Opinion: Seize The Time

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Cat Brooks

In 2016, Oakland overwhelmingly voted for a police commission they believed would create an “independent” oversight body of the Oakland Police Department (OPD). After years of local organizations led by those most impacted by police violence sounding the alarm about the violence and corruption of OPD, Oakland was ready for change.

As Measure LL was being shaped, numerous community organizations were explicit about demands required for the commission to earn its title of “independent”; most crucial was that the commission be independent of the Mayor and City Administration. Those demands were ignored. What Oakland received was a measure significantly watered down and highly ineffective.

This September, City Council will vote on a legislative rewrite, which can strengthen the Commission by removing forced concessions made the first time. We have a chance with the new progressive City Council, and with the support of united community groups on the front lines of combating police violence, to make this an independent community controlled commission. In March, you will have an opportunity to vote on a rewritten measure which will give effective oversight of OPD — that is IF we listen to the voices of the most impacted community members and who are the experts on best practices regarding police accountability and independent oversight.

Power Never Concedes Without Demand

When Measure LL was being written and finalized, there were many public and private conversations about compromises that disregarded the demands from community groups working on the ground and from survivors of police violence. Impacted communities were told that something was better than nothing and to trust those behind closed doors. Under normal circumstances, they may have been right that the compromise of giving the Mayor and City Hall the controlling interest may have been the best that we could do. But this process was not happening under normal circumstances.

OPD was embroiled in a rape crisis involving a minor, the mayor seemed inept to fix it, activists were in the streets, national eyes were on Oakland and the community was incensed. This was precisely the moment to push for the most progressive, radical (rational) version of accountability through an independent police commission that our community needed.

When discussed at the City Council meeting in July 2016, over 50 people representing dozens of organizations spoke out against the deeply NON INDEPENDENT version being voted on.Yet, despite great efforts from community (and at least two City Council members), a measure went to voters offering a commission run by the same City Hall that has run a police department stuck in federal receivership for 16 years.
APTP has engaged in significant research about what a competent and truly independent police commission should look like.

Here are our primary demands:

– All seats appointed by the community (no mayoral appointments.)
– Remove all oversight of this commission and CPRA by the city administrator.
– Include broad based community input ad expertise when creating policies and procedures for OPD.
– Increase funding for CPRA and the commission to no less than 5 percent of OPD’s budget.

*For a full list of demands, visit www.antipoliceterrorproject.org

The lives of Oaklanders depend on a police commission that can hold OPD accountable, force accountability and usher in transformation.

Your voices are critical. Community Meetings are taking place. City Council Discussions are happening. Get involved. Contact your councilmembers. Tell them you want what you thought you voted for in the first place: A truly independent Police Commission with the teeth to force radical (rational) reform.

Cat Brooks has over 20 years of community organizing experience. She is the Executive Director of The Justice Teams Network, Co-founder of the Anti Police-Terror Project, Co-host of UpFront on KPFA, an actress and playwright.

Maureen Benson is a former police commissioner, and has served in Oakland for 20 years as an educator, activist, organizer and strategist.

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