Oakland At-Large Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan wrote that I did not call for charges against Najari Smith to be dropped. That is not true.
Dear Councilmember Kaplan,
Thank you for sharing your concern for Mr. Najari Smith and the issues that his arrest and jailing raise about police enforcement and racial disparities in Oakland.
As you know, our community — our administration, police department, and City Council included — are all committed to equity and dismantling racism.
I share your outrage over the data you cited from the Stanford studies. As you recall, our police department intentionally partnered with Dr. Jennifer Eberhard of Stanford to shine a bright light on the reality of the challenges that remain so we can work to correct them using evidence-based practices and policies.
While we have dramatically lowered police contacts with African American residents for non-traffic stops, including pedestrians and bicyclists, we have much, much, more work to do.
We will not let up on this work until we eliminate racial disparities.
In the case of Mr. Smith, I was relieved to learn that even before you sent your first email, the District Attorney had already dismissed criminal charges connected to his resisting arrest. And before you sent your second query, the Assistant Chief of Police had already requested the dismissal of Mr. Smith’s traffic citation.
None of this, however, undoes what Mr. Smith felt or experienced while arrested and jailed. Representatives from my office and the police department connected with Mr. Smith and members of his bicycling community to begin the process of healing this trauma, creating new understandings, and reviewing policies that impact all stakeholders.
We are scheduling discussions regarding:
Encouraging positive management of group bicycle rides, whether permitted or unpermitted.
Review of OPD stop data for lessons and recommendations relevant to bicycling
We are also actively engaged in securing grant resources for community organizations like the Scraper Bike Team so they can actively participate in policy development.
I also want to address the issue of mayoral authority you raised in your correspondence. In your email you wrote, “Apparently, the Mayor, the Administrator, and the Chief of Police all have authority to drop it. PLEASE do so.”
Under the laws of our justice system, neither the mayor nor the city administrator hold the legal authority to “drop” cases from prosecution. Only the District Attorney can make that decision for a criminal violation, such as resisting arrest.
For Mr. Smith’s traffic citation, the police department can request that the traffic court dismiss the citation – which is exactly what the Assistant Chief did – but the court is not required to uphold the request.
I remain committed to working with you and our community to proactively change the systems that create unjust stops and arrests, and build new systems that lead toward equitable outcomes for all our residents.
Thank you again for your concern in this matter. I am also grateful for your larger commitment to equity and fairness for all residents of Oakland.
Let’s continue to work together to undo the causes of racial injustice.
Mayor Libby Schaaf
Libby Schaaf is the 50th Mayor of Oakland