Historically, Oakland has always been a site of social change, protests and powerful dialogue about important social issues.
On Thurs May 21, Oakland stood in solidarity with the #SayHerName movement, which sheds light on the overlooked murders of Black women and Black trans people at the hands of police, an issue where they’re are constantly being silenced. 300 women gathered in Downtown Oakland and shared poetry and music, celebrating the beauty of womanhood and Blackness. Just as they were about to march to the Oakland Police Department headquarters, OPD surrounded them and halted their demonstration.
Mayor Libby Schaaf has placed a ban on nighttime protests to prevent street vandalism and damage of public property, after the May 1st protests, where property was damaged. However Schaaf did not speak publicly about the matter until Friday, May 22. According to Schaaf, this new order is not a form of control, but rather a form of management. I can’t help but notice how much more she seems to value the windows and cars in Downtown Oakland than she does the voices of the Black women demanding justice for their fallen sisters.
In fact, she loves those damn windows so much, that she took the extra step and violated not only a long standing Oakland city policy on crowd control, which puts in place limitations on time, place and manner of political speech, but also robbed the people of their first amendment rights, the right to peacefully assemble. Schaaf then had the audacity to say she did this in the interest of protecting everyone’s freedom of expression.
Sometimes I wonder if she hears herself when she speaks.
Schaaf was the commencement speaker at my graduation from Mills this year. It was wildly disappointing to learn that the efforts of my amazing colleagues to have the speaker changed to Alicia Garza, one of the creators of the Black Lives Matter movement (who agreed to do it), was denied by the institution.
Student speaker Sonj Basha led a demonstration inviting the graduating class to hold up yellow sheets of paper that read, “Black Lives Matter” and “End Police Brutality.” Basha turned around and held the paper up directly in front of Schaaf, who sat there and smiled uncomfortably.
We were left to listen to Schaaf’s speech about how we should value human interaction and relationships. She ended by thanking the students who organized to have the speaker changed for reaching out to her personally and engaging in a productive dialogue about the issues at hand.
…and then she pulls this. She chooses to implement this change in policy immediately after the May 21 protests in San Francisco, where Black women blocked traffic wearing nothing but their bottoms as a part of the #SayHerName movement. Oakland followed suit by also participating in the movement. Schaaf made her fear of Oaklanders calling attention to the same injustices known by trying to put an end to it. She was so scared that she must have forgotten that the first amendment protects the right to petition the government and to peacefully assemble.
According to Schaaf, she does not want to put an end to nighttime protests altogether. She just wants to implement more “management, not control” on the protests to prevent damaging of public property. However, there was no such vandalism at the #SayHerName protest in Downtown Oakland. Given the national climate and the local climate, Schaaf’s decision to implement this policy criminalizes the Black women who are speaking up about the injustices they face.
Schaaf is demonizing them, which only perpetuates the racism that results in the violence that these women are protesting against in the first place. Schaaf is suggesting that keeping the windows of the city intact carries more value than the voices of those who are losing their loved ones to racially charged police brutality. That is a clear cut way of saying that she does believe that Black Lives Matter.
Black women’s voices deserve to be heard, not silenced, and all Schaaf wants to do is mute the demand for equality.