Black clergy, officials strategize to address crime, violence in Oakland, Berkeley, beyond

Black elected officials, religious leaders gather in Oakland with law enforcement officials to strategize on crime reduction.

By Reginald James

Elected officials and clergy gathered in Oakland on Wednesday to strategize and share best-practices on crime prevention. The breakfast meeting, hosted by the Black Elected Officials and Faith Based Leaders of the East Bay and chaired by Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson, featured a policy expert and four Bay Area police chiefs.

“We have every one of these programs operating in our community but we need to use all the resources in a systematic and coordinated way."
Junious Williams
Urban Strategies Council
Oakland has many violence prevention programs, including street outreach workers—community members with information about job opportunities, substance abuse services and health resources. There are also vocational training programs, conflict resolution and youth leadership and mentoring programs. Because of a lack of coordinated effort, the overall impact to the community has not been maximized, panelist said.

“We have every one of these programs operating in our community but we need to use all the resources in a systematic and coordinated way,” said Junious Williams of the Urban Strategies Council. He added that there was also a need to bolster efforts to get neighbors and families to know one another. “The lack of social connection in neighborhoods has created a whole culture about snitching that makes it impossible for law enforcement to intervene when violence has occurred.”

Police chiefs agreed, adding that budget cuts have pitted services against each other, making it difficult to decide how to prioritize spending. Despite the need for increased public safety, more community involvement was needed.

“We need to move from locking people up to community engagement,” said Oakland Police Chief Anthony Batts. Besides intervention, there’s a need for prevention, he argued. “We have to make a difference in people’s lives before people are in the system,” Batts said.

Other panelists include Berkeley Police Chief Michael Meehan, San Leandro Police Chief Sandra Spagnoli and BART Police Chief Kenton Rainey.
With reduced budgets and police layoffs, law enforcement said the need for community involvement was greater than ever.
“I tell my people all the time, ‘There is no more help coming. It’s only us’,” said BART Police Chief Kenton Rainey. “But ‘us’ is not just police. When we work together, there [are] so many more of us than them.”
The meeting’s topic struck a deep chord with the group as one of its founding members, Berresford “Berry” Bingham, was found dead Tuesday. Police have not said how Bingham was killed, but are investigating his death as a homicide.

“Many of you knew him as an active member of SEIU, and from founding this organization nine years ago,” Carson said at the beginning of the presentation. “It’s sad that a person who epitomized public service found himself dying in a way he dedicated his life to overturning.”

Despite this most recent tragedy, both panelists and attendees were optimistic about the potential to prevent crime, but said more coordinated, community involvement was needed.

Before the meeting ended, attendees were encouraged to get involved with a number of youth-serving and violence prevention organizations, including The Mentoring Center, Youth Alive, and the Alameda County Public Health Department. Recently, a faith-based group, Soldiers Against Violence Everywhere (SAVE) pledged to rally every Saturday between 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at sites where murders occurred in Oakland the week before.

Visit the Facebook page of the Black elected Officials and Faith Based Leaders of the East Bay for more information about the group.

Disclosure: Reginald James is the New Media Specialist for Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson.

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