Max Allstadt: A civics lesson for the kids at Skyline

Before Tuesday night’s city council meeting, a bunch of kids from Skyline High protested the BART Police shooting of Oscar Grant. Unfortunately they seem to not know how their local government works. Well, if Skyline won’t teach them local civics, uncle Max is gonna have to do it himself. Skyline parents, teachers and students, if you’re reading, tell a friend to check this out. My lesson begins below…

My concern is that the students had a list of impossible demands. I list each demand below, along with my explanations of why they were impossible demands.

  1. The students want the other BART Officers on scene to be arrested. The council cannot do anything about this because they are lawmakers, not law enforcers. This is a concept known as separation of powers that I would have hoped was covered in civics class.
  2. They students want the city council to disarm BART police. Again, no can do. This one is is about the concept of jurisdiction and the limits of authority. BART is a multi-county agency. The Oakland City Council governs only one city which falls within only one of the multiple counties in which BART operates. The Council does not make policy decisions for BART police.
  3. They students want the BART police to stay out of Oakland. Again, the City Council has no jurisdiction to decree anything of the sort.
  4. They students want an independent public hearing to investigate the killing of Oscar Grant. Problem: Alameda County District Attorney Tom Orloff has already started an investigation. Has any public agency involved in the incident not started an investigation? What exactly would constitute an “independent” investigation? A separate task force? Appointed by whom? Why is this necessary when Orloff has already indicted Meserle for murder? Typically, independent investigations only happen when a conflict of interest is a risk. The Alameda County DA’s office is totally separate from BART, so a conflict of interest is unlikely. Particularly considering that BART’s screw-up made a great big mess for Alameda County.

While I admire the spirit and commitment of these Skyline students, I am saddened that none of the adults in their life stopped to advise them about how local government actually works.

Because of this lack of guidance, they approached a democratic lawmaking body with demands that only a king could respond to. If we had a civics program in OUSD that required at least one teacher per high school to understand local government, perhaps these young protesters would be able to lobby effectively instead of just making noise.

Jean Quan, the school is in your district, and you’re also the council member with the most ties to OUSD. Why don’t these kids have a clue about how their city runs? All too often, impassioned protests at Oakland City Council are dismissed as distractions to the business of the day. I hope at least a few councilmembers take advantage of the Oscar Grant tragedy to get out to a civics class in their district to use this moment of piqued interest to reach out and teach.

To the kids of Skyline High:

I am glad you had the interest and passion to take the time to go to the City Hall and make your voices heard. And please, don’t take my comments here to be dismissive of your concerns. I’m just trying to make sure that the adults in your life use this as a teachable moment.

It’s quite possible that the majority of adults in Oakland have similar misunderstandings of how local government operates. I hope that Skyline’s civics and social studies teachers will help you learn how local government operates. I hope you will spread this knowledge to your peers and to the adults in your life.

On Tuesday, you exercised your constitutional right to petition your government for redress of grievances. It’s a start. You were heard, and your sentiments will be remembered. But if you learn the details of how local government operates, you won’t just be remembered for your feelings, you will be able to be effective. If you know what our leaders are allowed to do, and what they cannot do, you’ll be able to suggest changes that can actually be implemented, and that is how you can change your city for the better.

77 thoughts on “Max Allstadt: A civics lesson for the kids at Skyline

  1. Michael H

    Hello all,

    I just wanted to make a few points of suggestion for the kids to more effectively participate in civics. To go along with some of the points already made.

    1. If the students wanted to further pursue their demand to arrest the reminding officers involved in the incident, the person they should be lobbying to is the mayor. I believe in any case, the mayor of any local municipality also assumes the position as head of the policing unit.

    2. I would have to disagree with Uncle Max on this one, it is possible to lobby to the city council to disarm Bart Police, the City council could easily develop some form anti-gun legislation, which I don’t believe would be too bad. I think washington DC has tried to ban many forms firearms, and still manage to fall within the constitution in the eyes of the supreme court.

    3 & 4. Not much you can about these.

    I have to agree that the enthusiasm of the students is great, I would suggest the students form an organized union, and continue to make demands even if they are ridiculous. This is what democracy is all about, and they at least have that right.

    I would suggest that if the students are interested, they should maybe speak to the BART policing unit, and ask for them to review and revise their police procedures to correct outdated practices, so incidents such as these won’t happen again.

    Michael H.

  2. V Smoothe

    Michael –

    That’s a lot of really bad advice right there. One, the Mayor has absolutely no authority in this situation. Any lobbying for punitive action against the other officers present at the scene is appropriately directed at the District Attorney, which is the only office empowered to do anything about it. Two, the City Council has absolutely no legal authority to disarm the BART Police.

    And what on earth is the point of “mak[ing] demands even if they are ridiculous”? Encouraging students to ask for things that are not possible is not a route to productive civic engagement.

  3. dto510

    For some reason I doubt that the students came up with all of this on their own. Was there an adult behind the curtain, feeding them misinformation? It wouldn’t be the first time duped teenagers were used to push an adult’s agenda in front of the City Council.

  4. Frank

    I agree that the enthusiasm of the group to engage in public discourse is promising, But I whole heartedly agree with V. Smoothe that in order to be effective, the group really does need to understand how government works. Making “demands even if they are ridiculous” hurts the credibility of the students which goes a long way in determining how seriously their demands are taken. Well thought out positions and arguments, presented to the proper governmental authorities will get them much further in their quest for results. If the group does not like the way government works, then they can become involved in the process by learning as much about the system as they can and then VOTE when they are old enough. Or at least convince their families members who are old enough to do the same thing. An informed and engaged electorate is a powerful electorate and can make great things happen.

  5. Michael H


    I am sorry, but I have to disagree. I believe the police department is under the direction of the mayor, and the district attorney works with the police to develop a case against criminals. So any investigative actions regarding any case would require a collaborative effort between the investigators and prosecutors. Correct me if I am wrong here.

    It seems pretty clear that legislators can provide some form regulation regarding the use of handguns. The following article talks a little about the recently struck down handgun ban in Washington DC.

    The final comment I made in the previous post speaks to how government works for us, and not vice versa. If a large enough collective would like to see the following issues regulated in one way, shape, or form, then it is their responsibility to present our concerns and suggestions for discussion, and in my opinion many of the current regulations that we live by ARE ridiculous, so I don’t see much of difference.

    Participation is how change happens, whether for the better of worse is relative in opinion. I stand by the advice. Makes sense to me. Agree to disagree.

    Michael H.

  6. V Smoothe

    Yes, Michael. You are wrong. You are wrong in thinking the Mayor has any power whatsoever over who is charged with what crime and you are wrong in thinking that Oakland has any power to disarm the BART Police. Frankly, I don’t really know why anyone with a very basic understanding of government would believe either of those things to be true. But, of course, I already said this in my last comment. I’m not sure why you asked to be corrected again.

  7. len raphael

    true that the demands of the skyline kids are being presented to offcials who have no power to meet the demands, but the kids or their leaders are not interested in being taken seriously by say the city council.

    there is a long tradition of groups exercising political pressure in american cities by demonstrating in front of city hall. even though city hall has no jurisdiction, the officials that do have juridisdiction watch in the media and evaluate the political costs of ignoring those demonstrators.

    i don’t agree with their demands, but their tactics are sound.

  8. V Smoothe

    Len, the students held a press conference with specific demands of the Oakland City Council. These same demands were then repeated to the Council by a number of speakers at Open Forum, and when the Council informed them that they could not do as requested that night, some of those present because quite disruptive.

  9. policywank

    If you want to direct the kids toward elected officials, the City of Oakland is the wrong place to send them. The BART board of directors has authority over the BART police, though not a great history of actually supervising them or caring. Supervision of the BART police usually falls to employees of BART who don’t interact all that directly with the board. BART was created by the state government. The legislature could intervene, but is unlikely to unless more systemic problems are found.

    This could be incorrect or outdated information, but it is my understanding that BART police officers, as state officers, can actually carry their weapons and operate in any part of the state. The City of Oakland could no more easily disarm BART cops than they could disarm CHP troopers (which is to say they can’t).

  10. John

    Jeez….don’t we all wish that all we needed to do to get our pet policies and political views enacted into to law was to go rant at the City Council once during Open Forum. If that were the case, we’d now live in the “City of Sanjiv Handa.”

  11. DontBotherDelores

    Michael H-

    Far be it from this writer to undermine the talented 8 behind the dais of the 1 Frank Ogawa Plaza however we can’t even get our plastic bag bans to stick so I wouldn’t be alls optimistic about that group trotting out some handgun ban for BART Police to stick past this Supreme Court whens they just decided on it 7 months ago, Okay?

  12. Andy

    Some of these comments point to why I have so little faith in the citizen of Oakland getting things right. Even when it is clearly explained how things work, some still don’t get it.

    As DontBotherDelores also points out, it seems some Oaklanders don’t pay attention to failed policies in other parts of the country. The DC gun ban was, in my opinion, big news when the Sup. Court over turned it.

  13. PinoyOaklander

    I’m a Skyline Senior High student 11′. I don’t really know much about the government, but I do know a lot of problems that arises from Oakland’s local government. I agree, because most Skyline High students don’t know anything about the local government, nor what’s really going on in Oakland. They only find out through the media most of the time.

  14. Max Allstadt


    Your point is exactly my point. I suppose I should have directed the students at the right place to raise a ruckus.


    I’m glad you’re reading this. Please spread it around. There really are numerous opportunities for youth and students to get involved in local government. But the more you understand how the game works, the more you can win.

  15. Max Allstadt

    Oh, and Michael H, as far as anti-gun legislation goes, not only was the DC Gun ban struck down as unconstitutional by a relatively conservative US supreme court, but San Francisco tried the same thing and had it struck down by the California supreme court. Furthermore, both DC and SF are municipalities and counties/districts in one. Oakland’s level of power within the bay area and within Alameda county are much more limited.

  16. V Smoothe

    Not only that, but the DC gun ban issue is totally irrelevant with respect to disarming BART police. As policywank explains, Oakland (or any other city or county) has no power to prohibit sworn officers regulated by a different body from carrying weapons.

  17. Max Allstadt

    Exactly, neither the DC ban or the SF ban covered on-duty cops. The plaintiff in the suit against DC was a sworn officer who wanted to keep his weapon assembled while off duty.

  18. Tab

    I’m reading an awfully narrow view of how public policy gets changed. Voicing concerns and making demands can have a cumulative effect, whether or not the lawmakers before you have the final authority. One small example: it seems clear that Orloff moved his investigation along faster after he started hearing from the Mayor, Council, AG, and thousands of really angry people.

    If me and my minions decided that disarming the BART cops was crucial (mind you, I don’t think this, but play along), I’d turn folks out to the City Council Open Forums of Oakland, Berkeley, SF, etc etc. Because enlisting those folks on my side, even symbolically, would absolutely help add pressure on the policy makers who actually did hold the authority.

    And it’s Open Forum…I can speak about whatever I want. And if a hidebound patrician like Jean Quan heaved a sigh and patronized me with a lecture about who makes what decisions, I’d be pissed as hell, and would strive to see her replaced some day with someone better schooled in how outrage turns to change. (Hint…it ain’t by pointing angry folks to the next shiny gov’t building down the street).

  19. Max Allstadt

    It is true that all of the clamoring in the past few weeks led to Orloff’s indictment. But it was already done.

    Another thing that is interesting about the past two weeks is that people wanted government to move faster than it does. Indictments take time. Investigations take time. Ultimately I think that what has happened is that democracy worked. The consensus of angry citizens was that BART needed oversight, and that Meserle needed to be investigated. Both of these were already happening when Tuesday night’s open forum got loud and protesty.

    What I was speaking out about was poor civics education. While it’s true that open forum is exactly what it’s called, the speakers were demanding the impossible. At best, the council could have put an item on the agenda for the following meeting which would have symbolically called for what the protesters had demanded. The council would never have done this. I’m just mentioning it because it would have been the maximum extent to which they could have exercised their power to appease the protesters.

    So what we had were protesters grandstanding, and for their efforts the best they could have achieved was getting the Council to do some grandstanding two weeks later. If the kids knew the rules of the game, they could have invested their energy and enthusiasm in achieving a much more substantive goal.

  20. len raphael

    the city council is no font of civics education. over the years hasn’t it passed resolutions on a wide variety of issues over which it has 0 jurisdiction? eg. various anti war declarations?

    you can hardly blame the students because they came up through the OUSD where the school board would routinely suspend normal classes for teach ins or protests on topics remotely connected to education.

  21. Erin Battlefield

    I dunno, seems like asking the wrong politicians for something and then learning you need to try a different route is a pretty good civics lesson.

    I asked the president for a pony when I was little, and there was no great harm done to either the president or me.

  22. Max Allstadt

    Len, I’m not blaming the students at all. And anti-war declarations are well within the Council’s role. They never ordered a war to end. The just made symbolic declarations.

  23. Rev Steve Best

    Community Policing:

    Community Policing is a valuable resource in motivating neighborhood residents to cooperate with police in reducing crime. Although it is not a cure-all, community policing can have a positive impact by establishing a volunteer police chaplain program (at little of no cost to the PD). Assigning volunteer police chaplains to specific police sectors where their respective congregations are located accomplishes three purposes. 1) Clergy are known in the community and are privy to issues in their specific neighborhood. 2) A PD has an additional and respected voice in neighborhoods. 3) Parental control of neighborhood youth is enhanced. (What would grandma say if she knew what you are doing?) PD chaplains riding with police officers send a message to the community that the faith community is a player in reducing crime and public nuisances. “Stories of the Street: Images of the Human Condition” demonstrates the significant contribution volunteer police chaplains make in serving specific neighborhoods. Ref:
    Volunteer Police Chaplain Steve Best, (Ret.)

  24. Max Allstadt


    That’s exacly what I wanted to help happen here. I wanted to provide a complete explanation of why those demands were not going to be met.

  25. V Smoothe

    Steve -

    Comments here are for discussing the actual blog post, not for promoting whatever random cause you’re attached to. You have left this comment, word for word, on the blog previously. Copying and pasting identical text repeatedly, whether or not it’s relevant is called spam. If you leave the same comment again, I’m going to delete it and if it keeps happening, I will block you from commenting. If you want to participate in the discussion, please do so with respect and say relevant things.

  26. Steve Lowe


    Sorry if my posts are becoming repetitive (when one gets well past retirement age, these things begin happen more frequently no matter what) and not exactly to the point ABO’s blog blockers wish to pursue; however, I don’t check in but once every so often to find out what the the blogophiles at this site are up to; so when I saw that Aaron Metals (and, by association, all of Oakland’s recyclers) was being discussed, I thought I’d try and inform everyone here what the WOPAC, WOCAG, WOCA, WOEIP, WOTRC (all groups that are fighting a huge battle for clean air – a battle, incidentally, that, in my opinion, recieves only scant attention from ABO) believe can be achieved, hopefully with help from those who seem to be interested in the prospect of the recyclers’ relocation but not yet committed enough to sign on or demand that their Councilperson advocate for what is, after all, just plain, common sense.

    Or were you refeerring to another Steve? If so, I can be Old Steve, Steve Lowe, Steve-who-hates-the-Airport-Connector or anything else that might distinguish me or my agenda from the multitudes of other Steves out there.


    – S

  27. Mike Spencer

    I do hope that the half-baked proposal to disarm BART cops is coming from students and not adults. Okay. Check this: BART does not check patrons for weapons, no metal detectors, nothing. Do you think bad guys ever carry weapons on BART? Bet they do. I will still take my chances on letting BART cops, or other professional trained and certified law enforcement, carry guns in the line of duty. The Grant tragedy should force all police to review training procedures and applicant screening procedures. Legislation out of raw emotion is usually not very sound.

  28. V Smoothe

    Steve Lowe -

    If you had bothered to read the comments here before jumping into to the discussion, it would have been abundantly clear that I was not addressing you. Reading what other people have to say before adding your own thoughts and keeping your comments relevant to the topic at hand are a key aspects of the expected standards of behavior on this blog, and in fact, most blogs. If these norms are unfamiliar or confusing to you, I suggest you try holding your tongue for a bit while taking some time to read through recent discussions. Learning by example is a good way to get a sense of what’s appropriate.

  29. Steve Lowe

    Uh, okay, I guess…

    Basically, I get kinda confused when there’s a lot of comment on one subject, and then it just drifts off onto something else despite all sorts of sturmunddrang about resolving the issue in the most practical way, almost as if no one wants to take a stand when the chips are down…?

    …but I’ll try to behave better in this brave new whirl.


    – S

  30. V Smoothe

    Steve, if you’re interested in raising an issue that isn’t the subject of one of the posts here, you can leave comments in the Open Thread.

  31. Deckin

    Max, you’re surprised that students a sizable chunk of whom probably can’t name two of the three branches of the federal government can’t fathom the niceties of municipal government? I hope you’re not offended that I find disillusionment touchingly naive. My advice is not to visit a high school classroom for the rest of your life.

  32. Patrick

    It’s not disillusionment. It’s a lack of knowledge – and a pretty scary lack at that. Just as you wouldn’t go to the Safeway fish counter to ask for cheese, you don’t go to the Oakland City Council to demand that BART police give up their guns, etc – or riot in Oakland to protest the killing of Oscar Grant, for that matter. It is frightening how few people – high school students or no – still don’t realize that the BART shooting and the City of Oakland (as an entity) are only related by virtue of location of the incident.

  33. Tim

    Well, I’m sure many of you have already seen the latest report by KTVU on this story. We’ve done a brief write-up on the incident on our website:

    Channel 2 has obtained an additional piece of video tape showing another BART Police officer punching Oscar Grant in the face moments before he was shot to death on the Fruitvale Station platform. If this story were not shocking and disturbing enough, new twists continue to flow in.

  34. drydock

    How often does going through the “appropriate” channels to address police abuse grievances actually get any results?

    Almost never.

    I agree with Len Raphael’s above comment: their tactics are sound.

  35. Max Allstadt


    Have you heard of the Riders Scandal and the Negotiated Settlement Agreement that followed it?

    Democracy and free speech operate via a number of pathways. Mass public protest is one pathway, and it does accomplish some things, some times. Mostly it just sets a tone and makes the consensus of the public known to the people who actually operate the wheels of government.

    Getting specific demands met, like the ones the students and other protesters made last Tuesday, is never accomplished by making noise and complaining to a Council that has no power to meet those demands. If these students and older protesters had made these demands to their State Representative, or to BART board, it is still likely that they would have been rebuffed… BUT, and this is important… if they had been rebuffed by politicians who actually did have the power to do what they asked, they would know who to vote against later.

    The council couldn’t do anything, so voting them out over this (as opposed to their many other screw ups) would make absolutely no sense. If you agree with these students demands, it would make sense to vote against a BART board member or State Senator or State Representative who refused to push to get the demands met.

    How many ways can I phrase this: Your best bet to change government is to know how it works, who’s in charge of what, and who’s responsible for what. These protesters did not know that, and as such have had no success.

  36. Max Allstadt

    Mike Spencer,

    Harry Harris had an EXCELLENT article in the Trib recently about how BART police are indeed adequately trained. In depth, well written, informative. All of which leads me to think that the issue is more about oversight, accountability, and one group of cops that went too far.

  37. Isaiah Toney

    Fellow Bloggers:

    If I wrote a separate response to all of these posts, my own post would be so long that I might not even want to reread it myself. So instead I’ll ask some pointed questions and hope that they land in the correct place.

    Why have we started with the assumption that these students are stupid? Where is the reporter’s interview of a leader of this action detailing the motives and justifications that these students operate under? (if this or something similar does exist, please do tell me)

    Why have we on this blog made the assumption that these students were acting upon faulty information? Couldn’t they be asking for something that they know cannot be done as a means of arguing that it should be able to be done? Doesn’t our Pledge of Allegiance demand Freedom and Justice for All? Do we have it today? Is that really the wrong thing to ask for? Doesn’t asking for something that seems improbable make it seem not impossible?

    What qualifies Meaningful Civic Engagement? Is it merely voting? Working at City Hall? Running for office? Protesting in an organized fashion? An unorganized fashion? Is it writing on blogs and talking to friends, family or neighbors? Is it not a sign of civic engagement that an individual, relatively free from external political pressure (for whatever reason), attend every single City Council meeting and comment on whatever he so chooses to comment on? Is it getting together with fellow students and after discussing current events coming to the realization that certain demands must be made, and that those demands will seem odd to THOSE WHO DO NOT SHARE SIMILAR LIFE EXPERIENCES? And then to have the courage to make those demands?

    Which of these forms of Civic Engagement is best? How would you rank them and why? How would these students rank them and why?

    What are “the rules of the game?” What happens when our youth play by those rules? (think of exercising the right to vote here) Why are these youth in particular so resistant to playing by these rules?

    The worst part about Nextset’s rant is that he’s missed not only history and context, but the point also. The community has a type of closure on the Oscar Grant murder, but not on all the other ones, like my friend Marco Casillas murdered 9/19/08. Pointless resolutions from city council help people reinvest in local government because they can recognize their own feelings of desperation in their elected leaders’ actions. So the practical purpose that it serves is not in the enforcement of the words on the paper, but the reconstruction of a communal sense of justice, if not lead by city hall, at least recognized by it. The civics lesson here isn’t about playing by the rules, its about getting things done. There is a broader vision that folks on this blog are simply missing.

    Local government, and all government for that matter, should work the way that we tell it to. In my 13 years in OUSD I not once got a civics lesson outside the context of history of government screwups. The best way to change government is to know what is wrong with it, and knowing what it looks like when government does what you want it to.

    Some of my friends say f— the government in the same breath that they say f— the police. I don’t want them to say either really, and when people like this attack them in this way it makes it hard to tell them not to say f— the government. A great deal of this discussion operates with a certain premise that has proven, in the eyes of myself and some of the students of Skyline High School, to fail us.

    -Isaiah Toney

  38. len raphael

    IT, part of the criticism by many participants here to the skyline student method, is generated by the appropriate predominance on abo of a policy analysis oriented group of bloggers. basically, urban policy wonks self taught and otherwise.

    that’s a good thing because oakland has had years of residents who left the thinking about their town’s administration to the pro’s who weren’t the sharpest knives in the draw. me, i’m not too impressed either by the long term results achieved by community activists who had to get what they could by the means they had available. but my impression is that the panthers had better thought out policy proposals than say accorn.

    too much to hope that skyline students would devote more thought to how and why they’re acting, and more talking head bloggers would take to the streets occasionally.

    -len raphael

  39. Max Allstadt

    Sometimes talking head bloggers do take to the streets… and live blog riots. Yeesh. Give a guy a little credit.

  40. Isaiah Toney

    The Black Panthers and ACORN both serve(d) different purposes. And these students at Skyline are serving yet another purpose. When they ask for things that seem impractical and yet productive, then ACORN can ask for things that are practical and productive. Without the extreme, the reasonable seems too much. So rather than being in conflict with one another, these opposing policies are complementary in a practical political sense.

    MA- I am one of those people who thinks that the future of local politics might be in blogging, and I do want to give you and everyone else credit, but for blogging. These students are breaking a stereotype that says that youth are sloth, apolitical, and delinquent. And yet they receive not constructive but diminutive criticism. So I credit you but I praise them.

  41. Ralph

    wow, big props to Max. i am happy to see the kidlets engaged in positive measures but someone did them a disservice by not helping them construct and direct their concerns to the appropriate audience.

    michael, i suggest you enroll in uncle max’s class. i did not read the dc article but i am guessing that it has something to do with congress not letting the city do what it wants to do. though the city has a mayor and city govt 435 congresspeople have a say in dollars and laws. dc’s one member has no say. it is also worth noting that dc has some 1500 law enforcement agencies which seem t work well together

  42. Ralph

    IT, in my opn here is what makes the student’s demand stupid, let’s make like economist and assume for second you have only 8 hours to accomplish all you need to do from listening to budget items, development issues, parks and rec, mtg with constituents, finding constitutional grounds to overturn measure oo, find a police chief and then some knuckleheaded kids ask you to ban BART from carrying guns. i am not even sure i would politely listen.

    now if you ak me something extreme but something that i could address i may be willing to listen, show some respect for my time. the problem with knuckeheads is they only think about themselves

  43. drydock

    MA writes: “Have you heard of the Riders Scandal and the Negotiated Settlement Agreement that followed it?”

    Yes, I have. Last I checked the cops got off, while one is still hiding out persumably in Mexico. I guess you consider that decree as sometype of systemic corrective. I don’t. The message I got (and unfortunately probably most rank and file cops) from the scandal is that local police have impunity from following the law.

    MA writes: “Your best bet to change government is to know how it works, who’s in charge of what, and who’s responsible for what. These protesters did not know that, and as such have had no success.”

    I disagree. The street protests have forced local polticians to step into the issue and get Mershele charged with murder. Can’t say I ever remember that happening. One particular protest or one set of demands isn’t necessarily relevant to the larger issues. Keeping the heat on is.

    Hopefully this movement that has sprung up around the killing of Oscar Grant can force more systemic changes beyond just the individual punishment of one cop. I’d bet that it will have better success if they keep things in the street and not get sidetracked into some aimless lobbying, where it’s likely to get more decrees than actual change.

  44. Max Allstadt

    The cops who caused the problem in the Riders case didn’t get enough by a long shot, but the department got systemic reforms forced upon it, including tons of new internal affairs officers, and much stricter procedures.

    The street protesters did have some effect in getting Meserle charged. But the protesters I’m talking about did their protesting after he was charged. As far as government reaction to Oscar Grant’s death, it’s clear that BART was too slow to talk to the media about it. It’s clear that they would have tried to minimize it if not for the outcry. But you know which protests had the most direct effect? Not the riots, the protests at BART Board. Because those are the guys who can do something immediately. And their the guys you can vote out most easily over this.

    Lastly, one particular protest may not be relevant to a “movement”. But the fact that the people at the protest didn’t understand local civics is absolutely relevant. And embarassing, frankly. Embarassing not for the kids, but for the people who teach them, and the people who write their overall curriculum.

  45. Max Allstadt

    The two most frustrating things I’m hearing in response to this post are:

    1. Some folks actually think it’s OK that our children don’t understand the powers of different branches of government.

    2. Some adults actually don’t understand the powers of each branch of our local government.

    I still encourage kids to protest when they feel moved to do so. I just hope some of them learn to direct their protests at officials who can actually help them.

  46. Isaiah Toney

    1. I am not saying that it is OK that our youth (not children) don’t understand government, I am saying that we have a better understanding of government than the people on this blog. We genuinely do desire the removal of firearms from the hands of all police officers. Do you think that this is going to happen anytime soon? I don’t, and my friends call me the optimist. So if speaking at Open Forums is the only way to advance the message (since city council members won’t meet with us so that we can lobby like regular folk), then why not use our time in the best manner possible and use the forum that will reach the most people? I am saying that going before City Council is a strategic move. They do not have the legal authority to make what we want happen, but then the people who do have that power either do not have the political power to get it done, or they do not share the same views.

    Think of the early abolitionists. Everyone told the Quakers that they were not going to get anywhere. But they talked to everyone they could find, and gradually they found the people who could move things along. Communities must hold values before laws can be enacted to enforce those values, otherwise nobody respects those laws (think Post-Reconstruction South).

    Pushing the community’s public debate towards a just, organically generated desire for an end to killings in our communities is always a good thing.

    MA: Please stop referring to these students and others like them as children or kids. The terms that denotes the proper respect is youth. The distinction between children or kids and youth is critical. Children or kids will not put themselves out on the line for their communities, but youth will. A lot of the people you are directing your advice to reject you automatically because your attitude towards us seems belittling and diminutive.

  47. Max Allstadt

    Kids is casual. I call friends of mine who are 29 and youthful “kids”.

    And if you think you have a better understanding of government than people on this blog, you haven’t noticed that this blog often has members of the government itself commenting. Staffers, elected officials, defeated candidates, commission members and chairs, cops, firemen, major local philanthropists… they read, they comment sometimes too.

    As far as the efficacy of open forum goes, I speak from experience when I say that if the council intends to change something due to public outcry, they usually make arrangements to make that change before the council meeting even starts.

    Massive amounts of emails and media editorials can get them to act. Protests are usually theater after the fact. When hundreds protested arts funding cuts last year, it was the thousands of emails and petition signatures before the meeting that got the job done. The speakers at council on that issue reinforced the message in the media, and demonstrated resolve. But the solution was already done. I was actually approached by a councilmembers’ aide before the speakers even approached the podium, and was told that there was a solution. This is because I cultivate relationships within the system.

    What I’m trying to encourage in the youth is a willingness to engage the system in a less “us vs. them” mode. Because it works. You’d think that with Obama having just taken office, consensus and non-adversarial politics would be experiencing a resurgence.

    I do not think I’ve been belittling or diminutive in anyway. I’m actually trying to suggest strategy changes that will help get things done. I’m also encouraging and applauding the fact that kids care about their government. What’s belittling? The fact that I pointed out that the demands that were made ignored the constraints of the council? That’s not belittling. That’s true. Big difference.

  48. Isaiah Toney

    I’ve not communicated this properly. Its not that you don’t understand government at all, its that there is a specific relationship between government and our youth that is not being addressed properly. By analyzing the actions of our youth assuming that they have the same rights, responsibilities, resources, and perspectives as adults, we make them look misguided and misinformed. The point I’m trying to make is that people who make decisions and people who influence decision-makers could add to their commentary by understanding this different relationship. I know that folks have at least alluded this to you in the past- I’ve done it myself- and it seems frustrating when you take an overbearing stand… “Well, if Skyline won’t teach them local civics, uncle Max is gonna have to do it himself.”

  49. Max Allstadt

    Hey, Uncle Max has to add a little pizazz here and there, so occasionally he uses the third person and declares him self “Uncle”, but that’s really just for color. Finding your voice in text is a tricky thing. People who’ve actually heard my voice would know that sentence was just me lapsing into a piratey Tom Waits impersonation for a few seconds.

    Uncle Max thinks each time the younguns go talk to the govmint, they should learn a lil more bout the govmint, and that when we grown ups help the younguns talk to the govment, we should try to school’em on it before and after a lil bit too. Kinda like you do when you take younguns off to do anything. Whether it’s gelding horses, building satelites, canning rabbit meat, all those other life lessons kinda go the same way right? Teach’em before and after! um… Yar!

  50. Patrick

    I, too, would like to see the removal of firearms from the hands of all police officers. Also, I would like to see unicorns trained as crossing guards.

    Going before the City Council was not a “strategic move”. It was a waste of everyone’s time – and had the youth of Skyline expended the same effort to figure out the proper venue as they did figuring out their opinions, they may have actually made a difference.

    As far as speaking before the City Council, youth has the exact same *rights as an adult AND the same *responsibilities. Certainly they have similar *resources; Google or just plain asking someone. Frankly, on many issues, my *perspectives are more similar to many youths I’ve met than most adults. Unfortunately, Isaiah, your argument makes youth seem more “misguided and misinformed” than Uncle Max ever could, even with a parrot on his shoulder.

    Again I say, it was like bitching at a Safeway cashier because of an incident at Walgreens.

  51. Isaiah Toney

    When was the last time a friend of yours was shot and killed? Something tells me that there is a trend among people who have lost friends or family to killings by gun that we do not think that it is funny.

    Exercising democratic rights in a democracy is never a waste of time; it is in fact the first affirmation of a working democracy. If City Council wants to shorten the length of their meetings, they are more than welcome to meet more often, and we will feel more than welcome to exercise our democratic responsibilities and make demands of our elected officials.

    In particular these youth do not have the right to vote, so if we do not like our council member we have no direct way of removing them. Since we do not have the experience of years of observation with a critical eye, we do not have the responsibility of contributing refined viewpoints based on observed patterns (such as policy hawks do). I know for certain that I do not have a car with which to always make it to City Council meetings in time to submit a Speaker’s Card, and I do know that many of our youth are in school during the day and unable to cultivate relationships with Councilmembers’ aides during that time. Plus, most students do not have a job, which means less of an ability to make campaign contributions, go to fundraisers, gossip with people over lunch, and possibly other things I do not know happen since I never did them. Know any youth with access to Lexis Nexis?

    The guy with a hammer will hammer the nails. The guy with a screwdriver will use the back of the screwdriver. If that logic doesn’t seem sound, just plain ask your unemployed unicorns.

  52. Max Allstadt


    FYI, my aunt was shot and killed by a disturbed young man in august 2007, and his trial starts next month. (Due process takes a long long time. Expect it to take a long time with Meserle too). A month to the day after my aunt’s murder, an 87 year old woman was beaten, stabbed and burned to death by her 50 year old nephew, at the other end of my block. While I understand you were talking to Patrick and not me, be aware that assuming that other people don’t have horrible experiences in their lives is unwise.

    I’m not offended by Patrick’s joke, because he wasn’t mocking murder. He was mocking futility. We live in a country that is armed to the teeth, and unfortunately, as a result, law enforcement feels the need to be armed accordingly. In an ideal world, I’d bioengineer a bacterium that ate gunpowder and uranium, but I also understand that I don’t live in an ideal world.

    As for submitting a speaker card, do it online! And as for cultivating relationships at city hall, I’ve done that mainly by email and by phone. Its true that the youth don’t have the ability to hobnob that I have. But their leaders do. And I don’t just hobnob, I’ve cultivated groups of people who come to council and speak respectfully, and who email councilmembers about important stuff. Making noise is part of the process, sure, but we’re selling our youth short if we think that’s the only contribution they can make.

  53. V Smoothe

    It’s also worth noting that while youth may not have the ability to make campaign contributions, there is nothing stopping them from doing volunteer work, which I have found to be an excellent way of cultivating relationships.

  54. Skyline teacher

    While I suppose your advice is sound and offered in good faith, your overall tone and critique is also pedantic and obtuse, as are many of the comments on here.

    I don’t know which individual students you were talking about. For the most part, however, the kids most outraged and active about the police in Oakland are those who deal with them on a daily basis: Poor black and brown kids from rough parts of town. Are you suprised that these kids are also woefully undereducated about everything that doesn’t have to do with surviving the neighborhoods and systems they are mired in? C’mon, dude.

    Talk to these kids and you’ll find they know nothing about the government but they know a hell of a lot more than you or I about how police actually operate “out there.” Stories that, if even a tenth true, will curl your chest hairs, Mr. Allstadt.

    The appearance at the City Council was an expression of rage and frustration by underclass youth in the venue where they believed they would be heard by the community at large. No more, no less.

    The sad irony of all these critical commentaries is you wouldn’t even be talking about these kids and their message if they hadn’t made a scene.

  55. Max Allstadt

    It is tricky for me to know the police’s MO sometimes, true. But I live at 24th and San Pablo so I’m hardly clueless. I’ve been known to stop at the sight of a neighbor being questioned by the cops, because I know a visible watchful white male face is an aide to professionalism.

    I also do not in amy way see how my four points, above, are “obtuse” they’re just true. And as for your comments about class differences and poorer black and brown kids living in a different life… Of course. You’re right! That’s why I wrote this piece! I live in the ‘hood and work in the hills and my daily commute makes me I’ll. I think part of the way the situation gets perpetuated is that a lot of hill dwellers work the system and a lot of flatlanders dismiss the system. That’s why I wanted to use this as a teachable moment. I saw too much shouting and not enough deft maneuvering.

    If these kids and Isaiah and everyone involved want an achievable goal that would do some good, lobby for statewide police oversight reform. Make every agency have an oversight board. Call it the Oscar Grant Act. That is something that mght actually be feasible and significant.

  56. Isaiah Toney


    My condolences for your loss. Even though it happened a while ago, I know that losing a family member hurts for a long time, and I can only imagine what reliving the entire ordeal means with the upcoming trial. I hope that justice for all is found.

    I do agree that the way I posed that point could be seen as offensive, and I apologize to Patrick, you, and others I may have offended.

    But Max, you didn’t make that joke, and that point is important. I think that that joke was specifically crafted to be an insult to youth, hence the reference to fantasy. When I think that I make it clear that I am trying to advance the position of youth in our society and someone insults me by playing into the stereotype that youth do not care about things in the real world, I get offended.

    I did not know that speak cards could be submitted online. Thanks for the heads up!! I’m actually gonna tell some folks about this because I don’t know if folks are aware.

    But- I don’t think that all these youth were doing was making noise. Like I mentioned earlier, part of the job is to educate the community. Laws should be a representation of the values of the people (all of them) who write them, and when laws are ahead of the people they govern, problems ensue.

    As for making noise every time something happens, that can get frustrating. What I really want to see for Oakland’s youth is an institutionalized way of making noise, because then its not making noise, its lobbying as a group, just like Uncle Max does as an individual. Part of the movement building that I am talking about involves doing things like making noise, because getting heard increases your audience, membership, and eventually power. Once you have the ability to get a City Councilmember to meet with you outside of Tesuday Night/Early Wednesday Morning, you don’t have to do things that look like you only showed up to make noise.

  57. Max Allstadt

    Lobbying as a group is indeed a far better goal than making noise.

    I’ll say it again. If you want to do something that will have a lasting impact, and which might actually be achievable (disarming BART police is not) try this:

    Get the youth of Oakland and the Bay Area to lobby their state senators and assemblymen to pass a police oversight and agency consolidation bill. Demand that the bill mandate a civilian oversight board of no less than three members for every law enforcement agency in the entire state. Demand that measures be taken to consolidate law enforcement agencies in California in order to save money and create a clear chain of command and accountability. Call the measure the Oscar Grant Act.

    I think that based on the current political and media brouhaha over Grant’s death, you might actually have a shot at getting this measure passed.

  58. Isaiah Toney

    Had I the kind of tools at hand that I wish I had, I would take your advice and push for/ demand a statewide measure such as the one you’ve proposed. As far as the youth agenda goes, our statewide efforts are currently invested in stopping budget cuts to education and advancing education spending. I’d be worried that this shift would set back that goal. And with the economy being such a big issue right now….

    But let’s imagine that brokeness was not such a hot topic right now. Since there currently is no major platform for pushing for disarmament of police or police review boards for any agency that employs armed officers, Max they might tell us that we were just making noise.

  59. Max Allstadt

    I still think disarmament is an non-starter. Accountability and transparency measures are likely to be a hot topic in the post-Bush afterglow. At the very least, if you like the idea, circulate it. You never know if it’ll get picked up and acted upon by someone else.

  60. Isaiah Toney

    I am all for using one argument to advance another, but accountability and transparency happen after the fact. So once we win those we’ll still have work to do.

  61. Patrick


    Please tell me you’re joking.

    If I wanted to insult youth, I’d have called them “a bunch of stupid kids”. But their interest in effecting change via the political system shows just the opposite – it is just unfortunate that the chosen venue was inadequate to the task. I think the whole point of Max’s original post was to applaud their efforts – and to give them the “tools” necessary to make their efforts count.

    The unicorn reference was clearly intended to suggest that disarming police is pure fantasy. Which is why it was included in the same two-sentence paragraph as the bit about disarming the police. In a country where many feel owning a gun is necessary for their own protection, and protestors believe that destroying the property of perfectly innocent people is a valid way to protest, do you honestly believe that anyone will take the disarmament of police seriously?

  62. fido

    Ha! I left Oakditch 18 yrs ago & all of this just reminds me of why. Another sad city spiraling into a hole following blind liberal government “leaders” elected by blind, ignorant people looking to blame everyone else for the problems that lie at the heart of themselves. It’s no wonder at all why the Skyline kiddies have such a skewed view of reality – the “teachers” are as liberal as the sad excuse for a city government.

    Until inner city culture changes & faces the truth that THEY are the source of their problem there’ll be no fixing Oakland’s problems or any other liberal infested city for that matter. Yeah, hang those BART police but let’s just keep giving an endless pass to the little bastards who instigate these kinds of events over and over and the sad excuses for parents that raised them. And leading the whole sorry mess is none other than Ronnie Dellums. God help all of you.

  63. Former Resident

    Thankfully, the kids in Oakland ARE doing something about their community: THEY ARE RIOTING.

    HA. Seriously, your city is fucked. Moved to San Francisco four years ago and I haven’t looked back besides writing snarky anonymous comments on a blog no one reads anyway.

  64. Max Allstadt

    V, is it angry jerk day at abetteroakland? I don’t think I remember you declaring it angry jerk day. Seriously, where did these guys come from, and both at the same time, or are they the same guy?

  65. livegreen

    Max, I was thinking the same thing.

    V, these bash-Oakland people can’t do it anymore on SFGate, where they can delete comments and/or users who swear, use hate speech or personal attacks, so now this guy (these guys) is (are) coming here, under two different threads. Maybe you can look at a deletion feature if not total exclusion.

    Ironically I note his criticisms are totally off base, just plain wrong, about abetteroakland. If his critique had an announce of truth or relevance to both this blog and the majority of the comments on it then it might serve a sliver of purpose. It does not.

  66. Max Allstadt

    Actually, I just found out why there might be a few newbies on abetteroakland today.
    The Daily Kos just wrote this:

    “Local news? Newsroom cuts in search of ever-higher profit margins have decimated local coverage in the age of corporate ownership. Local TV is filling many of those gaps, as are citizen bloggers. Don’t laugh at the notion of citizen journalists — the best Oakland coverage anywhere, bar none, comes from the muckrakers at A Better Oakland. It truly beats the shit out of anything the Oakland Tribune or local TV stations are doing. It’s a model I fully expect to organically emerge in cities and towns all over the country.”

    That kind of praise, plus a link, probably means there are just more people reading this blog today.

    That kind of praise also means those of us who know V are all going to have to buy her a round… congrats!

  67. Chris Kidd

    First Oakland Streets, then Future Oakland, and now ABO have made their way onto Daily Kos. The blogoaksphere is coming up in the world.

  68. OnTheGoJo/Joanna

    I’m glad Former Resident is just that. Former.

    Get involved in your current community and use your energy that way instead of bagging on Oakland. We’re trying to make a difference here and words like yours aren’t particularly appreciated…

    Did I mention how much happier I was with Oakland after Friday night’s Art Murmur? IT ROCKED!

  69. fido

    Angry jerk, Max? Have you been talking to my wife? Seriously folks, after visiting hundreds of sites over the years and coming across these types of sites where proper decorum and pc rigidity are really serving no one I feel the need to kick a little hiney!

    I lived in Oakland for 8 years in the 80′s, saw all the problems you’re having now already in full bloom then. From the shameful Felix Mitchell embarrassment to the Mixon march of just days ago the more things change the more they stay the same. For crying out loud folks it ain’t gettin’ a dingle dang bit better is it? Wonder why?

    Could it be that you have a fundamentally rotten core of people in “the avenues” who are so brainwashed with the left’s victimization doctrine and are so coddled by the very liberal politicians they elect into office that the REAL core issues never get dealt with? There’ll be no remedying the problems until, well, until that city replaces the likes of Ron Dellums with Rudy Giuliani. That’s not likely to happen of course – Rudy wouldn’t want the job. Too bad for you.

    Oakland is the quintessential self-defeating city. Detroit West. Good luck with the likes of Gov. Moonbeam and Ronnie D. BTW how are those liberal crews working out for you? It’s all too apparent.

  70. Patrick

    Why it’s by dam shore a dingle dang bit better – ever since you got the fuck out of here! Yee-Haw!

    Does anyone who has lived here ever refer to any part of our city as “the avenues”? I’ve only ever heard that reference in regards to SF. Twomps, Dirty Thirties etc., I’ve heard of, but never just “the avenues”.