Someone shot Bobbie Sartain, 16, and her best friend, Raquel Gerstel, 15. Their bodies were found near Brookdale Park in East Oakland. The two girls were buried during the weekend. The same day as Sartain's funeral, Michael Taylor, 24, was fatally shot in the middle of the afternoon near Jack London Square in Oakland -- also by a killer who is still on the loose.
In police speak, these are "unrelated" homicides because the victims did not know each other.
Yet they are very much related in the overall scheme of the obscene carnage that has become a normal occurrence in this city.
Since the first of the year, there have been 120 homicides in Oakland, a city of fewer than 400,000 people. Most victims died in street shootings. Criminals are shooting each other and innocent bystanders practically every day. They are robbing people, burglarizing homes and committing violent home invasions. The violence isn't just happening in so-called bad neighborhoods, but all across the city. People like my neighbors, who have two small children and are tired of hearing gunshots, are fleeing Oakland in droves. Businesses take one look at Oakland's violent crime trajectory -- which is steadily heading upward -- and say thanks but no thanks.
With so much at stake, you would think that Oakland's leadership would be devoting most of its energies and resources to aggressive measures aimed at getting violent offenders off the streets and bringing crime under control.
Instead, police and city officials have been consumed with trying to save face -- averting a federal takeover of the Oakland Police Department.
U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson has had his foot on Oakland's neck for nearly a decade in an effort to force the city to comply with court-ordered civil rights reforms stemming from the so-called Riders case. Henderson has been overseeing a 2003 negotiated settlement agreement in which Oakland was forced to pay out $10.9 million and implement 51 measures to improve police accountability and prevent civil rights abuses.
Four OPD officers were accused of beating suspects and planting drugs to secure convictions. The courts acquitted three of the four (the fourth fled to Mexico), but 119 plaintiffs sued the city for civil rights violations.
Various monitors hired by the court have overseen Oakland's progress on the settlement reforms. They have been paid millions of dollars in public moneys -- including Robert Warshaw's firm, Police Performance Solutions of Dover, N.H.
Warshaw has been scathingly critical of OPD's progress and for the last several months, Judge Henderson has been threatening to put OPD into federal receivership.
Last week, Oakland agreed to a settlement that will place a federal "compliance monitor" in charge of OPD. If Judge Henderson signs off on the agreement as expected, he or she will be paid by the city, yet will not answer to police Chief Howard Jordan, or Mayor Jean Quan, Oakland's top elected official. Judge Henderson will be the boss.
The compliance director will be authorized to spend as much as $250,000 at one time without City Council approval, demote command staff and fire the chief with the judge's OK.
Whether this individual is able to achieve the remaining reforms that Oakland officials didn't remains to be seen.
There is no question that elements of OPD culture must be changed. A case in point: Oakland just agreed on a settlement to pay out $4.6 million to 39 men who accused police officers of strip-searching them in public -- in some cases forcing them to pull down their boxer shorts.
Yes, we must hold police accountable for their actions. Bad cops must be rooted out and punished.
But let's not throw the baby out with the bath water.
Oakland is not served by demonizing the entire police force because of the bad behavior of some police officers. This is, after all, the same force that we expect to protect us from criminals.
Since the negotiated settlement agreement, we have more cops investigating other cops in internal affairs than we do helping to solve homicides.
Whose interest does that serve besides the criminals?
Police officers must report every reason for every stop, the race and gender of the individual as well as the outcome.
That sounds great in theory to help prevent racial profiling, but in the real word, do we really want OPD officers spending huge amounts of time collecting racial profiling data when emergency calls are stacking up in the dispatch center?
If we truly want to get serious about fighting crime, it's time to shift the spotlight off the cops and onto the criminals where it belongs.