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Opinion: Institutional Racism Is Real In Oakland

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Exposing Racism in Oakland. Photo courtesy of whatshappeningblackoakland.wordpress.com.

By Wilson Riles Jr.

It was a surprise to me, despite my 38 years of involvement with Oakland City government, to learn that many more departments of the city are “complainant driven” than just the Police Department (OPD).

Being “complainant driven” is a governmental administration term, meaning that counting the number of interactions with complainants is a simple, crude way to measure the level of “public service.”

Usually, in such a management scenario there is little concern for the (harder to measure) quality of the interaction or for justice for the targets of complaints.

There is even less concern for positive results. “Complainant driven” is something that only “delights” budget makers and bean counters.

In OPD, officers have been paid on the bases of moving the complainant “meter” in one direction or another. Patrol officers are distributed around the city in order to maximize opportunities for rapid complainant responses.

That this makes no difference to crime reduction, nor to the identification or the arrest of perpetrators, seems irrelevant. When critics, like me, insist that the quality of the complainant response must improve, inevitably every city administration’s cry is that the number of complainants an individual officer can respond to would go way, way down.

Thus, more officers must be hired to do the job if one wants quality. I say ridiculous!

Such a cry assumes a lot and ignores a lot. When critics attempt to dive into those assumptions, missing factors, and alternative approaches, somehow, we never get back to the abomination of being complainant driven.

Complainants drive the city bureaucratic machinery in such a way that inequality, racism, and costly ineffectiveness are the result. This is nothing but the facilitation of invidious institutional practices that furthers bias, blindness, and racism, regardless of the biases or lack of them of city staff.

Somewhere in this process good city management would ask:

  1. What are the present-day and historical factors that generate complaints?
  2. Who complains to the Police as a first response?
  3. Does this type of poor quality response ever result in an improved quality of life? [The answer is rarely!]
  4. Are there alternative approaches and processes that have proved themselves less costly, more beneficial, and more cost effective? [The answer is definitely!]

“Complainant driven” governmental structures are rooted in and mired in systemic, institutional white supremacy and in elitist class consciousness.

Now, I have discovered that the Zoning/Planning Department is complainant driven also. The police powers of that department were exercised on me due to religiously bigoted and dominance-displaying neighborhood complaints.

[In no way am I equating what happen to me, my family, and friends to what happens to brothers and sisters caught up in the criminal justice system, but the systemic, discriminatory, unjust elements are the same.]

The zoning division of the Planning Department assumed we were guilty of something simply because we were the target of complaints. Charges that had nothing to do with the complaints were piled high and penalties were threatened to coerce us to give up our constitutional rights and we were shoehorned into an expensive, horrendously frustrating process in order to defend ourselves.

Not until, nearly three years later, at the very end of that process was there any chance to question the validity or the accuracy of the complaints.

Not until the end was there any consideration of just outcomes. Just as in the criminal justice system, one only gets to that end point if one has huge resources or a lot of friends who can organize.

This is wrong!

Because these institutional biases and prejudices are so deeply embedded in these systems and because they no longer need conscious racism from city staff to be manifest, a radical change in structural processes, goals, and accountable management are absolutely needed.

Elected leadership can no longer play rhetorical games.

The wishy washy, inconsistent leadership provided by the city council and the mayors over past years must be, now, focused like a laser on uncovering and overturning our city’s furtherance of inequality.

Complainant driven systems must end.

Wilson Riles Jr. served as a member on the Oakland City Council from 1979 to 1992 representing District 5 Fruitvale District.

 

Activism

COMMENTARY: The Power of the Vote

Voting has not always been a given, in fact, just the opposite has been the practice in society for the marginalized. In the midst of so much media coverage that shows how some national lawmakers want to suppress the voting strengths of Blacks, Latinos and the formerly incarcerated, we must seize this moment to exercise our citizen right to vote.

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We as a people constantly need to work in unison to erect positivity that increases the day-to-day living challenges for the betterment of all; not just for a few.
We as a people constantly need to work in unison to erect positivity that increases the day-to-day living challenges for the betterment of all; not just for a few.

By Richard Johnson

The Formally Incarcerated Giving Back (FIGB) org. is launching a voter drive to protect and encourage democratic participation while seeking educational, economic as well as social opportunities to reunite families.

Our goal is to focus on potential voters who have been overlooked in the voting process as a class due to ultra-restrictive policy measures meant to discourage voter turnout.

Recently laws that allow those with criminal records to actively participate in the voting process on all levels have changed. This would give those underserved citizens a voice in what happens in their communities.

Voting has not always been a given, in fact, just the opposite has been the practice in society for the marginalized. In the midst of so much media coverage that shows how some national lawmakers want to suppress the voting strengths of Blacks, Latinos and the formerly incarcerated, we must seize this moment to exercise our citizen right to vote.

We can help ourselves and make changes by voting with our full strength.

We of the Formally Incarcerated Giving Back (FIGB) will be canvassing throughout our communities to register this obscure neglected class of prison returnees and their families. We will also join with other organizations, churches and the Post News Group, along with other media to spread the message of our mission. FIGB will also help contact and sign all other unregistered voters to impact change at the polls. We will collaborate with other groups, voting blocks, and entities to increase awareness while raising the turnout at the polls. We are asking all churches, institutions, and social clubs to join this endeavor by engaging with FIGB.

During the next two months we will regularly publish the results of our coordinated efforts to put boots on the ground in this column.

Change is an inevitable phenomenon; however, the right changes are not. We as a people constantly need to work in unison to erect positivity that increases the day-to-day living challenges for the betterment of all; not just for a few. Let’s be clear, nothing should be taken for granted. Just as one is seated, so can one be unseated. Let the voices of the underserved be heard loud and clear. The policy of exclusion must be replaced with inclusion.

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Activism

School District Security Violently Clashes with Parents, Community at Parker Elementary School

According to a press release issued by the Parker protesters, “The security officers physically ejected several people and unlawfully detained one parent in the building in handcuffs, injuring the parent in the process. Within two hours, nearly 60 people from the public education community and neighborhood had amassed outside with a single demand: let go of this parent. After an hour, OPD arrived with four officers. As they opened the building, the group of people who were amassed outside entered the building and were met with excessive force by the OUSD security forces. More than 10 people sustained minor to moderate injuries, and two people went to hospital for treatment.”

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This Wednesday, protesters held a press conference, accusing the district of political repression and retaliation by firing two educators who have been active in the fight against school closures and in defense of Parker school.
This Wednesday, protesters held a press conference, accusing the district of political repression and retaliation by firing two educators who have been active in the fight against school closures and in defense of Parker school.

By Ken Epstein

Oakland Unified School District security officers arrived at Parker Elementary School in East Oakland on Thursday, Aug. 4 to change the locks and clear people from the school.

Parker, located at 7929 Ney Ave. in East Oakland, has been occupied and kept open operating community programs for the last two months by community protesters, who are resisting the school board decision to permanently close the school at the end of May.

According to a press release issued by the Parker protesters, “The security officers physically ejected several people and unlawfully detained one parent in the building in handcuffs, injuring the parent in the process.

“Within two hours, nearly 60 people from the public education community and neighborhood had amassed outside with a single demand: let go of this parent. After an hour, OPD arrived with four officers. As they opened the building, the group of people who were amassed outside entered the building and were met with excessive force by the OUSD security forces. More than 10 people sustained minor to moderate injuries, and two people went to hospital for treatment.”

In a response to Oakland Post questions, OUSD spokesperson John Sasaki wrote: “OUSD staff went to Parker on Thursday and found all the people who had been inside the building had left the premises. So, staff changed the locks and set the alarm.

“Someone picked, cut, or otherwise broke through a lock to get back inside the building. They were removed. But unfortunately, individuals forced their way back into the building.”

Sasaki continued, “Parker K-8 School is now closed. The individuals at Parker have been and continue to trespass. We have directed them to leave from day one and have continued to do so on many other occasions. Of great concern is that the children that were onsite were sleeping in unsafe conditions and that the adults were running an unsafe and unlicensed childcare program. We continue to demand that they find other ways to safely and peaceably express their concerns.”

Parker protesters condemned the actions. “It was unthinkable that the district would send a group of poorly trained security —consultants ­— to injure, aggress, and antagonize a peaceful community where children were receiving services, located in a predominantly Black neighborhood of East Oakland, which already experiences disproportionate police violence,” the release said.

Parker activists say they are not leaving and will continue their fight to keep the school from being permanently closed and privatized.

Civil rights attorney Walter Riley, who represents the protesters, says that his investigation told the Oakland Post that description of the incident on Aug. 4 “were concerning in a number of ways.”

“The people had been there all summer, and the district had allowed them to continue. No notice of eviction had ever occurred. After locks were placed on the door, a protester made entry, not by breaking in but through a door with a key, as has been the case all summer,” said Riley.

The security agency employed by the district does not have the authority to use “self-help” (that is to physically evict people from the building). They are untrained, and the district is liable for their injuries.

Riley continued: “OPD officers, when they arrived, stood by, and watched unlawful physical attacks. One person was thrown headfirst into a wall by security causing significant injury. Another person, a candidate for school board and an active parent, was taken to the ground, a knee placed on his neck by security. He was brutalized, handcuffed, and held for up to two hours without medical aid for injuries to his wrist, neck, and face.”

Since May 25, the final day of classes of the 2021-22 school year, protesters have occupied Parker 24 hours a day, utilizing the space for a summer program for school-age children, youth empowerment initiatives, free food distribution, voter registration drives, and hosting community town halls and other events, according to protesters’ press statement.

This Wednesday, protesters held a press conference, accusing the district of political repression and retaliation by firing two educators who have been active in the fight against school closures and in defense of Parker school.

One of the two teachers who was fired was Craig Gordon, a 32-year veteran Oakland teacher and union activist. The other teacher who was fired was not named.

District spokesman Sasaki declined to comment on the firing of the two teachers. “We don’t comment on personnel matters,” he said.

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Activism

Oakland City Council Approves Funding for African American Healing Hubs

The economic, physical, and spiritual damage, coupled with the pandemic crisis, must be met with healing and love, said Dr. Wade Nobles, a co-founder of the Black Psychologists Association. “Black people must save ourselves, for no one is coming to our rescue. Therefore, we are working towards constructing an African American Healing Hub that embraces African-centric mental wellness modalities utilizing a holistic approach.”

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Dr. Wade Nobles says the healing hubs proposed by Oakland Front Line Healers will be a first in addressing specific traumas African Americans experience daily living in a racist environment.
Dr. Wade Nobles says the healing hubs proposed by Oakland Front Line Healers will be a first in addressing specific traumas African Americans experience daily living in a racist environment.

By Tanya Dennis

Last week, the Oakland City Council approved $250,000 to assist the East Bay Association of Black Psychologists (EBABP) and Oakland Frontline Healers (OFH) open two emergency mental health centers, one at True Vine Ministries and BOSS in East Oakland.

Oakland Frontline Healers, a collaborative of Black-led non-profits and medical doctors that joined together in April of 2020, to combat COVID-19 in the African American community by providing free PPE, testing, vaccines and support services.

Last October the collaborative, after assessing their successful frontline status in serving the African American community determined they must address other critical issues. They decided to address Black mental health.

Reaching out to the East Bay Association of Black Psychologists, Oakland Frontline Healers discovered that providing mental health services specifically to Black folks would be more detailed then simply securing a space and providing services.

Dr. Wade Nobles, a co-founder of the Black Psychologists Association, revealed that the European model had done a disservice to the African American community. In October 2021, the American Psychologists Association offered a public apology to the African American community with a commitment to “shed racist and colonial roots to embody the principles of equity, diversity, and inclusion to become an actively antiracist discipline.”

With that knowledge, both EBABP and OFH committed to creating an African-centered mental wellness model.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has glaringly illuminated the disparities in America that compromises Black health daily,” Nobles said. “Unfortunately, incarceration or worse is presented as the only recourse as resources addressing Black trauma is extremely limited and for many non-existent.

The economic, physical, and spiritual damage, coupled with the pandemic crisis, must be met with healing and love, he continued. “Black people must save ourselves, for no one is coming to our rescue. Therefore, we are working towards constructing an African American Healing Hub that embraces African-centric mental wellness modalities utilizing a holistic approach.”

Vice-Mayor Rebecca Kaplan spearheaded the City Council to approve $250,000 of City funds towards the training of “culturally congruent” behavioral specialists and frontline workers to support mental wellness in the African American community.

Vice-Mayor Rebecca Kaplan spearheaded the City Council to approve $250,000 of City funds towards the training of “culturally congruent” behavioral specialists and frontline workers to support mental wellness in the African American community.

Vice-Mayor Rebecca Kaplan agreed after attending the group’s town halls and submitted a proposal to award $250,000 to the project for culturally congruent training for behavioral specialists and frontline providers.

“The City Council’s vote of confidence and support is amazing! Their vote aligns with the African-centric tenet that it takes an entire community to ensure the wellness of the village,” said OFH facilitator Tanya Dennis.

The Association of Black Psychologists and Oakland Frontline Healers are currently working with Alameda County on the healing hubs and a healing center that has been in planning since 2015.

Dr. Lawford Goddard, an EBABP representative says, “We are committed to wellness, and treating the whole person and the whole community. Our project with the County, once complete, will also serve as a representative of our culture.”

They envision a space for meetings, conferences and banquets, a place where self-care like yoga, Reiki, urban gardening, massage, dance, drumming, healing circles and fun activities that promote wellness are offered.

“Unfortunately, our project with the County is three years or more in the future and we cannot wait,” Goddard said. “We must help our people now, by working with Oakland Frontline Healers and their emergency healing hubs enabling us to provide services within months.”

The County has committed $19 million toward the purchase of a site to establish a larger complex that will embody African American wellness as envisioned by EBASP.

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