In an effort to curtail open-air drug trafficking, the city of Oakland is considering a loitering ordinance. Already defeated once when it was first introduced, the ordinance, if passed, will make loitering with the intent to engage in drug-related activities a violation. With fines ranging from $100 for the first offense in a year, $500 for the third offense in a year and a fourth offense leading up to a misdemeanor with a $1,000 fine or six months in jail, the ordinance would be an attack on Oakland most impressionable population; young people of color.
The ordinance will place an enormous amount of power in the hands of a police force who at times have used their power unjustly. It will be left in their hands to decide who is loitering with the intent to deal drugs and who is not. With such freedom, this law will allow police biases to run rampant and sadly only on certain segments of the population will bear the brunt.
Already a misplaced segment of the population the youth of Oakland are crying out for respect, attention and sense of community. The misnamed riot that occurred before and after the super bowl is an example of this. The loitering law, if passed will only cause more of a rift in the already tense relationship between police officers in black and Latino neighborhoods.
According to Councilmember Larry Reif who re-introduced the law, the Oakland community needs and feels the law is necessary to curtail open-air street markets of drugs in neighborhoods and to bring about safety. When Oakland leaders should be looking into implementation of substantial and effective plans to alleviate Oakland of its negative image, they look to laws like the loitering ordinance that have already been proven futile.
For example, in a recent article published in the Oakland Tribune on the passage of the ordinance, a veteran police officer revealed that loitering was not the answer to Oakland’s drug dealing problem. Loitering, for the intent of drug trafficking is already a crime; however, the District Attorney is overwhelmed with these cases leaving prosecution unlikely.
The passing of Oakland’s loitering law would mean two things for Oakland residents. First it would mean a violation of their civil liberties. It was decided by the U.S Supreme court that standing on the street is protected by the constitution. Second, it would mean an increase in police harassment and brutality for young black and Latino youth. This is clearly a political move, which is leaving out the most important ingredient; the future of Oakland, the youth.