In a story that made sad national headlines, the Oakland Police Department was sued many years ago over alleged police misconduct in the infamous Riders case.
Rightly or wrongly, Oakland forever became associated with police beatings in the Northern California version of the Los Angeles Rodney King debacle. And the Oscar Grant tragedy, while not an OPD case, only provided additional media fodder.
Thus, the last quarter-century has been very bad for Oakland, both on our streets and in local and national headlines.
In the Riders case, the city of Oakland eventually reached a negotiated settlement agreement with the federal court. This agreement to implement police reforms in training, policy and discipline was supposed to result in better police relations here in Oakland.
Clearly, it has not.
If anything, the effects of this court-ordered settlement have been the opposite, and many of the reforms have stalled. As a result, Oakland residents continue to read news stories about how our own police department is failing, and even worse, we also have to pay for expensive lawsuits.
In fact, Oakland taxpayers have paid more than $58 million in civil lawsuits in the past 10 years -- more than San Francisco and San Jose combined -- and millions more in federal monitoring fees and legal fees.
We simply can't afford this. Our city is broke. If you are like me, you are probably broke.
Because OPD continues to be noncompliant with the settlement agreement, even after a decade of trying, the federal court system is now getting ready to take over the police department. In legal terms, this is called receivership.
Given our own experience here with various court-ordered reforms, it is very unlikely that the courts can actually fix anything here in Oakland. The issues between OPD and our residents go back a long time. To see a documentary from 1974, in which the same issues are being discussed, go to tinyurl.com/oakland1974.
There is simply no reason to think that even more court hearings and even more lawyers and even more court orders can finally do what they have been unable to do for the last 40 years.
Offering voters the opportunity to establish a true citizens police commission that would oversee, audit and monitor the police department will show the federal judge that Oakland is very serious about healing police relations, and that receivership is not required.
If you agree that such a measure should appear on the November ballot, please contact your City Council representative or the mayor now and urge them to sponsor this citizen initiative. Please also sign this simple and fast online petition at: goo.gl/LXgi4.
It may be the only way that Oaklanders like you and me can heal our relationship with our own police department.
As a licensed attorney, I know how things work, and that is why I am telling folks to try to keep OPD out of the court system. It has never worked for us in the past and, thus, will not work in the future.
Kevin Lee Thomason is an Oakland resident and attorney who is currently working with a broad-based coalition seeking solutions to Oakland's continuing violence issues.