OPD revives superpredator language to criminalize Oakland youth

At the end of the 15,000-youth march organized by two teens on June 1, 2020, dozens of youth were arrested when a curfew was called for 8 p.m. after the march was underway, making it retroactively illegal. OPD also used tear gas against these “superpredators.” – Photo: Ray Chavez, Bay Area News Group

by Barni Qaasim, Digital Organizing Director, Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice (CURYJ)

Oakland, Calif. – On Dec. 15, the Oakland Police Department released a dangerous statement to create fear and vilify Oakland youth. Using dehumanizing language like “juveniles” and “underaged suspects,” interim Police Chief Susan E. Manheimer stated that her purpose is to create “alarm” without addressing the causes or offering any solutions. 

“We remember this language from the ‘90s; it created the hysteria that allowed so many Black and Brown lives to be cut short by mass incarceration,” said George Galvis, executive director of Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice (CURYJ). “Police Chief Manheimer and the Oakland Police Department are afraid right now. They are trying to create panic to protect their budgets during historic progress when communities are questioning inflated police budgets.” 

The Oakland Police Department takes 44 percent of the city budget. This summer, thousands of Oakland community members put pressure on Oakland City Council and Mayor Libby Schaaf to deal with a bloated, underperforming police budget. City Council created the Reimagining Public Safety Taskforce to develop a path to defund the Oakland Police Department by 50 percent in 2021. 

“We want to tell OPD that we need solutions that work, not super predator propaganda against children.”

“The OPD is talking about kids as young as 11 years old. At a time like this, it is appalling that Oakland City Council is simultaneously trying to defund anti-violence programs and youth life coaching. We know that life coaching works,” says Michael Muscadine, a life coach and co-founder of CURYJ. “Across the country, communities are moving toward investing in the things that we do know prevent crime: rehabilitation, mental health services and community-based organizations.”

The statement fails to offer any context about what the community is going through. In April of this year alone the Bay Area lost 58 percent of jobs created within the last decade. At a time when we have the largest amount of unemployment claims filed since the Great Depression, OPD needs to address the root cause of community pain – the lack of resources for basic necessities like food and shelter amongst a global pandemic and economic crisis. 

“I was charged as an adult and given a life sentence at age 16, so I know how dangerous this rhetoric is,” says J. Vasquez, participatory defense and policy coordinator at CURYJ. “We want to tell OPD that we need solutions that work, not super predator propaganda against children.”

Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice (CURYJ – pronounced “courage”) unlocks the leadership of young people to dream beyond bars and for police accountability. Digital Organizing Director Barni Qaasim can be reached by email at barni@curyj.org