Monday, December 15, 2014

OK, can we NOW have some unity for an Oakland Police Commission?

If we want to do something about Ferguson, we should finish our business in Oakland. 

The protestors, self-included, gather in front of City Hall and we call that Oscar Grant Plaza. 
In Oakland we know the problems of having the police be out of control. 
According to Judge Henderson, who oversees the Negotiated Settlement Agreement, we are over a decade late dealing with just the tip of the iceberg represented by the Riders case.   According to many of the liberal Democrats that run our city, we have not made good on the promise of our Civilian Oversight since the days of Mayor Lionel Wilson back in the 1970’s.  According to me, when it comes to how Oakland Police treat blacks, other people of color and the working public in general, there are no good old days.  It was always bad.  The further back you go….. 
It is bad and the problems extend past the mistreatment of the “minorities” who make up Oakland’s majority of residents.  We just spent 10 long and expensive Measure Y years watching this force drag their feet and hide behind union rules and the “Police Officers Bill of Rights” to fight every form or participation in community policing and even the most mild civilian oversight. 
Community policing example:  The program we are supposed to have is that each Neighborhood Crime Prevention Council is to have a Problem Solving Officer.  The reality is that this is the most unstable job in the Oakland Police Force.  It is always the first thing to be cut, put on the back burner and when staffed, the officer assigned is constantly changing.  In my local NCPC’s we never had anyone on the job long enough to really get to know their group, let alone their community.  By the time you get to ask them to sit for coffee, your PSO has been replace by someone who is too busy to talk with you because they are just getting started.   
Accountability example:  For a couple of budgets now, there has been a small reform in the offering.  Right now, if you have a complaint against an Oakland police officer, you must file that complaint to an Oakland police officer in the Internal Affairs Department or someone who works directly for them.  Oakland activists, self-included, have been pushing to move civilian complaints from Internal Affairs to the Civilian Police Review Board.  The council agreed and put the funds into the budget.  The City Administrator simply did not do it.  No authorization, little explanation, no public review.  Then after some pressure, much of it led by the organization PUEBLO, it was put into the budget again.  Next thing we know, there is a job description asking civilians to apply to do intake for civilian complaints IN INTERNAL AFFAIRS.  Still no authorization from Council to change the plan laid out in the budget, still no public account given.  It turns out that the City Administrator had been consulting with the police officers’ union under a farfetched contrivance where they really had no standing, and the police officer’s union was able to get the court appointed monitor to go along with blocking this reform “to have better relations”.  (That monitor has been relieved of duty shortly thereafter, but the decision stuck.) 
By the way, included in the job description for a civilian complaint intake officer, was an encouragement for former police to apply and requiring knowledge of the Police Officer’s Bill of Rights, but civil rights training, being from Oakland, having any background in advocating for the public, none of that was even asked about. 
Anyone active in Oakland over the last fifty years could now say:  “Yeah and let me tell you about…..   
Fill the blank in here with all kinds of issues big and small that stem from a police department that does not have a clear system of accountability or any checks and balances. 
Therefore there is no surprise that this police force is costing the City of Oakland big dollar payouts to compensate victims of Oakland Police Abuse.  How much more?  More than the cities of San Jose and San Francisco COMBINED. 
Done right, and done well, a Police Commission could make a difference.  A police Commission was what people were asking for back in the 70’s.  What we got instead was a sham.  That failed and then history repeated itself the second time as farce giving us today’s powerless Civilian Police Review Board. 
Other cities have police commissions, we can look at their legislation, look at their successes and failures and catch up quick. 
PUEBLO still has such a proposal that they have been working on, they call it a “Public Safety Commission”.  If they had the support of the street demonstrations, they could advance an even stronger proposal and they have all the lawyers necessary to write up a charter amendment.  I don’t care what they call it, as long as it has the power to conduct outside, independent investigations and it has the power to dismiss police officers who we do not want.  Notice I said “want” and not those convicted of some kind of a crime.  Police officers who want to kick but, want to bust heads and treat our people like the enemy have the wrong attitude for working here.  They should go and the ones who are on the community service wavelength should stay and be rewarded for it.   
We should also look into our souls and think about what it is WE want out of this here in Oakland. 
We are one of the US’ urban cores dealing with problems of generational discrimination, poverty, crime, violence and lack of education.  With Measure Y and Measure Z we see that the overwhelming majority of us, self-included, have decided to make our focus the causes of crime as well as the crime itself. 
We cannot do that with a police force that is not held accountable.  One of our biggest problems right now is the extremely poor relationships the police have with most of the communities of this city.   
So let’s do it.  The groups organizing the protests, can you also organize a ballot petition?  This kind of change is going to need a change of the City Charter and we are going to need the support of the voting majority to make it work.  Contact the PUEBLO office and join into this effort.  This will probably move the protests from the freeways to the neighborhoods getting folk to sign petitions and for many, sign up to vote.  Do this and the protests win. 
PUEBLO is willing to take the risk of leading, do we have the good sense to FOLLOW?   The group that is meeting following the Dan Siegel mayoral campaign, you are partly involved already.  This is something we can do now and deserves a coalition now.  Jessie Douglas Alan Taylor, Wilson Riles, speak out, you know a lot more than me and it is time to share it. My local Greens, we are already part of this coalition on paper, can we make this the first thing we do in 2015?  There are many other groups, I think too many other groups, Phat Beets, the ISO, Peace and Freedom.  Hey Commemorators, didn’t you start this the first time?  Would Block by Block support a strong police commission?  If so, many of you know your way to the PUEBLO office, and I mean YOU Pamela, among others. 
Can we just agree on this essential power shift right now and get this one reform done? 
It has waited too many years and our streets and freeways are feeling the need to finally do it. 
Don’t do it, and we will feel our own unfinished business in the pain of others.  Oakland will be an example either way.  Right now we are an example of the problem, we can join Richmond and be an example of the solution if we can work together enough for this. 
Given the right police commission we can quickly work towards a day when any law enforcement employee who commits a crime or abuse will be dealt with and the public can trust that justice will be served, especially if the injustice was committed by someone wearing a gun and a badge.  
If we do it right, Oakland Police would wear a badge that everyone honored. 

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