February 19, 2017


It’ a shame that with the information resources available to them, nonetheless, the Eastbay Times editorial writers seemed to have failed to include critical information in their analyses of police officers’ involvement with Ghost Ship and have reached the wrong conclusion scapegoating cops. The cops weren’t acting within a vacuum, they were acting under the conditions in Oakland.

Certainly the editors should know the general conditions include political considerations which impact policing: 1. The Policy of low-priority enforcement; 2. the 2014 mayoral election campaign that saw several candidate forum/”debates” sponsored or attended by arts supporters, where demands for housing support were constantly put to the candidates – like Schaff; 3. the influence of councilmember Kaplan who used to have a lot of contact with that crowd; 4. Police command structure in shambles while cops were frequently being protested, vilified, and physically attacked under charges of racism, sexism and favoring the propertied.

1. When a matter is considered by default or directive a “low priority for enforcement”— such as pot smoking, jay-walking, blight & housing code enforcement, in a city with a lot of unsatisfied higher priority matters the low priority stuff is practically if not officially a waste of any officer’s time.

2. With the swollen pool of political candidates hoping for more exposure and supporters, the arts community meant a lot of influence for the right favors – like funding, special zoning, reduced attention to reports of code violations. Several candidates forums/”debates” were hosted in arts spaces or attended by arts supporters. During the campaign I witnessed Kaplan and Schaff promise to continue their long support and address housing and workspace needs.

3. The most artsy looking person on the city council and the only councilmember-at-large (who represents and should know the entire city), it’s troubling that Kaplan wasn’t more effective in either cleaning up the trash outside or safeguarding the people inside.

4. After a decade of being accused and monitored and sued and assaulted and hated, Oakland Cops are disinclined to unnecessarily make new enemies, especially among the council or favored identity group.

Ghost Ship’s fault lies only with the City Manager, Mayor, and City Council. This tragedy occurred primarily for lack of a coordinator of information and the will to act. At worst, cops were aware of the black hole where all data goes but from which only inaction emits, and forsook frustration by sticking to the routine playbook. The cops were not trained, directed or supported to do otherwise. The tools and support come from the manager, who did not have the system in operation to prevent this.  Of course, the repeated failure of any department to communicate and coordinate with another is the failure of the city manager.

The policy direction comes from the Mayor and council. Even with the expected pandering from some, what can explain the failure of years of complaining by one councilman to get better results? Is the ineptitude of Oakland government so bad that a sitting councilmember couldn’t make it perform? You bet.