020
Dear Oakland City Councilmember Kaplan,
We are writing on behalf of a consortium of youth development and community-based organizations including Black Organizing Project , Communities United For Restorative Youth Justice , Oakland Kids First,Young Women’s Freedom Center, Urban Peace Movement, Critical Resistance, and the Anti-Police Terror Project, in regard to the recent press release issued by the Oakland Police Department warning Oakland residents of a rise in juvenile crime and the threat of armed 11-year olds robbing people in Oakland.
“These violent acts are being committed by middle-school-age youth, barely more than children…”
This is only part of the sensational language used to describe young people in our city. Let’s be clear, middle-school-age youth are not “barely more than children,” they ARE children! This type of language exemplifies the well-documented “adultification” of youth of color, and Black youth in particular. Although the race of the youth is not mentioned, it is not difficult to hear the dog whistle that was so prevalent at the height of the “superpredator” era, which has long-been debunked.
More importantly, this type of language will only further harm and traumatize Oakland youth. Painting our students and young people as a threat feeds into implicit and explicit racial bias and opens the door to the kind of vigilante acts that resulted in the death of Trayvon Martin, Ahmaud Arbery, and countless other young people. This is irresponsible to say the least. The press release does not offer any real data, helpful information,or clear solution to this issue, if in fact it is actually happening en masse as the press release portrays it to be. It is nothing more than fear mongering that leaves readers with the message to be afraid of middle schoolers! Not once did the press release advise residents on what to do if they encounter “these children and teenagers,” other than a general request for anyone to report information to OPD. This lack of direction encourages residents to take matters into their own hands, which can lead to lethal consequences for Oakland children who may be perceived as suspicious.
Young people of color and their families in Oakland are currently facing alarming and unprecedented hardship..
COVID 19 is threatening the physical, mental, financial, and social-emotional health of many families. East
Oakland is the epicenter of the Covid-19 outbreak in the East Bay. The number of families that have lost jobs
in this current economy or are risking their lives to work is a huge strain on our community. Students are doing
their best with distance learning, but they do not have adequate access to the tools they need to be successful.
Moreover, many of our families are unhoused or living in vulnerable situations. The message that young people
are on the prowl committing crimes vilifies people for trying to survive amidst multi-level governmental failures
to support our communities during these unprecedented times.
These young people are Oakland’s students, our families, our community leaders and our children.
Rather than further criminalize these children–it is your responsibility to look at what you can do to
provide support and opportunities for families to be healthy, to have access to meet their needs, and to
[email protected] | 1035 West Grand Avenue Oakland CA, 94607 | 510-891-1219
We will not stand for our young people being exploited by OPD or any other agency as pawns to spread fear and
justify the continued hoarding of resources that are desperately needed in our communities. Our students have
said loud and clear “police do not make us feel safe.” They have said loud and clear that they want those who sit
in leadership positions to take seriously their demands for better housing, counselors in schools, mental health
interventions, access to cultural healing, mentors and supportive programs. They lifted their voices in the streets
this summer and they were met with a curfew. They peacefully marched and they were met with teargas. They
organized for police free schools and defunding OPD and now they are being framed as public enemy number 1.
We are calling on the city council to denounce this inflammatory language that was issued by OPD and invest in
• Support for non-police violence prevention and mental health programs;
• Grief support for families going through loss;
• Support OUSD’s police-free schools transformational process;
• Provide financial assistance to youth and families that have lost jobs or housing during this crisis; and
• Provide alternative opportunities (pre-arrest diversion) for interventions for low level offenses.
We look forward to your response.
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