In front of yet another impassioned capacity crowd at Oakland City Hall, Mayor Jean Quan broke a 4-4 deadlock in the City Council to send proposals for expanded gang injunctions, a youth curfew, and an anti-loitering ordinance back to committee for further research and analysis. The decision, which came around 11:30 PM, illustrated deep divisions on the council and among the community about how to confront Oakland’s entrenched crime problem, as well as Mayor Quan’s conviction that her prevention and intervention-based approach to violence will yield results.
Quan cast the tie-breaking vote to side with Desley Brooks, Nancy Nadel, Jane Brunner and Rebecca Kaplan in sending the anti-crime package back to the Public Safety committee for further review. Larry Reid, Ignacio De La Fuente, Patricia Kernighan and Libby Schaaf were in favor of voting on the proposals on the spot.
As at previous council meetings on the gang injunctions, the evening was replete with charged rhetoric from both sides. Opponents likened the day and night-time curfews, the loitering ordinance, and new injunctions to Jim Crow laws and pre-civil war Black codes. Other opponents argued the city would criminalize its youth and exacerbate the crime problem if it went down the path suggested by Larry Reid and Ignacio De La Fuente.
Isaac Ontiveros, the communications director of the prison abolition organization Critical Resistance, asserted the three measures would impose a “near-total restriction of movement on Oaklanders in our most marginalized neighborhoods. Furthermore, Ontiveros said neither injunctions, youth curfews nor anti-loitering laws had any proven effect on crime. “They’re ineffective at best, and destructive as a manner of course,” he said.
Supporters of the proposals argued that Oakland is suffering from the dual effects of crime: victimization and economic decline. “Bring the crime rate down and watch the revenue rise,” said Jill Broadhurst of the Rental Housing Association of Northern Alameda Count.
Gregory McConnell of the Jobs and Housing Commission demanded to know when the council would throw its support behind the police and afford them more leeway in tackling violent crime. “Why don’t we send a message that we’re going to put all the arrows in the quiver of the police so that can do their job?” McConnell asked.
Some council members worried about jumping into new policies without sufficient review.
Last week, Oakland City Attorney Barbara Parker submitted letters along with the loitering and curfew proposals indicating her office did not have sufficient time to analyze the proposals before Tuesday’s meeting.
“We’re being asked to pass a policy we know nothing about?” asked Councilmember Desley Brooks. No study had been conducted about costs for training and implementing any of the three policies, which proved a sticking point for Brooks. Since mid-September, the East Oakland councilwoman has pushed an anti-crime platform of increased street lighting, local-hire jobs at the redevelopment of the Army Base at the Port of Oakland, and installing more ShotSpotter gunshot detectors throughout the city. The latter proposal was approved by the council last night.
“All the studies show that the ones on the agenda do not work,” Brooks said in reference to inconsistent data on the efficacy of curfews, loitering ordinances and gang injunctions in reducing crime. On Injunctions, Brooks pointed out that a May report on North Oakland injunction indicated Part I crimes like murders, assaults and robberies in North Oakland had increased since the court order was approved in May 2010. Brooks clashed repeatedly with Council Member Libby Schaaf on academic studies of the various crime-fighting measures.
Jane Brunner, who abstained on prior debate on gang injunctions because members of her law firm represented most of the defendants in the Fruitvale injunction, called the proposal “political grandstanding” that was not based in fact. Brunner said she had spent much of the previous weeks speaking with police officers about how best to reduce crime, said officers told her they were hampered by a lack of community cooperation in identifying those involved in violence. “I don’t believe the proposals put forth will help us stop the shooting,” she said.
A visibly frustrated Ignacio De La Fuente took his fellow councilmembers to task for their inaction on criminal justice issues before the final vote. “It’s a lot easier to make excuses instead of making decisions and finding solutions,” he said. Adding that homicides had risen more than 30 percent since last year, De La Fuente expressed disbelief that Oakland’s elected officials did not have the political will to adopt injunctions, like 247 cities have around the U.S. “We’re going to find every single excuse tonight to not do what other cities are doing,” he said. For his part, Larry Reid did not speak on the measures he helped put forth.
The youth curfew, the loitering ordinance and the gang injunctions will now be reviewed by the Public Safety Committee, which consists of Nadel, Kernighan, Reid and Kaplan. However, a telling comment by Kernighan, who chairs that committee, on gang injunctions indicates that policy may not have the same currency it did a few weeks ago. Injunctions, Kernighan said, “take too long, and we spend too much money on lawyers.” ((Kernighan added that she is more interested in measures that will reduce crime in the short term. Gang injunctions, Kernighan believes, do not fall into that category.))