June 30, 2021

While Oakland Rising’s press usually features mentions of Oakland Rising or quotes from our staff, this op-ed written by our coalition partner and community leader, Cat Brooks (Executive Director of Justice Teams Network and Co-founder of Anti Police-Terror Project), supports our work to pass a Just Recovery Budget and is important to combat the fear narrative pushed by some elected officials.

Message from liz suk regarding the fear mongering: “Organizers and organizations working to refund the community have never attempted to deceive the community but some elected officials continue to lie to the community by peddling a fear narrative. OPD was not defunded. Get the facts straight.”

Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong sharply criticized the decision to redirect $18 million from police.
Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong sharply criticized the decision to redirect $18 million from police.Sarah Ravani/SFC

Have you heard? Oakland “defunded” the police. And starting July 1, all hell is going to break loose.

Under the city council’s new budget proposal, a financially-gutted Oakland Police Department will be ill-equipped to deal with a rising crime wave.

According to OPD Chief LeRonne Armstrong, “As of July 1, there will not be one additional resource to help address public safety…” “We don’t have the number of violence interrupters that are trained ready to do the work today,” warns Councilmember Loren Taylor. Oakland lacks “proven alternatives” to police, says Mayor Libby Schaaf. “We cannot destroy Oakland’s current public safety system at a time when we are losing so many to gun violence.”

The only problem with these pithy soundbites is that they aren’t true.

The Oakland Police Department was not defunded. Not only will it hold on to its $300 million-a-year budget, it will actually get an increase of $9 million. That number is certain to grow as Oakland continues to pay out settlement claims for uses of force and police overtime costs continue to surge.

Oakland isn’t getting new public safety investments?

What about MACRO, the Oakland model that will respond to mental health crises without law enforcement? Approximately 10% of OPD calls in 2019 were for mental health crises and medical services while only 4% were for violent crime.

We don’t have violence interrupters in place?

What about the experts at Urban Peace Movement, BOSS, Community Ready Corps and Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice?

Oakland didn’t defund. What the city council did is pass a budget that invests $18 million into violence prevention, mental health support services, the arts, and caring for the unhoused; things that actually prevent crime rather than react to it after the fact. This $18 million was taken from money the mayor proposed to give to police in the next budget cycle, not from money they already had.

We should be celebrating the launch of this new paradigm. Instead, fear-mongering and truth-twisting are in full effect.

Following the vote, Councilmember Taylor, whose district includes historically Black parts of East Oakland, released a statement saying that the passed budget did not center the voices of the most impacted people, would make life more dangerous for these residents and would perpetuate historical trends of disinvestment in East Oakland.

But the grassroots coalitions that pushed for this budget talked to literally thousands of residents in East and West Oakland who supported investing in community.

It’s true Oaklanders are not treated equally when it comes to budgets and services — and East Oakland is where large percentages of Oakland’s violence and poverty are concentrated. But Taylor should have been the most vocal supporter of this budget because clearly the massive amounts of money we give to OPD every year are not keeping his constituents safe from street violence. Simultaneously, it is precisely those same constituents who suffer under the boot of police violence.

Meanwhile, the mayor asserted that the new budget will “destroy” the public safety net in Oakland.

As of this week, Oakland was at 65 homicides, more than double the number we had at this same time last year. What safety net and who is being kept safe?

Police have not been able to prevent, interrupt or even adequately respond to the crime surge. That’s because you cannot arrest your way out of poverty.

Despite Chief Armstrong’s threats of a July 1 doomsday, no shifts in funding or practice – save for the city’s launch of MACRO — will happen until 2022. That ensures an entire year of business-as-usual transition time to beef up organizations like Urban Peace Movement and Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice, who are already doing the work.

The data show that when the dollars flow into community-centered services, violence will decrease. As a study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information found: “No sector alone can prevent violence. Cities need integrated strategic plans and coordinated efforts across multiple sectors.”

That means investing in groups like Tha Lower Bottom Playaz in West Oakland, who, with minimal city resources, take youth off the streets and literally put them on a stage to keep them safe.

We all want to live in safe neighborhoods and thriving communities. I grew up poor with a single working mother and had more than my share of dalliances with danger. I was that woman in the abusive relationship terrified to call the police for help because I didn’t want to die at their hands. I was the kid whose father was taken away from me and sent to a cage because he suffered from substance abuse issues. And I am the single working mother trying to keep my daughter alive in Oakland.

Even the United Nations called us one of the worst actors for how we treat our most vulnerable community members.

The unwillingness to admit that the status quo isn’t working is a willingness to let Black bodies continue to die.

The city council has just presented us with an amazing opportunity to break this cycle; but we have to ignore the fear-mongering.

I look forward to rolling up my sleeves and supporting the implementation of a new way of doing things – and of building Tha Town into everything we know it can be.

Cat Brooks is an award-winning actress, playwright, the executive director of the Justice Teams Network, the co-founder of the Anti Police-Terror Project and the co-host of UpFront on KPFA.