By Ken A. Epstein
Tempers remain frayed and opinion divided over the City Council´s overwhelming vote this week to hire a controversial consultant Bill Bratton to advise the Oakland Police Department.
At a meeting that lasted until after 2 a.m., hundreds of speakers lined up to argue for and against the hiring of Bratton, an internationally recognized expert on policing. He is an outspoken advocate of police use of stop and frisk tactics, viewed by critics as racial profiling that targets and criminalizes Black and Latino youth.
The council voted 7-1 to hire Bratton. Councilmember Desley Brooks, District, 7, was the only one who voted no.
Brooks said her opposition is based on the first contract and the new contact with the Wasserman group, which includes a provision to bring in Bratton.
“Before I would spend new money, I would like to know what kind of job they did on the first contact. I don’t see why we couldn’t have waited before passing this contact,” said Brooks.
According to the contract, “Bratton will only be here for two months – the first month to survey what we are already doing and the second month to develop a crime reduction strategy and go out and hold community meetings,” she said.
The contact says Bratton will create one crime reduction strategy for the hills and another one for the flatlands, she said.
“The impression is that Bratton is going to come here and wave a magic wand and make crime go away in Oakland,” she said, but the reality is that change will take time.
Brooks also criticized some of her fellow councilmembers. “They spoke from an emotional basis playing on people’s fears. That’s not what people elected us to do,” she said.
“They want to ramrod something down peoples’ throats, and they only want people who agree with their position at the meeting. That is not how democracy works.”
Lynette McElhaney, councilmember for District 3, voted for hire Bratton.
“Everybody agrees that OPD is broken. It does not serve and it does not protect, very well. People in charge of oversight say this is a department that is in trouble,” she said.
McElhaney decided to vote to hire him, she said, because, “If I vote against this motion, I’m voting for the status quo. And the status quo is killing us, literally.”
Rev. Ken Chambers is pastor of West Side Missionary Baptist Church and Civic Chair of the Baptist Ministers Union.
“We´re in a state of emergency almost,” said Chambers, who backed the hiring of Bratton. “This is a time when we have to take some action to bring safety to our community.”
In addition to short-term steps, he said, there needs to be a comprehensive approach that emphasizes jobs, job training and quality education.
He also called on city leaders be sensitive to segments of the community who are apprehensive about aggressive policing methods.
The mayor and Council President Pat Kernighan “have to rise above the criticism and figure out how to get some consensus in the community,” Chambers said. “They need to figure out how to bring people together, though there are strong differences.”
Bishop Bob Jackson of Acts Full Gospel C.O.G.I.C. mobilized many of the faith leaders who went to the council meeting.
“We came to the City Council to say that somebody ought to say something about stopping the shootings that have resulted in 686 persons shot with 131 dying – enough of the carnage, enough of those left wounded, enough is enough,” said Bishop Jackson.
“Bratton may not have all the answers, but we need a plan to stop the killings now while we work on education, jobs and other causes.”
Jackson noted that during the first 23 days of January, 23 people had been shot, with 6 dying. “Let’s stop the killing, let’s make it safe for our children to feel safe going to school,” he said.
Rashidah Grinage, executive director of PUEBLO, says the vote for Bratton is spurring intensified organizing against police abuse.
“The city has woken the sleeping tiger,” she said. “As loud as we were, I don’t think they heard us. The city is not responsive to a broad section of the community. It is very disrespectful.”