Sunday walk in Oakland, by Jed Sullivan, http://www.flickr.com/photos/jed-sullivan/8389443019/
Live in Oakland. I love Oakland. And, I am extremely disappointed in Oakland.
There is so much to adore and treasure about my city. Our art and food scenes have been noticed by the New York Times. We were voted one of the top places to visit in 2012 and a prime choice of city to retire in. Yet, we flounder when it comes to attracting and keeping employers, our school system is a scandal and crime is completely out of control. For me, it’s that last one that is the lynchpin - crime is completely out of control.
I firmly believe that if Oakland had the perception, backed-up by at least some reality, of a safe city we could bring businesses to Oakland. We have so much potential. If we get businesses here, we get more revenue. More revenue means we can improve schools, social services and infrastructure. Then it can repeat itself in a never-ending cycle of improvement.
There has been a lot of talk about how to reduce crime in Oakland–not just lately but for a long time. I guess what prompted me to jump into the conversation was the recent boisterous City Council meeting where the idea of hiring Bill Bratton as a consultant was hotly debated.
I lived through Bill Bratton's changes to NYC and they were kind of a miracle.
Personally my experience in NYC was that, initially, there was a huge outcry about Bratton's tactics - and not just stop and frisk. He closed off certain sidewalks, removed street vendors, denied graffiti artists and had a zero tolerance policy for any crime no matter how small. If you jay walked or spit on the sidewalk you got a ticket. Cops were everywhere.
People hated it at first and there were endless Op Ed pieces about how NYC had become like Singapore or a fascist police state. But then an amazing thing happened. Crime went down so much that people started walking around largely without fear. We even hung out in Central Park at night without worry. In my neighborhood we had block parties again, which had been talked about as things from the past but never had been done while I was there. More restaurants put tables out on the sidewalks. Even the subways felt safer.
NYC was a much more pleasant place to live. It was cleaner, safer and more livable. No one complained all that much when that reality sunk in. People enjoyed it and I think businesses did better both because more people weren't afraid to go out in the evenings and because of the positive feelings.
Look I am not saying NYC was made into paradise. But I am saying that the turn around was dramatic. Oakland needs a dramatic turnaround. I get why people don't like stop and frisk but sometimes we have to do things we don't like to meet extreme circumstances. Ever since 9/11 we all put up with security measures we don't like at the airport. But, there hasn't been another hijacking at a U.S. airport since; so maybe these measures are working and we still do it–largely without complaint.
Maybe in Oakland we need something extreme to stop the extreme violence. I don't want to be stopped and frisked, but if I have to so that toddlers will stop being killed by stray bullets, well then I'll do it.
There was an Op Ed recently on SF Gate, by Kitty Kelly Epstein, Ph.D., where she says, regarding Bratton’s stop and frisk tactics, “In New York this policy, under which police stopped 700,000 residents per year without probable cause, is opposed by a majority of New Yorkers, including 75 percent of African American residents.” I have to challenge Kitty's assertion that most New Yorkers are opposed to stop and frisk. I think it would really depend on how you ask the question. If you said, "Are you opposed to police officers being able to stop you on the street without any reason and physically frisk you?" Most people, without any further context might say they were opposed. However, ask people if they want to go back to the way things were in the city before violent crime was reduced by 80% and I bet they'd say no to that too.
And before I get a lot of flamed comments telling me that these police tactics will be disproportionately used on African Americans and Latinos, let me say two things. One, yes I am sure that's true and it is very unfortunate. Two, being from a multiracial household, I've been the target of plenty of racism and racial profiling so I do know how it feels. I've been chased off a beach in Georgia by gun wielding racists because they didn't want "no n&@$ers on their beach." I am furious that my Dad still wears a suit and tie to the grocery store, in his 80s, because otherwise the shop owners follow him around and assume he is stealing. I get it.
A lot of people want the City Council in Oakland to say no to Bratton's contract. A lot of people want to say that more cops is not the answer to Oakland's crime problem. A lot of people like to say no. I say, lets just do something already. Let's say yes to something. If it's the wrong thing or doesn't work, at least we can say we tried, and then move on to the next thing.
Eventually we will get there -- because this is wonderful Oakland after all.
Editor's Note: This piece reflects an individual opinion and is not a reported story from Oakland Local. Oakland Local invites community residents to share their views about events and issues in Oakland. For guidelines, see: http://oaklandlocal.com/tos