Thousands of Oakland residents call foul as their City Council, under the guise of COVID, refuses to invest in community services in favor of police overfunding

Oakland, Calif., — Yesterday, Oakland City Council members rammed through a secret budget proposal without prior notice to their council colleagues nor the constituents they are elected to represent. Despite the testimony of hundreds of Oakland voters who participated in the June 23rd online meeting, five council members chose to push through a budget devoid of public support and in direct opposition to the thousands of people in Oakland and across the country calling on governments to divest from police forces and invest in programs that create real community safety. 

“It is clear from Lynette McElhaney’s immediate press release after the city council meeting, that this dishonorable, anti-democratic, and possibly illegal move was premeditated. The self-proclaimed ‘equity caucus’ put forth a proposal just hours before the vote that denied both the public, and their own colleagues, the opportunity to figure out what was in it and offer alternatives. Hundreds of people spoke at the meeting and the previous meeting, while thousands called and sent emails over the past couple weeks. Then, they bullied and pushed through a vote an entire week before scheduled.  It is shameful and unforgivable.”  – Jessamyn Sabbag, Executive Director, Oakland Rising. 

The budget, pushed forward by Councilmembers McElhaney, Taylor, Gallo, and Reid, was brought to the council in the late afternoon of the 22nd, manipulating fast-track procedures put in place during the COVID pandemic to push the budget through. In a shocking move, Council President Rebecca Kaplan joined the moderates on the council and forced through a pro-police, anti-public services budget. 

After nearly unanimous public comment from thousands of constituents over multiple weeks calling for a cut of $150 million (50 percent) from the Oakland Police Budget — backed up by recommendations from the Oakland Police Commission — the alternate budget passed by Kaplan and the four moderates only cuts $2.5 million from OPD — less than 1 percent. In addition, it dismantles the Human Services department, calls for concessions from workers, and does nothing to guarantee further public safety in Oakland. 

“More than just democracy was wounded last night. In the midst of a pandemic, a recession, and an uprising, we had a chance to truly care for the people of Oakland, to invest in housing, health care, and education, not tanks and tear gas. You need to look no further to the youth of Oakland, who have been marching, crying out for this city to care for them, to build a city that truly loves life. These five councilmembers turned their back on the future of Oakland last night.” – George Galvis, Executive Director, CURYJ

This budget vote occurred despite three weeks of protests, meetings, direct advocacy calls, police commission recommendations, and over sixteen hours of public comment in two virtual meetings from hundreds of residents calling for an immediate removal of $150 million dollars (50% divestment) from the Oakland Police Department budget, and concurrent reinvestment into housing, jobs, parks, and other public services. 

Passing this budget was the final straw in a series of underhanded tactics that protect inequity in the city. As evident in the public comment, voters are ready to vote out the so-called equity caucus. 

“Police forces do not equal public safety. In Oakland, they tend to show up after an incident has occured or don’t show up at all. In fact, they often escalate situations. Right now, the City of Oakland is facing yet another use of force lawsuit due to OPD’s deployment of tear gas and rubber bullets on children at the Oakland Tech Youth March on June 1. So why, in the wake of the Peralta Community College District, the San Francisco Unified School District and many other Bay Area jurisdictions redirecting police funds to community services, are Oakland legislators so adverse to community-centered safety?” We must take proactive measures that create the communities we deserve and demand. We must divest to invest. – Carroll Fife, Executive Director of ACCE Oakland. 

OPD will receive almost half of the general fund in this year’s budget, as it does every year. In this budget, and historically, Oakland spends more on unauthorized police overtime than on public libraries, parks and recreation, and the Department of Race and Equity combined. And that does not include all the police misconduct lawsuits residents have to pay for. 

“This is an absolute affront to Black and Brown communities in Oakland, particularly for leaders who have called for deeply democratic changes to the City budget, reflective of the obvious need to end police violence and invest in our neighborhoods. It is also disrespectful to the tens of thousands of Oaklanders who have invested countless hours in the streets and at City Council and Police Commission meetings to make their concerns, wishes and demands known. It appears that the Oakland City Council has forgotten their job is to work for the people and it is the people whom they answer to,” – Cat Brooks, Co-Founder of the Anti-Police Terror Project. 


Photo Credit: Brooke Anderson, Movement Photographer www.movementphotographer.com/