Oakland – Tuesday night July 21, 2020, The Oakland City Council had the historic opportunity to address the decades-long budget inequity that has left police with the lion’s share of our tax dollars and many residents without healthcare, housing, and critical social services during the pandemic. Councilmembers Reid, McElhaney, Taylor, Gallo, and Mayor Schaaf chose to overfund policing instead of basic needs for the people of Oakland, ignoring hours of public comment calling for further cuts to OPD’s budget.
Feigning concern about sudden cuts to policing, the so-called “equity caucus” ignored the suffering in the community due to the triple crises of the COVID19 pandemic, the resulting economic depression, and the effects of white supremacy and racialized violence. They exposed their lack of ability to take on transformational leadership and lack of care to be accountable to their constituents at this time of crises. Despite invoking the language of the movement that has filled the streets of Oakland and public comment to city council for months, Mayor Schaaf used her vote to break the tie in order to stop further cuts to OPD, revealing her true priorities.
“It is telling that in this massive movement to move away from militarized, punitive and violent policing that the so-called “equity caucus” has become increasingly obstructionist on the Council. They frequently stand in the way of more progressive councilmembers and block their policies – policies constructed from listening to Black and brown constituents – from moving forward. Recently, around both the Black New Deal and the Gross Receipts Tax introduced by Councilmember Bas, these Councilmembers co-opted the policies, watered them down, bullied their way through, feigned community engagement, and claimed victory that is not, in fact, due to their hard work or partnership with community. This past Tuesday, they refused to support any proposals that would have further reinvested money from the police department to community services,” said Jessamyn Sabbag, Executive Director of Oakland Rising Action.
“We know that this move by these four councilmembers does not reflect the values of Oakland residents who are overwhelmingly questioning police overspending and suffering from a lack of programs and policies that will actually keep us safe. We also know that this is a moment in a movement that is far from over. Despite the so-called “equity caucus” and the Mayor’s maneuvers to block progress; popular support for a world beyond the criminalization of Black and brown people and of true public safety is only growing stronger” said Carroll Fife, Executive Director of ACCE.
Building on the Anti Police-Terror Project’s five-year campaign to #DefundOPD and the Black Organizing Porject’s ten-year campaign to dismantle the OUSD police department, the May 25th police murder of George Floyd resulted in thousands of Oakland residents joining what is now an international call to invest in services that truly keep people safe by divesting from police. The Defund the Police Coalition defied the city’s and county sheriff’s imposed curfew by organizing an 8,000-person strong direct action that left it dead in the water, successfully kicked the school police out of OUSD, cut the sheriff’s contract with Peralta colleges, initiated the call for a community transition team to evaluate alternatives to policing, collected survey input from close to two thousand Oakland residents with the resounding call to defund police and invest in true community safety, held packed community town halls (while the mayor was only able to attract a relative few to hers), marched in the streets by the thousands, and engaged in peaceful civil disobedience at the homes of the school board directors, councilmembers and the Mayor.
The cuts to OPD’s funding which have been made in this budget cycle only exist because of the Defund the Police Coalition’s demands, backed by the pressure of the people spending countless hours in public comment over the last month’s City Council meetings, along with the pressure of the people in the streets and at their front doors.
Oaklanders’ collective involvement has effectively changed the debate, so that even the consistently pro-police Mayor Schaaf has begun to opportunistically use the language of “reimagining public safety” – a term coined by her 2018 challenger, Cat Brooks – in the same breath that she attempts to justify giving the police more money.
“The appropriation and cooptation of our struggles is nothing new and just proves that we have moved the needle, but we still live in a city where an unarmed couple can be shot over 40 times by law enforcement with barely a word from City Council. A young pregnant woman can be shot in her abdomen and hands,” said Cat Brooks, co-founder of the Anti Police-Terror Project and executive director of The Justice Teams Network. “We need a city council that truly believes that the lives of Oaklanders matter and acts accordingly, not just in words, but in budgets.”
A “Reimagining Public Safety Task Force” was introduced on Tuesday night, an idea put forward by the Defund the Police coalition and lifted up by CM Nikki Bas, later joined after intense community pressure by CM Loren Taylor. This task force would be charged with defunding the police by 50% in next year’s budget cycle. A unanimous demand was put forward, through public comment and a community survey, that the task force must be made up of community members and survivors of police violence, not law enforcement or mayoral appointees. The vote on this task force will be held on July 28.
“The very existence of this transition team to cut OPD by 50% is due entirely to the pressure from the people. As we move forward, we will continue to center the marginalized, and lift up voices of the most impacted. They are the true experts in this “reimagining”, in dreaming of a world where our lives more than matter; a world where our lives are precious and our voices powerful. Tuesday revealed who will stand with us in that truth, and who we will hold accountable come November.”
Post based on press release from Pete Woiwode and Cat Brooks Of The Anti Police-Terror Project to Zennie62Media.