All posts by N. Waters

South Side Plan Released

‘Public Safety’ Section Slipped in without Public Process

Giuliani-style Tactics Urged for Minor Offenses

Are the police accountable to no one? It often seems that way. But now, according to the newly released Draft Southside Plan, that seems to be official City of Berkeley and University of California policy.

The Draft Southside Plan was unveiled January 18, including a “Public Safety” section that has never before been made public and which completely sidestepped a lengthy public input and review process which formulated the four other main elements of the plan.

The Draft Plan goes to great lengths to tout it’s extensive 1 1/2 year history of community input and discussion of four of the five elements of the plan–land use and housing, transportation and parking, economic development, and community character–which featured the release of issue papers on each subject as early as June, 1998 and separate public workshops on each of the four topics at the end of ‘98.

However, when one turns to the newly released public safety section of the plan, all mention of public participation suddenly vanishes, and we learn in the opening paragraphs that “public policy about crime prevention is established by the City of Berkeley and UC Police Departments.” In other words, the police are in charge of themselves.

According to the city’s planning department, the reason the section appeared so late in the process is because there was a demand for it during the initial period of public input made, most notably, by the Telegraph Area Association, a front group for, area merchants and other special interests.

Apparently public officials in the City and University don’t want the public to be able to even discuss their policing policies, policies which, in Southside, amount to a racial, class, and lifestyle profiling of who the authorities and police deem undesirable elements.

Police target people who’s appearance detracts from the turning of the area into a yuppie shopping zone in which merchants can maximize their profits and the University can ensure a sterile playground in which to breed their next generation of obedient students without fear of them being tainted by the 60’s past, and without any first-hand knowledge of the reality of poverty on the streets of America.

Public Safety for Who?

The main thrust of the public safety section is (surprise, surprise) an embrace of the new higher level of policing that the area has undergone for the last year and a half, and a call for more of the same. However, when you get down to the nuts and bolts of the plan, you find it far more concerned with what it calls the “perception of public safety,” than it is with actual public safety. The definition of public safety it focuses on is primarily on property safety with a complete overemphasis on enforcement of petty ‘quality of life’ crimes, or, as they’re referred to in the plan, “neighborhood health crimes”–in other words, enforcing a kind of Giuliani-ism.

These two aspects of the plan are not unrelated. For when it talks about improving the perception of public safety, what it really means is driving people away from the area who appear to be dangerous, who ‘fit the description’–non-white people, poor people, homeless people, punks, freaks, the mentally ill, etc. The emphasis on enforcing “neighborhood health crimes” (vandalism, liquor law violations, public drunkenness, disturbances of the peace, drug and weapons offenses, and trespassing) then serves as the convenient rationale for targeting those select groupings of people.

The plan even admits that crimes against people, including homicide, rape and aggravated assault are a low percentage of total major crimes in Southside. The so called “public safety” element then, is misnamed, and is really more of a blue-print for the police’s forced relocation program of certain kinds of people out of the area. During the last year and a half, joint UC/City police patrols have increased dramatically with the City now spending roughly 20% of its police department’s total officer hours on Southside, an area comprising only 2.5% of the City’s total land area. We are over-policed.

The New Poor Laws

As Giuliani did in New York, supposedly liberal Berkeley is also spending vast amounts of resources on what amounts to petty harassment of people already down on their luck, those suffering most the ill effects of an inherently unequal and unfair social order.

For example, one major activity of police in Southside is giving $130 tickets to homeless people for drinking in public. If you’re homeless and don’t have a home to go to, how can you not be drinking in public? You are guilty because of your class. And where are you supposed to get the $130 to pay the fine? Many poor people are regularly arrested and spend time in jail because they are financially or mentally unable to cope with the painstakingly slow, demeaning, inhumane, and downright unjust processes of the criminal justice bureaucracy. The Southside Plan wants this to continue.

Another main activity of the police in Southside is busting people for dealing or possessing small amounts of drugs, most notably marijuana. The police in this so-called liberal city, and in Southside in particular, are fighting the War on Drugs to the hilt. The drug war itself is designed to weed and seed out a certain segment of the population and “house” them in all the newly constructed prisons. Furthermore, the Berkeley Police, on a daily basis, willfully violate an explicitly clear City ordinance instructing them not to enforce any marijuana laws.

It is obvious that the public officials and area special interests who’ve drafted the Southside Plan don’t want to give the people of Berkeley an opportunity to review these kinds of police practices. They know they would not get past public scrutiny, and the police would not get away with what they do. That is why the public safety section has been kept out of the public process.

Bad for Business

The public safety section of the plan refers far more often (six times) to the “perception of public safety” than it does to the reality of public safety. Since the main goal of the plan is to gentrify the area and attract more people with more money to come and spend it, it makes sense to be concerned with the perception of public safety.

In order to improve the perception of public safety, the unstated logic of the plan is then to rid the area of those who are perceived to be unsafe. As one can imagine, a such strategy opens the door to gross miscarriages of justice and human rights violations against people based on their appearance and superficial personal habits. This is exactly what the monied interests in the city want.

Follow the police around on Southside and see what kind of people they always stop, cite, and arrest. The University attempt last year to remove the free box in People’s Park was aimed at precisely this objective–removal from the area of people who hang out near the box because they are perceived to be dangerous–apparently for being black and/or homeless.

Who are the Criminals-Gangs in Blue

So the public safety section of the plan is grossly misnamed: public safety is the last thing it is concerned with. The first thing it is concerned with is, as stated above, with the perception of public safety. Next it is concerned with “quality of life crimes” and then property crimes (theft, etc.) which the plan admits is the most common major crime in the Southside area.

If you see quality of life crimes for what they are, petty harassment of certain people designed to lower their quality of life so they’ll leave the area, then these police practices are, in effect, the crime. A large part of what police do on a day to day basis is decrease the public safety of certain populations. The poor are, in effect, criminalized by the system.

The police are at best a public nuisance to the poor and often kidnap (through arrest) and rob (through citations that carry a fine, confiscation of personal property, and the levying of bails and bonds). Beatings (assault) usually take place out of public view, and then there is murder (he lunged at the officer and appeared to be grabbing for his gun.)

Public Placebos

Don’t get me wrong, the process of public input for the plan as a whole is a sham. It was mostly drawn up by the big time social engineers at the UC Berkeley planning department and then rubber stamped by City bureaucrats. The architects of the plan solicit input from everyone, but when it comes to writing up the plan, for the most part they use only the input they like, that which comes from their friends and those with the same class interests and social agendas (business owners, homeowners, etc.).

The City devised this trick several years ago. It allows City bureaucrats to present a facade of democracy and public participation while really continuing the same old rule from above. This new process also has the added benefit of allowing wily PR staff to flush out their opponents arguments and then craft the language of their plans to deflect the anticipated critiques. That said, the public safety section of the plan didn’t even go through this phony public participation process.

The process isn’t phony, of course, for Southside’s “stakeholders”, as the plan refers to them. The stakeholders are groups who wield money and power and are listed in the plan as having special sway in the Southside plan decision-making process, above and beyond those of the measly general public.

Stakeholder groups in the Southside are groups like the merchants, who basically own the Berkeley Police in the Southside area, and use them as their private security firm to drive away people who stand as an obstacle to gentrification of the area. Another stakeholder is the University of California administration for whom the plan is a vehicle to help realize their long-term goal of expanding their influence in the Southside, as many of the plans key features provide.


Saying that the police themselves should determine police policy would be like giving the public works department complete control over transportation policy, or giving the U.S. military the power to go to war if and when it wanted to.

The police are public employees just like any other city employee. The policies that steer their work should be matter of public discussion and debate, and ultimately public jurisdiction, just as are the policies that chart the course of any other city department. What makes the police any different. Do we live in a police state, that there is no power greater than the power of the police? At least some members of the Berkeley Planning Department seem to think so.

But such is the nature and purpose of the police–to carry out the will of the monied interest in society, of the owners of capital, by patrolling and enforcing a social order that is favorable to their terms. In the same way that the U.S. military and government serve as functionaries of the big corporations, and collectively the owners of capital on a national stage, so do the police within the City of Berkeley serve to “protect and serve” the interests of local managers of capital, the local bourgeoisie. The most disenfranchised in society–the homeless, or propertyless–have little or no social power via the role of the police and thus are swept away, legislated out of existence, arrested, and put in cages. This is class war.

Oakland Military Academy

In his latest effort to militarize Oakland, after having given the police a green light to police in the War on Crime and inviting the Marines to town to do exercises, Jerry Brown is now pushing for the creation of an Oakland Military Academy that will put youth on the fast track to military service as an alternative to normal middle school and high school.

The proposed public charter school Academy, which could open as soon as this Fall, would be run by the California National Guard and would have students wear uniforms, run through military drills, and even take field trips to the rifle range. The old Oakland army base has been mentioned as a possible location.

The idea is being pushed heavily by Mayor Brown and by City Manager Robert Bobb who has said it will provide “educational choices to students and parents.”

“It would instill discipline and leadership,” says Brown.

The idea is patterned after the Virginia Military Institute in Richmond, Virginia, the first city in the country with a public military academy. Bobb was city manager in Richmond before being brought to Oakland, so it must have been his idea. One of his sons attended the Virginia Institute.

The idea already has $1.3 million in seed money from Governor Gray Davis and may have close to $10 million since Brown lobbied federal officials in Washington D.C. in January.

The military school is part of a “specialized schools” proposal by Brown and Bobb which includes a selective admissions “academic” high school for math and science, and a music and arts school. The Academy would be co-ed and include students from 6th grade through high school. One hundred and sixty 7th graders would make up the first class.

Brown who is probably using this as his latest stunt in plans to run for senator or president has said the Academy “will be a place of high achievement.” The School Board has not yet considered the proposal.

Homogenization and It’s Discontents: Southside’s New Era

Despite the coming and going of the People’s Park 30th Anniversary celebration, the situation on Southside and in the park remains dubious at best. Changes are taking place at a rapid rate and neither the park activists nor the street community seem adequately prepared to deal on the altering political landscape that is emerging. We are entering a new era.

The one-year campaign of police repression on Telegraph that has gone largely unchecked by Berkeley’s activist community has taken its toll and has recently moved into the park where it seems posed to tilt the balance of power in a fragile peace that has held since the Volleyball Wars. For the past five years or so the park has stood at a stalemate with power wielded through an amorphous triad of City, University, and activists, with the People’s Park Community Advisory Board more or less calling the shots.

While the authorities still tread lightly around the park–lest the serpent rise again–they have been bolstered in the past year by their gains on the Avenue and in the area. They may also draw confidence from the hefty coalition of reactionary forces they have built up in the last several years, largely in the form of the Telegraph Area Association but, more recently, around the formation of the up and coming Southside Plan.

Nevertheless, Southside is long known to be unpredictable waters for the powers that be to navigate, and the war and recent troubles on campus suggest a future still up for grabs. One thing’s for sure: socially conscious people need to organize anew around the area if they want the historic gains of the past to be preserved and built upon.

The Avenue

The front-line battle of by whom and for what purpose Telegraph Avenue can be used is the still contested right of people to sit on the sidewalk. Though technically legal, it has been made increasingly difficult, and, at times, for all intents and purposes illegal due to the intensity of police harassment that befalls anyone gutsy enough to drop their bag and kick it. Police will do what it takes to make people not want to be there through intimidation, “hanging out” with them, or finding excuses to run warrant checks on people, hoping to get them on something else. Some people just don’t like to be around cops all the time, and who can blame them. The police’s mere presence is a violation of a person’s basic right to a stress-free and pleasant environment.

The biggest supporters of the ongoing high police presence on Southside are merchants looking to make a bigger buck, as well as UC administrators who hope to comfort university student’s parents by making the area look more like a suburb. However, let us not forget that more than a majority of the “progressive” city council supports the current level of policing, including local council member, Kriss Worthington, who last month told the Daily Californian that the city has “made significant progress” in dealing with Telegraph’s “public safety problems.”

A new group on the scene, the Southside Freedom Network, held two pickets of Telegraph businesses in April and May, targeting Cody’s, Amoebas, and Blake’s, but called for a more general boycott of Avenue businesses until the police state is lifted. In an interesting aside,

…During a Telegraph Area Association sponsored street fair to promote shopping in the area, several stands were permitted to sell beer to event goers on Durant near Telegraph, despite the fact that in the same area poor people are cited by the police on a daily basis and given $130 fines for trying to enjoy their “open container.”

The Southside Plan

Sure to push the boundaries of the current political configuration on Southside is the up and coming Southside Plan. With a draft of the plan due out in September, the Plan is an all-encompassing piece (and process) of social engineering, dominated by UC Berkeley’s Planning Department, but with a considerable and politically astute parceling out of interests to key constituencies. Both a master plan for gentrification and a UC land grab, the plan aims to totally marginalize the poor, the street community, and those who come to Telegraph for reasons other than spending money.

In less words, the plan calls for an increased privatization of the Avenue to merchant money-making interests and a greater shift in the geo-politics of the terrain away from its traditional role as a social arena for a liberatory counter-culture. Free spirits are written out of the Southside Plan entirely–apparently slated to be taken away by the police, as is already happening, for being “quality of life” criminals if they persist with their desire to inhabit public space as non-consumers.

The Plan rather ominously calls for an improvement in the “perception” of public safety in the area. An objective worded as such seems open for abuse and this is likely no accident. For what better an excuse to remove people from the area who are “perceived” to be dangerous. A special topic area on public safety is going to be included in the draft plan, though discussion topics dealing with public safety have been suspiciously absent from the many public workshops that have been held for the plan so far. Is public safety too controversial a subject for the public to discuss?

Another main feature of the Southside Plan is–surprise, surprise–development. Almost every empty lot and surface parking lot is slated for 4-plus story housing with or without commercial space at its base. Furthermore, one and two-story buildings are targeted to be replaced with taller ones and the over-all height zoning limit for the commercial area is expected to rise from 3-4 stories at present to 5-6 stories. This part of the plan has been referred to as a “Manhattanization” of the area.

While there is a need for more housing, taller, more imposing building structures–in combination with the other aspects of the plan–do not bode well for those out to enjoy the streets. Like the fact that there are no benches on the Avenue, and none included in the plan, no plans for additional open space, and coupled with the already increased levels of policing, a Manhattanization will surely contribute to the enclosure of the street community, to a psychologically more hostile urban environment, and for new restrictions on the use of sidewalks as fastlanes for getting to and from places–particularly into shops and spending money. Such a scenario, the “rat-maze effect”, would detract from the streets as places of enjoyment in and of themselves and transform them into mere corridors for shuffling a psychically dismembered populace to its next economic transaction.

The Park

In People’s Park a seemingly benign effort of late by city, university, and the more conciliatory of the park activists to make “improvements” in the park showed its true colors in recent months as the police swept in to do a little weeding and seeding of their own. Chancellor Berdahl’s timely comment about building a dorm on the park, while discounted as not a serious threat and more an effort to get students off his back, did also serve as an effective smoke screen to allow the area-wide increase in police patrols to enter the park–a university offensive, as it were, to neutralize any 30th anniversary rejuvenation. When the dust cleared, the free box had been moved, the free speech bulletin board vanished, the curb where people drop off free clothes was painted red, and cops galore.

In response, a few park activists built a new bulletin board and bench during the 30th anniversary concert. UC cops tore the bulletin board out the next morning, and when people showed up a week later to replace it, the police arrived immediately and cited People’s Park founder, Mike Delacour, for building without a permit. Even the bench was removed two weeks later, apparently suggesting UC thinks the days of user-development are over. Not so say park activists who have been organizing in recent weeks for a Day of User-Development set for Sunday, June 27.

One step in the wrong direction that the Park has been going of late is towards becoming just another park, like every other park. While such a notion rests well with those who fear someday losing the park altogether and would be a historic improvement over long-standing denial by UC of its status as anything more than a future UC development site, it is not the desired outcome. It would not be People’s Park.

People’s Park is something far grander. People’s Park, as envisioned by it’s founders, was (is?) a liberated piece of land. It is not merely a park, it’s a people’s park–a park that is of the people, that is not controlled by any outside entity, and that is based on the principles of user-development. At the same time, the people in the Park are not subjects of any governing body, of any entity–are not subjects. They are free people. The land and its people are not under the United States, the State of California, the City, the University, the County, the UN, or the People’s Park Advisory Board. People’s Park was ripped-off and never given back. It was reclaimed for the people, by the people, and for the earth. It is an autonomous zone, self-determined and self-determining. That said, People’s Park cannot be a normal park.

Not-So-Hidden Agenda

It would be one thing if the police were out actually only dealing with true problematic street behavior and legitimate threats to the public’s safety. In such a case we would be talking about a handful of individuals and relatively isolated incidents that happen usually late at night and on a dark side street.

What we are seeing carried out on Telegraph proper and in the vicinity on a daily basis is something quite different. The propaganda about crime and “perceived” threats to public safety are nothing more than that, propaganda and perceptions. It is extremely rare that a person walking on Telegraph Avenue or in People’s Park in the daytime, or even at night is going to be harmed in any way. Most fights that occur in the area are between people who know each other or drug dealers. Incidences in which complete strangers are attacked are almost non-existent.

What the police do, and the campaign they are currently carrying out, is really in an entirely different arena. It is a class-cleansing, a relocation program for poor people.


Southside and Beyond

As the People’s Park 30th Anniversary celebration approaches, the substantive issues and conflicts concerning the Park and the surrounding community are no less relevant now than they were in the past. Who controls the land, and how and by whom the streets are used, are issues still played out in the Southside political theater and elsewhere. They are issues that strike at heart of the kind of society we live in.

On one side of the conflict are the forces of repression, homogeneity and capitalist property relations. On the other you have utopian elements of personal freedom, universal community, and disregard for the dictates of outside authority and the rule of law. Merchants, the University, and the political machinations of the City of Berkeley are united in their constant quest for a definition of social order that defines away certain people and the legitimacy of the uses they have found for the streets and the Park.

Merchants vs. The People

1998 witnessed three waves of crackdown on Telegraph Avenue. The first in February at the height of El Nino, the second last summer–Operation Ave Watch which resembled more of a military occupation, and the third, also known as the November Round-up, a post-election wave of arrests mostly for marijuana. All three periods shared a common goal of ridding the area of people who merchants and the powers that be deem a detriment to economic viability. The police’s job is to do whatever they need to to harass–through arrest, intimidation, and selective enforcement of petty infractions–those people into leaving the area. The November Round-up in particular saw the issuance of many court ordered “stay away orders” for youths on the Avenue. People were also told privately by police officers that they should go to Oakland or San Francisco. Many went to downtown Berkeley.

While the first two crackdowns of ’98 saw the police acting largely on their own, though with the tacit support of City administrators and the Telegraph Area Association, the November Crackdown was unique in that it elicited almost universal institutional support. Even local Councilman Kris Worthington signed on to the use of police repression, moving two motions on the council floor (seconded by Maio) which authorized a larger police presence–in effect legislating the crackdown. Cody’s Books went beyond the call of duty and turned their third floor over to the Berkeley Police to use as a virtual substation for the month of November. It was there that numerous officers would gather in a kind of spy nest for one part of the crackdown, a buy-bust trap in front of Amoeba Records that netted over 50 young people, almost all for marijuana sales.

Berkeley’s Marijuana Initiative, passed in 1973, instructs Berkeley Police to make “no arrests and issue no citations for violations of marijuana laws.” Spending vast amounts of police resources on marijuana enforcement, as the Berkeley Police did in November, is a clear violation of this Initiative. It amounted to a ‘war on marijuana’ campaign by a “progressive majority” run City of Berkeley and the renowned ‘independent’ Cody’s Books.

Allies and Enemies

In January, the People’s Park free box was threatened with removal by the University of California responding to pressure from an allegedly new group on the Southside scene called ‘Safe Streets Now.’ This group of drug war/crime war boosters got neighbors to threaten UC with a lawsuit if they didn’t clean up People’s Park. In actuality, though, it was a convenient excuse to attack a certain class and race of people who hang out in the park and by the box and fits in perfectly with a UC supported master plan for economic cleansing of the area.

Another prong of attack coming from the establishment is the soon to be released Southside Plan. Judging by what has come out of two other recent City Plans–the West Berkeley Plan, which led to 4th Street’s redevelopment, and the Downtown Berkeley Plan which facilitated Shirley Dean’s revitalized (read chainstored) downtown–there is reason to fear a Southside Plan. The Southside Plan differs from the others, though, in that it is billed as a joint effort between the City and the University: the University being a big landowner in the area. In actuality though, the Plan is a joint venture between the University, who dominates the Plan’s process, and the Telegraph Merchants Association whose interests dominate the central theme of the Plan–profit.

Noteworthy in draft papers for the Plan is sentiment against young people and the homeless. An excerpt reads that “the area has periodically attracted large numbers of young non-students, accompanied by increases in drug trafficking and street crime…” as though all non-student youth can be equated with drug dealing and crime. Later it talks of the need to “address problems of crime, drugs, homelessness, noise and trash” as if homelessness is a problem like the others, not of people not having a home.

In an ‘Economic Development Issues Paper’ the “owners and managers of the largest businesses on Telegraph…say they need an older clientele who largely come from outside the Southside. Working adults have money to spend on their products while the younger people by and large don’t.” This sentiment may help some to explain the attacks on street youths that has been a major component of this year’s crackdown. From the merchants’ perspective, youth without a lot of money are useless and might as well be driven out of the area so that older people with money can be attracted. The entire Southside Plan and its process is dominated by commercial interests and the unspoken, though underlying, theme is how to make more money for Avenue merchants.

Police Solutions

The powers that be have persisted for more than a year now with their most recent efforts to rid Southside of that plague of humanity that was installed here by the political and countercultural movement of the 60s. But attempts to rid the area of the unwanted and unwashed are misguided, not only in terms of the immorality of wanting to exclude and discriminate against people based on class, race, or lifestyle, but also because it is not the way to a better society.

one of resources or knowledge. It is a problem of political power, of who makes decisions in this society and who doesn’t. The problem is with the owners of this capitalist state who run society as a workfarm for the rest–the working class.

The people in power who own and operate corporate America don’t care to cloth, feed and house the poor. It is in their interest that people be ground into so desperate a state they will be happy to work a dehumanizing job in order to buy back survival. Others are left to fester at a substandard level of existence as an example to the wage slave to keep working or else. The owning class need to attack, demonize, and criminalize the potential resisters to their scheme, for the denial of their humanity helps keep wages low. It is an intentionally disfunctional system perpetuated by the profiting class.

The Federal Problem

The ‘war on crime’ is thus a conscious, federally orchestrated war program that has been deliberately grafted onto this society because it serves a purpose for those in power. It’s a domestic war launched by the government whose target is not just a few bad apples, but really society itself. It is repression of and a clampdown on the entire population. When some people’s freedom is taken away, everyone is less free. When the standards for acceptable treatment of some people in society are lowered, the standards for all people are lowered. If they can come for you in the morning, they can come for me at night.

Crime hysteria now rules American society. Employing a war-level amount of media propaganda about drugs and crime as an ideological battering ram, the population has been successfully inculcated with the belief that the current or an even greater level of domestic security apparatus is necessary to ‘take back our streets.’ A police state consciousness has consumed us.

The 90′s will be remembered historically as the decade that saw the rise of the “criminal justice” system to the level of the preeminence in domestic social policy–the criminalization and confinement of American society, or a segment of that society. ‘Safe Streets Now,’ ‘Zero Tolerance for Crime,’ ‘War on Drugs’–these have become the dominant themes and programs of our time, to the exclusion of all others. The criminal justice system has silenced discussion and has defined the realm of the possible as so narrow that the only debates that can take place are between “more repression soon” and “way more repression immediately.” Anyone who disagrees is accused of being ‘soft on crime.’

The ‘war on crime’ in Oakland

I In his Campaign literature, Jerry Brown states that his ‘guiding principle’ as mayor will be ‘zero tolerance for Mme.’ Against a backdrop of ten years of state and federal anti-crime hysteria, and coupled with the ‘Bay Area’s ascendant housing and population crunch, Oakland’s poor, working class, and nonwhite are about to be squeezed out of existence.

I Ifs already happening. People are moving to California and the Bay Area in record numbers. People with money, up and coming young professionals, etc. are arriving and immediately getting priority in a tight housing market. With Berkeley and especially San Francisco gentrifying at an alarming rate, Silicon Valley and the South Bay going manic with the computer explosion, one must ask what’s next, or rather, what’s left. The answer is Oakland.

Wewstward HO

Did California’s coast just fall into the ocean? In terms of the housing crunch, property values, and migration westward and into the Bay Area, Oakland is being pushed from all sides. A major factor driving up housing costs is the booming economy in Silicon Valley which has created a sizable new class of people competing for housing who can afford to pay any large sum of money, and are willing to live as far away as–in fact may prefer to live–in San Francisco. Middle and upper-class yuppies are coming in and buying up the quainter and hip-or parts of The City and Berkeley and long term residents–people of color, unemployed, the lower section of working class–of San Francisco and other places are being forced out.

A survey to San Francisco Tenants Union cases shows that of tenants who changed their address in the past year, nearly half left San Francisco entirely. And where are those people going For people who like living in the Bay Area you can be sure they are heading to I the East Bay. And they are probably not except for the ones who can afford it–moving to Berkeley which, as Shirley Dean’s recent handy victory at the polls demonstrates, is also quickly filling up with yuppies and other middle-class spillovers from elsewhere. So that leaves Oakland.

the poorest are being literally made homeless; they are finding themselves being priced out of existence. What are people who can’t make it supposed to do? Is it just a coincidence that California is building 20 new prisons to warehouse the poor? We are witnessing a market-driven mass relocation program for the inner-city and Oakland’s new mayor elect looks poised to just make things worse.

The Uhuru Movement, a socialist Black power group that operates in Oakland, published a paper this Fall attacking mayor elect Brown’s anti-crime rhetoric and his goal, as they see it, of malting ‘Oakland ‘safe’ and pleasant for white people and investors by intensifying the policy of police containment and impoverishment of the African, Mexican, and other oppressed communities.’ They document Brown’s history, lifted from his campaign literature, in which he boasts of creating the ‘Crime Resistance Task Force to promote neighborhood watch [read snitch] programs and signed legislation establishing the state’s first career criminal prosecution programs’, which Uhuru claims laid the basis for the Three Strikes You’re Out laws.

Oakland’s growing number of would-be residents is creating a high demand for limited housing and driving rents and home prices way up. This is causing poor long-term residents to be pushed to the economic brink and to be forced out of their homes. But even before this current crisis, throughout this century, Oakland’s private housing has not been able to supply enough housing for the non-affluent classes. Severe housing shortages have been, since before Reaganomics, a permanent feature of the city s economy.

And even of people who manage to keep a roof over their head, most low-income renters in Oakland pay more than 30 percent of their income for housing, according to Jeff Levine of the Oakland Community and Economic Development Agancy. We’ve got twenty or thirty thousand people with serious housing problems.

What do you do when you are no longer able or allowed to live in the place you once called home? Well, if you can t make it legitimately in the system, it only makes sense that you are going to try and make it illegitimately outside of the system, if you are to survive. Crime is a survival strategy for the disenfranchised.

Crime Pays

Theft and drug dealing are two alternative sources of income people may turn to when the legal economy just isn t providing. The police, in fact the entire criminal justice apparatus, exists to criminalize, capture, regulate, and warehouse this whole section of people who has fallen through the cracks, this reserve or unneeded or problematic army of the proletariat. To take them out of the picture, to remove them from the rest of the population, to strew and involve their entire lives with the criminal-industrial complex, is the punishment they get for being poor.

The use of the police, courts, and prisons as the street sweepers of larger market-driven gentrification movements for economic cleansing are nothing new. In fact, in a larger sense you could say that is what the police, prisons, etc. are for. They are the ruling classes army to break the back of the poor class, and to keep it broken. To prevent it, even, from seeking medical attention. We need harm-reduction.

An economic harm-reduction perspective would view crime (the vast majority of which being economic crimes–theft, drug dealing, etc.) as symptoms of larger social illness. Poverty, an inequitable social order, and institutions of hate, degradation, and fear–notably, the capiatalist economic structure and the state itself–are to blame.

The modern urban police system was created in reaction to the riots of the 1830s, 40s, and 50s. Oakland’s police forces have consistently been used to protect the power position of both the business community and the city government itself. One function of police has been to weaken or eliminate organized labor s power of strike, and in Oakland, police have followed this national pattern. Police hostility has met any group moving militantly towards increased power for the powerless. Oakland’s police have served constantly to protect the interests of local property owners and have acted to limit the power of black people and labor.

The Uhuru Movement, a socialist Black-power group that operates in Oakland, published a paper this Fall attacking mayor-elect Brown s anti-crime rhetoric and his goal, as they see it, of making Oakland safe and pleasant for white people and investors by intensifying the policy of police containment and impoverishment of the African, Mexican, and other oppressed communities. They document Brown s history lifted from his campaign literature in which he boasts of creating the Crime Resistance Task Force to promote neighborhood watch [read snitch] programs and signed legislation establishing the state s first career criminal prosecution programs, which Uhuru claims laid the basis for the Three Strikes You re Out laws.

The Home Front

We live in a class society. The working class is a class which must work for a wage in order to buy back survival. When, for whatever reason, the bottom line doesn’t work out–when the difficulties encountered in earning money exceed the prospects for survival–that individual faces limited options, the most palatable of which often involves joining the ranks of the criminal element. Poverty and unemployment are necessary parts of the capitalist economic system. By the very logic of that system, a certain segment of the working class is positioned to become a criminal class.

The war on crime and the war on drugs are therefore domestic government wars on a certain class, a subset of the working class. In terms of that major component of the war on crime, the war on drugs, relatively little has been done to deal with the social aspects of drug use and addiction which disproportionatley affects the lower classes seeking a chemical escape from their economic nightmare. It’s been nearly four years since the crack epidemic hit and there is still not a single drug treatment program in Oakland that is specifically funded or designed to deal with cocaine addiction.

In coming mayor Jerry Brown and anyone else who supports a military solution to a social problem, the social problem of economic inequality, are supporters and perpetuators of the corporate state’s created human misery that is the status quo. Crime fighters are not neutral. They provide no real solutions and are de facto defenders of the system that generates crime–capitalism.

As middle-class people move into Oakland, they establish new standards for what constitutes attractive’ and safe and, in order to feel comfortable in their new neighborhood, they expand the police’s presence to push people out and transform the streets. Jerry Brown’s zero tolerance for crime mentality unites yuppie psychology and war tactics. It is a program for upper class colonization of working class neighborhoods.

Clean streets and safe streets are slogans for movements ideologically centered around the bourgeois home. When yuppies and other higher-income residents move in , they are frightened and demand police protection. They want to feel safe when they leave their home and must remove from the streets people not socially wedded to the illusions of the dictatorship of exchange under which they were able to succeed.

To develop a view of crime that differs from what 10 years of government sponsored war on drugs and war on crime hysteria and propaganda has inculcated into the population is a necessary task if we are to wind our way out of the matrix of incarceration that has enveloped this society. To develop a view of crime that differs from what 10 years of government sponsored war on drugs and war on crime hysteria and propaganda has inculcated into the population is a necessary task if we are to wind our way out of the matrix of incarceration that has enveloped this society. An anthropological study of a north of downtown Oakland neighborhood conducted in 1973 helps point us in the fight direction by providing evidence that constructs a theory of crime as not only a potential means to survival, but as a form of resistance. The study by UC Berkeley student, Darren Corn, focuses on a local gang nexus called the OTC (Oaktown Crips) and its relationship to the neighborhood it inhabits.

OTC Territory

The study found that the gang of young Laotian males who hung out and had an almost permanent presence on one part of a street maintained a relatively peaceful coexistence with the other people of the neighborhood. The only major complaints le@ed by the local residents concerned noise from hanging out. This situation was rare and would result in gang members being asked to keep it down as often as the police bang called.

The gang hangs out on the street, the analysis has it because the street is a place were something might happen. It is somewhere gang members can identify with, and it is a place were they can exert their power. The author of the study observes that the street is a familiar setting to the gang, to the ‘extent #at it is even like a home.” Given what we’ve already said about housing being a scarce commodity and that people pushed out onto the street are people who don’t command a high wage or a high degree of power with the system, a desire to exert power and a place to call home on the street is a logical outcome. The street is the domain of the OTC, of the gang, but it is at the same time the domain of people who haven’t anywhere else to go.

The study observes: Located in a neighborhood where there is little ownership of property by the residents, this form of possession takes on significant meaning. The OTC’s use of the street has effectively challenged the convention of who owns property and how it’s acquired. They have established squatter’s rights to this street and have made it their own, which is something that the people who live here have not been able to do.

The study goes on detail how that particular neighborhood is the site of a frontline gentrification battle, or in this case a redevelopment battle, to extend the northern edge of the Central Business District (CBD). Local speculative landowners allow houses to decline while renting them out and then eventually destroy them and level the lot to be sold off to developers.

The presence of the OTC on the street is an impediment to this scheme and police are regularly called in at the behest of the areas biggest landowner to chase people away. Gang members graffiti the area with their tag, engage in selective vandalism, and scatter when the police come a lookin’ for them. The most common criminal activity in the area being car stereo burglaries. Uniformity of clothing the gang members wear and the tags they leave in the neighborhood can be seen, in context, as a form of resistance to efforts to transform the area, it represents a unity of the dispossessed by signifying group identity and cohesion– in this case in direct contrast to the possessed. A quick look at these people identify them as a gang, especially in contrast to the majority of the people in the downtown who wear business attire. This creates strength through soldarity and is intimidating to others. In the context of the other things the OTC members do in the neighborhood, their intimidation powers are heightened.

Furthermore, their vandalism can be seen as a direct form of rebellion and power. Tags reclaim the neighborhood from the businesses by hanging the name of the OTC right on the buildings themselves, thereby symbolizing their territorial right to the area. The combined images of rebellion on the part of the OTC, along with their tolerance within the surrounding community, in conclusion, seriously questions the common idea that a gang is inherently bad.

Aspects of their existence that outsiders may view as being negative, can be seen as being beneficial to local residents. The gang can even be described, to some extent, as being protectors of the community. Actions that local property owners take to discourage people hanging out and engaging in vandalism, actions such as fortifying houses and fencing lots that would conventionally be viewed as solutions to petty crimes, can from another perspective can be seen as part of the larger problem of CBD intrusion into the neighborhood. Residents don’t worry too much about the OTC. They worry more about the encroachment of the CBD and the emminent end of their neighborhood.

Neo-liberal Raiders

Apparently, the latest push to gentrify Oakland is not unique to this area. If s part of what a Rutgers University professor and gentrification expert, Neil Smith, is calling the ‘class remake of the central urban landscape.’ ‘Evicted from the public and private spaces of what is fast ,becoming a downtown bourgeois playground, minorities, the unemployment and the poorest of the working class are destined “for large-scale displacement’ Smith says in -his recent book The New Urban Frontier.

Brown’s victory follows a trend in predominantly African cities across the country in which white mayors are once again replacing the black elected officials of the past several years. In Oakland, and elsewhere, white flight is being reversed.

As mayor, Brown plans to “fill every vacancy’ on the Oakland police force, to get ‘every penny of state, federal and foundation anti-crime money available to Oakland to make Neighborhood Crime Prevention Councils truly part of the fabric of each neighborhood.”

One of the first things he announced about his mayorship is that he plans to retain the current city manager, Robert Bobb. Bobb, who is known for his anti-homeless policies as city manager of Richmond, Virginia, came into Ns job in Oakland last November declaring that criminals had better get out of town, and was described by the San Francisco Chronicle as strolling into Oakland “like a new sheriff in town.”

Bobb wants to return to the days when police officers routinely stopped young people hanging out on street comers during school hours, and wants to prosecute parents of habitually truant students and merchants who allow young people to “loiter” around their stores when they are supposed to be in their shitty, oppressive schools.

Oakland is due to be transformed. Good, many may say. But the transformation will not be the one we need. More police to contain the social problems created by a social system that doesn’t have social progress as a goal does nothing to solve this society’s vast problems, it actually compounds those problems, and frustrates the generation of alternative solutions that could lift the populace out of this market matrix.

Exposing and rejecting the neo-liberal politics of Jerry Brown speaks to all the people of Oakland slated to be displaced by this new wave of gentrification, and as well to all people who struggle even on a good day against the state and capital from a position of weakness within the general economy. Justice was not made for all by the architects of this settler state and its descendent settler economic system.

Sadly, safe streets and gentrification are synonimous at this point and time in Oakland under the current market system. Crime and survival are likewise synonimous under the same system. Ideally, a radical political movement would spring to life to offer a third way out, but until then, anyone who believes in true social justice must choose the criminal over the yuppie and the criminal over the cop. Jerry Brown, Gray Davis, Dan Lungren, and the entire chorus of political establishmentarians who support the war on crime, the expansion of the state’s criminal prosecution apparatus, or any part of this empire’s prison-industrial complex, support the system in its entirety and must be held accountable for any of its injustices.

Social power to the criminals, the gangs, the prisoners–the bottom class.

1. San Francisco Bay Guardian, October 7, 1998. The Cleansing of San Francisco, p. 17
2. Hayes, Edward. Power Structure and Urban Policy: Who Rules in Oakland. McGraw Hill, 1972, p. 55
3. Guardian. The East Bay Effect, by A. Clay Thompson, p. 39
4. Hayes, p. 37,39
5. Freedom First! …Then Peace will Last, Vol. 1, No.1, Fall 1998. p. 1
6. East Bay Express, October 9, 1998. The Other Epidemic: Fatal Encounters with Crack, by Dashka Slater, p. 14
7. Mob Rule, #2, San Jose, CA. The Pigs and Downtown, p. 8
8. Mob Rule, p. 3,7,9
9. Living on the Edge: A Study of Conflicts and Resistance in an Oakland Neighborhood. Peace and Conflict Studies Department honor s theses
10. S.F. Chronicle, October 6, 1998. p. A17-18

Living Wage Movement

A movement to significantly raise the minimum wage to a “living wage” is catching on across the country, raising the standard of living for hundreds of thousands of workers. At least 18 cities, including Oakland, San Jose, Los Angeles, and Boston, have already enacted living wage legislation, and campaigns in over a dozen more are being waged by coalitions of organized labor and community groups.

Living wage laws usually state that the wage earned must be enough to sustain a family of 3-4 above the federal poverty line ($16,400 for a family of four.) Currently, workers who earn the current federal minimum wage of $5.15 an hour make an average of only $10,700 a year. Most ordinances apply to all employers who contract with or receive substantial tax incentives or subsidies from the city government. The rates vary from city to city.

San Jose’s tentatively passed living wage ordinance is the nation’s highest minimum passed so far at $12.50 an hour with benefits, and $15 without. Oakland by contrast passed a similar ordinance in April that guarantees city contract workers $8 an hour with benefits and $9.25 without. L.A. and Pasadena are requiring $7.25 w/benefits, $8.50 w/out. Other cities weigh in at: Boston $8.2; Portland $7; Baltimore $7.10; Milwaukee $6.05; Jersey City, NJ $7.50; Des Moines $9; and Santa Clara County, CA at $10 w/health benefits. Some ordinances concern only wages, others just benefits, while still others set minimum standards for both. Most include a package of both.

In San Francisco, a living wage resolution is pending before the Board of Supervisors, having been sent to the Finance Committee for approval by a newly created living wage task force. The Association of Bay Area Governments has said that a Bay Area single parent with one child must earn $14.50 an hour to stay above the poverty line. Living wage advocates in San Francisco say a law there would need to set wages near $10 an hour, almost twice the current minimum wage. If the task forces derails the movement, advocates say they will put an initiative on the ballot. The Board is expected to vote on a study proposal at its November 23 meeting.

The ordinances normally apply only to businesses which contract for or receive in assistance a minimum $25-100,000 from the city and have more than say 25 employees. Oakland’s ordinance, while not the highest in pay, is one of the most comprehensive in other ways. Employees of qualifying firms, agencies and non-profit organizations are ensured of at least 12 days of compensated days off per year for sick, personal, or vacation leave and 10 days of uncompensated time off per year for other reasons. And in Boston, covered employers must use community-based hiring halls and cannot displace employees covered by collective bargaining agreement.

While efforts to create a living wage have received substantial support from unions around the country, needless to say business interests haven’t been so supportive. Steve Tedesco, president of the San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce, said that San Jose’s living wage ordinance would cause a domino effect in the city, with unions demanding more money from companies that otherwise would not be affected by it.

“There is going to be a ripple effect on labor contracts,” he said. None of the living wage ordinances applies explicitly to workfare workers. This has presented problems in Baltimore, where the city is undermining the intent of the ordinance by hiring workfare workers instead of contract employees. It is also important for ordinances to consider annual rises in the cost of living without the necessity of obtaining legislative revisions.

This September, the U.S. Senate rejected a $1 election-year increase in the federal hourly minimum wage pushed by Sen. Edward Kennedy. By a 55-44 vote, senators killed the proposal, which would have raised the minimum wage earned by some 12 million Americans to $6.15 on Jan. 1, 2000. The first 50-cent increase would have taken effect next New Years.

Weekly wages for average American workers are about 14% below 1973 levels, adjusting for inflation. In the last few decades the United States has been redistributing wealth away from workers. The average CEO made 326 times the pay of factory workers last year, up from 1980, when CEOs made 42 times as much. The net worth of the bottom 40 percent of households in 1995 was 80 percent less than in 1983.

Labor, in a market system, is just another commodity; the wage a woman or man commands has nothing to do with how much she or he needs to support a family or to feel part of the broader society. The living wage movement is simply a way to raise the minimum wage through local action.

“It smacks of socialism to me,” said City Councilman Robbie who recently opposed Greensboro, North Carolina’s living wage drive.

There are other strategies to consider. Berkeley’s recent measure to shorten the work week with no loss in pay would in effect raise the minimum wage, with the added bonus of spreading work around to more people, thereby reducing competition for jobs and unemployment. Another strategy would be state-wide and national calls for a guaranteed job at a living wage for all people who want one. Or how about sweeping aside the wage system all together in favor of an economy based on voluntary association.

To get involved in the living wage movement locally, contact: Temp Workers Union, 1095 Market Street, Suite 616, San Francisco, CA 94103. For local contacts of ongoing campaigns elsewhere, contact ACORN at 202-547-2500.