Things that Make for Peace: Thoughts on a Department of Violence Prevention

This Spring, when the Oakland City Council was wading hip-deep into budget negotiations, Councilmember Lynette McElhaney proposed a new Department of Violence Prevention. I had and continue to have serious concerns about this proposal and brought them to the Council during public comment.

I disagree with the path of “departmentalizing” violence prevention, but not because I don’t want to prevent violence.  I disagree because I believe this will not bring the results we desire.  As a follower of the way of Jesus, I resonate with his words in Luke 19

As Jesus came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.”

I’m committed to “the things that make for peace.” I grieve whenever a neighbor loses a loved one to violence. We should all hold these families in our hearts. But I don’t believe more bureaucracy will bring the kind of change that would lead us toward peaceful, healthy neighborhoods.

For me, the creation of a Department for Violence Prevention raises more questions than it answers.

  • What violence do we seek to prevent?
  • How would it address the violence of the eviction of a family from a home that has been in the family for three generations?
  • How would it address the violence of cultural erasure as the rich heritage of our communities of color is systematically stripped away by gentrification?
  • How would it address the violence of chronic underemployment and unemployment of our youth and young adults?
  • How would it address the violence of the “assistance” provided by Public Works, OPD and OFD when they unexpectedly show up to dismantle and destroy encampments?
  • How would it address the violence of abuse when a 17 year old girl was exploited by one city employee after another?

These questions won’t be answered by ensuring there are more arrests, more crimes solved, more prosecutions. We need solutions that transcend traditional methods of prevention that rely heavily on traditional law enforcement and other public safety techniques. If we want to find our way toward the things that make for peace in Oakland, we must ask ourselves and our neighbors why people resort to violence in the first place. When we are able to talk about and address these root causes, I believe we will begin to see the changes we hope for.

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