News for the East Bay's diverse, working-class majority.

Brought to you by the Democratic Socialists of America, East Bay chapter.

East Bay DSA

June 21, 2020

Oaklanders demand: Defund the police, refund the people

By David Cremins

On Tuesday, June 16, in an extensive public comment session, Oakland residents demanded that their City Council defund the Oakland Police Department (OPD) as part of this month’s Covid-related budget adjustments. Over 160 citizen activists called in to the eight-hour meeting to share their stories and suggest better uses for money currently spent on policing. Mayor Libby Schaaf has said we do not “need to defund [OPD] in order to invest in…community priorities.” Evidently, many Oaklanders disagree. And for good reason.

The coronavirus pandemic is causing historic revenue shortages, and every dollar spent on policing is a dollar diverted from critical social services. If public safety is our goal, it is welldocumented that public health and other social service interventions do more to reduce violence than police, who at best react to violence once it is already occurring, and are often the cause of violence themselves. De-investing in police and reinvesting in other services — especially for BIPOC and low-income communities — is a good idea in general. But it is especially necessary in Oakland, which has a scandal-plagued police department that has proven incapable of reform after nearly two decades of federal oversight.

The Anti Police-Terror Project’s (APTP) Defund OPD campaign has argued this for the last five years, pointing out that OPD’s budget has doubled over the last two decades (to about $330 million total), leaving other city services severely underfunded. Their organizing and that of other groups has proved crucial as protestors have woken up Council Members, marched to Mayor Schaaf’s house, and surrounded OPD headquarters to decry the injustice of the department’s taking up a staggering 44% of the city’s general fund, nearly nine times what is spent on recreation, libraries, transportation, workforce development, and public works combined.

Oaklanders demand defunding of OPD

At the opening of Tuesday’s meeting, Oakland residents gave over three hours of public comment, their one-minute speeches focusing almost entirely on OPD’s budget and practices. These calls were preceded by over 500 eComments on the meeting’s agenda and thousands of messages sent directly to the offices of Council Members and Mayor Schaaf in recent weeks.

Many who called in are newcomers to the movement to defund the police. But they have quickly become concerned at the disproportionate share of the budget OPD consumes, and on Tuesday were well-versed on the issues facing their city. Several residents were enraged that over $20 million taxpayer dollars have been spent since 2015 to settle police misconduct lawsuits. Others lamented the proposed use of nearly $1 million in Measure Q funds — approved by Oakland voters to fund parks and anti-homelessness initiatives — to pay for three OPD officers. And there were multiple urges to pilot the Mobile Assistance Community Responders of Oakland (MACRO) program, which would divert some mental health-related 911 calls to unarmed civilians.

Public sector union leaders and workers, who have a lot on the line in this month’s budget, took a stand against their fellow city employees in OPD, who don’t face the same constant threats of salary cuts, layoffs, and project cancellations as other agencies. Several public sector workers mentioned the need to limit OPD overtime pay, which is famously abused and has already gone $25 million over budget this year.

Other residents spoke about their own interactions with the police. Kilina said that people of color in her community “feel more fear than security,” and, scared of being killed or abused by the police, do not call 911. Meanwhile, Jennifer called for abolishing OPD, incensed by the violence they inflicted on her and other peaceful protestors at demonstrations earlier this month. 

While many commenters echoed APTP’s key demands — halving OPD’s budget and investing in restorative justice, mental health, and jobs programs — others offered their own suggestions. Dave recommended getting police “out of traffic enforcement” to save money and make our streets safer, while Matt was one of a number of educators who would rather see investment in their school’s health care, counseling, and nutritional offerings than in “racist police” who terrify their students.

Most importantly, a number of people pledged to be in this fight for the long haul. Ish., a young Black Oaklander, threatened the Council (the majority of whom are on the ballot in November) with the electoral power of his generation: “Obviously you guys want to oppress us…you will not be re-elected!” And Audra spoke for many in swearing “to keep showing up until the police are abolished.”

Proposals on the table

City Council has thus far been hesitant in the face of these mass appeals for rapid, drastic change. They have passed a resolution temporarily limiting OPD’s use of tear gas, deferred action on OPD’s request for $2 million in additional funding, and are moving forward with a charter proposal to strengthen the civilian-led Police Commission, which works on OPD’s use of force policies and hears citizen complaints. 

So far, the strongest proposal to defund OPD in this month’s budget negotiations has come from Council Member Nikki Bas of District 2, who advocates initial cuts of at least $25 million to the department. She favors using those savings to invest in MACRO, violence prevention, and anti-homelessness programs. Bas also has promoted the Black Organizing Project’s efforts to get police out of Oakland schools and APTP’s Black New Deal

While only Council President Rebecca Kaplan has joined Bas in calling for significant budget cuts to OPD this month, several Council Members have begun questioning which OPD sworn officer positions can be civilianized or eliminated, which expenditures on equipment (including militarized vehicles and weapons) can be immediately cut, and whether hiring freezes at OPD can be made permanent. After Tuesday’s meeting, Oakland’s Budget Director updated the city’s proposed mid-cycle adjustments legislation to include funding for MACRO, pull officer funding from Measure Q appropriations, transfer several OPD positions to civilian departments, and remove proposed salary cuts to city workers, several concessions from City Hall to be built upon. 

Mass uprisings against state-sactioned murder and brutality have rapidly coalesced into a nationwide movement to defund the police and dismantle our racist prison-industrial complex. Several cities have already seen some modest victories on this front, including in the Bay Area. On Tuesday, June 16, San Leandro City Council voted narrowly to pull $1 million from its police, following the killing of Steven Taylor. Regardless of whether the Oakland City Council follows suit this month, the struggle will continue: we must not rest until every person can live free of poverty, oppression, and violence. In the words of Angela Davis, “You have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world. And you have to do it all the time.”

City Council will continue debating budget adjustments at a special meeting on Tuesday, June 23 at 12:00 PM and likely cast votes on Tuesday, June 30. You can now provide eComment on Agenda Item 3 and find instructions to call in and give public comment in the agenda.

East Bay DSA’s Defund OPD campaign will help Oaklanders keep the pressure on our representatives, including via a phone bank you can join on Monday, June 22 and contact info and scripts you can use today.