Image by Bryan Lo, Journal of Cell Biology, http://www.flickr.com/photos/thejcb/8347298364/sizes/l/
There is no question that crime, specifically violent crime, has become a major problem in Oakland. There is, however, question about how to respond to the problem.
The response that the city and the police force have chosen is to focus on those they perceive as being the criminals. By their logic, if you stop the criminals, you stop the crime. To do this, they have turned to gang injunctions, talk of youth curfews, heavier policing, harsher punishment and enforcement, and now they are bringing in as a consultant their big gun, former NYPD and LAPD Chief Bill Bratton. Bratton’s zero tolerance approach to policing, sometimes referred to as the “broken windows” theory suggests that by forcefully crushing all criminal behavior, even minor offenses like vandalism, public intoxication, or vagrancy, crime as a whole can be reduced.
More importantly, Bratton’s approach to policing suggests that the constitutionality of policies, the safety of the communities being policed, and even the lives destroyed by the enforcement are of lesser value than the public demonstration that the Police are in charge and that crime will be punished. It should come as no surprise then that Bratton recently compared Stop and Frisk to chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is unlike many other medicines in that it attempts to save patients by filling their bodies with powerful poisons meant to eradicate cancerous tumors and accepts as casualties the loss of many healthy cells as well.
If we follow Bratton’s analogy, we must, as a terminally sick community, accept treatment that will kill and unreasonably inflict suffering for the sake of eradicating cancerous criminals (that tumors are generally dark seems only a coincidentally racist parallel in his analogy). Such shared suffering narratives are extremely popular with politicians and wealthy elites because they know full well that they have nothing to fear themselves from Stop and Frisk.
It will be only the bad people and those who live in the bad neighborhoods that will be subjected to violations of their privacy, constant harassment by armed police thugs, and the occasional police shooting when someone touches his waistband or refuses to be searched or has a cell phone. These shared suffering narratives gloss over the police murder of Alan Blueford and so many others because as with chemotherapy, some healthy cells simply have to die for the good of the whole body.
It is not the likes of Bill Bratton or Deanna Santana or Noel Gallo or Miguel Masso that will lose a child to police violence. In the metaphor of chemotherapy they are the ones applying the poison not the ones suffering its presence.
As a community, Oakland needs to reject the Bratton solution to crime. Instead of spending $250,000 to hire a consultant who, like the police shipped in from the suburbs, think of Oaklanders as toxic and diseased and believe only violence and a siege mentality can control crime, let’s devote resources to the things that will actually improve the health of the community – schools, employment opportunities, housing, food, medicine, community gardens, etc..
In the wake of the disgusted and horrified response of so many Americans to the suggestion that the solution to the murders in Newtown, CT is more guns and more police in our schools, it is amazing that the same people are willing to apply those solutions to themselves and their neighbors.
Violence cannot create nonviolence. Neither, apparently, can Bill Bratton and the Oakland city government.
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