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Community, Rebecca Kaplan Call for OPD to Stop the Criminalization of Oakland Youth

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On December 15, the Oakland Police Media Unit sent out a press release using inflammatory language to spread what the chief said she “hoped” would be “alarm” about “juveniles committing violent crimes in Oakland.”

The release says that there has been a recent spate of carjackings and robberies by children who range in age from 11 to 16 years old who are armed. The stolen vehicles are then used to commit further crimes. Readers are then advised to be aware of their surroundings, be aware when entering and exiting their vehicles and avoid distractions like their cell phones.

Calling it an active investigation, Interim Police Chief Susan E. Manheimer said “it is my hope that everyone is alarmed by the fact that it appears these violent acts are being committed by middle-school-age youth.”

The release contained no data, information or recommendations regarding their claims. It included language that has been associated with the criminalization of youth, especially Black and Brown youth.

This has caused serious concerns among community members and advocates, who have sent a letter to Oakland leaders (link) stating:

“This type of language exemplifies the well-documented ‘adultification’ of youth of color, and Black youth in particular… it is not difficult to hear the dog whistle that was so prevalent at the height of the “super-predator” era, which has long-been debunked.”

Council President Rebecca Kaplan supports the community letter, and is urging a more productive response towards our youth, and seeks answers to key questions and unsubstantiated claims from the OPD press release.

In addition to OPD’s criminalizing language towards children, the press release states OPD is collaborating “with the Department of Violence Prevention (DVP)… getting juveniles(sic) much-needed resources.” However, the release contains no information about any resources they are providing for youth. It also says that OPD is collaborating with the Alameda County Probation Dept.

When Kaplan sought more information, the Dept. of Violence Prevention was unable to identify any resources that have been or are being provided for youth violence prevention as OPD claimed.

In fact, the Administration recently proposed to fully eliminate all youth violence prevention program funding, without any funding sources for it, and defended the cuts by claiming that youth crime was quite low (link). Thus far, no one has been able to substantiate the claim that OPD is getting youth “much-needed resources” as stated in OPD’s press release.

Kaplan stated, “We need to make sure not to stereotype and harm struggling young people, but instead to make sure we are providing, rather than eliminating, vitally needed violence-prevention and jobs programs for Oakland’s youth.” There are additional questions (Kaplan’s office is) asking the OPD Chief, city administrator, and mayor that they should have to answer: – If the Chief is worried about a crime trend and wants to propose solutions, why wasn’t this release, or any proposals regarding it, sent to the Council? Was it sent to the mayor? The Police Commission?

-What are the specific resources they are providing for youth, as they claim they are doing?

– Who, specifically, was involved in writing and approving of this release?

– What was the purpose and intention of sending it?

– What specific crime data is it based on?

– Who approved the quote from the chief? Why is it appropriate for a city public safety leader to say that they “hope everyone is alarmed” about “juvenile crime” while not proposing any strategies nor providing any data? Was the intent simply to inflame the public?”

Kimberly Jones is chief of staff to Oakland City Council President Kaplan.

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