August 11, 2023
The Root Cause of Oakland's Public Safety Crisis
Cynthia Adams, President of the Oakland Branch of the NAACP
Bishop Bob Jackson, Senior Pastor, Acts Full Gospel Church
In a recent email blast, Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao said she wants to solve our crime crisis, in part, by looking into the root cause of criminal behavior. We know there are many reasons why people commit crime. But nothing justifies robbing, mugging, and killing innocent people.
So, with that out of the way, let’s look at a different kind of root cause for today’s public safety crisis in Oakland. In January 2023 newly elected Mayor Sheng Thao placed former Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong on administrative leave and fired him in February 2023.
The NAACP Oakland Branch, clergy, current and former Oakland city council members, African American, Chinatown, and Latino Chambers of Commerce, and residents from many diverse ethnic groups launched protests demanding that Armstrong be kept in his position.
To the protesters, Armstrong was an extraordinary chief who was exactly what Oakland always wanted. He was a person of color, grew up in Oakland, knew the city and worked well with people from different cultures. He did an exemplary job of bringing constitutional policing to the city, while reducing crime. Unfazed, Mayor Thao stood by her decision.
Since Armstrong was fired, “the City of Oakland is in the throes of a crime wave that has reached alarming proportions in 2023. With over 2,000 robberies marking a 24% increase, more than 400 carjackings reflecting a 16% surge, and an astounding 10,000+ burglaries, a staggering 42% rise, the situation has escalated into a public safety crisis that demands
immediate attention.” Oakland Police Officers Association Press Release, August 8, 2023.
The East Bay Times reports that “people are 2 1⁄2 times more likely to be a victim of a violent crime in Oakland than in San Francisco and three times more likely than in San Jose. Becoming a property crime victim is “1.7 times more likely in Oakland than in San Francisco and four times more like than in San Jose.” Dan Bornstein, July 29, 2023.
But statistics don’t fully tell the horror of what’s happening in the city. Every day brings new reports of violent crimes. Innocent people, including a pregnant woman and several children have been shot while riding in cars on the streets and freeways of Oakland. Seniors have been viciously beaten during armed robberies. Targeted women have been beaten, kicked, stomped on, and had their hair pulled out during vicious strong-arm robberies. San Francisco Chronicle, July 21, 2023.
It has been seven months since the Mayor fired Armstrong. The city has still not hired a new police chief. The Mayor blames the failure on the Police Review Commission (PRC), who, by law, must recommend a panel of three candidates from which the Mayor may select a chief. Members of the PRC blame the Mayor and each other for the delay. PRC internal disputes have devolved into wretched name calling and lawsuits that claim that members have a conflict of interest.
In our first open letter released on July 27, 2023, we urged Oakland leaders to declare a public safety emergency and deploy massive resources to solve the problem. The Mayor has been out of the country and the City Council is on a six-week break from meetings. No action has been taken.
But our message lit a firestorm of outrage amongst the residents of Oakland and caused local and national media to focus on Oakland’s crisis. Now, the Mayor comes forward with a promise to address crime by looking into the root cause of crime.
We welcome Mayor Thao to the table, and we will happily work with her to end our crisis. Nevertheless, if the Mayor wants to look at the root causes of Oakland’s 2023 crime crisis, we urge her to look in the mirror. Crime has mushroomed since she fired Chief Armstrong.
We will work with anyone who wants to bring peace and safety to our city. We are glad the Mayor now speaks of wanting to get involved, but words won’t solve our problem. Start by declaring that Oakland has a public safety emergency, then take action.
Article I, Section of 1 of the California Constitution declares the rights of Californians.
All people are by nature free and independent and have inalienable rights. Among these are enjoying and defending life and liberty, acquiring, possessing, and protecting property, and pursuing and obtaining safety, happiness, and privacy.
If our leaders cannot or will not protect us and make Oakland safe, the people of Oakland must act on their own. Working together, we have the power and the right to take action to increase the police force through the initiative process. We have the power and the right to demand that elected leaders enforce our laws. Ultimately, we have the power and the right
to elect new leaders.
It is time for action!
President Cynthia Adams can be reached at (510) 219-3840.
Bishop Bob Jackson can be reached at (510) 567-1300.