Think before you write

So the Uhuru Movement is, unsurprisingly, opposing Patrick McCullough’s candidacy for District 1 City Council. I find this neither newsworthy nor interesting, but there was something in their blog about it that caught my eye:

Remember that just reported in the New York Times was the fact that in Oakland, one in every five families live on less than $15,000 and the poorest 20 percent live on $7600 annually.

So…that’s not actually what the New York Times said, but even if it was…it should be immediately apparent that something is very wrong with that sentence.

45 thoughts on “Think before you write

  1. Max Allstadt

    Never mind that the first sentence of that blog post demands “$7.7 million for economic development for the African community” instead of on police. Oakland is about 35% black, yet this blogger wants all of the policing money assigned to their own community and no-one else?

    Separatism and Ethnocentrism in the first 50 words, and you were expecting responsibly researched journalism at some point below? Why, V?

  2. V Smoothe Post author

    As a rule, I don’t expect much from Uhuru Solidarity, and I can’t think of a time I’ve found myself agreeing with them.

    But I read internally inconsistent statements like this one nearly every day, both on blogs and other online forums, and in the traditional media. It drives me crazy! Obviously nobody has the time to run around checking out primary sources to verify everything they read. But I feel like a lot of the misinformation that floats around would evaporate if people would just take a second to stop and think when they read or hear a number, and definitely before they repeat it – does this even make sense? Every once in a while, I feel compelled to point out an especially egregious example as a reminder.

  3. Joel Hamburger

    It is apparent to me that the concern of this blogger and the subsequent commentators on this thread is not with the unconscionable and historic poverty imposed on African people in Oakland. Your blog discussion feels like the oh-so-clever Bill Clinton, with head bowed and a smirk on his face, parsing the word “is” to avoid addressing the real issues.

    The Uhuru Movement is beginning to draw out the real issues of the McCullough candidacy. He is an attempted murderer (shot an unarmed 16 year old in the back) running for city office. His stance, and those of his supporters, wishes to criminalize the black community. His candidacy represents a backwards, self-centered sentiment that blames Africans for their poverty and would escalate the militarization of Oakland toward a West Bank-Gaza climate.

    The NY Times quote in the Uhuru Solidarity blog (see above) IS accurate. Check it for yourselves: True, the grammar of the blogger’s sentence can be improved which (annoyingly) makes the reader pause to reread the sentence. However, it is not misleading.

    The reason for my response to this thread is the arrogance of the discussion. There is nothing obscurantist or ethnocentric about African people demanding and fighting for genuine substantive transformation of their living conditions. The question for me is how anyone can ignore the reality of poverty and exploitation of the African community. There IS a direct link between poverty and crime. For African people, that link is rooted in their experiences with whites. Even Obama was forced to address this issue. Can you?

    It is repugnant for me to hear the mayor and city council repeatedly claim that the city has no extra money for economic development and then shell out millions of dollars for more police. This cash infusion for the police is a cynical and opportunist pandering to the most reactionary, ignorant members of our society. Patrick McCullough also nakedly courts the lowest, most cretinous sentiments of the citizens of Oakland — some of whom identify themselves as liberals or progressives.

    More Police?? Last week, the OPD executed two Oakland citizens. One of them was a nationally respected, 70 year old artist named Casper Banjo, the other an innocent fifteen year old named Jose Luis Buenrostro-Gonzalez. These shootings involve suspicious circumstances, ubiquitous police justifications, and eyewitness accounts that contradict those of the police.

    Is this the direction we wish to escalate in Oakland? I say NO. There is a vigil called by the family of Jose Luis Buenrostro-Gonzalez for Tuesday evening, March 25 at 5pm. The rally is beginning at the Acorn Woodland Elementary School, 1025 81st Avenue, and will march to the Eastmont Mall precinct at 73rd and MacArthur.

  4. V Smoothe Post author

    Joel –

    If you want people to sympathize with your cause, a good first step is being right when you make assertions. Claiming in the same sentence that 20% of Oakland’s families make less than $15,000/year and also that 20% of Oakland’s families make less than $7,600/year is not a grammar error, it’s a fact error.

    The line from the New York Times story reads:

    The city is racked by stubborn poverty, with one-fifth of all households living on less than $15,000 in annual income, according to the census.

    The story makes no claims about $7,600 anywhere, and the Census’s lowest annual income category is $10,000, so as far as I can tell, the second figure was just completely fabricated.

    For the record, the actual Census Bureau numbers are:
    Households in Oakland earning less than $15,000: 27,272 (18.8%)
    Households in Oakland earning less than $10,000: 14,867 (10.2%)

    Families in Oakland earning less than $15,000: 10,731 (14.1%)
    Families in Oakland earning less than $10,000: 5,773 (7.6%)

  5. ConcernedOakFF

    Joel –

    This attitude towards the Police is exactly why this city is in the state it is in with regards to crime.

    Police Officers do not “execute” people. The shooting death of Mr. banjo seems to be a rather straight forward case of suicide-by-cop. He knew that when he pointed a gun (real or fake, makes no difference) at the Officers, they would fire to protect themselves and other citizens.

    The shooting of the alleged gang member occurred because the “victim” pointed a gun a the police. The fact that he was 15 makes no difference. He can still pull the trigger and kill people.

    Seem rather justified to me.

  6. Deckin

    To Mr. Hamburger,

    Wow! Where to start. Let’s forget about the figures, because, as V states, you’re just wrong about those. Let’s also forget about the reference to Clinton; maybe some can decipher that, but I can’t. Let’s start with some of your, um, interesting statements.

    You refer to Patrick McCullough as someone who’s attempted murder. Of course the fact that he wasn’t tried for any crimes is just more evidence of the conspiracy against Africans, right? The fact that his house was shot through and he was threatened with death is, of course, more evidence of the conspiracy, right? That he was surrounded by a group of the very same people who threatened him when he shot one is, of course, more evidence? The fact that these ‘angels’ had all had their own criminal histories, I know, of course. God knows they couldn’t have been in the process of carrying out their threats, no? The fact that he himself is ‘African’ (to use your terminology) is, of course, just evidence of how deep the conspiracy is and how thoroughly the ‘powers that be’ have gone to conceal the truth, right? The fact that by far the majority of homicide victims in Oakland are Africans, as are the perpetrators, is, guess again, more evidence of the conspiracy to exploit Africans? Interesting world you live in.

    Le’t go on to your ‘link’ between poverty and crime. In that case you’re right, but I wonder if you understand why. Correlation claims are typically adduced via regression analyses on multiple variables. As it so happens, there is a positive correlation between poverty and crime, but poverty is not the variable most strongly correlated with crime. For real world evidence of why not, check Fresno–it’s poorest communities are as poor or poorer than the poorest neighborhoods in Oakland, but the crime rate is a fraction of Oakland’s. The sad fact is that pick any socially negative trait or behavior and you will find that it is ‘linked’ with crime: cigarette smoking, binge drinking, lack of education, inability to keep a job, I could keep going. I guess all of these are just more manifestations of the power keeping the people down, how stupid of me. Those of us in the real world, given such a large spread of correlated variables would start looking for a common cause given and not try to force it all dogmatically through the filter of poverty, but I guess that just shows us for the stooges of power that we are.

    As for the recent OPD shootings, the fact that the artist had a look-alike fake gun and was pretty clearly trying to commit suicide by cop and the young man was found with a sawed off shotgun is, why even bother?, more evidence of the will of power to crush the people.

    What a comfortable quilt a dogma is; no hard questions, just calls to action. No worries about how the world works, just frustrations that so many are so duped.

  7. Max Allstadt

    Joel, if you are wiling to presume that the police executed those two people last weekend, you have no intellectual integrity, and I don’t care what you say about anything. In order to make a statement that declarative, I would expect you to have been an eyewitness to both incidents, or for there to be substantive proof that the police intentionally killed defenseless people. I doubt you can provide either.

    As for Patrick McCullough, I believe he was surrounded by angry neighbors, one of whom said “kill the snitch” and brandished a weapon. Perhaps there are different accounts. I’d like to see a balanced assessment of that incident.

    Frankly, until you begin adhering to the norms society uses to determine empirical truth, you’re going to sound shrill and you’re going to marginalize yourself.

    It’s true that the black community has been hurt by actions of government and by the establishment for a long long time. Redlining, Jim Crow, or just plain government neglect. If you want to change that, if you want to help, you’re not going to do it by declaring cops the enemy. Do you really think you can make them go away? Making them behave is a noble and achievable goal. Making them go away is utopian nonsense.

    What’s your vision for a solution, Joel? How would you see your ideal Oakland?

  8. Joel Hamburger

    Gentlemen –

    It would be impossible and pointless for me to try and address each and every issue raised in this thread. I will try to address a few. Hopefully, the discourse can remain above Max Allstadt’s childish “I don’t care what you say about anything” comment.

    Part of the difficulty in a conversation like this is the lack of humility on the part of white people. We are raised with a sense of entitlement, rightness, and superiority. We are a tiny fraction of the world’s population but we consume the lion’s share of the world’s resources. These resources have come to us not as a result of our thriftiness or superior intelligence, as we are trained. They come through a five hundred year process of brigandage and genocide.

    There has been no apology and no cessation of hostility by white society against the people of the world. We cannot now, nor can we ever say that that was then and this is now. The assault on Africans in this country and around the world and the rape of Africa is as brutal as ever.

    I know that you can count on black friends and associates to discount every word I have just said and perhaps even justify your world view. I challenge you, however, to open yourself humbly to another perspective that you know is out there — one that would find O.J. not guilty, the Oakland Riders just the tip of the iceberg, Jill Scott a goddess, Marcus Garvey, Huey P. Newton and Omali Yeshitela heroic leaders, one that would actually drive across the country to march with the Jena 6, one that refuses to stop talking about Hurricane Katrina, one that distrusts police, doctors, politicians, social workers, convenience store clerks, and white people in general.

    The perspective of many in the most impoverished and working class African households in America share a completely different worldview than most white people. If you cannot find truth in that statement then we have little to discuss. Their experiences and the experiences of their immediate and historic ancestors are different from you and yours (Deckin!). Read Franz Fannon’s seminal analysis of colonial violence “The Wretched of the Earth” if you wish to pursue this from an African perspective. Read “The Autobiography of Malcolm X”. That will certainly show you why crime is not as high for poor whites in Fresno as it is for blacks in Oakland or Brooklyn. Slavery and colonialism is the missing piece of your equation. The African experience is a thread from the past to the future.

    I make these comments not as a “former white person” but as someone who has opened himself to being challenged by the perspective of those whose opinions I was trained to marginalize at best and disregard at worst. I challenge you to come down from cyberspace and attend one of several rallies being held this week in defense of Casper Banjo and Jose Luis Buenrostro-Gonzalez.

    This conversation began as a rant by V Smoothe against those who do not check their facts. A good journalist and an honest blogger would attend one of the vigils listed at the end of this post. You will be confronted by empirical data of the families of the slain individuals, the witnesses to the incidents, the community that suffers colonialism daily.

    Also, checking facts can include web searches for other perspectives. Certainly, the media will always provide extensive (often exclusive) coverage of the police version of contested shootings. In particular, I invite ConcernedOakFF to check out these articles on the recent shootings: (Oakland Tribune) (by brilliant international artist TheArthur Wright) (Oakland Tribune)

    Finally, least we forget where all of this began, the facts. V Smoothe, your excellent research is correct. You rightly point out that the NY Times statistic can be verified through Census Bureau numbers. The sentence should read “The city is racked by stubborn poverty, with one-fifth of all households living on less than $15,000 in annual income, according to the census.” and not “one-fifth of all families” as reads in the Uhuru Solidarity article. Thank you.

    I believe that final part of the statement, “the poorest 20 percent live on $7600 annually” is referring to that 20 percent of the one-fifth of all families. That translates to the lowest one-twenty-fifth. Again, it is probably referring to the households statistic and not the families.

    I hope that some of you can make it to the commemorations and memorials this week. These are the ones I know of. Pack your humility for the excursion.

    * Tuesday, March 25th at 5pm — Vigil called by the family of Jose Luis Buenrostro-Gonzalez. The rally is beginning at the Acorn Woodland Elementary School, 1025 81st Avenue and will march to the Eastmont Mall precinct at 73rd and MacArthur.

    • Thursday, March 27 at noon — Rally at Eastmont Mall police station in support of Casper Banjo and Jose Luis Buenrostro-Gonzalez.

    I will be at the Thursday Rally. I would be pleased to meet someone from this discussion to talk more. I find writing to be painfully difficult and time consuming as you can see by the time stamp on this posting.

  9. Joel Hamburger

    One more opportunity:
    Wednesday, March 26th at 11am — Show respect for the memory of Casper Banjo, world-renowned printmaker and artist shot and killed by the Oakland police on Friday, March 14th. Baker-Williams Funeral Home, 980 8th St, Oakland.

  10. Max Allstadt


    You’re right, I probably shouldn’t have said that. It is obviously far to easy for someone with no intellectual integrity to take a comment such as that out of it’s context and use it as a headline. Well done. I’ve learned a valuable lesson. Oh, and Karl Rove called, he wants to know if you want an internship.

    For he record, I feel awful that a 15 year old was shot by the cops. I also feel awful that a 13 year old was shot at the memorial service for this supposedly harmless boy. Clearly this community needs help, and more in the form of violence prevention than policing. Cops have a hard time stopping violence before it starts. That’s not their role. Measure Y did offer up a lot of money for prevention, and it unfortunately isn’t being used all that well.

    Joel: when there’s a drive-by at the kid’s funeral, presuming the cops were “executioners” is a bit of a stretch, no? In a situation like that, shouldn’t one at least take a moment to look into things?

  11. Joel Hamburger


    (Once again, you resort to childish name calling. Who is intellectually dishonest here? You should run for office. You have the fundamentals nailed.)

    How about this violence prevention program: Make genuine economic development for ALL of Oakland a top priority including job opportunities, capital infusion in existing and start up businesses, tax breaks for locally owned businesses with emphasis on impoverished zones as a start. And I know people in the community who could bring many more ideas to the table.

  12. Max Allstadt

    You’re intellectually dishonest. We’ve asked you repeatedly to clarify why you think the cops “executed” that kid. You’ve failed to do so. You’ve dodged our challenges to your most contentious point. Instead you’ve counterattacked everything BUT our accusations that your presumption of “execution” is inappropriate. EXPLAIN WHY IT’S OK TO SAY THE COPS “EXECUTED TWO CITIZENS”. Perhaps I’m wrong and you can do so with intellectual honesty. I DARE YOU TO TRY!

    I’ve no doubt that the Riders weren’t the only ones. That doesn’t change the fact that our society and justice system is ideally based on proof beyond a reasonable doubt, and presumption of innocence. Even if the powers that be fail to uphold these principles, in our debates, we must. Presume innocence. Of both the cops and the dead. Stop making assumptions based on your emotional disposition towards authority.

    And as far as your second paragraph suggestion for a crime prevention program goes, you’re absolutely right. I’d get behind that. I bet the mayor would too if anyone knew where the f#@k to find him.

    And what the hell does Jill Scott have to do with anything? Why does she get to be a goddess? An on a total aside, why don’t we call amazing men “Gods”? Why the double standard?

  13. CK


    I find it hard to take you seriously when you refuse to address legitimate questions raised by other posters while taking on quips, mis-steps or inconsequential statements as your main areas of retort. Seizing upon the weakest or least important parts of a given argument in order to expand it and rail upon its error is a useful (and fun) tool of debate. What it is not, however, is a useful tool towards forwarding a pertinent, constructive discussion.
    My real concern is that your posts take the form of one gloating in their intellectual superiority and chastising the supposed closed-mindedness of others. I would think one dedicated to a cause such as your would be better served by appealing to others in a measured, reasoned fashion for their support rather than rashly accusing them of being unwitting agents of “African” supression.
    This isn’t helped by your encouraging other posters to “pack their humility” when attending the vigils you listed. To be anything less than humble at the vigil of someone slain (under any circumstances) is disrespectful to the highest degree. Humility in such situations is also common sense. To insist upon such a point in your posts (along with a few other rhetorical devices you have used) is nothing short of inflamatory. These actions say to me that you really aren’t concerned with creating understanding, but rather with creating antagonistic feeling and scoring argumentative points. In my view, this does you more harm than good.
    I certainly hope that you can prove me wrong. Some of what you had to say (once purged of dogma) could be useful in placing further discussions in a more nuanced context. That is, if discussion is what you are really interested in.

  14. Ryan

    I need to ask a few questions:

    Who are these “African” People that everyone refers to?
    Why is it wrong for a Police Officer to shoot someone who POINTS A GUN at them?
    Why do all of you on here try to one-up each other by using 13point scrabble words?

  15. annoyed

    Suicide by cop? Who says? This is what I love about the fringe loonies on either side of an issure. There is no evidence that this man was trying to commit suicide. He had a gun that looked like a real gun. The cops didn’t have much choice but to shoot him. A relative said he had started taking some new medication that he had complained changed the way he felt. I haven’t heard anything about him wanting to commit suicide. There’s no point in making up facts to support your argument. This was a tragic shooting of this old man. It doesn’t help to demonize him. It’s just tragic.

    As for the kid with the shotgun, who cares? This kid was walking around with a sawed off gun in his pants. there’s nothing to justify that. I”m sick of these kids living in their own private movies terroriznig the rest of us. His parents should be hosrewhipped for defending his gangster backside. Interestingly, his buddies have been arrested for possestion of weapons while hanging around this kid’s shrine. And a rival gang shot up the memorial. Yeah, sure. This kid wasn’t in a gang like I have can sprout wings and fly. Want to blame someone, blame his parents. I want to know what the autopsy shows because I want to know if there is any truth that the kid was shot in the back. How come people aren’t hysterical about all the young people who are killing each other? When a cop shoots someone, it’s automatically assumed to be an assassination. I seem to recall a cop who was assaasinated by a young man from a freeway overpass in 1999 or so. That’s assasination. Lying in wait and all that. You can defend this hardcore crowd all you want to but they would blow your brains out in a heartbeat while you are spinning out hearts and flowers. Wearing the wrong color in the wrong neighborhood? You are toast, no questions asked.

  16. LLO

    The “African” people Joel refers to are not the African American people in the Lakeshore area, Adam’s Point, or any other middle class neighborhood. And they are not the Ethiopians in Temescal or further down Telegraph. All of those folks seem to be doing just fine. And I don’t think it’s the family next door to me in West Oakland. They are poor, no doubt, but the parents keep the kids in school and prohibit them from hanging out on the street.
    And it’s probably not the African Americans who attended the job fair down the street just a few days ago. (Not well attended I must say.) Perhaps it’s just the young “Africans” who hang out in front of the corner store most of the day that are still suffering the effects of slavery and colonialism.
    There is plenty of economic opportunity in Oakland. Some people– white, black, whatever– choose not to take advantage of it.
    I’m tired of Joel’s making excuses for a culture of thuggery. How about a little personal responsibility?

  17. m30

    Poor black kids in west and east oakland have an incredibly different life experience than me or anyone else reading this blog. While questioning and debating the uhuru movement is certainly valid, it may also be beneficial to try to understand and empathize with its point of view.

  18. Max Allstadt

    I live in West Oakland, near San Pablo and Isabella. I know it’s gang and crime ridden, and I also know that there’s a strong community fabric here that is doing what it can to make it better. Pretending that the cops are out to execute teenagers doesn’t make it better.

    The people I see making it better are the ones who call the cops when someone’s breaking into cars. Or who push St. Vincent de Paul to improve their program and expand it. The people I see making it better are black, white, pinoy, whatever. They know each other. They know which boys in the neighborhood believe in being a thug, and who knows how to be a real man. They’re more scared of thugs than they are of cops, by a long shot.

    I cannot empathize with a point of view that uses emotion and group-loyalty to decide who’s malicious and who’s not. How you feel about it and how it affects your friends is not as important as the truth. The same criticism could be applied to the folks up on trestle glen who hire private security to chase off black folks.

    Education can teach people not to think like this. And I’m sorry but if LLO thinks we’ve got plenty of opportunity for poor people, he’s nuts. As long as we neglect our public schools, we’ll keep sending the sons of Oakland to Baghdad and San Quentin while the sons of Piedmont go to Exeter and Choate. That’s the opposite of equal opportunity.

  19. masb

    The tone of this discussion seems decidedly uncivil. Probably what I have to say will only add to that. Sorry. I don’t know anything more about Patrick McCullough than what I have read in the media so I can’t really comment on that part of the discussion. I do know that every single death that occurs on streets of Oakland or any other city is a tragedy. Like HIV/AIDS, it is preventable. The number of guns on the street and the number of guns available to young people is appalling. I know this is a complicated issue with no easy solutions but it would seem that there are few out there with the courage to tackle this politically.
    And, as far as Uhuru is concerned I admittedly don’t know anything about the current status of the group, but twenty five years ago I lived with some Uhuru folks who had regular meetings in our house and there was never a single “African” in attendance – appeared to be all “Europeans”. Maybe that has changed.

  20. Navigator

    Let’s face facts, there are individuals in Oakland, and every other city in America, who are destructive and who’s only goal in life is to bring everyone and everything around them down to the level of their miserable existence. Instead of building up, this ignorant segment of society wants to tear everything down. As “bad” as the schools are, there is still opportunity for any individual who wants to work hard, get good grades, and go to college, to better their lives. These schools are “bad” because they are filled with students who don’t care, who don’t do their work, and who have no one home emphasizing how important their education is to their future. Instead, they are told that being serious about getting an education is ” acting white.” They are told that what’s important is instant gratification and having cars, money, and bling to impress the ladies.

    These destructive thugs who terrorize the streets and who have no interest in taking advantage of the free public education which is mandatory for every child, need to be weeded out of the school system so that individuals who are motivated to learn can take advantage of their free educational opportunities.

    As a society, and as a city, we need to let these thugs know that we will no longer coddle them and allow their anti-social behavior to dictate how we live our lives. We will no longer allow them to bring our city down. We will no longer tolerate their litter, their graffiti, their vandalism, their ear splitting car stereos, their crime, their side shows, their shootings, their reckless driving, and their total lack of respect for the rights of productive law abiding citizens to go on unchecked.

    This small segment of society terrorizes the rest of us with their uncivilized behavior. They dictate what we can do, where we can do it, and what time of day or night we can do it in. We have to put up speed bumps and inconvenience the vast majority of residents in order to be safe from the scofflaws. We can’t have our children playing in our front yards because some idiots may want to cap each other. We can’t use our parks because the drug dealers have taken over and trashed them. We can’t go for an evening stroll because some punk may want to knock us over the head and steal our wallet or our purse. What kind of society is this when the vast majority of residents have to live their lives within the constrains placed on them by the lowest common denominator in society?

    Everyone in every neighborhood deserves to live in a peaceful, clean, safe, and orderly environment. Children should be able to play in clean and safe parks at any time of day. Kids shouldn’t be afraid to walk to school because the neighborhood punk or drug dealer could be lurking around the corner. These unproductive thugs need to be weeded out of our society (if it means putting them all in jail, then, so be it) in order for our neighborhoods and our children to flourish and prosper. As long as we tolerate these thugs to dictate to society, we will always live in fear, and our city will never come close to achieving its incredible potential.

  21. Max Allstadt


    As much as I agree with you about the need for people to take responsibility for their own destiny, we can’t ignore the causes. No, we can’t coddle violent wrathful idiots. But wrath is not a sin that emerges from nothing. The most desperate parts of the flatlands in Oakland have been getting screwed by the system in subtle and not so subtle ways for a long long time. Little things like banning overnight parking on San Pablo Ave. create places that discourage growth. Big things like redlining and slavery created situations where whites had a huge advantage in racking up ancestral wealth. I agree that personal accountability can’t be set aside because of this. But we also can’t ignore the fact that the playing field isn’t level and has never been.

    You’re right that even in a bad school, a kid can transcend, rise above and persevere. But in a bad school, that kid has to be almost a golden child. At Piedmont High, all the kid has to do is show up and do his homework.

    What gets me is that separatism and ethnocentricism by whites created this problem and that movements like Uhuru feel that similar thinking on their part will fix the problem. It won’t.

  22. Navigator


    I agree with you to some extent. I understand the history, the unfairness, the segregation, the Jim Crow laws, etc.

    However, many people of all colors have fought this injustice over the years. Things are far from perfect, but they are better. I’m a product of those “bad” schools. I have four siblings who are all products of those “bad” schools. They are all successful productive members of society raising their families and instilling in their children the parameters and values needed to function and succeed in a civilized society. Currently, the cancer within, is what is crippling certain neighborhoods. There are individuals in these neighborhoods who want to succeed but who have to overcome circumstances which individuals in more stable neighborhoods do not. They have to overcome the circumstances and obstacles placed in front of them by individuals who would rather tear down their neighborhoods rather then build them up. They have to overcome the actions of the criminal element which terrorizes individuals on the streets, burglarize homes and businesses, breaks into cars, litters, vandalizes public and private property, and makes it virtually impossible for the neighborhoods to sustain any king of commercial activity. This in turn, creates abandon store fronts, which in turn increase blight and become canvases for additional vandalism which further depresses the area and discourages any investment by large and small businesses alike. This blight then has an affect on residents self-esteem and pride in their neighborhoods.

    We as a society and as a city need to weed these thugs out of our community in oder that our children and our neighborhoods can one again flourish. We can’t look back and access blame for the present conditions. What’s ailing our communities is currently right in front of us.

  23. annoyed

    Funny how black people were far less violent and nihilistic before integration than after it. I live in the flatlands of East Oakland and I do know what I’m talking about. It all starts at home. Not all of these kids come from poor families. It is outrageous that so many parents have chosen to let any and all other influences raise their kids. As for achievers acting white, kids get that from parents and other adults. Believe me, there are black parents who would be upside their kids’ heads if they heard them saying that being an achiever is white, ergo undesirable. Some of them do live in the flatlands.

    Oakland schools are a giant mess. And yet some of the very people who drove our schools into the ground have been rewarded by voters with seats on the City Council. Some schools don’t have books or any supplies. A couple of years ago, there was a news report that the schoolbook shortage was also a distribution problem. The schools had books but OUSD personnel were so incompetent, they couldn’t figure out how to distribute them to the schools so they collected dust in a warehouse. My question is, why do you people reward abject and colossal incompetence by returning this band of thieves to office year after year? It’s always someone else’s fault. Hello. It’s our fault.

    Finally, one of the reasons I have never had any respect for Uhuru House is exactly because it is an organization of whites with a couple of people in black face to give it legitimacy. They claim to speak for black people but they darn sure don’t speak for me. They must have missed the turn to Berkeley because they are a sadly outdated, reactionary, bunch of fools.

  24. RDC

    Max, You seem to love all of your very jaded points at the people of Piedmont and their “privledged” children. I’m white, grew up in Rockridge, and have not to my understanding caused black people any undue duress during my lifetime. You honestly sound like every street pariah/martyr/accuser that somehow white people are to blame.

    This may be my favorite quote of yours,
    “You’re right that even in a bad school, a kid can transcend, rise above and persevere. But in a bad school, that kid has to be almost a golden child. At Piedmont High, all the kid has to do is show up and do his homework.”

    A kid at a bad high school has to do the exact same thing as the Piedmont HS kid, SHOW UP and do their HOMEWORK. You get graded on homework, you dont show up you dont turn it in, you get bad grades. Whose job is it to show up and do the work? The students, no matter where they live. Your idiotic comments that are directed at the Piedmont/Trestle Glen/WHITE people is really disgusting and only shows you to be a very close minded bigot who writes very hypocritical articles.

    The people of trestle glen who hire private security do so out of fear, fear of someone of your mindset coming to “get theirs”. Since somehow white people “owe” you and the playing field isnt level yet you chastise the people for taking precautions against someone harming their family. Why don’t you take the bars off of your west oakland home? Why don’t you hire private security to patrol your streets? Same reason I don’t, I don’t have the money. The wealthy are not to blame for your problems, they have money and want to spend it in any way they see fit.
    Why don’t you condemn the local/state/fed government for allowing these millionaires to keep so much of their money while the rest of us get taxed up the wazzoo? More tax money from these rich folks would get directed where? not into their cozy little neighborhoods but hopefully where it is needed most, apparantly in the hands of the black people who continue to fight against slavery and whatever else you feel like being repressed about today.

  25. V Smoothe Post author

    I’m happy to provide a forum for a discussion of the complicated relationship of race, crime, and opportunity in Oakland, but some of these comments are beginning to veer away from productive contributions and into personal attacks. I would appreciate it if commenters could please limit their thoughts to the topic at hand, and stop making assumptions about others participating in the conversation.

    RDC –

    I hope you aren’t seriously suggesting that a student at Piedmont High School, which had an API of 894 in 2004, and a student at McClymonds Senior High, which had an API of 406 for the same year, receive the same level and quality of education by simply showing up and doing their homework. I think we’re all aware that expectations and academic standards vary widely from school to school, and from district to district.

  26. RDC

    No way am I suggesting that. I was trying to make the point (too heated no doubt) that a students success is based on showing up everyday and doing the work. Regardless of school or district, doesn’t that have to be the basic expectation? I object to the line of thinking/opinion that these kids are somehow spoon-fed success because they go to the “quality” school and do the work. Does anyone believe that if all Mac students were to show up everyday and do their homework that the schools API would improve? Attendance = more $$ from the state. I just feel that attendance and homework are the very basics of accountability for a student at any school. I could be very wrong about my line of thinking for I could not find attendance scores for McClymonds to compare to Piedmont’s, which I did not find either.

  27. Navigator

    The biggest obstacle facing the inner city is the break down of the family unit. Many of these kids have no one at home to set moral, ethical and spiritual guidelines. Many of these kids are wayward souls with no direction and no hope.

    It’s not necessarily the financial and economic poverty that leads to the rampant violence and anti-social behavior. It’s more a case of a moral and spiritual poverty which leads to the unchecked mayhem. If we were to compare poverty in this country to the abject poverty in third world nations, it wouldn’t even be close. A child in the slums or favelas of South America lives in a shanty town on a hillside in a tin shed without the many basic services which many poor Americans take for granted. In Africa, children live in deplorable conditions without shelter and food. Kids walk around without shoes and play next to flowing open sewers. This is real poverty. By contrast, these shoot um up thugs in American cities are afflicted with a certain moral poverty. They have nice clothes, nice rims, money for grills, money for the latest shoes, etc. They are punks who kill each other because of “disrespect” or because someone stepped on their footwear. They are the biggest losers in the World. We need to lock these thugs up for the well being of society. No amount of improving the schools will change their self-centered and uncivilized criminal behavior.

    We need to reach out and help the good people oppressed by the pervasive thug culture in certain neighborhoods. These low income families, like any other family, deserve to live in a peaceful, prosperous, clean and safe environment.

  28. Navigator

    Also, where are the influential black churches on this issue? Why have they been so ineffective in addressing the mayhem? It seems to me that many of these pastors are more interested in generating political influence and consolidating power than they are in using their considerable influence in the black community to address this issue. It may be politically easier to look back at the causes then to look forward to the solutions.

  29. Max Allstadt


    A students ability to show up and do the work is directly impacted by whether or not they have to go through a social minefield everyday to avoid disaster. The entrenched peer pressure in the flatlands is incomparable to that in Piedmont. Momentum is different too. That was my point. Your archetypal good student is not immune to his surroundings.

    I never said white people “owe” anybody anything. I just said they had a huge advantage. Redlining was an institutionalized financial bias against blacks that occurred in our lifetime. It prevented black families from racking up ancestral wealth in the form of real estate in a blatantly racist way.

    Also RDC, if you have a kid or a nephew or a niece, particularly one who’s a good student, I suggest you send them to a school in the flatlands for a month and see how they do. Really, think about that long and hard, could you honestly do that?

    Lastly. I’m white, and I grew up with a lot of privilege. A lot. Private schools, club med vacations, college tuition, cars bought for me, you name it, it was available to me. Moving into a warehouse in the West Oakland and having neighbors murdered gave me some serious perspective on just how lucky I’ve been. I don’t think you caused anyone any undue duress, RDC. I don’t think I did either. Most of that sad foundation was laid before I was born. But I’m staying in West Oakland until I’ve done what I can to fix it.

  30. Max Allstadt


    We may need to lock up some thugs, but it’s a thousand times more important to free their minds before their taken, or to take their minds back. If a kid kills another and goes to jail for it, we’ve lost two children. We need to set our sights on losing none. This is where I agree with you about moral poverty being just as difficult a problem. I just favor being proactive where ever possible over being reactive.

  31. Navigator


    To me, creating safe, peaceful, clean, and orderly neighborhoods is being proactive. If this means locking up destructive members of society who refuse to take advantage of opportunities presented to them, then, so be it. We can’t unlock anyone’s mind. It’s completely up to them to want to change. Until these kids standing on the corners decide that it’s better to work hard and make less money doing honorable work, than it is standing on the corner slinging dope and destroying their communities for hundreds of dollars per day, we wont see any end to the destruction and violence. There are kids in these neighborhoods who choose to work at a fast food place, or an entry level retail job, or washing dishes in a restaurant, who make these choices because they would rather do honest work for little money, than to compromise their morals, values and integrity in order to obtain material possessions through illegal and immoral means. Those hard-working kids should be commended. We should make it easier for these kids by making their neighborhoods safer. They don’t need to see these thugs making thousands of dollars on the corners and poisoning their communities while these poor kids persevere by doing the right thing. Clean out the thugs!

  32. Max Allstadt

    I’m not arguing that we should let it slide. And incidentally the kids slinging the dope on the corners aren’t making that much money. They may well be making about the same as they could with an honest job. No, you’re right, arrest thugs. But if we don’t approach the hearts and minds side of the problem, we’ll just have more to arrest later.

  33. CK

    1 out of every 100 Americans is currently incarcerated in one form or another. That’s a lot of “locked up thugs” we’ve taken care of already, yet the situation on the streets has not improved. A comprehensive social effort should be made to go along with a harder line towards criminal behavior and criminal culture.
    Putting more poeple in jail will sure make the prison guards union happy, but they’ll probably be the only ones who stand to benefit from an enforcement only policy. I’m with you on this one, Max.

  34. Max Allstadt

    Well ultimately it’s really about replacing drug prohibition with harm reduction, but that’s too huge a topic to get in to here. But google “law enforcement against prohibition” if you’re interested.

  35. Deckin

    Max Allstadt talks about a ‘harm reduction’ attitude towards drugs, and I couldn’t agree more. What is truly humorous is that this laudable attitude, so loved by progressives when it comes to things like drugs, teen sex, etc., is completely dropped when it comes to crime itself. In that case, we’re told by ‘activists’ like our mayor and others, that we must ‘cure’ crime by getting at its ‘root causes’. As with poverty and other social ills that are likely the result of humans being, well, uh, human, the dogma of these evangelists (Uhuru Movement, PUEBLO, ACORN, et al) is that we not only can ‘cure’ these evils, but, of course, that we must. Just like bringing democracy to tribal Middle Eastern countries, the true alliances of the loony left and the rabid right against the sensible middle is the real story that’s apparently too uncomfortable to state.

  36. Max Allstadt

    You’re on an interesting train of thought there, Deckin, but I’m not entirely sure I follow. I think economic development and education work to curb crime, but they’re not everything. Getting communities to give a damn is really the important part. I’d like to see a situation where a kid in a “Stop Snitchin’” shirt would get whacked upside the head by the purse of every little old lady he passes, for example…
    What exactly are you for here? Elaborate a bit, please.

  37. Deckin


    My point is that there will never be a ‘cure’ for crime, anymore than there will be a ‘cure’ for adultery or self destructive behavior or lying or (shudder!) poverty. These are all examples of predictable results from humans living in societies with other humans all prey to human foibles and psychology. Humans being human explains why poverty, past the bare minimum to sustain oneself, is always a relative affair. The poorest person in the US has access to goods and services John D. Rockefeller couldn’t have bought with all his money. Crime is the same way. I know it pains the guilty consciences of latte sipping small carbon footed globally aware locally active sustainable ecovillage progressives everywhere, but we will NEVER eliminate crime. Ever. The best we can hope to do is incentivize against it (punishment), try to reward decency and keep trying incrementally to reduce the harm it inevitably causes. Try to mitigate against it, and if that doesn’t work, try to get it to move down the road. Believe it or not, this used to be common knowledge. It’s again ironic that many of the same people who trumpet folk wisdom when it comes to medicines and the like are absolutely horrified at the folk wisdom about crime, irresponsibility, having children out of wedlock, etc.

  38. Max Allstadt

    It’s not about wedlock, it’s about what wedlock does. It’s about lovelock. It’s about commitment. If you’re using wedlock as shorthand for that, I’m with you.

    Poverty is not a relative affair, exactly. There is a bottom to the wealth chain, there appears to be no top. I will tell you this: I believe a social safety net is a good investment. Countries that don’t let their bottom economic group slip below a certain level have less crime. In America we spend ridiculous amounts of tax money imprisoning people. I’d rather spend money giving away free food, free modest clothing, offering free post secondary education, and free cable TV and a small allowance. Let them veg instead of mug. Give them all a shot at learning. If we do that, I’ll feel an awful lot better about sending people to jail if they still misbehave.

    Oh, and people who use the term “latte sipping small carbon footed globally aware locally active sustainable ecovillage progressives” on online bulletin boards really ought to have the cojones to sign their own name in full. I refuse to be anonymous because it keeps me civil. Anything I say here might be quoted later against me or for me in the fleshworld. And that’s how I want it. You don’t wear a mask to a town hall meeting and expect to be taken seriously. There’s a little folk wisdom right back at you.

  39. Max Allstadt

    not that is wasn’t a really clever turn of phrase, deckin… I’m just sayin, own it.

  40. Deckin


    I was assuming people would take the ‘latte sipping…’ for the tongue in cheek hyperbole it was intended as. I fit every stereotype of ‘stuff white people like’–though I don’t feel too guilty about it. And I wouldn’t be anonymous if I didn’t think there might be real repercussions at work. I used to think the whole idea of a PC thought police was so much Fox News nonsense, until I saw it firsthand. Ideally, my place of employment would be exactly where one would think the free and open exchange of ideas would be encouraged and people wouldn’t be punished, but sadly it isn’t so. I’ve seen colleagues harassed quite badly for saying things that went against the ‘official doctrine’ and I have little confidence that institutional safeguards meant to protect unpopular speech would be applied. Is this a chicken shit cop out? Probably. But for now, being a martyr isn’t something I can deal with. Maybe in a couple of years though.

  41. Tagami

    I have been away from this site for a while.
    It is nice to see the V is still shaken’ things up.

    We all need quiet and time off task…I certainly need some after reading this last thread.


  42. Max Allstadt

    wow tagami,

    You read the whole thread? Glad you made it through. It kinda got testy in the middle there.

  43. Tagami


    That happens to the best of us…

    Nothing like chopin down that late night bowl of granola and gettin’ caught up on the blog-o-sphere.

    I was hopeful there would be an answer to your direct question from JH.

    Maybe next time?