From our homes to our jobs to our classrooms to the streets, the people are demanding liberation.
Liberation from fear that our Black, Indigenous and loved ones of color won’t make it home safely or see another day. Liberation from violence inflicted by law enforcement, from our institutions, from our neighbors living in the unconsciousness of anti-Blackness and white nationalism fueled by Trump. Liberation so that our communities exist in a world where Black lives more than matter. Where Black people are seen, loved and listened to without erasure.
How do we know we’re making progress? Yesterday, Oakland City Council unanimously approved the creation of a task force with the goal of redirecting 50 percent of Oakland Police Department’s resources to fund city services and programs that address the root causes of violence and crime.
In other words, our elected officials committed to working towards moving $150 million of OPD’s $330 million allocation to mental health services; youth programs; safe, affordable and stable housing; homeless solutions; and high quality job opportunities in the next City budget cycle. The task force structure centers around families that have experienced police violence, youth, formerly incarcerated individuals, immigrants and other marginalized individuals.
These community members will advise the Council to create a comprehensive set of recommendations to shift policing resources, which currently make up 44 percent of Oakland’s general purpose fund. This is a significantly higher share than other cities of comparable population size: Atlanta is spending 30 percent of its FY 2020–21 general fund, Baltimore 26 percent, Detroit 30 percent and Nashville 21 percent.
This monumental achievement was hard-earned through the people’s passion and participation. Hundreds of public comments during every City Council and Police Commission meeting since the murder of George Floyd have overwhelmingly and forcefully demanded that the City of Oakland reevaluate its public safety priorities and reallocate its precious resources towards the root causes of violence, and towards a more just and equitable city.
Long before the recent swell in consciousness for Black Lives, community organizers in Oakland—Black women in particular—have laid the groundwork for the change we’re now seeing:
Ten years ago, the Black Organizing Project began working to achieve Oakland Unified School District’s recent decision to eliminate school police, while influencing the national movement towards police-free schools. Five years ago, the Anti Police-Terror Project began its campaign to divest from Oakland police and reinvest in our community.
In Oakland, we can achieve true community safety and healing; and cultivate relationships of care, trust, prevention and wellness, rather than enforcement and punishment. Oakland is rich in community leaders who’ve built and led movements throughout our history. The people of Oakland are showing how to secure and expand space at the table and in decisions, even when it seems we were never meant to be invited.
The people are demanding systemic change and evolving the status quo. We are in the midst of it in Oakland. And as we move forward together—even with many challenges ahead—we are reassured by another Oakland leader, Assata Shakur: “We have nothing to lose but our chains.”
If you are interested in participating in the task force, email [email protected]. Cat Brooks is co-founder of the Anti Police-Terror Project, Jackie Byers is executive director of the Black Organizing Project and Nikki Fortunato Bas is councilmember of Oakland’s District 2.