Oakland Tribune My Word: Oakland residents must stop the gang injunctions
by Angela DavisOakland Tribune, contracostatimes.com
March 3rd 2011 5:02 AM
THE INTRODUCTION of gang injunctions is the latest attempt by Oakland City Attorney John Russo to appear tough on crime at the expense of Oakland residents.
As proposed by Russo, gang injunctions are civil-court orders that transform a set of everyday actions into arrestable and punishable offenses, as long as they take place within a given geographic area.
Unsurprisingly, the gang injunctions target North Oakland and Fruitvale, two of Oakland's predominantly black and Latino communities.
As a new mayor and City Council have taken their vows to serve Oakland's residents, we face a unique opportunity to reassess our collective priorities and support efforts that create true safety for everyone.
Oakland currently faces a $10 million budget deficit. Only under pressure from the City Council's Public Safety Committee in January did Russo release a report on the injunctions' fiscal impact, assessing the injunctions to have already cost at least $760,000.
These injunctions divert hundreds of thousands of dollars from resources and services that could provide both immediate and long-term solutions to violence.
At the same time, we miss something significant if we measure the prospective cost of the gang injunctions only in dollars, and fail to see the tremendous cost they will have on our communities.
Russo's taxpayer-funded public relations campaign has been unable to demonstrate
convincingly that gang injunctions will not rely on racial profiling.
In fact, these injunctions target particular communities -- communities of color -- and criminalize otherwise legal activities. Arrestable offenses will now include being outside after 10 p.m. or appearing anywhere in public with a "suspected gang member." For those who are alleged gang members or who simply live in the injunction zones, these injunctions transform the acts of approaching a vehicle, or communicating with a neighbor, into criminal acts.
Tragically, these injunctions are being given priority over food security, mental and physical health, and education opportunities in Oakland.
A 2007 Justice Policy Institute study found that "investing in services and programs that keep people out of the justice system is more effective at improving public safety and community well-being than investing in law enforcement."
Despite such appeals to common sense, policing and prisons demand more of our resources, and programs that respond to social needs are being squeezed out of existence. This year, Cole Middle School in West Oakland closed, and the facility was then turned into a station for school police. Oakland Unified School District rehired police officers who were laid off in city budget cuts, rather than rehiring recently laid-off teachers.
In response to these injunctions, Oakland residents have formed a coalition of students, teachers, parents, lawyers and community members who are rejecting the idea that increased policing and imprisonment lead to increased public safety.
Residents are demanding the city reallocate the funds being funneled toward the injunctions to services and programs that are being cut: good jobs, quality education, health care, mental health services, food programs and affordable housing.
Residents already have begun to envision what we can do to build a more sustainable Oakland. We need to insist the City Council and Mayor Jean Quan stop the injunctions, and take seriously demands for programs and services that grow healthy, empowered communities instead.
I urge everyone to join the efforts to stop the injunctions and join me at a rally from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. today outside Oakland's City Hall. Visit stoptheinjunction.wordpress.com for more information.
Angela Davis, a scholar and activist, has been engaged in struggles for racial, economic and social justice for more than five decades. She is professor emerita of history of consciousness and feminist studies at UC Santa Cruz and a longtime resident of Oakland.
Original Page: http://www.contracostatimes.com/opinion/ci_17531604%3E
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