Tuesday, November 1, 2011

What the *&%# happened in Oakland? Jerry Brown, of course.

When the Occupy Wall Street movement spread across the U.S., one of its biggest subsidiaries was in Oakland. Two weeks of peaceful protest activities took place there. On October 25, Occupy Oakland protesters found themselves facing police firing gas canisters. One Iraq War veteran was left in critical condition with a head injury.

On The Daily Show, Jon Stewart asked "What the [expletive deleted] happened in Oakland?"

Like all such occurrences, all kinds of explanations will be offered and someone or several someones will ultimately be blamed.

For consideration, I'd like to offer reports of a sequence of events that occurred in the three months prior, followed by a review of events that occurred in 1999-2003.

From a Thursday, August 11, item:
Oakland police chief Anthony Batts is pressuring the city to funnel more resources into the dwindling department, following Monday's shooting death of 3-year-old Carlos Nava.

At a news conference Thursday announcing the arrest of alleged shooter Lawrence Denard, Batts expressed frustration with city leaders for not prioritizing law enforcement. He made references to the city's opposition to gang injunctions and curfews for teens.

“Monday, August 8 at 1:12 p.m. should be the rallying cry for this city to turn itself around,” Batts said at the news conference.

“Enough with excuses, enough with not doing the right thing, enough with not addressing injunctions, not wanting to do curfews, enough with not taking hard stances,” he said. “Because enough life has been lost.”
Pretty strong stuff from a police chief. Symptoms of a problem?

From an LA Times item, Tuesday, October 11:
Oakland Police Chief Anthony W. Batts, who clashed with Mayor Jean Quan and the City Council over staffing and resources amid a rise in violent crime, announced his resignation Tuesday in a letter to Police Department employees.

Batts, who joined the department in 2009 after being recruited away from Long Beach by then-Mayor Ronald V. Dellums, did not say why he was leaving or what he planned to do next.

In his resignation letter, the chief said he believed when taking the job that he was answering “the call for a reform-minded chief; a leader with a focus on community policing and high professional standards.

“I was told Oakland residents were looking for a strong, visible leader to engage the community and reduce violent crime,” he said. “My goal was to help rebuild a once proud, professional department, geared toward crime reduction and community service.”

But, Batts continued, “I found myself with limited control, but full accountability. The landscape has changed radically over the past two years and with new and different challenges.”

Quan took office in January. She and many council members have largely opposed such crime-fighting measures as a youth curfew and gang injunctions. The City Council met last week to consider those measures and an anti-loitering law; Quan cast a tie-breaking vote to send the measures back to committee.
From another item Tuesday, October 11:
After serving two years as Oakland police chief, Anthony Batts has decided to step down. In an email obtained by the Oakland Tribune, Batts praised officers for their excellent service, despite their limited resources and lack of appreciation. He wrote, “Rather than a chief managing a diverse department of law enforcement professionals making the streets of Oakland safe, I found myself with limited control, but full accountability.”

In March of last year, Batts sat down with KALW’s Holly Kernan to discuss some of the challenges that he faced...
ANTHONY BATTS: I think the systems within the police department are severely broken because of budgetary constraints and other issues that have come up. However, I think we have a lot of excellent employees here, a lot of people who have a great deal of pride, and a lot of people who have good ideas to do different things differently. And I think they’re just looking for a change. I think inside the police organization, the employees are looking for a change, the media is looking for a change, the business people are looking for a change, and the normal residents are looking for a change.
From a Thursday, October 13, item:
Assistant Police Chief Howard Jordan on Thursday was again named to serve as interim chief in Oakland, just days after a report said the beleaguered department is not meeting federally mandated reforms stemming from a decade-old police corruption scandal.

Jordan, a 23-year veteran on the force, was sworn in by Mayor Jean Quan to take over immediately for outgoing Chief Anthony Batts, who resigned Tuesday, citing frustration about having limited control over decision-making.

In a City hall meeting room jammed with leaders, residents and rank-and-file members of the department, Jordan said he looked forward to the challenges ahead.

"The term `interim' will not apply to my decisions," Jordan said. "This is a time for us to move forward, to look to the future."

Jordan takes over amid a rising violent crime rate; after the City Council recently tabled three crime-fighting initiatives; and a judge threatened to put the department under federal control because it has not yet met the terms of the corruption settlement in 2003.

"Howard Jordan is the best person and most prepared to become the chief of police," Quan said. "He's prepared to work forward in a way probably nobody else in the force is."
From a Friday, October 14, item:
If the city's past performance in meeting tax and bond pledges is a guide, officials certainly couldn't use it as campaign advertising.

The most notable example is Measure Y, a 2004 parcel tax measure that assured voters that $20 million annually would be spent to hire and pay the salaries of 63 additional officers and fund public safety programs. It came with a 10-year, iron-clad guarantee that the city would maintain a minimum police force of 802 officers.

Seven years and more than $100 million in taxpayer funds later, where are they? By the department's own count, Oakland has 651 sworn officers.

When you consider things from that point of view, I guess former Police Chief Anthony Batts wasn't the only person in Oakland that municipal government let down.

...So in the space of a little more than two weeks, Oakland's elected officials have stalled three public safety measures, lost a popular and credible police chief and now come to residents to ask for public safety funding - again. There is a definite disconnect in the communications system between Oakland residents and most of the city's elected leaders.
Now, of course there is no direct correlation between what happened 11 days later on October 25.

But if you have any doubts about the underlying problem in Oakland, consider this November 1 item:
The Oakland police union released a statement today saying its officers are confused about Mayor Jean Quan's stance on the Occupy Oakland encampment and what they are being asked to do for Wednesday's citywide general strike.

A legion of Oakland officers and those from 17 outside agencies were asked to remove the Occupy Oakland campers early Oct. 25 from Frank Ogawa Plaza outside City Hall, but Quan allowed protesters to return starting the next day, the union's "open letter to the citizens of Oakland" noted. The encampment is now about as large as before the police sweep.

"We, too, are the 99 percent fighting for better working conditions, fair treatment and the ability to provide a living for our children and families," the Oakland Police Officers' Association statement said. "We are severely understaffed with many city beats remaining unprotected by police during the day and evening hours.

"As your police officers, we are confused."
And this item:
According to the letter, City Hall has left officers baffled about what the city's real stance is on Occupy Oakland and everything that goes along with it, including the tent city at the steps of City Hall and the strike itself, which is expected to draw thousands of people downtown Wednesday for a general strike.

"To add to the confusion, the administration issued a memo on Friday to all City workers in support of the 'Stop Work' strike scheduled for Wednesday, giving all employees, except for police officers, permission to take the day off," the OPOA letter read.

"That's hundreds of City workers encouraged to take off work to participate in the protest against 'the establishment.' But aren't the Mayor and her Administration part of the establishment they are paying City employees to protest? Is it the City's intention to have City employees on both sides of a skirmish line?"

The letter also announced that the entire police force is being called on to work Wednesday, and that the police shutdown of the first Occupy camp on Oct. 25, and staffing the subsequent 1,000-person protest, cost the city more than $1 million.
Are you beginning to get the idea yet? You might ask why is a federal court threatening to take over the Oakland Police Department? Funny you should ask ... and you should.

In February 2003 the City of Oakland agreed to pay nearly $11 million and implement police reforms to settle federal civil rights lawsuits brought by more than 100 people after prosecutors had to dismiss about 90 criminal cases. It all had to do with a few police officers (called the "Riders" working the night shift in one of Oakland's roughest neighborhoods and under pressure from the business community embarrassed by the skyrocketing murder rate - sure the residents were unhappy too but they don't count in Oakland politics) who were charged with beating suspects, wrongfully accusing them of crimes, planting drugs and covering it all up by falsifying police reports.

From 1999 to 2007 the Mayor of Oakland was none other than Governor Jerry "Moonbeam" Brown who at the time ran for office as an independent "having left the Democratic Party, blasting what he called the 'deeply corrupted' two-party system."

Continuing from Wikipedia:
Prior to taking office, Brown campaigned to get the approval of the electorate to convert Oakland's weak mayor political structure, which structured the mayor as chairman of the city council and official greeter, to a strong mayor structure, where the mayor would act as chief executive over the nonpolitical city manager and thus the various city departments, and break tie votes on the Oakland City Council.
What happened was that, true to his nickname, Brown ended up creating neither a strong mayor city government nor a council-manager form, but a weird form I guess he thought was creative but left no one responsible for overall administration.

Ironically, in the overwhelmingly minority city, the political left had hoped for some of progressive politics from Brown, but found Brown "more interested in downtown redevelopment and economic growth."

As one writer noted in 2003:
Two decades after signing Prop. 13 into state law as Governor, Jerry Brown mounted a successful campaign for Mayor of Oakland. The Bay Area housing market was hot at the height of the Dot.com boom, and the former governor promised to “redevelop” the downtown area so that it would be “more livable” for all of the outsiders flocking to the region.

Once elected, Brown unveiled his “10K Initiative” to attract 10,000 new high-income residents to Oakland by redeveloping 7 cluster areas in and around Downtown. Of course, such a plan required evicting the current residents of those cluster areas, and Brown diligently set about his work of “Jerryfication.”

Under Prop. 13, property is taxed at a fixed rate, and assessed at the market value at the time of the purchase. The only way for a city to get more tax dollars out of a property is for the property to be sold when its market value is higher. This is the motive for Brown’s agenda of evicting old Oakland residents in favor of newer ones.

Brown then entered into a five-year contract with the federal government that would allow the city to take over control of properties seized by the feds, and used this contract to create a mobile police command center to harass Oaklanders into submission (or run them out of town). This, as the infamous “Riders” were making headlines with a high-profile police corruption scandal.
So, John Stewart and anyone else who might really care, what happened in Oakland is Jerry Brown.

Were the events of October 25, 2011, the inevitable result of Jerry Brown assuming the office of Mayor of Oakland in 1999? Of course not. But he left Oakland in such a mess it was inevitable that something sad would happen.

Regardless of what really happens or what is perceived to be happening while he is in office, Jerry Brown is the perfect example of an effective image-manipulating politician who gets elected over and over again because people, particularly reporters, "like him" based on that image.

In 1975 he took office as Governor. He did it so badly that in three years, 1978, Proposition 13 was passed by the voters. But they still let him serve another five years. In 1999 he took office as Mayor of Oakland. He did it so badly that in four years, 2003, a federal judge ordered the reform of the Oakland Police Department. But Oakland voters let him serve another four years.

It's easy to sympathize when the Oakland cops say: "We, too, are the 99 percent fighting for better working conditions, fair treatment and the ability to provide a living for our children and families."

To bad they live here in California where the politician who created their current local government problems is again Governor, a politician who has no apparent empathy for the 99%, a politician who has no understanding of what makes government work well but does understand how to the make the system work for him, a politician who by the time he again leaves the Office of Governor will have overseen the destruction of everything his father worked for to benefit the 99%.

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