Oakland businesses strike for better police protection: ‘We are all suffering.’
on September 30, 2023
Dozens of Oaklanders shuttered their shops and businesses for two hours this week to protest what they say is the city’s failure to stem a growing crisis of street crime.
Business owners and their supporters gathered outside the once-thriving downtown restaurant Le Cheval, now closing its doors after 38 years due to rising crime. A few minutes after a planned 10 a.m. start on Tuesday, Carl Chan, president of the Oakland Chinatown Chamber of Commerce and lead strike organizer, blamed the late start on difficulty finding safe places to park downtown.
“We are all suffering,” said Chan, speaking of the scores of Oakland businesses that are struggling to stay afloat. Oakland continues to reel under a surge of crime: burglaries are up 22% over last year, robberies are up 21%, and motor vehicle theft is up 62%.
“We want to collectively, to join together as one voice to make some demands,” Chan said.
Demands for more direct government resources, a reduction in crime, and increased public safety measures from all government levels topped the strike’s press conference agenda.
The spike in retail robberies and burglaries contributed to the recent closing of giant chain stores such as CVS and Walgreens. Small business owners said the current crime wave includes carjackings, automobile smash-and-grabs, gunpoint stickups of customers, as well as homicides. In most instances, they say, there are long delays in police response.
In addition to faulting the police response, attendees criticized Mayor Sheng Thao’s new “Activate Oakland” program, which provides grants for community events to revitalize neighborhoods and increase foot traffic.
“They sit up there in their ivory towers. They don’t talk about the things that are real … they want to bring people downtown, but people aren’t coming downtown, that’s why we’re here,” Greg McConnell, a local member of the NAACP, told the crowd.
In her Town Talk meeting last Saturday, Thao addressed rising crime, saying “Crimes do not happen overnight, so it’s going to take a little bit of time for us to implement and execute at the government level.” She also announced a doubling of the number of police officers walking the city’s business corridors.
Speakers at the strike included Jennifer Tran, running for Rep. Barbara Lee’s congressional seat, and Cathy Adams, president and CEO of the Oakland African American Chamber of Commerce.
Victimized by a recent break-in, Raj Gotame, owner of Annapurna Restaurant and Bar, said his business had suffered three burglaries in a single week. The latest left him with a broken door and stolen cash register. He said his insurance company refuses to cover the costs, threatening to drop him if he reports any more damage.
“It’s worse than the pandemic,” he said, referring to decreasing revenue and increasing costs.
Oakland restaurateur Nigel Jones, owner of Kingston 11 and Calabash bar/restaurants, summarized the concerns of those attending, saying, “We are desensitizing ourselves to these problems… Think about this as a systematic problem. What we are dealing with is a systematic failure.”
(Top photo by Luiz Monticelli)
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