Rising Oakland crime draws fervent pleas for city action

Violence against women was a recurrent theme throughout the night: "Women are being assaulted. Let’s not sugarcoat this," one woman said.

Rising Oakland crime draws fervent pleas for city action
Hundreds of people attended a community meeting at Oakland Tech focused on crime and violence prevention Tuesday night. Longfellow Community Association

Hundreds of Oaklanders demanded answers and action from city leaders Tuesday night amid recent sprees of violent crime that have increasingly targeted women.

"It's all women," said one local resident who described being attacked outside her North Oakland home earlier this month.

"Two kids beat the shit of me in front of my house last Monday night," she said. "Down on the pavement. Punching me, kicking me, dragging me through the street."

During the robbery attempt, she said, a teenage boy who tried to take her purse had body-slammed her. When he failed to take her to the ground, a teenage girl joined in on the assault.

"They did not get my purse. I have lungs. And my neighbors heard me and they came out," she said. "I’m almost 60 years old. I’m one of the old women that just got taken down. And it’s happening everywhere."

She said she'd heard about women in the hospital with concussions from similar incidents in Oakland.

In Berkeley, a woman in her 70s was recently attacked right outside the police station.

That followed a robbery outside Market Hall earlier this month where a woman in her 60s was attacked in broad daylight.

OPD announces arrest after Market Hall beating, robbery
North Oakland Councilmember Dan Kalb is holding a meeting about crime and violence next Tuesday, May 30.

OPD announced arrests in that case and said it had linked the nine-person robbery crew — all children — to three dozen crimes. Within days, however, all but one member of the alleged crew had been released without charges.

Many of the people targeted during that robbery series were women who were violently assaulted and dragged by their hair, authorities have said.  

Earlier this month, a woman in Berkeley was attacked, her head stomped by teenage girls, on her way to a memorial for Jen Angel. Angel sustained critical injuries during a robbery in Oakland in February and died days later.

Rising violence against women was a recurring theme throughout the night, although people also shared concerns about gun violence, property crime and encampment-related issues.

North Oakland has seen rising violent crime

Violent crime in Oakland has increased 7% this year and robberies are up 12% compared to the same period last year, according to Oakland police data.

Last week, OPD announced that the city had seen 100 robberies over a single week in May, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

And North Oakland alone, according to the Chronicle, "has seen a 22% increase in robberies over last year — from 101 reports to 123 — and an 18% increase in violent crime, from 211 incidents to 249."

North Oakland Councilman Dan Kalb, who organized Tuesday night's crime and violence prevention meeting at Oakland Technical High School, was joined on stage by OPD Capt. Jeffrey Thomason and Kentrell Killens, interim chief of Oakland's Department of Violence Prevention.

The officials spoke briefly to start the meeting, but members of the crowd — whose rage and frustration were on full display throughout the night — largely called on them to listen.

In addition to an estimated 200 people in the room, more than 100 people also attended the meeting online via Facebook. (The Berkeley Scanner monitored the meeting remotely as well.)

Local residents and business owners called for a stronger police presence and more funding for OPD in addition to stepped-up enforcement from the city and stricter penalties for those who break the law.

They also talked about long wait times to reach Oakland's 911 dispatchers and how long it can take for officers to respond — if they ever do.

Lisa McNally, a public school teacher and third-generation Oaklander, said OPD should resume writing tickets for low-level traffic offenses, starting with license plate violations.

"Don’t tell me it’s profiling — because you can’t even see who’s in the car," she said.

"Open your blinds, Dan"

Despite having called the meeting, Kalb was subjected to significant criticism throughout the night from community members who felt he had let them down over the years or failed to respond without repeated prodding.

Sue Saito, a 25-year Oakland resident, described how nine kids who caused problems for the neighborhood had lived in an RV outside Kalb's home for a period of time.

"I don’t think you did know, Dan, because you never opened your fucking blinds," she said. "How do you lead a city when you don’t look out your window?"

Saito said that situation was emblematic of Kalb's leadership and his distance from the community he serves.

"We were so stuck and you did nothing to help us and they were right under your nose," she said. "Open your blinds, Dan. Look out your windows."

Kalb at times took the mic to explain efforts he had taken or tried to take to be responsive and get problems solved, from installing brighter streetlights to raising constituent concerns with other city staff.

But he said there's only so much one man can do.

"I have limitations, too," he said. "When I pester a city department to do this or that or the other thing, sometimes I’m successful in getting them to do something right away. And sometimes I’m not. And I can’t tell you why that’s the case, other than that they’re backed up."

When Kalb spoke, members of the crowd at times interrupted him with jeers or shouts along the lines of "ineffective" and "all this is useless," and sometimes by blowing an air horn.

"This isn’t just about entrenched political camps"

Some speakers said Kalb had not taken a strong enough stance to support Oakland police and that he must do more going forward.

"When you signal to the community that the police are the problem, what do you expect?" one man asked Kalb. "All the people in this room, we are the victims of a failed progressive utopia. Your policies have failed."

That view seemed to garner the support of many in the room who also expressed impatience and skepticism when the subjects of restorative justice and alternatives to incarceration arose.

But that wasn't a universal perspective.

"This isn’t just about entrenched political camps," said a transgender woman who described how she and her partner had only recently begun looking at NextDoor and the Citizen app after being robbed twice, both in daylight hours, over just two weeks in Oakland.

"I’ve had two dozen years of being at the far extreme most progressive community-organizing activism kind of activity you can think of," she said. "I don’t think it’s as simple as being too progressive here. I think the devil is in the details."

She acknowledged that violence often comes from a place of hurt but said she also believed that letting people commit crimes repeatedly is its own form of harm.

"It actually does mess you up more to keep attacking people," she said. "You can’t let kids just go back out there."

And said she was concerned about the safety of women throughout the community amid the rising violence.

"It’s all kinds of women being targeted," she said. "This is systemic violence as well."

"Women are being assaulted. Let’s not sugarcoat this."

Speakers acknowledged the need for police reform — such as more implicit bias training and a stronger focus on de-escalation techniques — while also expressing frustration at the restrictions that have been placed on Oakland police in recent years.

One woman described how police in Oakland are not allowed to pursue drivers who fail to yield even if they're wearing ski masks and have no license plates.

"It’s insane. There’s no common sense here," she said. "I don’t agree with all the raucous behavior necessarily, but people are very frustrated. Women are being assaulted. Let’s not sugarcoat this."

"This kind of brazen random violence is unheard of in my existence," said the woman, who identified herself as a senior. "Who wants to live like this? It’s bullshit."

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Business owners said Oakland must step up

Local business owners were also a strong presence Tuesday night.

Louise Rafkin said neither Kalb nor the city had been able to help her find solutions for a mentally ill person who had set up camp within 10 feet of her San Pablo Avenue martial arts studio.

The man had repeatedly threatened her and other people. He'd also defecated on her property.

"I don’t want to have to get threatened with sexual violence when I go to work," she said. "I don’t want my children to see this as a normal behavior from an individual on the street."

Rafkin continued: "He’s been naked. He’s masturbated in front of them. He’s urinated in front of them. And there’s nothing I’m told the police can do."

She said Oakland's MACRO team, a community-based response for nonviolent crisis calls, had also said it couldn't help.

The situation was yet another sign of failed city policies, she said, which are supposed to prohibit encampments within certain distances of local businesses.

Several speakers said businesses will leave the city if something isn't done.

Bob Tuck, whose family business has operated in Oakland for more than 100 years, said he had recently begun looking at other East Bay cities where he might move the operation: San Leandro, Hayward, Berkeley, "anywhere but Oakland."

The last year and a half had been particularly difficult, he said.

"I’ve had my wife in the building when people crashed a car through the front door. She was able to escape out the back, fortunately, unharmed," Tuck said. "I had my son shot at 14th and Webster, a year ago November. Our employees are having their vans stolen out from underneath them while working at homes in Oakland."

The company was able to track one of its stolen vans up to Golf Links Road where the culprits drew guns on employees who tried to get it back.

Oakland budget decisions are coming up

Tuck urged the city to find better programs for youth who commit crimes and more money for Oakland police.

"Do not freeze those 90-plus unfilled police department positions," he said. "I know that’s not an easy carry in a budget that’s so far in the hole."

The city is looking at freezing 93 vacant police officer positions, which would reduce the money available for police overtime, Kalb said at the beginning of the night.

According to current projections, Oakland is facing a $300 million budget deficit, one speaker said Tuesday night.

According to another speaker, the proposed budget would fund 710 police officer positions, which is 16 fewer than are funded now.

CATCH UP ON THE BUDGET: The Oakland City Council held a budget study session Tuesday. Oakland's Police Commission is holding a budget meeting Saturday at 1 p.m. focused on its own budget as well as OPD's. The Oakland City Council is scheduled to discuss proposed budget amendments June 14.

Speakers call for consequences, Pamela Price recall

Dan Kalb (left) and Pamela Price (right) at a community event in February. Dan Kalb

In addition to concerns about violence against women and the impacts of crime on local businesses, community members also spoke out in favor of stricter consequences and more programs for repeat offenders.

They spoke of the lack of prosecution and the "revolving door" for offenders in Alameda County. And some brought up Alameda County District Attorney Pamela Price.

"To any of you who voted for her, shame on you," said Julian, a Rockridge resident, addressing the room. "She told us what she was gonna do. And somehow the majority of people in this town voted for her anyway."

He asked Kalb to commit to endorsing a recall effort that would focus on "getting a DA who cares for this city."

Kalb told the crowd that he had not endorsed Price, adding, "It's too early for a recall. You can't do a recall until a year is up."

According to the Secretary of State, however, recall efforts can begin once an official has been in office for 90 days.

An unofficial petition to recall Price has nearly 20,000 names but carries no legal weight.

Read more about Oakland crime and safety on The Scanner.

A longtime criminal defense attorney described how, in years past, most youth committing a crime might, at worst, steal a car and then drive it and ditch it.

"Now what we’re seeing is shocking," she said, "the escalation and the level of violence."

She said she wants Alameda County to offer robust programs and resources to people who need them, but that there must be boundaries and consequences as well.

"When a teenager realizes that there’s not gonna be a consequence, that when they go out and do something that's seriously violent and terrible, that nothing is going to happen to them, that’s a green light to that child," she said. "You're not doing that child any favors."

She said she now works with people who are "seriously broken": "Their lives were ruined when they were young. And part of the reason is because the community didn't have consequences for them. They got away with it too many times."

She said the best thing Oakland can do at this point is to have a strong police presence and make it clear to people that they may well get caught.

"It's gonna be hard to do things. But we're gonna try." —Dan Kalb

She said she's read the studies, which show that deterrence does work and that it does make people think twice about breaking the law when they see a police officer.

"We need the message to go out that this is not the place to commit a crime," she said.

The meeting ran over time and lasted more than two hours due to all the speakers in the queue.

Len Raphael, a one-time Oakland City Council contender and the final speaker of the night, asked Kalb to commit to taking action on the budget and public safety, to do more than say, "There's nothing we can do."

"I never said there's nothing we can do," said Kalb, pushing back. "I'm saying it's gonna be hard to do things. But we're gonna try."

Note: The Scanner added a reference to Oakland's violent crime and robbery statistics to this story after publication.

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