Last Saturday, for the most part, was a lovely day for me. I took a long walk in the morning, then watched the holiday parade, which is always a great time. In the evening, I attended a really nice event at one of the many new clubs downtown that didn’t exist when I moved here, where I got to watch a performance by a local hip hop artist and a fashion show featuring three small, Oakland-based designers. After the show, the sizable crowd browsed through racks of clothes, admired local art, and danced. It was a great DTO party. Then I came home and, as always, checked my RSS feeds before turning in. What a mistake!
You all, of course, know what I found. I got to read yet another depressing story about the Police Department’s ineptitude in handling the Chauncey Bailey case, Chip Johnson talking about people moving out of Oakland because of the crime, and of course, Susan Gluss’s incredibly sad piece, “Long commute better than living in Oakland.” I went to bed totally depressed.
In the five days since, I’ve been totally shocked by the respone to Gluss’s item. Now, I’m obviously fine with people pushing back when the media steps out of bounds, and I agree that titling the section “Oakland Exodus” might have been a bit much. But the defensive reactions I see everywhere from the neighborhood listservs, comments here, other blogs, letters to the Chronicle, and just random conversations are, frankly, totally befuddling to me.
First, you have people all upset over how the Chronicle is being biased and running a “smear campaign” against Oakland. Which…well, I think Raymond addressed that part pretty well on Oakland Space Academy, and it isn’t what’s bothering the most. So I’ll just point out that many of the Chronicle’s top writers live in Oakland, and I would imagine that their interests lie in making the place they live better, not scaring people away from it, and leave it at that. The aspect of the responses that really upsets me, though, is the way people keep condemning Susan Gluss for leaving, and berating her “self-pity.”
Having your wallet stolen, your car broken into twice, and your house burglarized all in the space of a year is a completely legitimate reason to move! I get dizzy when I hear people say things like “She obviously doesn’t love Oakland enough.” Living in Oakland or loving Oakland shouldn’t be predicated on tolerating a totally intolerable level of crime.
Even worse, condemnations of Gluss’s decision are being widely coupled with suggestions that what happened to her was her fault. I don’t know what evidence people have for their assertions that she must have left her house unlocked for it to be burglarized, or she must have made her purse easily accessible to have her wallet stolen from it, or she must have left her purse in plain sight to have it stolen from her car. There was nothing in the story to suggest that. I know plenty people who have had all those things happen to them when they’ve been doing everything right.
It’s true that people are, to a degree, responsible for protecting themselves. And we all find our own ways of adapting to the risks of living in Oakland and shielding ourselves from them. I’m happy to say that I’ve now gone more than a year without anything bad happening to me, partly, I imagine, because I’ve starting doing things like routinely taking a taxicab to travel five blocks at night. Many people here will tell you that these measures are just a standard part of safe urban life. But the thing is, when I tell my friends who live in New York or DC or Denver of Houston or Chicago or Los Angeles or Seattle about the steps I take to keep myself safe, they’re all shocked. It isn’t unreasonable at all to want to live in a city and not have to be constantly on alert for someone attempting to steal from you. It isn’t unreasonable at all to expect to be able to park your car on the street without losing a window. What Susan Gluss wanted, a minimal expectation of safety, isn’t unreasonable, and I don’t condemn her at all for wanting to leave a city that obviously can’t provide it. I think it’s awful that other people would. (Incidentally, the terrible feeling you get when you’re the recipient of this blame the victim attitude is the reason I stopped filing police reports when something happened to me.)
I understand people have local pride and want to see their home represented in the best possible light. I sympathize with that. Really. But when the response to high profile criticism of Oakland’s crime problems is a chorus of “it really isn’t that bad” and “the paper is being biased” and “this woman is stupid,” we’re sending a loud and clear message to Oakland’s leaders that we think the status quo, with respect to crime, is just fine. And if that’s the case, well, that’s sick. Cause it just isn’t.