Oakland CA. like all major urban areas has crime problems. There have been spates of bold, armed robberies of late, gangs of youth that have entered restaurants demanding money from customers. There was also the tragic murder of a young worker at a Thai restaurant earlier this year.
I used to work in the streets of Oakland for a public utility. It was always obvious to me when the unemployment rate was high; it just seemed less safe, I could feel it, see it. I noticed in the nineties when youth unemployment decreased that there were fewer guys hanging around the liquor stores in my neighborhood, and liquor stores were in such abundance we used to call the area Liquorstoreville'. The inner cities have many Liquorstoreville's. Alcohol has long been used to keep the masses down. But when young people were working, particularly in jobs that at least paid the rent, they were off the streets and had some hope for a future. The same when organized resistance to oppression develops, alcohol becomes less of an attraction when you're fighting the system and not just a victim of it.
But like many of America's cities, and rural areas a whole generation of youth have grown up with no hope of gainful employment. They have no skills, they do not know how to communicate socially and have no idea how to interview for a job; they would most likely tell the truth for one thing; and there is such a thing as street sense.
Oakland has many youth like this. But Oakland also gave birth to the Black Panthers and Huey Newton reminded us that the disenfranchised youth, these "brothers off the block" that, "If you didn't relate to these cats, the power structure would organize these cats against you.". The same would apply to the unemployed in general. The Oakland police department had a notorious reputation for hiring racist killer cops that terrorized the black community, and the Panthers, led by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale would patrol the streets following cops and exposing their treatment of Oakland's working class black folks. They also instituted numerous community programs for poor people like drug re-hab and breakfast programs.
The Panthers defended workers against the brutality of the state and the violence perpetrated against us by the police. Their enemies were the police, the landlords and all those who exploited working class people. Naturally, arising out of the racism of the era, directed most viciously against the black community, issues affecting this group were of a special importance to them. And they obviously made mistakes. But it could be said that they were the eyes and ears of the community. Oppressed people's throughout the world, from those fighting European imperialism in Africa to Catholics opposing British imperialism in Northern Ireland, were influenced by them and admired them for their courage and heroism. The state vilified them and launched a massive campaign of repression and propaganda against them, including assassinations.
Contrast the Black Panthers to the present voluntary "crime fighting" addition to the Oakland police force, the Guardian Angels. As a response to the increasing robberies of businesses, the Guardian Angels have been invited to patrol the city's streets by Mayor Ron Dellums and the Oakland Police Dept."We're of the same mission," says Police Sgt Michael Poirer *. "We'd like everybody to be safe and secure" he adds, "The angels are a bonus to our efforts. They can serve as our eyes and our ears (MY emphasis) and also be a deterrent to anyone in these neighborhoods engaging in criminal activity."
The Guardian Angels are vigilantes for the employers and a conduit to the cops and the state within the working class community. Don't get me wrong, pointing weapons at people, robbing them or the establishment they are patronizing is not a good thing and should be stopped, but the state's solution and workers' solutions to this situation cannot be the same. There are all sorts of criminal activities going on in poor working class communities much of it worker against worker and black against black. Most of this crime is a product of social conditions that have gotten worse and worse over the years.
On the other hand, some of the biggest and most ruthless criminals are landlords. I have been involved with the Campaign For Renters Rights (CRR), a direct action, tenants' rights groups based mostly in Oakland. We have come across some real thugs in our work. Many of the victims of these landlords are older people and often immigrants and single mothers with children; the most vulnerable among us. I remember one woman I saw crying on her bed. I asked her what was up, could I help? It turned out that the landlord had been over and she had a choice to make, pay the rent or the energy bill. The landlord had a third option that was a major contributor to her distress; she could pay in kind. And hovering over her head throughout all this was the danger that she might not be able to keep a roof over the heads of her children. Some 60% of Oakland residents of Oakland are renters and sexual harassment, safety violations, and threats of eviction are common and all illegal practices that don't make people feel very "safe and secure".
Where are the Guardian Angels for these people?
The Guardian Angels are actually in Oakland to protect business interests; they are there to make the business owner's profits "safe and secure" They will "supplement increased police patrols in the city's commercial districts." says Poirer. **
They are not there to protect the worker against the boss, the tenant against the landlord, the homeowner against the mortgage banker. They won't help fight foreclosures and people being driven out of their homes by sheriffs at the behest of bankers and real estate speculators.
They are not in Oakland to lead a campaign against injustice, to campaign for jobs, a $15 an hour minimum wage, free education and health care. They were not there for the single mothers, the aged and the disabled on section 8 who were being threatened with homelessness by the city of Alameda. The 160 or so families fought back with the Campaign For Renters' Rights and stopped their evictions; they occupied the mayors office, they picketed politicians and city officials houses; where were the Guardian Angles then? Doesn't a roof over one's head have a lot to do with being "safe and secure"?
Obviously the Guardian Angel's mission that "We all work toward a universal goal that everyone has the right and deserves the right to be safe" doesn't really mean "everyone"
It should come as no surprise that the Guardian Angels are so connected to the police and the bosses. Curtis Sliwa founded the group back in 1979. Sliwa was a manager for a McDonalds so he obviously had no problem with ripping young workers off. You have to be a particular type to be a manger of some of the most abused workers, in society. You have to make it clear that you have no class solidarity and that the bosses' interests are paramount; you have to be trusted, not by the workers being abused but by the abuser.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, many of the Guardian Angels "come from military and law enforcement backgrounds" that explains a lot. The tenants who fight landlords and landlord friendly city councils with direct action tactics will be up against Guardian Angels in the future who will be there to ensure the landlord's rights are "safe and secure". Working people will face Guardian Angels in the future as our opposition to the intensifying attacks on our rights and living standards gains momentum. They will be used to break strikes and bust picket lines. They will be used against us as Newton said, if not as Guardian Angels, as new recruits for the police force.
Any class-conscious worker should oppose these vigilantes. The antidote to crime is a job, security and a future, and we have to break their laws to ensure that.
*Prayer For Help Answered: SF Chronicle 8-13-08