One of the things I like least about our New Age Of Information Overload is that it seems to have birthed a sort of mix and mismatch trend in journalism in which a reporter—or columnist—does an online Google search of a subject of which they appear to know little, comes across two disparate bits of information that have some tenuous connection, slaps them together, and thereafter loudly announces that they have uncovered a “trend.” As a six-degrees-of-separation parlor game, this can function as an amusing distraction. As a way to conduct our community dialogue on social issues, it can be damaging, leading us into the realm of silliness, when it is seriousness that is called for.
And so we have the Anneli Rufus “Suffer The Little Children” item in the recent edition coming from our friends at the East Bay Express, in which Ms. Rufus takes to ridicule Mayor Ron Dellums for the selection of a youth rights advocate as the mayor’s new public safety director. I know little about Lenore Anderson, the mayor’s choice, and learn less from Ms. Rufus after she informs us that Ms. Anderson once headed up “the prison-reform nonprofit Books Not Bars.” Included in the column is a quote from the BNB website which says that the organization “engage[s] in grassroots campaigns using media advocacy, policy advocacy, grassroots organizing, and alliance building. Currently, we are working to close California’s abusive, expensive youth prisons and replace them with rehabilitation centers and community-based programs.”
Beyond that little blurb, Ms. Rufus tells us nothing about the work and goals of the organization that Ms. Anderson actually headed, but quickly moves on to proclaim her “discovery.” Books Not Bars, she informs us, “is one of three projects run by Oakland’s Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. Another is Bay Area Police Watch, devoted to ‘supporting victims and survivors.’ What, of crime? No, silly: of police abuse. Photos on its home page depict protesters whose placards read ‘Stop Killer Cops.’ Who better to occupy a post devoted to liaising among City Hall, neighborhood watch groups, and the OPD?”
There is such a leap of fact and logic in this one paragraph alone, one has to be truly unafraid of heights to try to follow. We’ll give you some help.
Books Not Bars and Bay Area Police Watch are two separate organizations, both funded by the Ella Baker Center. Are there connections between the two organizations other than their common funding source? From Ms. Rufus’ column, we don’t know. Does Ms. Anderson—Mr. Dellums’ new Public Safety Director—believe that “Killer Cops” should be stopped, or the victims of police abuse supported? Again, from Ms. Rufus’ column, we don’t know. But the logic of Ms. Rufus’ paragraph is that, first, Bay Area Police Watch is the way she describes it in ten easy words, or less, and second, that Ms. Anderson subscribes to the Bay Area Police Watch goals and views as Ms. Rufus so describes them, and that, therefore, Mr. Dellums ought to be ridiculed for choosing such a person as his Public Safety Director.
There is another interesting bit in the above paragraph, that the post to which Ms. Anderson is appointed is “devoted to liaising among City Hall, neighborhood watch groups, and the OPD?” We will return to that in a moment.
Meanwhile, Ms. Rufus’ trial of Ms. Anderson by innuendo gets considerably worse, devolving quickly into the realm of haste and slop.
Ms. Rufus goes on to say that “unsurprisingly” (as if she has already proven the point she has been trying to make) “Infoshop, Indybay, and anarchist groups link to Anderson’s BNB memos, as does PrisonActivist.com, which also links helpfully to BoycottIsraeliGoods.com, Mumia.org, and IraqIntifada.com. (Indybay files an Anderson piece under ‘California: Police State.’)”
Do the websites BoycottIsraeliGoods.com, Mumia.org, and IraqIntifada.com reprint articles by Ms. Anderson, or do they merely link to PrisonActivist.com, which, in turn, links to one of Ms. Anderson’s BNB memos? We cannot tell from the way Ms. Rufus’ paragraph is written. Further, while the version of the Rufus column in the online Express includes links to PrisonActivist.com, BoycottIsraeliGoods.com, Mumia.org, and IraqIntifada.com, they are to the respective websites’ main pages, not to any particular article or offering of Ms. Anderson. Neither does the column provide a link to the particular Anderson piece which IndyBay filed under “California: Police State” so that we could actually see what Ms. Anderson herself wrote, rather than how IndyBay characterized what Ms. Anderson wrote. And, most breathtakingly, though Ms. Rufus devotes an entire paragraph to how other news organizations and agencies have linked to articles written for Books Not Bars by Ms. Anderson, Ms. Rufus’ column fails to do so.
We are left with the impression that somehow Ms. Anderson is linked to Iraq terrorists and the murder of innocents, the kind of “fellow traveler” argument that Wisconsin U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy used to keep in his pocket while roaming the Senate floor.
But these instances of innuendo, for which Ms. Rufus must bear the cross alone, mask a misconception that, unfortunately, is shared by a greater section of the public.
The misconception is that we will work our way out of the problem of violent crime in Oakland by law-and-order means alone and that, therefore, the person hired by Mr. Dellums to be his Public Safety Director needs to be a law-and-order professional.
But Mr. Dellums already has a law-and-order professional. His name is Wayne Tucker, and he is the chief of the City of Oakland’s law-and-order enforcement agency, the Oakland Police Department. By all accounts, Mr. Tucker is a competent professional in his field, in whom the mayor has confidence, with whom the mayor shares good relationships, and who articulates and advocates the police professional point of view within the Dellums Administration. Mr. Tucker already serves as the police liaison with many of Oakland’s disparate organizations—meeting regularly, for instance, with the police watchdog group PUEBLO—so hiring a Public Safety Director who duplicated his police professional point of view would appear to be both a waste of city money and an undercutting of the chief.
In hiring Ms. Anderson, Mr. Dellums appears to be going in a different direction, that the problems of violent crime in Oakland are not merely law-and-order problems but stem from larger societal causes, and that turning our attention to identifying those causes and attacking and solving them needs to occupy some measure of our attention.
Here we return, as promised, to Ms. Rufus’ contention that the Ms. Anderson’s new position as Public Safety Director is “devoted to liaising among City Hall, neighborhood watch groups, and the OPD?”
This is the narrowest possible view one can take of “public safety, of course, in that it involves, solely, law enforcement. Implicit, also, in Ms. Rufus’ formation is that the community groups who need to be “liaison” with for the purpose of law enforcement are the neighborhood watch groups. Purposely or unpurposely, the rest of Oakland is left out.
And one of the groups most distinctly left out is Oakland’s mid-teens to mid-twenties youth, that portion of our city who you rarely see represented in the neighborhood watch meetings.
One of the features of Oakland’s current wave of violent crime is that it is this group of Oakland citizens—mid-teen to mid-twenties youth—who compromise major percentages of both the victims and the perpetrators. It would seem that to have any chance of success, any rationale attempt at a solution to Oakland’s violence ought to involve young people in several different ways. Unfortunately, in too many ways, Oakland treats them as outsiders, whose names and histories we spread across our newspapers or television screens when either they shoot or are shot at, but whose opinions on the subject we largely ignore.
There are some exceptions. For three years, Councilmember Desley Brooks has been holding what she calls “liberation concerts” at Arroyo Viejo Park in the heart of one of Oakland’s fiercest killing zones. The concerts are a four-a-year series of free music events in which residents of the neighborhood surrounding the park are invited to come. When the concerts were first held in 2005, there was considerable worry that they would become magnets for youth violence, as did Mosswood Park’s Carijama some years before. There was considerable police presence and the acts booked by promoter D’wayne Wiggins were distinctly old school, Lennie Williams, Rose Royce and the like, none of them directed at the youth crowd.
Much has changed since then.
Wiggins—the resident East Oakland music wiz who once formed a third of the national group Tony Toni Toné—has gradually integrated local rap and hip hop groups as opening acts, bringing out a larger number of young people as time has passed. The emcee often plays up the intergenerational rivalry, first inviting the older folks to dance in the open grassy area in front of the raised band platform, subsequently exhorting the young folks to come up to “show your parents how it’s done.” In this way, gradually, the youth have slipped into what seems to be their natural societal role at these events, neither shunned nor “stars,” but simply part of a continuum.
Another thing that has changed has been the police presence. Gone are the lineups of booted patrolman standing under the trees to watch for problems, the squadron of cars parked on the sidestreets waiting to take perpetrators on the highway up to the county jail in San Leandro. At the last concert this year, featuring the Ohio Players, two officers wandered by, stood around for a couple of minutes, apparently saw nothing that needed their attention, and took off. Their presence has long ago been replaced by members of Minister Keith Muhammad’s Fruit of Islam security, men who come from the same or similar communities, who see their jobs as providing a safe space for the people who have come out to enjoy the music, and who treat problems with a polite firmness that gives respect, and therefore almost always gets respect back, in return. Too often—such as at Carijama, such as in the last days of the Festival of the Lake—the very efforts used by police officers to quell crowd violence only fuel and escalate it, thus compounding a problem they are supposed to be solving.
And at the Arroyo liberation concerts there have been no problems. No shootings. No arguments. No arrests.
That example is what Mr. Dellums appears to be aiming towards, in selecting a director of public safety, going after the causes of violence, rather than merely arresting the violent. I hope the mayor’s selection gets judged on its own terms.