City council defers voting on proposed public safety items at contentious meeting
on October 5, 2011
Dozens of Oakland residents approached the podium at the city council meeting Tuesday night to voice their displeasure with three items on the agenda intended to curb violence in the city – an anti-loitering law, a teen curfew, and more gang injunctions. However, the council deferred voting on these measures by sending them to the public safety committee for more in-depth review.
Proponents of these hotly-debated items argue they would be valuable tools for the Oakland Police Department to clamp down on crime. Councilmembers Larry Reid (District 7) and Ignacio De La Fuente (District 5), spearheaded the proposed curfew ordinance, and were in favor of the other two public safety items. Councilmember Libby Schaaf (District 4) joined them in support of these items, while Councilmember Patricia Kernighan (District 2) supported the loitering law and teen curfew only. OPD chief Anthony Batts also stood behind the measures.
But many residents who spoke at the meeting said the proposals were unnecessary and would divide neighborhoods and unfairly target black and Latino communities. “You’re talking about tools – you don’t do brain surgery with a hammer!” said Rashidah Grinage, to resounding applause from the audience.
The curfew ordinance would essentially restrict underage residents from venturing out without written permission between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m., Sunday through Thursday, and 11:30 p.m. to 5 a.m. Friday and Saturday. The ordinance would also be in effect during school hours (8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.) on weekdays. The loitering ordinance would alter an existing ordinance by making it illegal to loiter in public places with the intent of selling drugs, and allowing officers to slap violators with an infraction on the spot.
The council also debated beginning two new gang injunctions, in East and West Oakland. Gang injunctions are civil court orders that restrict the movements of alleged gang members in certain areas, and Oakland already has two injunctions in place – in Fruitvale and North Oakland. While no specific gangs have been identified in the areas of Oakland discussed Tuesday, the proposal would allow City Attorney Barbara Parker and City Administrator Deanna Santana to begin evaluating possible litigation that would target certain alleged gangs and gang members to the council.
More than 400 speaker cards were filled out for the three public safety items, and cheers and boos from the crowd regularly punctuated speeches. Pablo Paredes, a 29 year-old resident of Oakland, began by theatrically mimicking the councilmembers and Batts, claiming to be each of them in turn as he listed what he felt were their primarily “selfish” concerns. “I’m Oscar Grant, and I’m here because you have too many tools in your toolbox!” he ended, to cheers from the crowd, invoking the name of the young man shot to death by a BART police officer in 2009. Paredes said that by passing these items, the city would be falling in step with states like Arizona and Alabama, which have recently adopted strict anti-immigration. “Over there at least they are honest about it,” he said. “Here we say we’re a sanctuary city.”
Many of the speakers were concerned with the effects of the proposals on their own communities. “These items will have a devastating impact on the city,” said Cynthia Munoz, an Oakland resident and member of Causa Justa, a community organization. “They will criminalize my family and my neighbors.”
Supporters of the proposals expressed safety concerns, and cited increasing crime rates and rising homicides. “We are the victims of our own crimes,” said Gregory McConnell, from the Jobs and Housing Coalition. “Blacks are killing blacks, browns are killing browns. We need to send a message that we need to stop this now.”
Schaaf insisted that Oakland needs an immediate solution to its debilitating crime problem. De La Fuente agreed that this was the time to act, and said he was frustrated by the council’s move to postpone any decision on the items. “There is a thirty-one percent increase in homicides in the city and the council continues to talk,” he said.
Councilmember Desley Brooks (District 6), however, argued that the three items were not sufficiently researched, and said that it would be bad policy to pass items for which the police had not prepared any specific plans or budgets.
Schaaf quoted from a study which asserted that these three measures had reduced crime in 73 percent of the 200 cities with populations of more than 100,000 people chosen for the study. Brooks dismissed the study as a “survey,” though, and said too much of the discussion was focused on targeting young people, who she said commit a small percentage of the crime in Oakland. “I am distressed by the conversation this evening,” she said. “What percentage of crime do young people commit in Oakland? This year it was ten percent. We have spent the whole evening trying to figure out how to address that ten percent. Let’s get real, Ms. Schaaf.”
The council also postponed taking action on another contested issue – the nomination of Jakada Imani for Port of Oakland commissioner. Residents of West Oakland and port workers showed up to ask the council to reject Mayor Jean Quan’s nomination of Imani, arguing instead in support of existing commissioner Margaret Gordon, whose first term is complete. The council moved to postpone approval of new nominees for the position till the next meeting, with Reid urging Quan to speak with Gordon and explain why she had not reappointed her, before finalizing her decision regarding the nomination.
In another decision, the council voted to implement ShotSpotter technology, which would pinpoint the exact location of gunshots in the city, and send the information to directly to OPD officers’ cars. The public safety committee approved and forwarded the proposal for ShotSpotter to the city council last week.
The original version of this piece had listed Mr. Gregory McConnell’s last name as McDonnell. We apologize to Mr. McConnell for this error.
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