Oakland Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan On The BBQ Incident At Lake Merritt

Recently, throughout the nation, there have been a variety of incidents which received media attention, in which African Americans have been subjected to police intervention, while engaged in ordinary every day activities. In most of these cases, it has turned out that White people called the police, and asked them to intervene, when seeing Black people doing things like checking out of an Airbnb, or napping on a dormitory couch, or meeting a colleague at a coffee shop. Recently, this took place in Oakland, when police were called to respond to African Americans having a BBQ by Lake Merritt.

This issue has a long and troubling history, and is interconnected with other forms of prejudice and disrespect towards Black people. It is important to ensure that we provide a community that is welcoming to all people, and that we build a shared understanding that allows for the respectful use of our shared public spaces.

Lake Merritt has been the intersection between 580 and 880. Between rich, poor, black, white, LatinX and Asian. A place where we saw Black Cowboys like never seen out West. A place where Festival at the Lake was the go to for African Americans. We’re now at a crossroads with a rich multicultural history, needs to remain a place that is welcoming and inclusive for all of the people of Oakland.

The recent event that took place at the Lake doesn’t embody the Oakland that we need to protect. The Oakland WE strive for is inviting, loving, respectful and accepting.

And so, it feel important to share some suggestions:

1) On the Public Policy side, I encourage that we, in the Oakland City Government, clarify and simplify our requirements, including allowing reasonable space for BBQ activities, with less restrictions, to reduce potential tensions. And, we should seek to expand use of civilian (non-police) staff to handle questions and concerns about minor administrative issues that do not involve risks to public safety.

And, 2) on the Interpersonal side:

“Dear White People,

Please think carefully before calling the police, and be aware of the potential for issues of racial privilege and prejudice. If there is a gun involved or imminent risk of harm, then it is reasonable to call the police. But for minor community disagreements, we need to be careful and consider our actions before resorting to calling for an armed police response. We need our police to be able to focus on pursuing and solving serious violent crimes. On an interpersonal level, we should seek to reduce, not escalate, tensions. And to maintain and improve our awareness of the widespread racial disparities in law enforcement response, which continue to need to be remedied.”

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