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.
- 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.
- 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.
- They students want the BART police to stay out of Oakland. Again, the City Council has no jurisdiction to decree anything of the sort.
- 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.