Last night I got home a little before 9 o’clock. As I was walking into my building, I heard a terrible scream, so I stepped back on the street to investigate. A woman on the corner had just been knocked down and had her backpack pulled off. She pointed the direction the kid ran, but he was already out of my sight.
She was bruised, but otherwise physically uninjured. Mentally was another story. She was shaking and sobbing and hysterical, as people tend to be when this sort of thing happens to them. (At this point I see a purse snatching as little more than an inconvenience, but I remember the first time I got mugged I reacted exactly like she did. Probably worse, actually.)
It wasn’t the middle of the night. It wasn’t a bad neighborhood. And it wasn’t a deserted street.There were four people within a block of her when it happened. In the 15 minutes we were waiting for the police to arrive, over a dozen people walked passed us.
I had planned on using my evening to write some blogs for today – one about the BRC’s stupid non-recommendations and another about this idiotic smoking ordinance. But I found myself too restless and frustrated to write. I was frustrated at myself for not being able to comfort this terribly upset woman or think of better things to say to her. I was frustrated over knowing that this kid would never be caught, and even if he was, nothing would happen to him, since this isn’t a “serious” crime.
But mostly I was frustrated with the Council for wasting time with feel-good, do-nothing policies while they ignore the real problems facing the people who live here. I look at these agendas and watch these meetings week after week after week, and I wonder if anyone on the Council even cares about the people who live in this city. Do they ever stop for a second to think about whether what they’re doing will actually make people safer, or provide more affordable housing, or whatever the goal of the week is?
It really doesn’t feel like it. Banning carryout plastic bags from grocery stores is not going to help the environment. Inclusionary zoning is not going to provide housing to poor people. Banning smoking near bus stops is not going to reduce asthma and lung cancer risks for people who live next to the Port and have diesel trucks whizzing past them all day and night. Paying teenagers to stand around BART stations with maps for a couple of hours in the afternoon is not going to reduce crime.
Everyone on the Council knows all of this. (And if they don’t, they’re stupid. But I don’t think they’re stupid.) They know and they don’t care. None of it is about change – it’s about “making a statement.”
Oaklanders don’t need statements. They need safer streets. They need places to live. They need jobs. They need mind-numbingly boring results-oriented legislation with well thought out implementation plans and clear metrics for determining success.
In my story for Novometro yesterday, I wrote about an ordinance that hasn’t been implemented in the six years since the Council passed it, another ordinance that was passed amid great controversy and is now being repealed after it achieved nothing and the State Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional, a State law that we asked to have passed that lapsed because we failed to provide the required statistics about how we were using it, and another law that the Council will consider tonight that they have repeatedly admitted they can’t enforce. It’s pathetic. It makes me angry. And embarrassed for this city.
I get that crafting legislation that will make a difference is not fun. It takes a long time to research. It’s slow to write. By the time you see results, people have forgotten you passed it. It doesn’t sound sexy in the newspaper. But Oakland’s City Council owes their constituents far more than what they are giving them.
I can’t stop thinking about that poor woman last night. She was just so visibily overwrought over this horrible thing that had happened to her, and the fact that far worse things happen to people in Oakalnd every day was no consolation. She was around my mom’s age, kind of hippiesh looking, and wasn’t a smoker. But I’m pretty damn sure that she doesn’t think banning smoking near bus stops should be her government’s priority. When the Council votes tonight over whether they want to devote police time to ticketing smokers at golf courses or not, I hope they think about her instead of the sound bite they might get on KTVU.