What would you do if you had $130 million to improve your community?
That’s the question that Defund OPD, a grassroots community group, will be asking residents of Oakland in a variety of creative ways in the coming months.
In the last issue of UltraViolet, we ran down the escalating series of scandals that brought down three Oakland police chiefs in quick succession and caused a momentary crisis for mayor libby schaaf. Out of the mist of all this corruption emerged Defund OPD, whose goal is to cut the police budget ($261 million for 2016-17) in half by demonstrating that communities are better able to handle most problems than the police, with far less lethal consequences.
Oakland’s 2016-17 proposed budget includes $260 million for police, which is equal to the budgets for Park & Rec ($27 million) + Economic & Workforce Development ($18 million) + Libraries ($32 million) + Housing & Community Development ($18 million) + a lot of other stuff. Oakland spends 40-45% of its general fund revenues annually on police (it fluctuates year by year and exact numbers are hard to come by). That’s more than twice the percentage spent on cops in Los Angeles and Baltimore, and nearly twice the percentage in Detroit. Yet Oakland’s “violent crime rate” – whatever that means – is nearly three times L.A.’s and a little higher than Baltimore’s. In fact, Oakland has one of the worst “returns on investment” for its spending on police in the country, according to a site called Wallethub. At the same time, according to research by the East Bay Express, law enforcement agencies have killed at least 90 Oakland residents since 2000, 74% of whom have been Black. “More Black residents were killed by police in Oakland than in any other California city besides Los Angeles, which is nearly ten times larger.… Fatal encounters involving Black Oakland residents are also much higher than other U.S. cities with similarly large Black populations,” wrote the reporters.
Defund OPD has a two-pronged strategy: to work with supportive community organizations and nonprofits and establish a hotline in one police precinct to divert calls that would otherwise go to police. Although this is still in the exploratory stages, North Oakland has been identified as a possible area to target, as it is one that has a lot of social justice organizations and is being actively gentrified.
The other strategy is to popularize the idea of defunding the police and investing in community, by highlighting stories of demilitarization, restorative justice interventions and deescalation, and training people to handle conflicts or perceived threats without involving the police. Defund OPD intends to raise interest in these issues by staging creative space takeovers, art installations, guerrilla “don’t call the cops” workshops in places where gentrifiers and long-term Oakland residents mingle, and other creative tactics. We are planning to kick this off during the 120 Hours to Resist Fascism and Reclaim MLK, which begins January 16 (MLK Day) and goes through inauguration day, January 20, in Oakland. It’s our hope that #DefundThePolice will become a national movement to move from militarization to safety.
Check us out on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DefundOPD/ or look for us on the street in January to get involved.