OAKLAND — Concerns about crime in Oakland led to dueling public events Saturday, highlighting the growing divisions over the issue of public safety in the city.
A group of residents calling themselves “Neighbors Together Oakland” organized a morning block meeting in East Oakland to express their belief that crime in the city has spiraled out of control.
“This event brings community members – neighbors – together and recognizes that their voices have not been heard,” said Loren Taylor, a former Oakland city council member.
The meeting was held ahead of another community safety meeting at an adjacent church with elected officials. Taylor, who narrowly lost the last mayoral election, said several citizen groups are offering solutions but they are not being heard at City Hall.
“People are afraid to leave their homes and go downtown,” he said. “We have other challenges – everything from rising homelessness to the blight – and there’s a sense that it’s just ‘business as usual’ by elected officials.”
“We’re very concerned about where Oakland is and we’re scared,” Gina Rivera said. “Some of us are afraid to go to the lake or just go shopping. You have to think twice about going to the grocery store.”
“There is no one solution, but not enforcing the laws we have and removing consequences for breaking laws is no way to keep a community safe,” said Lynne Cooper.
That’s the feeling in the city these days: that the police have been eradicated and criminals are not prosecuted. But within the church, Mayor Sheng Thao pointed to her efforts to strengthen both law enforcement and crime prevention, and she rejected calls to declare a state of public safety emergency.
“Calling for a state of emergency now, while we’re doing everything we can do? I mean, let’s call it what it is. It’s just political theater,” Thao said. “And so for me it’s about doing the action and doing the work, and so this work is already done. I already have the investments. On to the next thing!”
District Attorney Pamela Price is also under fire. Her criminal justice reform agenda is seen by many as a soft approach to crime, but at the meeting she hit back, saying criticism of her was based on something else.
“That’s racism. I call it what it is,” Price said. “If the media hype is to be believed, I went from being a respected attorney and businesswoman with 40 years of experience in this community to a bumbling, incompetent idiot who knew nothing about the law or the criminal justice system.”
“There’s a lot of unrest in the community and there’s a lot of disenfranchisement among the youth,” said Price supporter Ellen Coffey. “That’s not Pamela Price. We live in a world right now where things are very difficult for a lot of people, in part because the criminal justice system has been so unfair up until now.”
Standing outside the church waiting to enter was a true rarity: someone whose mind had not yet been made up. Bob Nutter said he would come through all the infighting to hear if solutions could be offered.
“That seems to be the way it is these days. Sniping is much more important than actually trying to figure out what the problems are and how best to solve them,” Nutter said. “But if this is something that affects people across the country, maybe there will be more people looking for meaningful solutions. And maybe then we can start to address some of these issues in a positive way.”
Everyone wants the same thing: a city where people respect each other. But it can be difficult to get there if one party feels like it is being demonized and the other party feels like it is being ignored.