There’s been a lot of ink lately about a perceived police shortage in Oakland. This for a department whose motto already seems to be, “This is Oakland: we have bigger things to deal with.” Voters passed an initiative to fund more police, but the actual number of officers is declining because not enough eligible people are applying for the jobs. City hall apologists explain that too many candidates are lost to competition with the military and private firms, but critics say that no one wants to do this work in an ungrateful and dangerous city.
So if a lot of cops don’t want to police Oakland, and a lot of Oaklanders don’t want to be policed, what is keeping this historic consensus from moving forward? An increase in homicide and other violent crime is being blamed on the police shortage (even though this is happening nationwide as the country crumbles), and as usual pundits emphasize that more “beat” officers will stop people from attacking each other with impunity.
A lot of people, ranging from liberals who think social programs are the answer to all of society’s problems to anarchists who want to replace all the perceived useful functions of the cops with grass-roots collectives, believe that we should deal with the excessive violence with some other method rather than throwing more police at the problem. Yet a previous ballot initiative, funding such programs with a little thrown in for more cops, barely failed, while measure Y which barely passed funded a bunch of police with some programs tagged on. Part of the problem was that more people didn’t understand what the programs were and how they would help; I don’t have a clue myself actually.
Besides the convenience this creates for graffiti artists, squatters and other riff-raff, we’ve come upon an ideal time for anti-authoritarian radicals to talk to their neighbors and develop non-statist approaches to street security. Coming from a radical perspective means that we are interested in DIY autonomous measures, not to be confused with “watch” programs that inform to the police to protect property values and conspicuous consumption. The question is how to protect everyone, especially the most marginalized and vulnerable from grievous harm.
I’m always annoyed by Slingshot articles that proclaim what everyone else needs to do in mass cohesion, when the author hasn’t done anything. They should do it themself first and then write an article about their adventure (and why they know everyone else should do this in light of their experience). So I regret saying the preceding, which must be expressed this way because it’s only people staying in one place with roots in the same Oakland Flats neighborhood for years, seeing the same neighbors every day, a description that hasn’t been me in over four years, who can follow my suggestions. While few Slingshot readers live in the far-Eastern avenues, many have dwelt for years in outer West Oakland, the other hotspot.
But I’m also suggesting to others because time is running out. Like the other symptom of Brown-era municipal collapse, the school system, the vacuum can be filled by State or Federal control. After all, why was the military practicing invasions in Oakland a few years back? And currently most police applicants are screened and rejected, many for reasons we would agree with. If they deal with the problem by letting more questionable people join the force, or importing applicants living in far-flung reactionary suburbs, life here could become more challenging. Another solution from columnist Douglas Allen-Taylor in the Berkeley Daily Planet is a police hiring blitz in the inner city, diverting potential gangland enforcers into law enforcement.
While this is unlikely, it’s still important for the anarchists to reach these kids first. I know of a couple households who are open and caring, with firm boundaries, to the most troubled kids in the neighborhood, and this will certainly make a difference later on. If you happen to like government-based prevention programs, it’s time to invest in grassroots collectives, because the way local governments invent and fund programs is by imitating the people, since they don’t know what to do themselves.
Besides prevention, it also makes sense to put energy into “restorative justice” resolution systems, and domestic violence rapid response teams. But if everyone’s not comfortable with everything, we can leave the occasional maniac with a sawed-off shotgun to the Oakland PD for now. The bad guys on TV are only a small part of urban violence; it’s building community that will do the most towards safer and saner neighborhoods.