Batts to town hall: “We have got to stop the killing”
on November 3, 2009
Oakland’s new Police Chief, Anthony Batts, rallied citizen support for his public safety strategy –- which he suggested could include proposing a citywide curfew –during a town hall meeting last night.
“I wanted to, in a very personal and intimate way, introduce our new Police Chief to you,” Mayor Ron Dellums told the audience crowding the auditorium for a gathering at West Oakland’s Prescott Elementary School. The mayor said the meeting, the first of three planned for different Oakland neighborhoods, was an opportunity for the chief to converse directly with citizens.
Following the welcoming applause, the former Long Beach Police Chief strode purposefully up and down the aisles, describing with an evangelist’s passion how Oakland’s violent history led him to the job.
“I asked [Dellums] for an opportunity to serve the people, the residents of the city of Oakland,” Batts said. He told audience members he had turned down an offer to head the Drug Enforcement Administration in favor the position in Oakland. “I had a passion to make a difference,” Batts said, “and to work with officers here to make a difference.”
Batts went on to describe his own upbringing in south central Los Angeles, and said he recognized the underlying lack of trust some people have for much of the police force. “In some neighborhoods, like what I grew up in, all you see the police officers are is an occupying army,” he said, as members of the audience grew increasingly vocal in their agreement. “They’re not part of the community. They’re just taking people to jail. That’s not what I want out of this police department.”
Batts was quick to call on community members to step up their involvement, challenging citizens to donate one hour of their week to mentor a child, and urging residents to report crimes in their neighborhoods.
At one point Batts broached the subject of a citywide curfew, saying a curfew had been immensely successful in bringing down the number of youth-related deaths in Long Beach. The suggestion was met with shouts of agreement and applause.
“We have got to stop the killing,” Batts said, warning that in order to do so, the police would need to make arrests and use suppression to address the violence. “Before we can do prevention and intervention, we’ve got to bring these guns under control.”
Residents were invited to participate in a question and answer session following the Police Chief’s speech. One woman wanted to know how Batts intended to address the problem of substance abuse in Oakland, while a man expressed frustration with police ineffectiveness in stopping drug use and violence in particular areas.
Batts called upon the residents to alert the police to suspicious activity, and said he would hold his officers accountable. “If they act in an ethical way and they act in a professional way, then I’m going to support them in their job,” he said. “They don’t need to drive by something. They need to get out and address the problem.”
The mayor and police chief sat side by side on tall wooden chairs and listened patiently as citizens approached the microphone with complaints, suggestions and criticism. Some residents used the open forum to criticize the policing in the past. They accused officers of racial profiling and blamed poor leadership within the department. Others offered suggestions as to what the city and the Police Department should be doing to help the community, such as lending support to the families of victims of violence, and supporting an initiative to reinstate ex-convicts through job training.
West Oakland resident Raymond Lankford, executive director of Healthy Oakland, said he empathized with the mixed reactions of the people. “Its complicated, very complex,” he said, “[Being the police chief] is a tough job.”
Lankford is active in the community – he is a preacher at Voices of Hope Community Center and also a member of the community policing effort, Measure Y.
“You have a community that’s bleeding , wounded, and hurting,” he said. “But I think people are hopeful that what they heard will come to pass. “
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