A Bay Area Journalist's First-Hand Account Of How Mayor Jerry Brown Screwed Over Oakland On His Way To Sacramento



J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
UnderCurrents Column
Berkeley Daily Planet Newspaper
February 4, 2005

In recent years, with the active cooperation of its local elected officials, Oakland has become something of a Constitutional rights experimental ground for California. The idea has been to implement laws of dubious Constitutionality–applicable to Oakland and only Oakland–to see if they work, how they work, and, perhaps, if they can be gotten away with. And so, among other things, Oaklanders have endured (thanks to Mayor Jerry Brown) the suspension of certain state environmental protections under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) that are available to every other California city. In addition, we've had Senator Don Perata's Sideshow Red Queen Justice Car Seizure Act (called the U'Kendra Johnson law) in which the city is allowed to confiscate cars for 30 days solely on the word of a police officer–without a prior hearing–that someone had been spinning donuts in the car. One would think that like the villagers in the "Frankenstein" movies, Oaklanders would get fed up, storm the castle, and drive these legal monsters out. Why that hasn't happened (yet) is a story for another day.

In any event, this sawing at the foundation poles of the Constitution may soon become a problem for Californians as a whole, as Mayor Brown is now promising to take the latest version of this show on the road.

A recent Heather MacDonald Oakland Tribune article on the mayor's planned run for California Attorney General in 2006 ends on an interesting note. "If elected," the last paragraph reads in part, "Brown said he … may work to expand Oakland's curfews for those on parole or probation throughout the state." Mr. Brown is advancing that thought already, even though the Tribune, in the same article, says Oakland Deputy Police Chief Pete Dunbar believes it "could be" six months to a year before the results of Oakland's curfew are even known.

Oh, what a hurry we are when election time rolls around and these days, it seems, election time is always rolling around.

For Californians–and even some Oaklanders–who may not know what the curfew is all about, a short summary is in order.

In a deal apparently worked out last year between Mayor Brown, the Oakland Police Department, and the Alameda County Probation Department–but not the Oakland City Council–people paroled in Oakland must agree–as a condition of their parole–to be confined to their homes between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. until their years of parole are over. Mayor Brown tells the Tribune that he came up with the plan because, according to the mayor, 80 percent of homicides in the city involve felons who are on probation and parole, and 70 percent of homicides occur at night. And according to the Tribune, an Oakland Police Department representative "believes the curfew could help curb 'sideshows' … and violence and burglaries." (It was the Tribune which put the quotation marks around the term sideshows, which they defined in this article as "displays of reckless driving on city streets"). Anyways, the provisions only apply to Oakland probationers. The State Parole Board has not made a decision on using the Oakland curfew as a condition for parolees.

It is difficult to see where Mr. Brown gets his information that 80 percent of Oakland homicides involve felons who are on probation and parole, since, we are told, most Oakland homicides go unsolved. But while we're waiting for him to explain, we'll move on.

One of the principles of American justice–before it got trampled in the cages of Guantanamo, at least–is that individuals are presumed innocent until proven guilty, and that punishment ought to extend only to people actually convicted of a particular crime, not to people who might belong to a certain class.

Keeping that in mind, let us do some quick math. Last year, there were 88 homicides in Oakland. Using that 80 percent parolee/probationer figure given by Mr. Brown (even though we've yet to hear where he gets it from), that would mean that 70 of these murders were committed by parolees or probationers. Even if each of these 70 murders were committed by a different individual, that leaves a pretty significant number of parolees or probationers who didn't kill anybody in Oakland last year, but who are still subject to Mr. Brown's new curfew law. According to state statistics, there were some 2,500 parolees living in Oakland as of last summer; that doesn't even take into account the number of people in the city out on probation.

But let's follow this road a little further. If Mr. Brown and the Oakland Police Department believes every one of these 2,500 parolees is a likely candidate to commit a murder or a violent assault–and I don't share that belief–why in God's name would we want to lock these parolees up in their homes?

Confining these 2,500 Oakland parolees in their homes all night isn't going to curb any violent tendencies they may have, for those of them who do have violent tendencies. It isn't going to lessen the tensions and social and economic pressures they might feel that lead to such violence, or limit access to the liquid or smokable stimulants that fuel the fire. And if the pressure builds inside those 2,500 parolee's houses, and they cannot get outside to movies or nightclubs or just driving around to blow off steam, and these parolees boil over and explode, where does one think that explosion is going to be directed?

Another quick statistic, since we're reciting them. In the year 2000 there were a little over 2,300 domestic violence-related calls for assistance reported by the Oakland Police Department, almost 300 of them involving the use of weapons of some kind. The report did not specify whether the victims of the violence were wives or children.

Mr. Brown, in his typically breezy way of making light of serious social problems that might result from his proposals, tells the Tribune that he believes "it's very (beneficial) for these probationers and parolees to spend time in their homes." Yes, but not under house arrest. It's bad to be in the predicting business, but I'll take a chance and predict that the longer Mr. Brown's parolee curfew goes on, the more those domestic violence statistics is likely to rise, even if all of the parolees are not as violent as Mr. Brown appears to believe. How many Oakland women are going to be beaten or killed because their husband couldn't get out of the house during an argument just to stand on the corner for 15 minutes and smoke a cigarette?

Having lived for many years with a man who actually did have such violent tendencies that got played out in the home (see "No Charges In Mayoral Aide's Dispute; Police Chief Responded To Call Of Fight Between Brown Confidant Barzaghi, Wife" by Heather MacDonald and Harry Harris, Oakland Tribune, July 17, 2004), Mr. Brown ought to know a little about this subject.

This is one that needed a little more thought.