Undercurrents: Elements of Brown’s ‘Community Cleansing’ Still in Effect Under Dellums

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Thursday December 04, 2008 - 09:55:00 AM

Oakland, in the Jerry Brown years, practiced an unofficial policy of what might be called “community cleansing.” This is not to be confused with “ethnic cleansing,” the horrific activity in parts of, say, Eastern Europe or Central Africa where whole ethnic populations are violently and bloodily removed, either through exile or actual genocide. No, Mr. Brown’s “community cleansing” policies were far more genteel, involving little violence (though some—that’s what the whole Oakland Riders police scandal was about) and targeting not whole ethnic groups, but rather portions of the population that were considered as being “undesirables.” Part of this involved harassment, part of it deliberate neglect of certain population segments and entire neighborhoods. In their place, Mr. Brown sought to attract more “desirable” (in his opinion) Oakland residents. Thus, while whole neighborhoods wasted away in the Brown administration, havens for crime and violence and poverty, Mr. Brown put millions of dollars of city funds into shiny new neighborhoods (the famous “10K plan”) that sought to attract people to live in Oakland who had previously looked down upon the city. 

Such a doctrine is generally called “gentrification,” although in Mr. Brown’s case, it was given the name “Jerryfication.” 

I wrote about the Jerry Brown Community Relocation Doctrine in countless columns during the time Mr. Brown was mayor of Oakland—both for the Daily Planet and an earlier version for the now-defunct Oakland UrbanView—and I will point out examples, if you’re interested. Someday I suppose I ought to collect them all in a book and publish and distribute them so that Californians will be able to see what a mess Mr. Brown made of Oakland, and what’s in store if we grant him another set of keys to the California governor’s mansion. But that’s for another day. 

In any event, you will look in vain for any Jerry Brown pronouncement that actually spelled out the intent of his Oakland policies. Politicians, bless their hearts, rarely hand us such gifts. And so we have to go to other sources. 

Recently, an anonymous local blogger calling himself/herself/themselves the “East Bay Conservative” has written a couple of entries that—while outlining EBC’s own social views about what should happen in Oakland—seemed to sum up quite distinctly the Jerry Brown Doctrine. 

(A word about this anonymous posting thing. I know it is currently the fashion to post opinions on the Internet under an anonymous name, but while I respect people’s right to follow fashion, I don’t always agree with the result. There can be legitimate reasons why someone needs to keep their identity secret while publicizing their opinions or disseminating information, someone working in a sensitive government or company position, for example, or someone who might be under the threat of imminent violence if their identity was known. But in much of modern Internet discussion in this country, such instances are the exemption. Mostly, I think, anonymous Internet posters keep themselves anonymous because it is an emboldening thing, giving them the false courage to say things they would not otherwise say—or say with a different tone or with different words. It also allows them, at a later point, to switch—anonymously—to another tagname without the nasty necessity of having to remain consistent with the opinions voiced under the first. Under these circumstances, anonymity is a refuge, a hiding place. But that’s just my opinion, and because these folks are all anonymous, it’s impossible to tell who on the Internet has a legitimate and understandable reason for keeping their identity secret, and who is taking advantage.) 

Anyway, in a Nov. 4 blog entry entitled “Voting Is A Waste Of Your Time,” EBC (East Bay Conservative) explained why she—or he—bothered to write extensively about local government issues after saying that “there is largely no point to voting. … [E]ven if ‘your’ candidate wins, you have no concrete or meaningful way to translate that election win into predictable positive consequences for you.”  

He—or she—blogs about local political issues, EBC writes, because it may be possible to affect the outcome of those issues by changing a few minds.  

“More importantly,” EBC continues, “I view politics as an excellent source of good humor. I enjoy watching politicians repeatedly lie to constituents about their plans to “solve” various problems. … Of course, the only reason why I can view the terrible actions of our local politicians with such good humor is that none of them really affect me—aside from taxation, that is. And, as readers of this blog know, I view local taxation as somewhat positive as much of it is regressive, which drives out the poor and improves the community.” 

Driving out the poor improves the community? 

EBC elaborated on that thought two weeks later in a Nov. 17 entry entitled “Nirvana Realized: Oakland At 837 Cops.” In giving her—or his—support for a new Oakland “regressive” tax measure above and beyond Measure Y to add more Oakland police above Measure Y’s 803 cap, EBC writes, “By diverting tax money from liberal social programs to the police … the city is sending out a clear message to the poor: Get Out. The same goes for regressive parcel taxes which hit hardest those who can least afford them. This is exactly what Oakland needs to do. Tax the poor and stop spending money to support them. Our city lies at the gateway to San Francisco. We have BART stations which will whisk a business commuter to Market Street in under 15 minutes. What we need is an environment more conducive to getting those people to live here. That means keeping prices cheaper than San Francisco … and it means making the streets livable. … May our better-policed city flourish!” 

This would amount to little more than empty ranting by a non-influential citizen, except for the fact that the policies espoused are in many ways—though cleaned up and prettified—the policies of the City of Oakland, not only under former Mayor Jerry Brown, but continuing into the administration of Mayor Ron Dellums. 

For some years, I have been writing about how the city portioned off the flatlands section of Deep East Oakland—the area from High Street to the San Leandro border—to apply a special policy of crime prevention by massive traffic stops. The procedure began during one of Oakland’s murder surges, when Oakland flooded streets of the DEO (Deep East Oakland) with patrol cars driven officers from Oakland, the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department, and the California Highway Patrol with something called Operation Impact. The procedure was to stop as many cars driving through the community as possible—running license and ticket checks on the cars, outstanding warrant checks on the drivers and all passengers, and inspections of the vehicles—all with the hope of finding some transgression, minor or otherwise, giving the officers the excuse to search the cars, with the hope of turning up some serious illegality. When the murder rate slowed and the “sideshows” came into the news, the stated purpose of Operation Impact was switched over to address that problem. These should not be confused with DUI checkpoints, which are another type of operation altogether, looking specifically for drug- or alcohol-impaired drivers rather than Operation Impact’s random searches of cars and the persons inside them. While Operation Impact itself eventually faded away, the OPD traffic sweeps in the DEO have continued to this day—past the Brown administration and into the Dellums administration—as a crime-fighting “tool.” 

While this was happening east of High Street in the DEO’s African-American and Latino flatlands neighborhoods, the OPD traffic sweeps got almost no media attention. But that changed when the sweeps moved west into the Fruitvale, with its large extra-legal Latino immigrant population. Earlier this month, the East Bay Express suddenly took interest, publishing a November 5 article by reporter Jocelyn Wiener (“Stepped-Up Enforcement of Traffic Laws Chills Fruitvale”) that read, in part: “Residents of Oakland’s heavily Latino Fruitvale neighborhood are staying home from work, avoiding trips to the grocery store, and making alternative arrangements to pick up their children from school—or, in some cases, not sending them at all. The community’s undocumented immigrants—from day laborers to high school students to homemakers—say they’ve been deeply frightened by stepped-up traffic enforcement along International Boulevard in recent weeks. … The community’s undocumented residents and their advocates say officers have been stopping drivers, asking for licenses, and confiscating the cars of those who can’t produce them. Those cars are often as good as lost, with impound fees and tickets quickly adding up to thousands of dollars.” 

Ms. Wiener wrote an excellent article, with the single exception that she wrote about it as an isolated situation—isolated to the Fruitvale and the impact on extralegal Latino immigrants—and failed to understand that this was not a new police tactic at all, but merely an expansion of an existing tactic already long in effect just to the south. 

This is just my guess from casual observation, but the problem appears to be exacerbated by the influx of new police officers on Oakland’s streets, as part of Mr. Dellums’ push to bring the uniformed police staff to full strength. Training these new officers to do regular patrols and investigative and preventative work takes time. The rookies can more easily fill up the quota of bodies needed for these traffic sweeps. 

Former Mayor Jerry Brown ran a policy that made it clear that certain Oakland residents were more desired than others (and many people from outside the city were more desired, still), something which is in line with the “out with the poor” philosophies of East Bay Conservative (whoever it is he or she means by “the poor”). Mr. Dellums—a native of one of the rougher communities in West Oakland—has a distinctly different view of Oakland and its residents, putting an equal value on all of the people who live here, and wanting to spread city services equally from citizen to citizen, and neighborhood to neighborhood. But policies like the OPD “crime-fighting-by-traffic-sweep” have bled over from the Brown administration into the Dellums, and two years into that administration, it’s something that the mayor needs to address and to end. Let us hope that the attention on the Fruitvale sweeps brings attention—and an end—to these traffic sweeps in the Deep East Oakland as well, and any place else in the city they are being implemented. 

If it’s not Oakland policy to drive “the poor” out, then we ought to act accordingly.