Locked Out of the Conversation
Last night, I went to attend meeting Oakland City Council to stand in solidarity with the parents of Alan Blueford and present to the Council the names of hundreds of people who signed on to demand the release of the Alan Blueford police report.
Rumors had been circulating that there might be restricted access to the council meeting last week, but no one had any details about what that would mean. I arrived after walking with Alan's family and members of the interfaith community from the District Attorney's office and at first it seemed that we'd be able to enter the council chambers like we've been able to in the past.
But we were met at the door to the council by police officers guarding the door to the public meeting, allowing no one in.
Even though I had registered to speak, I wasn't allowed into the room. From what we could tell standing outside the door, there were still seats available inside. And the gallery was closed. Frustrated citizens stood outside the door and did the only thing available to them: demand their right to attend a public forum. Attempts to enter the upstairs gallery area were blocked. The crowd was loud, but no one was agressive or violent.
City council members and other elected leaders have a responsibility to foster public debate, discussion and dialog, not suppress it. When there's a problem in the community, such as when police kill a young man, we the people have a right to join together to raise problems and demand solutions. By limiting public access to the meeting, Oakland City Council subverted the democratic process and failed in their responsibilities.
Some might say that City Council has a right to expect decorum and safety at City Council meetings. I agree, but they should achieve that by enforcing rules of civil dialog, not by locking people out of the room.
Last night's meeting underscores how few avenues for meaningful community dialog are available in Oakland. For example, the Mayor in Oakland's "Strong Mayor" form of city government is responsible for running the city, including hiring city administrator and the police department. But there's no forum to bring up issues to the Mayor or to the city administrator. Similarly, city council meetings are structured to allow the City Council to address items on the agenda, but there's no public forum for the community to bring up issues that aren't on the agenda besides a 15 minute Open Forum section at the beginning of meetings.
So lets continue to call for open Oakland City Council meetings and for all of Oakland's elected officials to provide more ways for Oaklanders to communicate with them.