“Roll over”, “Fetch”, and “Play dead” will not be the mottoes of an Einstein Administration

The top priority for a number of this year’s Mayoral candidates (we’re not familiar with the platforms for all twenty of them – in part because they haven’t all made their priorities public, at this point) is reducing crime, by which they seem to mean the crimes of the oppressed rather than those of the privileged.  We make this assumption because the most popular plans for fighting “crime” are to “put more police officers on the streets”, “get more officers out from behind their desks”, and “hire more police officers.”  If this happens, these candidates would like us to expect fewer murders, rapes, and assaults, as well as less drug-trafficking, as a result.  These are, for the most part, crimes of desperation and opportunity in a city where far-too-few legal opportunities exist for gaining security – financial, situational, educational, medical; they are responses to the stress and frustration of living paycheck-to-paycheck, of making do with no paycheck at all, of paying to live in homes where the roof leaks and the plumbing doesn’t work, of sending their children to schools in the same condition as their apartments, of hunger, and of suffering from treatable illnesses.  The tactic of making the threat of law-enforcement more visible and intimidating is intended to make those who have something to lose feel more safe while making those fighting every day to survive feel more fear.  It sends a message that Oakland’s government doesn’t care about your problems; it just wants you to obey.

A militarized police force that is not accountable for its abuses has become the symbol of Oakland.  While Oakland Police Department salaries are among the very highest in the US, so are incidents of their illegal conduct.  Restitution and restorative justice are punch-lines at police headquarters.  Instead, blanket surveillance of low-income communities and unwarranted brutality define the culture of law-enforcement in our city.

Oakland continues to be the annual host for Urban Shield, a trade show for weapons and surveillance technology dealers as well as a convention where law-enforcement and military experts share their innovations in crowd-control and SWAT-team protocols.  In addition, Urban Shield is sponsoring a new program called the Bay Area Urban Area Security Initiative (BAUASI), which will heighten the terrorism-alert functions of those sworn to protect and serve.  Police officers will be trained to view every resident of Oakland as a potential threat to the stability of business and government.

We would be skeptical of the sanity of a serious candidate for any elected office who advocated racial profiling as a tactic for reducing crime, but let it be said for the record that our candidate strongly rejects this method of codifying racism.  He also rejects measures that restrict the freedom of residents through the presumption of guilt, such as gang injunctions and curfews.  He opposes the Urban Shield weapons show in Oakland AND the BAUASI.

Please see Planks 7-14 of our candidate’s platform.  The strategy of preventing crime with overwhelming force and intimidation is not well-conceived at all.  Crime is not an issue for the same reason that smoke alarms don't cause fires.  A very simplistic argument is often made in the media when crime is related to the economy: crime goes up when the economy goes down.  But you don't hear anyone say that the economy goes down because crime goes up.  Crime serves as an alarm telling us that a shortage of opportunities and of security - along with the curtailment of civil rights - puts stress on populations.  Such stress should not be added by a democratically-elected government to an electorate already over-burdened by stresses in the areas of housing, education, and health.  The crimes of the oppressed are the RESULTS of these many causes of desperation.  Let's focus on reducing the CAUSES of crime - of which brutal repression, disregard for civil rights, and the invasion of privacy are three!

BAD Urban Shield! BAD!       

          The plank in our candidate’s platform that – judging from responses – is least understood is Plank 5: The City shall be re-districted to create [500+-] electoral districts, each to be represented by a City Councilmember.  This initiative will provide much greater access to power for residents.  Council Members will be more in-touch with those they represent.  Most respondents envision endless debate and a culture of inaction resulting from the chaos of so many City Councilmembers clamoring for recognition.  We intend to address this concern here, after a brief analysis of the current state of democracy in Oakland.

          Currently, the population of our city is reckoned at just under 400,000, while the number of City Councilmembers stands at eight, representing seven districts plus one City Councilmember At Large.  This means that the ratio of Councilmembers to residents is approximately 1:57,000.  Does such a ratio provide for direct access to democratic representation for Oakland’s residents?  We would argue instead that, in the current framework, ordinary residents have only a slightly better chance of influencing their representatives than they do of winning the lottery.  Of course, one element can improve access to democracy: money.  If wealthy residents can rent spaces or use their homes for tastefully elegant events to which their Councilmembers are tempted to attend, then they can make their voices heard.  Yes, even in a small city like Oakland, money equals speech.  But our candidate would like to live in a city where Dollars Are Not Citizens!

          Another tool that residents can use to magnify their voices loud enough to be heard is the petition.  By collecting enough signatures affirming a proposition, residents can make their needs known to Councilmembers.  All they have to do is to spend weeks wandering the streets and interrupt people in the course of their business to stop and consider a proposition and sign their names to it.  But even after all that work, the Councilmember may choose to ignore the petition, and she or he can do so with impunity by – for a time – avoiding public events where constituents are not pre-selected by a host.  The only other venue where they might have to face those whose needs they’ve rejected is in a session of the City Council where they would have to listen but could not be compelled to respond to the outrage of their constituents.

          Our candidate envisions a more direct structure for democracy where residents can interact with their representatives on a regular basis in an assembly where their voices can be more easily heard.  Under current conditions, if the residents of a district wanted to hold an assembly with their Councilmember, they’d have to secure the Oracle Stadium.  But if Oakland’s residents were represented by 500 Councilmembers, then the ratio would become 1:800, and a district assembly could be held in the auditorium of a local public school.  It would become reasonable for district residents to require their Councilmembers to attend district assemblies where voting could be held on propositions.  Direct access would become immediate.

          This brings us to concerns raised about the likelihood of chaos in sessions of a City Council with 500 members.  If those Councilmembers are attending regular district assemblies – hearing their constituents, informing them of upcoming Council agenda, and participating in debate over issues coming before the Council, then they will attend City Council meetings with their votes predetermined in their district assemblies.  They will no longer have executive decision-making power, and attempts at suasion by the other Councilmembers will be of no account.  The need for a public comment period during Council sessions will be largely preempted by the district assemblies.  Voting will take very little time and, so, the progress of democracy will move forward for Oakland, and at a much more efficient pace than ever.