At safety summit, Mayor Jean Quan presents new crime reduction plan
on October 17, 2011
More than 700 people filled the gymnasium at Laney College on Saturday for the Neighborhood Safety Summit, a day of discussions about crime and violence in Oakland hosted by Mayor Jean Quan, who presented a new crime reduction plan that she said will focus on the city’s most violent streets.
The mood at the event started out somewhat gloomily—as the crowd wrapped up the Pledge of Allegiance with the traditional “with liberty and justice for all,” one woman in the crowd yelled out, “Yeah, right! Liberty? Justice? Not here in Oakland.”
“You gotta keep sayin’ it, though,” one man answered.
“Keep fightin’ for it,” another woman added.
“Amen,” the crowd responded.
Mayor Quan took the podium a few minutes later and announced a new strategy to reduce crime in Oakland by concentrating law enforcement and community support on the 100 blocks with highest violent crime rates in the city. According to the mayor, 90 percent of the shootings and homicides reported in last 10 years have happened on these blocks, which are located in six neighborhoods, mainly in East and West Oakland. Quan presented maps of the location of these blocks, which are available here.
“It’s not just another plan, it’s a consensus on how to prioritize, how to work together and put our resources in these very tough areas,” Quan told the summit attendees, a crowd that included elderly couples, high school students, police officers and members of community coalitions.
“It’s not my plan, it’s our plan,” Quan said, as Alameda County Chief Probation Officer David Muhammad, Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley, and Maria Santos, the Deputy Superintendent of the Oakland Unified School District, looked on. “I know we can change this 100 blocks.”
The attendees received one-page outlines of the plan developed by Quan and Interim Police Chief Howard Jordan, who became head of the Oakland Police Department two days after Anthony Batts announced his resignation last week. According to the document, one of the plan’s main objectives is to obtain a better understanding of crime trends by focusing law enforcement on small geographic areas.
Under the plan, Oakland government agencies and community organizations will share long-term projects intended to change the city’s culture of violence, such as providing job training and employment for youth, neighborhood beautification, and counseling services for families of young people engaged in violent behavior.
Quan also proposed the creation a database of violent, high-risk offenders that will be shared with the police and Alameda County’s District Attorney’s Office and its Probation Department.
Summit attendees reacted to Quan’s new strategy with a wide range of opinions. Jess Heaney, a member of the Stop the Injunctions coalition, called the plan contradictory. “It was really interesting how the mayor said the plan is focused on prevention, but it is enforcement-oriented,” she said. “Having more police officers in a place where there no public spaces available at night, where there’s a 17 percent unemployment rate, won’t solve rooted issues of crime.”
Bruce Nye, board chair of Make Oakland Better, a community organization interested in improving public safety and government transparency, said the plan failed to address understaffing within the Oakland Police Department. “When Chief Batts arrived, he told us we needed 900 [officers]. On Tuesday, Interim Chief Jordan said that we need 1,000,” he said. “Without seriously addressing the question of staffing, the ‘100 block plan’ is less a crime-fighting strategy than it is a way to allocate inadequate resources.”
But Sharn Hirsch, founder of Pennies for Peace, a West Oakland-based youth outreach program, said the plan could have good results. “I think it’s a good idea to work closely in these blocks. I think the mayor wants to bring more people together,” Hirsch said. “There is so much violence in West and East Oakland, something needs to be done.”
After the mayor’s presentation, people scattered throughout the campus to attend one of 25 workshops on issues ranging from teen loitering to racial profiling to the challenges faced by former offenders who have been released from prison.
In room D200, teenagers and police officers shared thoughts on the relationship between young people and police in the city. Eighteen-year-old Jowana George from West Oakland told police officers that her friends who were on probation were constantly followed and questioned by the police. “My friend and I were outside a store and a police officer came to him and said, ‘I hope you’re not doing anything bad.’ He was doing nothing—he was just sitting there,” George said, as she sat among six police officers. “That’s why young people are so scared of the police—they feel harassed, and they end up disobeying them.”
Umiika Rose, a 14-year old resident from West Oakland, said that once a police officer chased one of his friends with his car after the youth refused to approach the car, as the officer had requested. “You don’t realize we are also human beings,” Rose told the police officers at the workshop. “We have our limits. You never want to listen to our side of the story.”
Police officer Martin Burch said that what young people may see as harassment might be an attempt to approach them and gain their trust. “I always approach young people with a smile on my face, I want to shake their hands,” said Burch. “But sometimes they will say ‘Get away from me, what do you want?’ It’s hard, I feel frustrated. I have feelings too, but I’ll keep trying.”
At the other end of campus, in classroom B257 community members faced off about whether or not implementing a youth curfew would be effective. “I understand youth curfews, but what about the O.G.’s?” asked 16-year old Malik Peterson, an East Oakland resident. “It’s not always young people committing crimes. What about adults?”
Stacey Thompson, a 49-year-old father from East Oakland, said he supports the proposed curfew because he is tired of his kids growing up in a world where all they hear about are homicides. “I don’t want that to be all they see and know,” he said. “I grew up in a neighborhood of parents. It takes a village to raise a kid. Now we’re on our own.”
OPD Captain Ersie Joyner III agreed with Thompson’s point. “Part of what we need is for people to call in crime,” he said. “A long time ago, our neighbors used to take care of us.”
“Yes!” cried several people.
“I have seen so many of my students dead, gone. And no one’s taking responsibility,” said Cynthia Adams, a parent and Oakland teacher. “We need a curfew. Everyone in this room knows we need one.”
Although some shared Adams’ concern for youth safety, others disagreed about how the curfew would be enforced, and whether it would be effective. “It’s the police’s approach that antagonizes the youth,” said one older gentleman who said he lives around the corner from Laney College. He said he was distressed to have witnessed cops come up to young people “just playing ball” and using profanities when addressing them. “We need to train beat officers to be more understanding,” he said.
Rachel Herzing, a member of the Stop the Injunctions Coalition who attended the curfew workshop, said she was concerned about how the curfew would be implemented and enforced. Herzing said she distrusts the police, and she argued that the curfew would only increase racial profiling. “I don’t think it’s enough to say we’re going to give tools to those who have been untrustworthy with the tools they’ve had,” she said. “I think it’s a really excessive tool to be using. If we want to solve violence, we can’t have a violent solution.”
As attendees walked among the city-organized workshops, members of the Stop The Injunctions coalition called to them, urging them to meet on the campus plaza to talk about gang injunctions—a subject which, beyond a workshop on gang awareness training, was missing from the summit’s agenda.
“Heavy-handed policing is not the solution, it only creates revolving doors,” said Stop the Injunctions member Tony Marks-Block, who was wearing a sticker that read “You can’t police your way out of poverty” in big bold letters. “The problem is there’s no feasible alternative for income, and people need to feed their families,” he said.
Derrick Muhammad, who was recently appointed to the Citizens’ Police Review Board, was also at the plaza. He said that the spike in crime is not just about the rise in unemployment. “It’s not just about jobs, jobs, jobs,” he said. “I’ve been in trouble with the law before, and it wasn’t because I didn’t have a job. We need to instill young people with morals. We need more involvement from faith communities.”
After the workshops ended, about a hundred people made their way back into the gymnasium to hear Mayor Quan’s closing remarks about the new initiative. Throughout the summit, people had been asked to fill out surveys sharing their concerns and opinions on the neighborhood safety plan, as well as about crime in Oakland. Quan said she will use this feedback to make revisions to her plan before presenting it to the city council.
“Some people say that this plan is not going to work, that I’m full of it, that I’m too optimistic,” Quan said. “Well, if I weren’t optimistic, I wouldn’t be mayor.”
As Laney staffers chased people from the gym to set it up for a basketball game, Alameda County Chief Probation Officer David Muhammad stopped in the doorway to offer his thoughts on the mayor’s plan. He said that one of the plan’s goals is to stop blaming young people for safety issues in the city. “The violence in Oakland is caused by adults,” he said. “We have had 92 homicides this year and we only have three suspected juveniles.”
Muhammad said the team in charge of implementing the new safety plan would address complaints of police harassment filed by young people on probation. “It’s an issue around the country,” he said. “We have to allow young people learn from their mistakes and overcome them. We should not be constantly putting their mistakes in their faces. They should be encouraged to continue turning things around.”
Muhammad said he was ready to support the mayor’s plan. “We will work [the] 100 blocks with police, probation, community-based organizations, churches and schools,” he said. “So the real thing is next, which is the work.”
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