What would happen if there were a massive fire raging through Oakland that was spreading and had overwhelmed the city Fire Department? Or a flu that had killed more than 1,000 people and that public health authorities had not been able to contain?
Would the Oakland City Council hesitate one second to declare a public health emergency as it has the power to do under Section 213 of the city charter? The provision grants a city's governing body expanded powers to "protect the public health, safety or welfare."
I highly doubt it.
Well, there has been a plague ravaging this city for decades now. It may not be a natural disaster or what is typically viewed as a public health crisis like HIV/AIDS, but it is a deadly public health crisis nonetheless. Oakland is in the grips of a street shooting epidemic that has been claiming victims for as long as many people can remember.
In 2012, 131 people were killed. Most of them were shot dead in the streets. Hundreds more were shot and survived. Shooting victims are driving themselves to Highland Hospital.
The California Emergency Services Act defines a local emergency as a "condition of extreme peril to person or property proclaimed by the governing body of the local agency affected."
I don't know about you, but four people shot and killed in six hours on the streets of this city this past Friday? A woman encountering a man who had been shot to death lying on the sidewalk while she was walking her dog at 3 o'clock in the afternoon? Six people killed in five days? Shootings happening just about every day in some part of East or West Oakland?
I'd call that "extreme peril to persons."
I can't think of one good reason why Oakland shouldn't use its local emergency ordinance -- and everything else at its disposal, for that matter -- to help get control of the killing that is wiping out a whole generation of young black men in East and West Oakland who have been so brainwashed by thug culture that they are intent on destroying themselves along with anyone else who gets in their way?
We are dealing with a lethal disease.
As if we needed a reminder of that fact, city and police officials held a news conference Monday to discuss Oakland's latest shooting madness in front of a mural dedicated to Carlos Nava. In August 2011, Carlos, 3, was shot and killed in gang crossfire on International Boulevard in broad daylight while his mother pushed him in his stroller. Gabriel Martinez, 5, was shot a few months later in December near his father's taco stand not far away on the same street.
I thought about those little boys and about all the people who have been murdered since in gun violence. I thought about how many times I had attended variations of the same news conference listening to the same speeches by public officials and community leaders about how we will not tolerate the killing in this city. Yet we, as a community, continue to tolerate the killing in our city.
Oakland Mayor Jean Quan and police Chief Howard Jordan said at Monday's news conference that Oakland does not need to pass a local state of emergency ordinance.
"We have already been operating under a state of emergency," Quan said. She and Jordan said they had already asked Gov. Jerry Brown for help. That he had sent U.S. marshals and California Highway Patrol officers to assist the Oakland Police Department. They said declaring a local state of emergency wouldn't get Oakland any more assistance from Sacramento.
I'm not so sure about that. A declaration of emergency followed by a public request for help to Brown could bring more pressure to bear on the governor, who does have a home in Oakland. Who knows if there could be additional state funds found to help hire more police officers? More intensive regional mutual aid. The governor also has the authority to send the National Guard.
An emergency ordinance would give local authorities greater law enforcement powers -- such as the power to "impose a curfew within designated boundaries where necessary to promote the public safety," according to the state emergency services act.
Right now, Oakland could only legally use curfews if they covered the whole city. Which would make no sense when the shooting is concentrated in certain areas.
Jordan said Monday that officials are exploring the legality of using the emergency ordinance even though they have chosen not to use it at this time.
When you have this level of bloodshed on your streets, why not use every available tool at your disposal?