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
Oakland Unwrapped Column
UrbanView Newspaper
May 15, 2002

You could see this one coming, of course.

During the late mayoral campaign, Jerry Brown made a great issue of stating how much the crime rate had come down since he became mayor of Oakland. During the various debates I waited…patiently…for someone to ask the most obvious question: what, exactly and specifically, had the Mayor and his staff done to bring the crime rate down? I never heard the question asked, and so I never heard it answered. This is also the type of question that big-city news media generally ask of city officials. But Jerry Brown doesn’t hold press conferences, and the Bay Area media doesn’t seem to care enough to force him to do so, and so we’re left without details on the Mayor’s anti-crime policies. In the absence of facts, we can only conclude that the downturn in Oakland crime over the past several years was merely blind luck. Last weekend, our luck ran out.

Seven murders in a single weekend.

Chief Richard Word called for the community to be more cooperative in bringing down the level of violence in Oakland. Presumably he was talking in part to Oakland’s African-American youth, who have been the people most affected by the violence. But why should we expect these young people, now, to be cooperative with the police, when the publicly-stated policy of the mayor and other city officials has been to run these young folk out of town?

For the past year, to the tune of one million dollars in overtime pay, we have set our police out to break up the late-night weekend social gatherings of these same young African-Americans. We did it because our leaders called the "sideshows" dangerous and violent. Oakland, of all places, should know the difference between what is dangerous and violent and what is merely annoying. We could have tried to work out a solution with the sideshowers themselves, but we didn’t. Now we are all paying the price.

Seven murders in a single weekend.

On Cinco De Mayo night, just after dark, I turned south on International off of Seminary and ran into a sideshow. This one was primarily Mexican-American. A couple of police cruisers had just arrived, and the crowd was driving them off with thrown bottles. I had not seen bottles thrown at police cars on E. 14th Street since the riots in the summer of 1966. The sideshows started out as social events. They started out as young people begging for something to do in a city that largely ignores them. They did not start out as anti-police. But by our policies, we have made them so. And so we are paying the price.

Seven murders in a single weekend.

For several months, Councilmember Nancy Nadel has been quietly holding community meetings to try to find a solution to the violence and shooting deaths around the Center Street area. Last winter, an Oakland police sergeant told one gathering that some of the violence was caused by the "disorientation" of people returning to West Oakland from jail. I thought that was an odd term to use, and asked the sergeant what he meant. He said that West Oakland was changing so rapidly…many of the old families were being moved out and a whole new group was taking their place…that these returning criminals were feeling lost, and were increasing their violent activities in order to hold onto their old home territory in the only way they knew how. He didn’t use the term gentrification, but that is what he was talking about. He wasn’t looking for excuses for violence. As a good police officer, he was looking for causes. We should listen.

Everything has consequences, even neglect. And during the four years of the Brown Administration, we have followed a policy that has pretty much neglected the lesser-income neighborhoods and peoples of this city. Some of us thought it was cute and clever. Some of us didn’t care. Some of us thought that if nobody said anything about it, we could get by. We didn’t.

Seven murders in a single weekend. It’s catching up with us, and difficult to ignore.

So what are we going to do, friends?