The Oakland City Council this week continued to come to grips with issues raised at a recent public hearing “on racial inequality within the economic and criminal justice systems.”
Recommended by Council President Lynette Gibson McElhaney, the discussion was placed on the agenda to allow councilmembers to continue their discussions on concrete policy changes they want to implement in the wake of the public hearing on Saturday, Jan. 24 that addressed the loss of Black lives and impact of violence on the community.
The hearing was planned in consultation with a number of activists.
In an interview with the Post this week, Mayor Libby Schaaf praised the council and McElhaney for their leadership on these issues.
“I intend to work with the council to implement the recommendations that come from their deliberations. I think these public discussions are very healthy for the city,” she said.
Councilmembers Abel Guillen and Annie Campbell Washington said they wanted to work with Councilmember Desley Books, who is pushing to establish a Department of Race and Equity in the city.
“It’s a piece of work I’d like to get heavily involved in,” said Campbell Washington. The existence of such a department would encourage the city council at every meeting to look at issues from the point view of race and equity, she said.
Councilmembers Rebecca Kaplan, Dan Kalb and Guillen are calling for the Oakland Police Department to hire more local residents and ensure that the new hires are more reflective of the composition of Oakland communities.
Over 1,000 Oakland residents have applied for OPD jobs in the last three years, said Kaplan, and only 35 have been accepted.
Kaplan also urged the council and city staff to move ahead with a “disparity” study, called for by the City Charter and already funded by the council.
The previous study found that city grants and contracts were going to “white men and that women-owned and minority-owned businesses were dramatically underrepresented.”
“(The study) is about five years overdue at this point,” she said.
Kaplan also criticized “differential outcomes in prosecutions.”
“Black people get longer sentences (when they are) prosecuted for the same offenses,” Kaplan said. “That includes demonstrators (who face) differential enforcement. I want to ask that (issue) be looked at as well.”
Speaking at the meeting, District Attorney Nancy O’Malley disagreed with comments about racial disparities in prosecutions.
“I’m very data driven, (and) nothing has shown up to be true about that (allegation),” she said.
However, she said the “dialogue that is being raised up is very significant, and it is a moment that we should not let pass us by.” Her office wants to look at “what we can do to empower young people who find themselves on the other side of the law.”
More diversion programs that create education and job opportunities for youth are a necessity, she said.
In addition, O’Malley said her office has formed a working group on “fair and equitable policing and prosecution (that will) look at our practices.”
Both Councilmembers Noel Gallo and Dan Kalb have committed themselves to working on a proposal submitted by the Coalition for Police Accountability to place on the November 2016 ballot an independent civilian oversight panel that would have the power to investigate and discipline police misconduct.
In addition to coordinating the various efforts of some of the councilmembers, McElhaney said she is working to establish a “citizens’ human rights commission, (as) an ongoing way for the community to stay involved.”
McElhaney told the Post she is also working to revive the joint city-school district Education Partnership Committee, which will examine ways to dismantle the “school to prison pipeline.”
Mayor Schaaf told the Post that she was excited to meet with Rev. Jesse Jackson to support his work “to uncover the outrageous disparity and lack of minority hiring” in the tech industry.
“We have a chance to apply pressure to oppose the lack of diversity and to correct it,” she said.
She said that she wants to fully implement community policing in Oakland, which means that the public should have full access to the footage produced by police body cameras.
Mayor Schaaf also wants police to walk beats and get to know community members.
“I want to emphasize that I want them getting out of their cars,” she said.
Post publisher Paul Cobb said he hopes the City Council Ethics Commission would examine the role of the City Attorney’s office in not helping the city speed up its implementation of the Federal Judges’ orders to improve the OPD.