Oakland hires ‘Stop-and-Frisk’ Bill Bratton to fight crime
By Dave Roberts
Oakland’s website prominently touts that it has been ranked by the New York Times as the fifth best place in the world to visit. It beat out every other North American city as well as Tokyo, Florence and Vienna. The Times praises Oakland’s sophisticated restaurants and upscale bars, which are “turning once-gritty Oakland into an increasingly appealing place to be after dark.”
Appealing, perhaps, if you’re a thrill seeker who agrees with Winston Churchill that “there is nothing more exhilarating than to be shot at without result.”
Oakland is the most dangerous large city in California and one of the most dangerous large cities in the nation. There were nearly 17 violent crimes per 1,000 Oakland residents in 2011, more than triple the rate in Los Angeles, according to the FBI. Violent crime increased 23 percent last year over 2011. Last year 126 people were murdered in Oakland compared to 103 murders in 2011, according to police. This year could be worse. Four people were shot to death in Oakland in the space of just six hours on Jan. 11.
Police officers are finding themselves outmanned and outgunned. Last week two cops were shot in the line of duty, one in the arm and the other in the leg. Budget cuts have reduced the force to about 615 officers from a high of 837 officers in 2008, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
City officials have finally had enough and are determined to fight back. However, they have been forced not only to fight the criminals and gangs, but also a large contingent of their own citizens who fear and hate Oakland police officers more than they do criminals.
Leftists and anarchists
They are radical leftists and anarchists, many of whom participated in Occupy Oakland, which took over the plaza in front of City Hall in 2011. Since then they have organized numerous demonstrations, shut down the Port of Oakland on several occasions, held sit-ins and disrupted City Council meetings. Their purpose, according to their website, is to “plan actions, mobilize real resistance, and defend ourselves from the economic and physical war that is being waged against our communities.” They are frequently joined by their comrades from Critical Resistance.
The latest battles have been waged over city officials’ plan to hire former New York and Los Angeles Police Chief Bill Bratton as a consultant, advising Oakland police on how to get a handle on crime, despite limited resources.
When the $250,000 contract came before the council’s Public Safety Committee on Jan. 15, activists did their best to replace democracy with mobocracy. Hundreds protested at a rally in front of City Hall before the meeting, then packed the council chambers where a councilman “struggled to hold back the crowd, who hissed, meowed, shouted and heckled city officials and supporters of Bratton,” according to the Chronicle.
Only the brave have dared to go against the mob. Such as the man who spoke at another rowdy Public Safety Committee meeting last year, saying, “It’s not fair to the public to have this kind of unruly behavior, which really borders on terrorism actually.” That sent the crowd into a frenzy and one guy got in his face and threatened, “Get your ass out of here. You can’t talk. You’re not going to make it home.”
As the crowd chanted “F— the police,” the chairman shut down the meeting. She and the brave man received a police escort out of the building.
City officials are starting to smarten up about crowd control. Before the Jan. 22 meeting in which the whole council considered Bratton’s contract, several council members sent out emails to supporters suggesting that they arrive early so that the protesters would not take up all of the seats in the council chamber. Many of those seats were instead filled by pastors and church members who support cracking down on crime. Most of the protesters were forced into four overflow rooms to watch the proceedings on TV. But hundreds still spoke, often shouting their opposition to Bratton in a nine-hour meeting that ended after 2 a.m.
Their main beef with Bratton is that he champions a policy allowing police to stop, question and, if necessary, frisk someone if there’s a suspicion that he’s engaged in or about to commit a crime. Commonly known as “stop-and-frisk,” the practice has allowed police in New York City, where Bratton pioneered the technique, to become proactive, deterring crime rather than simply responding after the fact. Some supporters say it really should be called “stop-question-and-frisk,” because questioning usually is enough.
“Stop-and-frisk is not something that you can stop,” Bratton recently told the Wall Street Journal. “It is an absolutely basic tool of American policing. It would be like asking a doctor to give an examination to you without using his stethoscope.”
And it’s been effective. There were more than 2,200 murders in New York City before Bratton took over as top cop in 1994. Two years later, murders had fallen by 39 percent, robbery 31 percent, burglary 25 percent and car theft 36 percent, according to the Journal.
The problem, as far as the protesters are concerned, is that black and Latino males are the ones most likely to be stopped and frisked, which they consider racial profiling. What they’re unwilling to acknowledge is that minority males, especially blacks, are more likely to engage in crime than other groups. For example, blacks comprise 23 percent of New York’s population, but they committed 80 percent of the shootings in 2011, according to the Journal.
A Manhattan judge, according to BET.com, recently ruled that stop-and-frisk is unconstitutional. The judge said, “While it may be difficult to say where, precisely, to draw the line between constitutional and unconstitutional police encounters, such a line exists, and the NYPD has systematically crossed it when making trespass stops.” It’s likely that the issue will eventually be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court, where Bratton predicts stop-and-frisk will be upheld.
No racial profiling
Oakland officials support Bratton while insisting they adamantly oppose racial profiling.
In a Jan. 18 open letter to the City Council, Mayor Jean Quan praised Bratton “as among the best minds in modern policing. His record is clear: as a chief in New York City and Los Angeles, he oversaw record drops in crime that were consistent and sustained. … We’ve been hearing worries that Bratton’s past policies could be used in Oakland in a way that contributes to racial profiling. I want to address those concerns in the clearest words I can find: racial profiling will not be tolerated in the Oakland Police Department. Period.”
She noted that Bratton’s tenure as Los Angeles police chief from 2002-09 was so effective the Los Angeles ACLU director called his leaving “a terrible loss,” adding that complaints about the police had dropped from more than 10,000 per year to “a trickle.” Homicides dropped 41 percent and overall serious crime was down 33 percent during his time in Los Angeles, according to Bratton.
Oakland Police Chief Howard Jordan, who is black, in his presentation to the council also emphasized his opposition to racial profiling. “I do not support it and won’t condone it,” he said. “We will stop people based on reasonable suspicion.” He also stressed Bratton will only be making recommendations, and that the implementation of policy changes would have to go through him (Jordan) and the mayor.
Of course, one person’s “reasonable suspicion” may be another person’s “racial profiling.” Not surprisingly, the protesters were not mollified by the chief’s words.
“I’m sad and scared to be having a black boy in Oakland,” a pregnant Jessica Hollie told the council. “I was sitting outside a café after a rally. Two boys were walking past me. An OPD officer slams on his brakes and looks at these two boys. I said, ‘They didn’t do anything. They are just walking while black.’ All of a sudden the officers hit a U-turn and with their guns on them screamed for them to get on the ground. Because they were black and have a blue t-shirt on, that’s how they were treated. I don’t want the police to criminalize my son because they hate his father and tear gas him on May Day. We don’t trust the police.”
Police victim martyr
Also mistrustful is Adam Blueford, who is black and whose 18-year-old son Alan was shot and killed by an Oakland police officer last May. The officer was cleared in the shooting because Blueford had pointed a gun at him. The incident began when Blueford and two others were stopped by police on suspicion they were engaging in a drug deal. Blueford ran and was chased by an officer, which led to the shooting.
His father told the council that Alan “was racially profiled before he was murdered. This stop-and-frisk thing will blow up in your face. Our kids will be killed in the streets of Oakland [by the police]. Are we really here to sell our kids out? To ride up on someone for no reason at all, take their rights away from them, be able to harass them, is really wrong for Oakland. Oakland is a diverse crowd of people. Eighty percent of the people who get racially profiled are black and brown kids. Stop-and-frisk is a way to have more people killed and put in jail and a lot more problems for Oakland. Martin Luther King fought and marched for our rights. We can’t give away our rights for our kids. We are Americans, we are free. If you stop someone any time you want to, you have taken away their freedom.”
Alan Blueford has become a martyr for the activists, who cited him frequently throughout the evening. None of them mentioned the 125 other people who were killed last year in Oakland, many of them gang members or innocent people caught in the crossfire. The job of remembering them was left to a group of pastors who support hiring Bratton as a consultant.
“Black and brown boys are dying in the street,” said the Rev. Bob Jackson. “Gunshots every night. We know they don’t have enough police officers to protect and serve the community. 911 calls go unanswered. Automatic weapons are being used in our community. I have to go through this almost every day in the East Oakland area. Families with broken hearts. The mothers, siblings, they have such a hard time with their family members being gunned down senselessly in our streets. It’s just a war zone that’s going on. We need a strategist who can help us keep the public safe in the city. I’m for Bill Bratton coming in. It’s time for us to do something. Desperate times has to do with desperate measures.”
Another pastor told the council, “You should be in my place where a sobbing mother falls into your arms and all she can say is, ‘My baby, my baby, they killed my baby.’ It behooves us to come together as a city as we have never came together before. It behooves us from the hills to the flatlands to say we will no longer tolerate the level of violence in the city.”
The council agreed, voting 7-1 to authorize the contract for Bratton and his associates. After they took the vote, one woman shouted, “Shame on you!”
May 18, 2013