Activist Khalid Shakur spoke before the council Tuesday and refused to stop talking after his time was up. Photo by Josh Cain
After eight hours and hundreds of forum speakers, the Oakland City Council adopted the police consulting contract for William Bratton and Bob Wasserman requested by Oakland Police Department Chief Howard Jordan.
Discussion over the contract, which will devote $250,000 to Wasserman's consulting group Strategic Policy Partnerships, LLC, to suggest reforms to the OPD, lasted until after 2 a.m. on Wednesday.
The final vote was a nearly unanimous 7-1, but several city council members expressed suspicion of the contract and its consequences.
Councilmember Desley Brooks was the lone "no" vote. She said she was disappointed that the contract had not been made public, and that she believed the council was reacting out of fear.
"When are we going to stop playing off of people's emotions?" Brooks asked the rest of the council.
"Bratton is only going to be here for two months…when [the consultants] go away, what are we going to do at the end of 120 days?" Brooks said, referring to the length of the contract.
After an emotional speech about crime in West Oakland, her district, councilmember Lynette Gibson-McElhaney lent her support to Jordan's request for consulting help.
"I don't believe I can tell you how to do your job," Gibson-McElhaney said. "You are the coach, and as a community we need you to put wins on the board."
Much of the controversy over the contract came from the addition of Bratton to the consulting team. Bratton has served as police chief and commissioner of several cities, including Los Angeles, New York and Boston. He is both credited with reducing crime in those cities while also using controversial tactics like "stop and frisk," which civil rights groups have claimed is akin to racial profiling.
More than 200 people registered for speaking time, and hundreds more spectators filled the council chambers and several viewing rooms.
Compared to the Jan. 15 public safety meeting where the contract was first discussed, and where vocal opponents of Bratton's contract populated most of the audience, the attendees of Tuesday's city council meeting were a more balanced mix of church groups, Occupy Oakland protesters and civil rights leaders.
A group of Oakland pastors came out in support of any action that would reduce crime in the city, including the hiring of Wasserman and Bratton.
Bishop Bob Jackson pleaded with the council to provide OPD with the resources necessary to fight Oakland's crime wave.
"Black boys and brown boys are dying in our streets," Jackson said. "There's got to be something that we can do…If Bill Bratton can come in and reduce crime, then I'm for Bill Bratton."
"With the climate of violence in our city, will all of us make it home tonight?" asked another bishop. "It behooves us, from the hills to the flatlands, that we will no longer tolerate this violence."
Hundreds more speakers opposed Bratton's hiring.
"We keep talking about crime, but we're not talking about the causes of crime," said Kat Brooks, a spokeswoman for Occupy. "Hiring Bratton is like putting a band-aid over a gunshot wound."
Cephus Johnson, the uncle of Oscar Grant, spoke for several minutes and received an ovation from the audience. He warned the city council he thought there would be consequences for bringing stop and frisk policies to Oakland.
"You will create a war zone like you've never seen before…these intrusive measures are why my nephew is dead, why Oscar Grant is dead, why Alan Blueford is dead," Johnson said. "If the OPD and the city council wants to make good with the community, start by firing Johannes Mehserle."
Many speakers also took issue with an email Kernighan sent out the day before the meeting that told her constituents "to FILL the Council Chambers with people who believe in orderly and civil discussions of issues," but also that they did not "need to speak unless you feel comfortable doing so."
Isaac Ontiveros waited for more than seven hours to talk to the council. When he was finally called up, he explained to Kernighan why so many found her letter offensive.
"I though a lot about that letter today…to have a person who claims to represent me saying that these speakers are part of a circus, it's offensive," Ontiveros said. "It's old, antiquated language."
Almost six hours into the meeting, after dozens of speakers had already had their turn at the microphone, local activist Jaime Omar Yassin refused to cede the floor and was surrounded by police. After a small scuffle, the speaker left peacefully.
This was just one of several moments of confusion between the council and the hundreds of speakers.
As the meeting stretched into Wednesday morning, the audience in the council chambers thinned out. A few vocal opponents of the contract remained, however. Several women had to be escorted out of the chambers because of their protests to the final vote.
Mary Ann Thomas, who had been at the entirety of both Tuesday's council meeting and the Jan. 15 public safety meeting, was one of the few remaining audience members in the council chambers after 2:30 a.m. As one of the very last speakers at the meeting, she expressed her disappointment the council members for their decision.
"We are really hurt tonight, that you couldn't even take Bratton out," Thomas said.