Anyone who has spent any time in Northern California's Bay Area can sense the tension between its citizens and the local police forces. East Oakland is a neighborhood known for its history of gang violence and police brutality, two problems that many argue could feed off each other. I recently started an internship at KALW Radio here in San Francisco, where I first learned about a unique series of investigative reports called the Oakland Fault Lines Project. Young reporters teamed up with Mills College, the Vesper Society, a local nonprofit entitled Youth Uprising, and KALW to provide an in-depth look at how and why these cycles of violence begin in the East Bay.
The stories, which are reported by Sandhya Dirks and Sarah Gonzalez, have been divided into a series of installments that feature local youth, law enforcement officials, community leaders and nonprofit organizers who engage in an active dialogue to question just how these problems form. The featured stories include an exploration of Measure Y, a campaign that included outreach programs for local youth, as well as an inside look on the accessibility of guns on the street. There are also revealing interviews with Jakada Imani, the Executive Director for the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, and David Kozicki, Deputy Chief of Police. Perhaps the most moving excerpt that I've heard so far was the exchange between Youth Uprising contributor Darrel Armstead, who grew up in Oakland, and Kozicki. Armstead asked him why African Americans are so often targeted by police officers, and explained why so many young people growing up in the area adopt the attitude of "F**k the police."
These stories resonate for me because they find a way to ask the questions that so many people are afraid to broach. Issues of race and class are timeless, and although the public attitude toward both is constantly evolving, I think it is easy to forget that unless we as a society are actively listening to each other, very little will change. It is one thing to acknowledge gang violence, police brutality and institutionalized racism, but is an entirely different act of courage to question it, much less probe those who are most closely affected.
The first time I was made aware of the conflicts between East Bay residents and the police was when I was in high school. I was a senior when the planes flew into the Twin Towers in 2001, and within twenty-four hours I had witnessed the seeds of racial profiling, not just on a national level, but locally as well. I grew up in Davis, a hunky dory university town about 80 miles from the East Bay, not without its own racial mini-dramas. After watching the 9/11 news in my government class, Mr. Winters invited all of us to go to the American Civil Liberties Union conference at UC Berkeley. The conference was scheduled long before 9/11, but the themes were eerily apt: the topics at hand were largely related to racial and social profiling, and how police forces across California were required to adopt a new system of profiling after September 11th.
It shocked me to realize how many innocent people are pulled over for alleged violations (such as faulty headlights, missing registration stickers, etc.) and then treated in a manner disproportionate to their "crime." And then I realized: this is a reality for many people around the world, even within our most democratic United States.I can't claim to know or understand just what this experience is like, being profiled for something simply because I fit a certain set of physical or cultural criteria, but listening to the Fault Lines interviews has given me a greater sense of why these situations occur, and how it makes people feel.