By Steven Tavares.
It was one of the most somber Oakland City Council meetings in recent memory. Dozens of public speakers detailed the anguish following the loss of loved ones to gun violence in Oakland. And, later, after Council President Larry Reid‘s daughter provided her own tragic testimony, he struggled to fight back tears before the council approved Tuesday evening the creation of a Department of Violence Prevention.
Over the past two months Councilmember Lynette Gibson McElhaney, along with Reid, had pushed for the new city department, but some members were slow to support the proposal, citing questions over its cost and scope.
Two weeks ago, McElhaney, herself, become uncommonly emotional during a council meeting after a rival proposal calling for a blue-ribbon commission to tackle the issue of violence in Oakland was offered and threatened to eclipse her own vision.
“I think everything has been said and there’s not much else to say,” said McElhaney who continue to lobby for the department up until its passage Tuesday. “If we haven’t done it, what makes us think we can? We have to believe that we can. The contrary is just unacceptable.”
The department will strive to reduce homicides by 80 percent within the next three years, according to McElhaney. In addition, it will take a public health approach to achieving its goals and soon seek to hire an executive-level chief of violence prevention.
Near the end of the discussion, Reid appeared overwhelmed by the emotion of the meeting. “One only has to go and visit a homicide and watch the emotion mothers, fathers, and grandmothers express, and it moves you,” he said, as his voice broke. While speaking, he nervously rubbed his left cheek. Reid has been long known to show up at the scene of homicides to offer his support for the families.
“I certainly feel pain the room,” said Councilmember Abel Guillen, one of those who questioned the proposed department early on. “I’ve been skeptical about this department because I’m not sure what it’s going to do. but violence needs to be disrupted in our community.”
Councilmember Anne Campbell Washington also had previous concerns, before offering her support Tuesday. “I know this has been a long fight for you,” she said to McElhaney.
“I have been a voice that has been questioning. I have a lot of fear about making promises and I’m very concerned about the program.” Washington suggested renaming the department to exclude “violence” from its title
The item was approved with six votes. Councilmember Noel Gallo opposed on the grounds that funding for the department would be better spent in the community. Councilmember Desley Brooks, a strong critic of the department, was absent from Tuesday night’s meeting.