A Sign of the Times

14 May

I used to volunteer at a nonprofit in Oakland, CA and although I don’t get over there much at all anymore, I am still in touch with them and received an email about a recent and unfortunate event. I felt that it was important to share the sentiments expressed in this message.

Grand Avenue merchant latest target in robberies of Oakland businesses.
Uhuru Furniture & Collectibles calls for economic development instead of increased police as response.

On the afternoon of Sunday, May 4th, 2008, customers and staff at Uhuru Furniture & Collectibles on Grand Avenue experienced what several businesses in the area have experienced, a daytime robbery during open hours.

We recognize that this robbery, and the increased number of such robberies in Oakland, is taking place within the context of a sharp escalation in the already desperate poverty of Oakland’s black community.

Although we deplore the robbery, we know that more police is not a solution. We believe that true security will come from an economic development strategy in which the African community owns and controls the economy, property, profits and development in their own community.

Uhuru Furniture & Collectibles is a nonprofit economic development project of the African People’s Education and Defense Fund (APEDF). APEDF is an African-led organization whose mission is to develop and institutionalize programs to defend the human and civil rights of the African community, and to address the grave disparities in education, health, healthcare, and economic development faced by the African community. These disparities are at the core of the robberies.
The New York Times reported in March that one in five Oakland households lives on less than $15,000 a year. Those are poverty wages! African people with multiple college degrees cannot find employment in Oakland.
– Many news sources are reporting that the housing collapse has devastated African home ownership due to racist, predatory lenders who targeted black people of all income levels.
– The Oakland Tribune reported in March that black people consistently receive poorer hospital care than whites. The average life expectancy in the Oakland Hills is seventeen years longer than in the majority black flatlands. Black infants are twice as likely to die before their first birthday than white infants in the same city.
– The public schools are failing African people. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that 52% of Oakland students drop out. 68% of the 50,400 public school students are poor enough to qualify for the federal lunch program.
– Disproportionate and discriminatory sentencing is a historic and well-documented American practice. Although African people make up only 6% of California’s population, they make up 29% of the state’s prison population.
– Where is the Community Development Block Grant money in Oakland? One city official reported that 75% of it is used to pay for department infrastructure. Much of the remaining 25% is snatched up by non-Oakland residents or used in ways that don’t benefit or improve the quality of life for Oakland’s poorest residents.

Police, politicians, business leaders and average citizens all know and acknowledge that poverty and crime go together. Some, like Representative Kernighan and Mayor Dellums even acknowledge privately and in town hall meetings that slavery, Jim Crow and colonialism are at the root of the immiseration of the black community. Still, they proclaim that there is no money for economic development for the black community. But they had no trouble finding 7.7 million dollars for more police in March of this year!

Uhuru Furniture also opposes vigilantism as a solution. Last year, the thuggish Guardian Angels were hired to patrol Grand Avenue resulting in the harassment of innocent African people. The vigilante mentality has even emboldened one man to run for Oakland city government in 2008 based on a repugnant belief that his having shot an unarmed black teenager represents a stand against crime.

These policies cannot work! We can see other places in the world in which whole communities are walled off – both physically and militarily – creating poverty and depravation. This can never lead to a decrease in crime, but rather to an escalation of tension, explosion and catastrophe from which none of us are immune.

The African People’s Education and Defense Fund is committed to addressing the conditions of poverty faced by the African community. The robbery at Uhuru Furniture was an attack on an institution for economic development for the African community. By robbing Uhuru Furniture, this individual was attacking the black community itself.

We at Uhuru Furniture stand with all those who recognize that genuine economic development for Oakland’s impoverished African community is the true road forward. Those of us who want to see genuine peace must demand from our city government an immediate transformation in the living conditions for the impoverished people of our city – social justice and economic development.

The solution lies with us on the grass roots level. We will either move forward together as one city or continue down the present road of violence and instability. Nobody is going to come and save us – not the police, the governor, Congress nor a current or future president.

In the aftermath of this armed takeover assault on Uhuru Furniture & Collectibles, APEDF is calling for:
1. real, transformative economic development in which the African community owns and controls the economy, property, profits and development in their community
2. a massive infusion of capital into the impoverished African community
3. African owned businesses, not imported corporations
4. grants and loans for African businesses to start or expand
5. jobs and contracts for any development in Oakland be given to African residents, contractors and businesses
6. a comprehensive, city-sponsored promotions campaign providing Oakland’s residents and businesses with the information and means to access economic development money
7. creation of job opportunities and businesses for everyone that will raise the pay scale for all workers by making black labor more competitive

05/06/08

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