OAKLAND CITY COUNCIL | Oakland Councilmembers Larry Reid and Desley Brooks criticized First Friday, also known as Oakland Art Murmur, at Tuesday night's council meeting while bantering with Councilwoman Lynette Gibson McElhaney over the purpose of walking street festival. A shooting at the festival last Friday left one dead and two injured. Both Reid and Brooks advocated for stripping First Friday down to what it originally was, an art walk.
After a citizen complained about the shooting and growing dangers of thousands congregating in the heart of one of America’s most dangerous cities, as well as the noise, Reid chimed in despite the subject not being part of the agenda. Reid inquired about the amount of officers at the art murmur, to which staff said is about 30 and none of which are over time, thus implying they are problem solving officers and not borrowed from beats.
“We don’t need cops watching a giant party while people in the streets fearing for their lives.” said Reid. “The city is in a crisis and if we don’t get a handle on this crime we will pass the 138 homicide mark this year, mark my words.” Reid said that his constituents fear robbery and break-ins and are seeking guns for self protection while police officers stand guard at a festival.
But McElhaney came to defend the First Friday, which takes place in her district, because of the national attention it has received, referring to New York Times’s article on the festival, as well as the newspaper naming the city as one of the top places to visit in the world. McElhaney reckoned back to previous festivals that once attracted people to the city before being shut down for violent incidents and that the city shouldn’t isolate the issue down to the festival. McElhaney warned against “throwing the baby out with the bath water.”
But Brooks protested McElhaney’s argument with her usual preemptory attitude, “If we were told that one of these officers were assigned outside of their beat, well we don’t need that many officers assigned to one beat,” said Brooks. “We are talking life and death issues and I saw a police officer standing at a cross walk pressing a button to walk across the street, we don’t need that.”
Brooks said she isn’t advocating to get rid of First Friday but instead to return it to what it once was, a mere art walk so that higher security is not a necessity and, as she believes, will ward off potential shootings and other violent acts. According to Brooks, “this is what Reid was talking about.”
Rebecca Kaplan, councilwoman at-large, released a statement Tuesday stating her sadness over the shooting. She claimed that the city was doing something to crack down on crime by praising the city council’s recent vote to contract with the Sheriff’s department for more officers and authorizing a third police academy this year, despite the controversy that surrounded the votes. She also threw her support behind Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner’s “bullet control,” bill and a federal assault weapons ban.
“We know the overwhelming majority of gun crimes committed in Oakland are using firearms acquired illegally – and in order to protect our city from brazen but cowardly acts of violence, we need to enhance police deployment, shut down access to illegal guns and make it harder for ammunition to fall into the wrong hands,” said Kaplan.
The rest of the council didn’t speak on the manner as the city clerk ushered the council to get back on schedule for actual agenda items but the conflict does spell a potential agenda item for future discussion concerning First Friday's.
Shane Bond is an East Bay Citizen contributor. Follow him on Twitter @Shane_Bond_