Public Comment

A Lost Opportunity

Wednesday April 08, 2009 - 07:06:00 PM

As an Oaklander watching the memorial services for the four slain Oakland police officers, I was astonished and disturbed when Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums did not speak at the service. I could not imagine a situation where the entire nation is watching and law enforcement officers are attending in force yet the Mayor of the City in mourning does not speak. I later came to understand that several of the officers’ families requested that the Mayor not participate in the ceremony and that the Mayor honored their wishes. It was disappointing to learn that such a request was made. 

At a time of such public tragedy, it is unfortunate that the families and or members of the Department would encourage and condone such a public humiliation of the Mayor. After all, this was a public event, paid for with public funds attended by thousands many of whom came from across the country to pay respect for their fellow officers. To expressly preclude the Mayor, whose eloquence is unmatched, from speaking was essentially a public slap in the face. How could this happen, particularly when comments from family, friends and fellow officers stated how much the fallen officers loved being Oakland police officers. 

I can only imagine that the men must have expressed their discontent with the Mayor’s policies toward the Department. Notwithstanding such expressions, this was truly a time for healing and not for carrying out political and personal vendettas. The better angels in those families and their advisors should have ensured that this is a time for healing, and that everyone in the City, especially the Mayor should be embraced. 

This public slight was even more pronounced when state-wide political leaders such as Attorney General Jerry Brown, and Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer were given prominent speaking roles during the ceremony yet Oakland’s highest ranking public officials, the Mayor and Congresswoman Barbara Lee did not speak.  

To add insult to injury, Congresswoman Barbara Lee, the Chairperson of the Congressional Black Caucus, was present on the platform yet she also did not speak, nor was she even acknowledged. To their credit both the Mayor and the Congresswoman stayed for the entire ceremony. 

The memorial service was a fine tribute to the officers’ who lost their lives while working for the people of Oakland. Of course the planners of the event were certainly entitled to have the ceremony of their choice, particularly if it was paid for with private funds; but to the extent that public funds were being utilized there should have been acknowledgment of the City’s leaders who made it possible. 

This was a golden opportunity to bridge the gap between the Oakland police department, the community and Oakland public officials, particularly at a time when everyone in the city is feeling the pain of this tragedy. Ron Dellums is Oakland’s Mayor in both the good and bad times and he should have been allowed to bring greetings and to express his thoughts on behalf of the residents of Oakland. Unfortunately this was a lost opportunity. 


John Burris is an Oakland attorney.