Abolishing Policing in Oakland

by Critical Resistance-Oakland

In loving memory of Rose Braz,

 August 4, 1961 – May 3, 2017

CReye
Image credit: Rupert Garcia
For more on CR-Oakland visit www.criticalresistance.org
abolish-policing
This piece was originally printed in PROPTER NOS

“Dismantle, change, build” is the refrain that succinctly describes Critical Resistance’s abolitionist praxis. To us, abolition is a long-term vision as well as a strategy that can be applied in the day-to-day work of organizing—and winning—campaigns in our communities. We are a national organization, but the work of dismantling, changing, and building happens locally through our chapters. One example is the Stop the Injunctions Coalition (STIC), which existed from 2010 to 2012 in Oakland to fight the use of gang injunctions across the city. Critical Resistance-Oakland worked in coalition with over a dozen other groups to resist the criminalization of Black and Brown communities and demand a reinvestment in their well-being and self-determination instead. Through a multi-pronged abolitionist strategy, STIC successfully made Oakland the first city in the country to completely end the use of gang injunctions as a policing tactic.

            We compiled responses from organizers in STIC to gain insights into what has happened since the victory. Organizers share their lessons from this recent historic campaign against policing. To clarify briefly: “policing,” in an abolitionist framework, is just one of the many institutions and social practices that constitute the U.S. prison industrial complex (PIC). By framing this project as an inquiry into the strategy of anti-policing insurgency in the East Bay Area, our respondents explore its implications in the broader movement for PIC abolition. The organizers point out STIC was not an isolated campaign, but rather built upon the “dual power” generated by prior work against the policing of Oakland youth and parallel struggles against solitary confinement in California prisons. Moreover, the legacy of the Black Panther Party—whose vision called for abolishing the racist capitalist state, ending U.S. imperialism, domestic warfare, and decriminalizing liberationist and sovereignty struggles—runs deep within the grassroots political cultures here in Oakland.

            STIC built upon this genealogy of resisting state violence by persistently invoking Oakland’s lineage of liberation movements without mystifying or appropriating them in an exploitative way. This is important to highlight because many tendencies of the establishment Left are currently domesticating the history of these movements, the story of the Black Panther Party in particular. We actively strive to be non-participants in this new wave of Panther appropriation, opting for a relation to our local histories that learns from rather than systematizes or naively mimics the Party’s approach to praxis.

            Since the very last gang injunctions were taken off the books in 2015, anti-policing work has only grown stronger in Oakland. The coalition’s strategy of demanding an end to policing as well as a reinvestment in communities created a genuine space for healing and well-being in anti-policing work. This grew into new organizations like Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice (CURYJ) and projects like the Fruitvale community garden. Critical Resistance-Oakland also launched the Oakland Power Projects in 2014, which worked with community members who were impacted by the gang injunctions to further build community power and well-being without relying on the police. The Oakland Power Projects has worked with health-care providers to develop workshops and toolkits for building community power to intervene in health crises without police and 911. Additionally, we created a workshop called the “Abolition of Policing” to continue popular education around strategies to make PIC abolition a reality.1 As we continue organizing against policing, prisons, and surveillance in the Bay Area, it is crucial to remember and learn from the fight against gang injunctions. Seize the time! This work is far from over.

 

Reflections on Organizing with Stop the Injunctions Coalition (STIC)

 

Critical Resistance (CR): What did you learn from STIC about the ways the PIC operates and the ways it could be resisted?

 

 Sagnicthe Salazar (SS): One huge lesson that I learned from the work with STIC was the connection between policing, prisons and gentrification. Learning about the dynamics around the country around gang injunctions and how in cities that have been gentrified there has been a prerequisite of increased policing and policies to either lock up or scare off a population, was incredibly clear. It was also really clear how certain communities get demonized and dehumanized as a way to build up a rhetoric and a story that justifies the need for increased policing. Fear and the false sense of safety that cops and prisons create for some people have been the gateway to allow cops license to do inhumane operations that disrupt entire communities and engage with individuals in inhumane ways. This story of fear for lack of safety is never backed up by actual dynamics on the ground. For example, in Oakland youth crime has decreased tremendously, yet the fear mongering around the street violence has used “youth” as a scapegoat to justify the increase of curfews and increase policing.

            Though I already knew the power of centering and empowering the voice of those most impacted, it was definitely revelatory for me to witness the power of educating, organizing, and bringing to the forefront those most impacted. Working with the guys that were listed on the injunctions was not only powerful for our community in Fruitvale, it led to the creation of an organization, invigorated and created a sense of urgency to youth organizers by showing a tangible need for action by bringing the guys around, and it lead to the building of new leaders, as guys on the injunction list saw a whole community backing them up.

            Though there were many more lessons, one other lesson I want to highlight was the strength of having a multi-pronged strategy. Doing work where we had grassroots organizing, legal and media work lead to Oakland being the first city in the country to defeat a gang injunction and it allowed services to be provided to the guys on the list while never compromising our message and larger goal to remove the injunctions completely.

 

Woods Ervin (WE): Part of doing work with STIC was learning about the history of policing and the targeting of street orgs/gangs as part of validating police expansion. I learned about the sinister use of city civil court orders for the purpose of targeting Black and Brown communities—removing one’s right to legal representation when being identified as deserving of added policing. Also, I learned a tremendous amount about the gang validation process—the ways that almost any combination of attributes can arbitrarily get you validated and the impossibility of getting off—as well as the increased likelihood of imprisonment with police contact and penalties while in prison because of said validation.

            I also learned about the ways in which a city can blanket target a specific area for an extra layer of policing and the impact that this has on communities of color. The gang injunction on some members of the community also affected everyone associated with those people within the area of the injunction. This dramatically increased the likelihood of community members leaving their neighborhood because of the experience of intensified policing. Unsurprisingly, the boundaries of the North Oakland Injunction are the exact same boundaries of the touted “NOBE,” [North Oakland, Berkeley, and Emeryville] otherwise known as the “hippest” place to live in the East Bay. The direct link between policing and gentrification was made very stark by watching this development unfold during our fight.

            On a more positive note, I learned some powerful lessons in resistance, definitely via youth organizing. I learned about the history of Prop 21 in the Bay and the impact of youth organizing that went into protesting the passing of this law in the state.2 This left behind a number of linked youth organizations with a tradition of organizing for youth self-determination. Due to this tradition, we were able to engage youth as a coalition via multiple workshops provided in schools and community centers. The youth then mobilized this information accordingly, self-organizing walkouts on protest days and becoming a powerful force when the city proposed a curfew as part of policing package alongside the gang injunctions.

            Lastly, the work that was done by the legal team in relationship with the community organizers really helped me to understand the potential for “inside-outside” strategy. The way that the attorneys prioritized the needs of the codefendants on the injunction list while working to not undermine what the coalition was doing made our work that much stronger, ensuring that we’d be able to achieve our goals.

 

Jay Donahue (JD): One of the biggest things I learned from organizing with the Stop the Injunctions Coalition is historically the PIC is used to enforce the larger overall project of social and economic control of people of color, poor people, queer people and others. Gang suppression tactics began to be used heavily in the 1980s to target street organizations that are ultimately the descendants of radical Third World Left organizations of the 1960s and 70s. The 1980s saw a confluence of government disinvestment in social and economic programs, the systematic movement of drugs into urban areas (sometimes directly related to U.S. foreign policy), and continued repression of Third World left movements for self-determination. It was this confluence that set the stage for the war on gangs, which was really another era of the war on the self-determination of people of color. We can draw parallels from how gang injunctions work in cities like Oakland and Los Angeles, particularly when we look at the geographic locations targeted for injunctions. In the case of the North Oakland injunction, the area, a historically black neighborhood, was being targeted for gentrification. The injunction was a way to make living in that area for Black people untenable and to further push out that community. The city also knew that because of years of repression and targeting that there was a lack of community organizing infrastructure and political power in those neighborhoods. Similarly, the San Antonio and Fruitvale neighborhoods where the East Oakland gang injunction was placed were also being targeted for gentrification, however, there is a long history of strong community organizing and cultural resistance in these neighborhoods, which I believe the city underestimated.

            I also learned, or rather it was reinforced, that because the PIC works in many ways or has many tentacles that it reaches into every aspect of our lives, there are many places to attack the PIC and many ways to fight. I think we saw this quite clearly in the three pronged strategy that STIC employed. We had a grassroots strategy that used mobilizations, art and culture and work with youth as tactics. We had a media strategy that sought to both lift up the voices of those most impacted by the injunctions (those named and their family members) and to bring the language that we were using around the injunctions into the mainstream (for instance, the use of the word “controversial” in the media). Finally, we had a legal strategy that worked to get people named in the injunction off, but that also understood its limitations in the face of organizing against the PIC.

 

CR: How did PIC abolition inform your work during the campaign and after?

 

SS: Though we read in books how the demonization of a scapegoat population allows for the creation of policies that lead to mass incarceration often without any factual data, the gang injunctions showed me how this work in real time and real life. Many of the guys on the gang injunction list who were deemed the toughest criminals that we the city needed to fear, were often never even in gangs and the only fault they had was being born in the “wrong neighborhood.” This was not a story anyone could tell those of us in the Fruitvale, these were our realities. We knew and grew up with the men that were named on that list and many of them were squares that might have had minor offenses and or had been pushed out of Oakland schools. Yet, the gang injunctions were creating the story that if we locked these folks up our communities would be safer.  

            We know what jails do to our folks and we know that policing and jails will only bring about more trauma and violence in our community, so our work in this campaign was also about educating our community not only about the injunctions and about the lies that they had sold our community, but also about the actual impact of policing and prisons.

            With the guys on the list and other community, a huge effort of our campaigns was to both publicize and show to our own community both the fact that we already have solutions that do not include prisons or cops, and what those solutions look like.

            Through block parties, murals, and responding to instance of violence on the street, we were able to galvanize community around the importance of our own solutions and the dangers of us supporting the PIC and relying on or supporting police.

 

WE: I learned about how the city and country targets those they identify as gang members, labelling them as the “worst of the worst” and deserving of an extra layer of policing, thereby validating the existence and expansion of the PIC. PIC abolition demands of us to imagine a world without punishment—meaning that even those deemed the “worst of the worst” require community to think expansively about those that make up community, what are root causes of harm that need to be addressed, and a community member’s capacity to transform and change after engaging in harm. This politic urges us to start with those the state deems “the worst of the worst” and work to do our strongest organizing here to reveal the PIC as an agent engaging in massive perpetual harm for the purposes of maintaining the socio-economic status quo.

            This came into play a year later when the 2011 hunger strikes were launched by the organizers at Pelican Bay.3 There is a through line via the CalGang4 database specifically but through a larger politic that connects the gang injunctions via gang validation to the prison within a prison—solitary confinement or administrative segregation.

            The struggle the hunger strikers took against their treatment within solitary confinement meant combating this narrative of “the worst of the worst” inside of prison, reclaiming their own dignity and humanity through their struggle with the California Department of Corrections. It also served to reframe who was the true perpetrator of egregious harms given that they were willing to starve themselves rather spend any more time being treated the way that the California prison system treated them.

            This politic definitely informed the communications and organizing work that CR was able to participate in support the strikers win their demands.

 

JD: I think the coalition overall and Critical Resistance more specifically really pushed to maintain abolitionist strategies as part of this campaign. We did this is a few ways, so maybe I’ll touch on just a couple. First, we resisted the pitting of one group of people who were named against another. This happens often in struggles against the PIC where one group of people is “bad” and deserves the punishment the state is seeking and the other is “good” and deserves to be spared this punishment. This emerged in the injunctions struggle as some people who were named were truly part of a gang and others were falsely accused. We sought to bring all of the named people to the organizing table while simultaneously providing historical and current local context for the emergence of street organizations in Oakland. Additionally, we sought to center the messaging for the campaign around the fact that injunctions are attacks on communities of color and youth of color.

We also pursued abolitionist reforms to the injunctions in the face of resistance by the city to ending them altogether. An example of this was getting the city to remove the use of “John Does” from the injunctions. The “John Does” were used as place holders to allow the city to add more people to the injunctions down the line. This was huge victory. Finally, I think we recognized that abolishing the PIC and even incremental steps towards that goal are a long haul struggle. This campaign took years to achieve the final victory of the city taking the injunctions off the books as a tool for policing in Oakland.

 

CR: How do you see STIC’s anti-policing work to be part of ongoing liberation struggles in Oakland?

 

SS: I think the work of STIC led to the creation of strong alliances around the city around anti-policing work, abolition work, and work to support home grown solutions. These alliances have stuck around and strengthened work around gentrification, building up and building on solutions like community gardens, community response, safety models, and the work around the larger fight around policing and the militarization of cops.5

The lessons learned through this campaign and the success this campaign had has strengthen our ongoing work in the city and has served as a model to follow in other campaigns where we both want to serve the people without compromising our values and larger goals.

            Also the success of the campaign lead to the creation of CURYJ (Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice) which is an organization that employs gang impacted youth to do anti-violence work in the community and it has at its leadership guys who were named on the injunction list and got politicized. This organization is still around today and continues the work around education and organizing to heal our communities and battle the PIC in its different forms.

 

WE: There are two ways that the legacy of STIC lives on within CR. First, with our organizing in the Stop Urban Shield Coalition. There’s an overlap in organizations and organizers, a sharp articulation of the negative impact of policing on communities of color, whether it be everyday policing to extreme instances of policing and the way that scapegoating and fear-mongering is mobilized to expand police powers.

            Also the anti-policing work of STIC lives on through the Oakland Power Projects.6 The Oakland Power Projects were developed directly after STIC closed with a people’s victory. Part of the project’s initial development was by interviewing allies that mobilized as part of STIC in order determine what is a project that articulates what Oakland needs more of while eroding the power of policing. This question and dreams and schemes with STIC allies led to shaping out this project, which asks community members to decouple policing from what it claims to do, and lift up and fund resources that actually keep communities safe, healthy, and whole.

 

JD: The work of STIC really solidified anti-policing work in Oakland in the wake of the uprisings following the murder of Oscar Grant. STIC was born in a city that was already policing resistant, and the strength of our organizing ensured that this resistance is more targeted and strategic. The work of STIC also served to solidify various coalitions or to pave the way for coalition work that before might not have been possible, specifically the Stop Urban Shield Coalition and Third World Resistance. I believe that STIC organizing also paved the way for the emergence of other formations such as the Anti-Police Terror Project and the Oakland Power Projects. STIC’s organizing made it clear that Oakland residents were ready and willing to resist policing by building their skills and tools to not use the police as a default response to harm.

 

 


Endnotes:

1 The “Abolition of Policing” workshop materials are available on the CR website: http://criticalresistance.org/abolish-policing/.

2 Proposition 21 was a statewide measure that passed in March 2000, severely increasing punishment for young people over 14. The law is a true example of being “tough on crime” by mandating adult trials for young people convicted of murder, and eliminating certain civil liberties previously extended to youth such as confidentiality and informal probation. Under Prop 21, people labeled as “gang members” or affiliates similarly had their rights stripped away and mandated to receive harsher punishments.

3 Critical Resistance-Oakland organized in support of the 2011 Pelican Bay Hunger Strike on the outside through the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition. For more information see on the strikes and ongoing struggles against solitary in California and beyond visit: https://prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com/ 

4 “CalGang” refers to a state-level database of suspected “gang members and affiliates” which problematically employs the same logic of gang injunctions by criminalizing street organizations and increasing the reach of policing into communities. Listing over 150,000 individuals, CalGang has been called out for frequent inaccuracies and a general lack of transparency as it is overseen by the very law enforcement agencies that use it.

5 The Stop Urban Shield Coalition has actively organized against one of the largest military weapons and trainings expo held in Alameda County since 2014, building on the anti-policing frameworks of STIC. See more at: http://stopurbanshield.org/.

6 Find out more about the Oakland Power Projects on the CR website: http://criticalresistance.org/chapters/cr-oakland/the-oakland-power-projects/.

 

 
Stop the Injunctions Coalition (STIC) was a diverse group of organizations, families, and concerned community members that joined together to fight gang injunctions in Oakland, CA. To learn more about STIC’s historic victory against the racist “anti-gang” movement visit https://stoptheinjunction.wordpress.com/.
Woods Ervin is a black genderqueer trans person and organizer. Woods is currently doing active work to dismantle the prison industrial complex and come up with transformative practices for addressing legacies of community and systemic harm with the TGI Justice Project and Critical Resistance. Woods uses they/them pronouns.
Sagnicthe Salazar is a first generation undocumented migrant Xicana from East Oakland by way of Guadalajara, Jalisco. He is a grassroots organizer and educator who has dedicated the last 18 years of his life to organizing for cultural, educational, work and human rights of Raza communities and communities throughout. He organizes with Xicana Moratorium Coalition developing Xicana change agents and building with different communities through various coalition work. He was the Dean of Restorative Discipline and School Culture at Castlemont High School and now the Director of Restorative Discipline at Elmhurst Community Prep in East Oakland.
 Jay Donahue is a member of the Oakland chapter of Critical Resistance and has fought the violence of policing and imprisonment through local campaigns and coalitions such as the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition and the Bay Area Committee to Stop Political Repression. He participated in the Stop the Injunctions Campaign by supporting media and communications work. Jay currently lives in Geneva, NY.
Critical Resistance-Oakland is one chapter of a larger national organization that seeks to build an international movement to abolish the Prison Industrial Complex by challenging the belief that caging and controlling people makes us safe. They believe that basic necessities such as food, shelter, and freedom are what really make our communities secure. As such, their work is part of global struggles against inequality and powerlessness. The success of an international abolitionist movement requires that it reflect the communities most affected by the PIC. Because of that CR employs strategies to abolish the PIC and does not support any work that extends its life or scope.