On July 27, the Oakland NAACP published a scathing letter decrying the city’s failure to keep its vulnerable communities safe from persistent violence from high-risk offenders.
“Oakland residents are sick and tired of our intolerable public safety crisis that overwhelmingly impacts minority communities,” the letter begins. “There is nothing compassionate or progressive about allowing criminal behavior to fester and rob Oakland residents of their basic rights to public safety. It is not racist or unkind to want to be safe from crime.”
The NAACP called on Oakland to declare a “state of emergency” due to the untamed spiral of crime. “Murders, shootings, violent armed robberies, home invasions, car break-ins, sideshows, and highway shootouts have become a pervasive fixture of life in Oakland,” the letter warns.
Indeed, much of the crime data support the NAACP’s portrayal of disenfranchised and increasingly endangered Oakland residents. The most recent week’s Oakland Police Department statistics show that violent crimes have risen (year to date, compared with last year) by 18 percent, while overall crime is up 28 percent. The recent trend represents a major reversal from a few years earlier. Between 2012 and 2018, the city reduced gun violence by 50 percent, aided by its Oakland Ceasefire program, which implemented strategies such as “focused enforcement” involving the highest-risk individuals. In the first two years following the George Floyd uprisings, however, homicides rose 17.6 percent.
Oakland has seen radical shifts in its police department in recent years. The department is down 100 officers, according to Councilman Noel Gallo, though the NAACP states in its letter that various experts view the department as short as many as 500 officers from optimal levels. (The force’s current size is 734 officers).
A recent NBC investigation revealed that Oakland has the second-worst 911 response time in California, meaning Oakland residents have to wait an average of 54 seconds before detailing why they need help. The time for police to arrive at “high-priority incidents” rose 50 percent between 2018 and 2022.
In February of this year, Oakland mayor Sheng Thao fired police chief LeRonne Armstrong over his alleged failure to discipline Sergeant Michael Chung, who had attempted to cover up a hit-and-run crash and fired his gun in a department elevator. Armstrong denied the allegations, accusing the mayor of “pulling soundbites from strategically leaked, inaccurate reports” and called his termination “fundamentally wrong, unjustified, and unfair,” but Oakland’s police chief position remains vacant.
Proponents of the progressive, soft-on-crime agenda have responded to the NAACP’s statement with disapproval and condescension. “We are disappointed that a great African-American pastor and a great African-American organization would take a false narrative on such an important matter,” a spokesperson for Alameda County District Attorney Pamela Price’s office stated. Cat Brooks, co-founder of the Anti-Police-Terror Project, told The San Francisco Standard that the authors of the NAACP letter are “completely detached from what’s actually happening.”
Last weekend, the Oakland NAACP published a follow-up letter, claiming that the firing of Armstrong had accelerated unrest and criminal activity in the city. Mayor Thao dismissed the idea as “bogus” while promising a newly appointed police chief by the end of the year.
Local community leaders, however, are singing a different tune in response to the homicidal violence in Oakland’s streets. “We need to do something now to curtail, I think World War III happening in the city of Oakland,” said Bob Jackson, bishop at the Acts Full Gospel Church and member of the NAACP. “For me, the only alternative I have left is to call out the National Guard. Have the governor send out the National Guard to help protect us,” councilman Noel Gallo said in June.
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