During the Public Safety Hearing of the Oakland City Council, I was able to see true democracy in action. It warmed my heart.
Over 40 members of the public signed up to speak against gang injunctions that are currently being established against gang members in North Oakland and are reportedly getting ready to start in the Fruitvale District.
Last summer, in response to the demands of local residents and businesses, a judge ordered the disruption of gang activities in the North Oakland community. A series of violent crimes within the area have been attributed to the North Side Oakland (NSO) gang, in particular the May 2009 murder of Charles Davis, and the killing of two innocent bystanders Todd Perea and Floyd Ross. (Read a story about NSO crimes in North Oakland here.)
The City Attorney, John Ross asked the judge to restrict the actions of the gang and forcing them to obey the following rules:
- not to associate with other named gang members
- not to assault, confront or intimidate witnesses
- not to possess firearms or other weapons
- no drugs
- follow curfew
- no trespassing and no further gang recruitment. (read more about the injunction here)
Sounds harmless enough, right? Well according to witnesses at the Public Safety hearing, these actions are causing quite a bit of harm and they also aren’t working.
See a slide show of the Public Safety Hearing below:
Residents from North Oakland and Fruitvale told stories of homes being raided and friends and family members being harassed. They expressed fear of cops and not having any peace in their community. The injunctions which are supposed to be directed towards specifically named individuals, are according to speakers, being used against innocent bystanders who just happen to live in the area (and are minorities).
Attorneys Michael Siegal, and Jose Luis Fuentes, brought witnesses from Fruitvale and North Oakland to speak, but also spoke themselves. They noted that John Russo apparently acted without the City Council’s input, and requested that the issue be put on the Public Safety Commission’s agenda for further review. In the end, the committee president, Pat Kernighan from District 2, requested a report be made to look into these allegations to be completed in about a month and asked residents to submit their comments via email.
The city and police should do all it can to ensure the safety of the public by reducing crime and gang activity. The gang injunctions seem like a viable solution towards the problem, however it seems that local police are taking enforcement too far. I don’t know all of the facts of this situation, neither does the city council until this report is in their hands.
However, I do admire the residents who came together and tried to do something about the problem. Young and old came before the council to speak. All too often I hear people complain about the city, the government and the police, yet do little to take an active part in making change. Regardless of the outcome, being a witness to the passion in the room renewed my faith in community action.
I sincerely hope that others can follow in their example. Imagine the change that could take place!