Better Ways to Throw Away a Quarter of a Million Dollars

Posted on January 23, 2013

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Last night, I planned to give a statement before the city council concerning the continued outlay of money for police consulting–250k after an initial 100k in less than 6 months for consultant Wasserman and now his new crony Bratton. My goal was to demonstrate just how much good a piddling amount–in the world of city largesse, 350k–could do when spent on behalf of empowering communities, not policing them. I was obviously going to talk about the Biblioteca Popular Victor Martinez in the San Antonio district, where the amount of money needed to jump-start a local public works project and community run center was not much more than this.

I had timed my statement at something around 4 minutes and even read it out loud several times, so I knew that I only needed to find one person to donate some time to me to get through it. But Council person Kernighan at the last-minute, changed the rules, limiting speakers to only one minute. She did this after the city had arranged, via back channels, a succession of about 6 pro-police clergy who were given 3 minutes each by city-enabled shuffling of time. It was fucked up and bullshit. I could’ve waited for someone to donate me time after I ran out, but I didn’t. It was only another  minute.

Kernighan directed the police to make me stop or arrest me. I told them they could arrest me when I was done, but thankfully before any of that happened, the Riders–self-styled successors to the Black Panthers–surrounded me in a de-arresting action that was just simply fucking awesome. Anyway, here’s the statement, with the zinger at the end I didn’t get to read. And video of it [and others great comments] below [all clips from Daniel Arauz]:

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6 months ago, I participated in a direct action to re-open an abandoned former library in the San Antonio district. The building, which was also once used as a high school, is a national historic landmark that belongs to the people of Oakland and yet has sat there empty for over ten years.

Before the action, the shuttered building couldn’t be legally used in any constructive way, so it instead became a dumping ground for garbage, self-destructive substance abuse and the under-age sex trade of the area—sofas, mattresses, drug paraphernalia and just plain waste littered the building and the grounds. A report from Urban Ecology several years ago noted that the derelict building and grounds created an unsafe environment for neighbors at 15th and Miller avenue where the property is located..

It’s no surprise, then, that neighbors came out to partner in repurposing the building almost as soon as we started. The promise of a library or community center in a negative zone in the middle of a troubled place was exciting to everyone who lived around there. By the end of a very long day, our new collective of neighbors and activists had cleaned up the building and started a garden on the grounds.

That all ended before midnight, though. The city administrator sent practically every available officer to come shut us down. They stationed sometimes as many as three patrol cars 24 hours a day for a week afterward, with only one task–to make sure that the building wasn’t used . This at a time when OPD and the city constantly complained about not having enough police to combat crime in the city.

We came back, anyway, and in partnership with the community, eventually created a garden and a library on the grounds, which are still used today.

Leaders like Ignacio de la Fuente at the time stated that the building couldn’t be repurposed because it needed a seismic retrofit the city couldn’t afford. It was right around this time, in the face of city-wide criticisms over an out of control OPD, that Mr. Wasserman began his first 100,00 dollar contract.

What were the costs of the seismic retrofit? While they varied, at the lower end, the estimate had been calculated from around 250,00 dollars. 250,000 dollars; about half of which you’ve already given to Mr. Wasserman’s firm, who you hired for advice on how to bring OPD into compliance and, who, by his own admission last week has nothing to show for it. You’re planning on giving him two and a half times as much tonight to include the cost of paying for the advice of William Bratton, whose failed ideas on police work are already well-known.

What are we getting for our money? Well, Mr. Wasserman’s promised to produce a plan of some kind that might be available some day soon; that is if even more time isn’t needed to develop it and more money, of course.

What could the city have done with this money instead? So many possibilities of which the following is only 1: the city could have retrofitted the building for not much more than the price of Mr. Wasserman’s contract.

It could have given that building–which no one has wanted to buy for nearly two decades–to the community for a symbolic honorarium. The community, with partner organizations, could create a collective and raise funds for the renovation of the interior—a project that could be directed to employ only local people, and especially those from the neighborhood. Those people could use and teach the skills they already have, while learning new ones.

The end product would be a community run-resource that could be used for any number of wonderful things and set an example for struggling communities everywhere.

Instead, you’ve double-downed on counter productive policing methods and you’ve invited in their most enthusiastic poster child while spreading the myth that more–and more aggressive–policing means less violent crime.

Despite the best efforts of pro-police lobbies to link natural declines in violent crime to the strategies of local police, as was done in the much-hyped example of Bratton’s tenure in New York city, it’s just not supported by evidence as shown in studies like those by Richard Rosenfeld of University of Missouri—St. Louis and that of Bernard Harcourt and James Ludwig..

The only way to stop violent crime is to create stronger communities that have the resources they need to care for and nurture themselves and their families, and to create a just society where economic survival is in a community’s control. A society where ideas like randomly stopping poor people of color and groping their bodies in the hope you’ll hit the jackpot and find physical evidence of wrong-doing, sound like brutal remnants of a bygone era.

I by no means intend to argue that the plan I just laid out is the only way–or the best way to spend the money you’ve wasted on consultants like Wasserman which now exceeds over a million dollars over the past year. Indeed, there is a wide spectrum of better ideas, beginning at one end with literally taking that money, breaking it into twenties, and tossing it into the street at the end of the meeting. The possibility of more than only a handful of consultants benefiting from this expenditure would already be dramatically magnified.

Adam Blueford, the father of Alan Blueford poignantly describes the real horrors that can come from stop and frisk and racial profiling. Halfway through, council person Libby Schaaf interrupts him to remind him that Police Chief Jordan claims there won’t be any more racial profiling. Incredible.

As the Black Riders, self-styled inheritors of the mantle of the Black Panthers approached the podium, council president Kernighan suddenly remembered that there was some kind of prescribed order to the speaking roster and turned off their mike. That was fine with them, they went ahead unamplified and rocked the house anyway.

Mike Wilson really laid out a great case about why what we were doing, though ultimately pointless, since we all knew they’d vote yes no matter what, had value as setting the predicate for the next stage of direct action.

Jessica Holly, aka Bellaeiko spoke about her fears of raising an African American male in the US, because of profiling and policies like stop and frisk, and incidents like the killing of Alan Blueford and Oscar Grant. To highlight her case, she attempted to show video that she herself had shot after a political event of two young African American men being racially profiled. Despite her clear position on these issues, CBS news later mischaracterized her quote as being solely about gun violence, not racist police policies. The link to her video from Ustream is below [for some reason it doesn't provide a player on wordpress]

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