Chill Out About First Fridays

It would be a big mistake for Oakland to eliminate its monthly street party. Plus, a new scathing report of OPD and a controversial oyster farm loses in court.


When two fans were shot at Candlestick Park in 2011, no one talked publicly about ending professional football games in San Francisco. Nor was there any such call after one fan stabbed another while both were on their way to a 49ers game in 2012. The same was true after drunken fans rioted following the Giants’ World Series victory last fall. No one publicly called for fewer baseball games in the city or the elimination of them. Yet in Oakland, some people have been suggesting over the past several days that the city should curtail or put an end to the monthly First Friday street party after a young man was fatally shot and three others were wounded on February 1.

Why the difference? Why do we shrug our shoulders when people shoot, stab, and assault each other during and after sporting events, but then freak out when violence occurs during a city’s celebration of its cultural nightlife? It’s a strange dynamic. Part of it likely has to do with people’s perception of Oakland — that it’s a dangerous place, a city with too much violence to allow large monthly gatherings of people to drink and get rowdy on city streets.

And yet while Oakland does have a serious violent crime problem, it would be a mistake for the city to downsize or eliminate First Fridays — just as it would be for any other city to eliminate sporting events when fans get out of control. First Fridays bring a vibrancy and excitement to Oakland, not to mention economic activity. Thousands of people, including families with kids, come to celebrate the city’s uptown and downtown districts, filling restaurants and bars and checking out art galleries.

That’s not to say that Oakland shouldn’t do as much as possible to ensure safety — it should. The city should also reach out to other cities that have similar celebrations and to the organizers of sporting events and concerts to learn best practices for keeping eventgoers safe. Working with bars and liquor stores to limit alcohol sales, especially later in the evening, would be a good step as well.

But no matter what Oakland or any other city does, the cold hard truth is that we live in a violent, gun-plagued society. And when large numbers of people come together, some of them act violently — whether it’s at a First Friday celebration or outside a sporting event. Anyone who has been to an Oakland Raiders game is fully aware of this reality.

It’s also true that if Oakland is going to reduce violence in the city — whether by hiring more cops, getting more guns off the streets, or improving violence prevention programs — it needs tax revenues to do it. As such, Oakland needs more events that bring economic vitality to the city, not fewer of them.

Don’t Trust OPD or the Mayor

The latest scathing report from Robert Warshaw, the independent monitor overseeing the Oakland Police Department, proves definitively that OPD desperately needs new leadership. And hopefully that will come soon when federal Judge Thelton Henderson appoints a compliance director who will have sweeping powers over the police department. But that’s not all that Warshaw’s report proved. It also showed that Oakland Police Chief Howard Jordan and Mayor Jean Quan cannot be trusted when it comes to OPD’s performance in dealing with police officer misconduct.

Over the past year, Jordan and Quan have repeatedly claimed that OPD was making “progress” toward finally living up to court-mandated reforms. Quan made that assertion again at a January 23 press conference. “The reality is that we’re making progress; this police department is changing,” she said.

But according to Warshaw, OPD’s compliance with the federal consent decree actually decreased for the second quarter in a row. Warshaw wrote that the incomplete tasks deal with “critical supervisory and investigative tasks” which are “at the very core of Constitutional policing.”

Jordan’s response to a portion of Warshaw’s report also was troubling. On its website, the Express reported (as did several other news outlets) that Warshaw had singled out an incident in which two cops pointed their guns at a sleeping nineteen-month-old child while investigating a misdemeanor crime. Jordan responded by contending that the officers were justified in brandishing their weapons, because he said they were searching a home that had been associated with drug dealing. He also asserted that officers never purposely “trained” their weapons on the kid.

In short, Jordan made excuses. And he failed to address the fact that Warshaw, a former police chief, had also contended that the incident was one of several committed by OPD that included “an unnecessary escalation to potentially using lethal force in situations where other less lethal force options were available to the officers or should have been considered.”

A Win for the Environment

A federal judge effectively green-lighted the creation of the first marine wilderness on the West Coast earlier this week when she denied a request by an oyster farm to remain open. The ruling by district Judge Yvonne Gonzales Rogers also effectively dismissed the lawsuit filed by Drakes Bay Oyster Company against US Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. Gonzales Rogers ruled that the federal courts do not have the legal authority to overturn Salazar’s decision to not renew the oyster farm’s lease at Point Reyes National Seashore.

Kevin Lunny, the owner of the oyster farm, is expected to appeal the judge’s decision. He is being represented by a Washington, DC nonprofit that has ties to the ultra-conservative Koch Brothers and the Republican Party, both of which have sought to strengthen the rights of private businesses that operate on public land.