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Schaaf Disappoints ‘Defund’ Advocates in Tie-Breaking Vote Against OPD Budget Cuts

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The world turned its attention to Oakland when Oscar Grant was murdered by a BART police officer in 2009. The Black Lives Matter movement would not formally organize for another four years, but Grant’s death sparked a national dialogue and amplified calls for police reform. In that way, Oakland is largely seen as a catalyst for one of the largest social movements in U.S. history.

That is one, among many, reasons the decision by Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf to reject additional budget cuts from the police department is not sitting well for concerned residents and advocates. In a City Council meeting Tuesday that began at 1:30 p.m., councilmembers found themselves deadlocked on the issue. Schaaf stepped in late at night to cast the deciding vote in objection.

There was a prior proposal approved in June that cut some of Oakland Police Department’s budget, but the actual figure is disputed and many have expressed disappointment the cuts didn’t go nearly far enough to make a difference in how OPD operates. 

Cat Brooks, former Oakland mayoral candidate and Anti Police-Terror Project co-founder, is among those voices calling for drastic and meaningful change. Prior to Tuesday’s meeting, Brooks took issue with claims Schaaf made about cuts and reforms, basically calling the mayor a liar.

The term “defund” has elicited mixed reactions among the public, many of whom are unfamiliar with the real objective behind the push to defund the police. We’ve seen calls intensity in sustained protests and legislative proposals since the death of George Floyd on May 25, but it is increasingly obvious a vast majority of the country’s population fails to grasp the concept.

The Brookings Institution has attempted to clear up the oft misunderstood phrase. In a June article, Rashawn Ray wrote:

“‘Defund the police’ means reallocating or redirecting funding away from the police department to other government agencies funded by the local municipality. That’s it. It’s that simple. Defund does not mean abolish policing. 

And, even some who say abolish, do not necessarily mean to do away with law enforcement altogether. Rather, they want to see the rotten trees of policing chopped down and fresh roots replanted anew.”

A large piece of the “defund” movement is centered on taking responsibility from police in response to certain calls. Advocates believe police officers are inefficient and sometimes inflammatory in dealing with mental health, substance abuse and homelessness situations. Instead, defund initiatives aim to shift those duties to social service professionals who are better equipped to diffuse tension and offer helpful resources.

In order to accomplish those changes, funding is needed to support those other departments and programs focused on helping people before those critical moments occur. Cutting police department budgets and lightening officer loads is an integral piece to achieving that level of reform.

Oakland police in riot gear. Photo by Thomas Hawk.

However, many officers and especially police unions have loudly objected to cuts of any kind. 

The OPD has a tumultuous history with police brutality and racial profiling, with far too many incidents to list here. The history and lingering structural issues make the department a prime candidate for radical reform, the kind of reform that’s failed under mandated auditors and through traditional legal channels. Schaaf’s vote Tuesday night derailed reform progress, at least for now.

Some think her vote may have been influenced by an incident at her home Monday night. Her house was painted with several messages, including “DEFUND OPD!”, “WAKE UP LIBBY” and “TAKE RESPONSIBILITY.”  “BLOOD ON YOUR HANDS” was also spraypainted on the sidewalk and it was reported that fireworks were shot at her house. 

In a official statement from the mayor’s office, spokesperson Justin Berton said:

“An attack at the home of a publicly elected official does not advance democracy. Around 2 a.m. vandals shot projectiles at the Mayor’s home, set off fireworks, and graffitied her home with paint. This attack, designed to intimidate the Mayor and strike fear into her family, will not stop her from advocating for the policies she believes are in the best long-term interests of her beloved hometown. 

Like all Oaklanders, she supports passionate protest but does not support tactics meant to harm and terrorize others.”

Despite claims of responsibility posted online, there is speculation about who or what group was actually at fault for the vandalism, especially given that police benefited most by the mayor’s budget vote the next day. 

 

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Nik Wojcik - East Bay Editor

Nik Wojcik - East Bay Editor

Journalist, editor, student, single mom to a pack of wolves, foodie, music lover, resident smart ass, and champion of vulgarity and human kindness.

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