By Anika Khubchandani and Monica Han
OAKLAND, CA – In the aftermath of the brutal murder of George Floyd at the hands of a police officer, the “defund the police” movement gained immense traction—the Oakland Police Department no less of a target.
Last summer, the Oakland City Council announced its “ambitious goal” to reduce the police budget in half and “invest the savings in social services.”
Cat Brooks, a prominent actress, playwright, co-founder of the Anti Police-Terror Project, and Oakland community member and activist, explained how the city of Oakland did the exact opposite.
The Oakland Police Department will get a fund increase of tiny $9 million on top of its $300 million annual budget. The number will only grow in correlation to the continuous surge in uses of force and police overtime costs.
Despite claims of Oakland lacking “additional resources to help address public safety,” Brooks points out that Oakland is, in fact, actively investing in public safety.
MACRO, for example, is an Oakland model that emphasizes mental health crises without involving law enforcement. It demonstrates efficiency in addressing target concerns, as only four percent of OPD calls in 2019 were for violent crime, whereas 10 percent were for mental health crises and medical services.
Violence interrupters also include experts at Urban Peace Movement, BOSS, Community Ready Corps and Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice that outweigh crime prevention over crime reaction.
The $18 million that was proposed, not taken away, to be given to the police in the next budget cycle will be invested instead into “violence prevention, mental health support services, the arts, and caring for the unhoused.”
“We should be celebrating the launch of this new paradigm,” Brooks insists, but she’s cautious at the same time about how the “truth-twisting rhetoric” surrounding the news might induce further concerns, arousing public fear and alarm.
Councilmember Loren Taylor released a statement claiming that the passed budget “did not center the voices of the most impacted people.” Instead, it would endanger the residents, specifically in districts such as East Oakland that maintain the high concentrations of African Americans, by enabling disinvestment trends to continue.
According to Brooks, this couldn’t be further from the truth—grassroots coalitions that pushed for this budget did so with regard for the thousands of residents in the community who are supportive of this investment.
While Oaklanders certainly have been victims of disinvestments in budgets and services, the massive amount of OPD funding contributed little to keeping constituents safe from street violence. The same constituents, in fact, have been victims of police violence, Brooks said.
Oakland currently records twice the number of homicides, at 65, as compared to last year. Police have not been able to react adequately in containing the crime surge.
Data, meanwhile, presents an inverse relationship between investment in community-centered services and violence.
According to a study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, “No sector alone can prevent violence. Cities need integrated strategic plans and coordinated efforts across multiple sectors.”
This evokes strong attention for those like Brooks, who grew up in an impoverished community with a single working mother and a father who had been separated from her due to substance abuse issues.
A single working mother herself, Brooks too suffers as a vulnerable member in a community which “suffer[s] under the boot of police violence” and “street violence.”
Brooks believes that the City Council is presenting an opportunity for Oakland to reimagine the public safety task force. It is critical, then, that the “fear-mongering” does not get in the way of implementation and progression, she maintains.