By Max Cadji. Read the full article here.

In April of 2013, Donitra Henderson’s life was taken in North Oakland in front of her 4 year old son by an act of targeted gun violence. She was just 21 years old.

After reading local Internet listservs and speaking to numerous neighbors, we at Phat Beets Produce, a food justice organization, found that there was no organized or vocalized neighborhood response to support this motherless child or the woman’s family. In fact, when we posed the question on how we should organize to support and work on building a safer North Oakland alongside supporting this grieving family, the response we often got in the neighborhood was, “well, I heard she was…” or “that what happens to you when…” and when we started talking about building a safer North Oakland, we heard over and over again, “well, we just need more police…”

In early May of 2013, we at Phat Beets Produce contacted Donitra’s family and offered support with fundraising, a memorial mural, and a fruit tree planting ceremony to honor her life. Alongside muralists from Community Rejuvenation Project, organizers from Growing Together, members of Dover Street Neighborhood Group, and over 40 members of Donitra Henderson’s family, we organized a community BBQ and fruit tree planting.

The celebration was so full of energy that all of us in attendance — numerous community healers, hip-hop artists, neighborhood activists and friends — were moved to do something big. Our question was, “what can we really do to support families suffering from physical, emotional and structural violence (like poverty), while not criminalizing people for being poor?”

That day the groundwork for what would become the North Oakland Restorative Justice Council was born.  The energy from this event was fed into the growing work at the historic Bethany Baptist Church under the leadership and vision of Rev. Johnny Leggett, which included Peace ‘N’ Justice Community Walks and a campaign for restorative justice alternative sentencing for North Oakland (and all) youth.

As my dear friend and restorative justice mentors Rose and Malachi always say, “Hurt people hurt people.” How to heal the harm? The answer was brought to us from the healing circle we had that sunny Sunday afternoon at Dover Street Edible Park with Donitra Henderson’s family.

The answer was restorative justice, and the questions we have heard ever since that day from our police captain to local neighborhood crime prevention council chairs, to neighbors was, “What is restorative justice? And how does it work?”

What is restorative justice? How can it be used to make the whole community safer, not just a select few as with private security? According to Fania Davis of RJOY (Restorative Justice For Oakland Youth), restorative justice is “a philosophical framework and worldview, and it is also an approach to justice that emphasizes bringing together all affected by harm to address their needs and obligations, and to heal the harm as much as possible.” Take a quick search on Wikipedia and you’ll find “Restorative justice (also sometimes called reparative justice) is an approach to justice that focuses on the needs of the victims and the offenders, as well as the involved community, to repair the harm they’ve done — by apologizing, returning stolen money, or community service.”

So how do we put restorative justice in action in Oakland to build public community safety for all Oakland residents? Every first Monday of the month, 12-15 of us gather at Bethany Baptist Church to build community safety through the North Oakland Restorative Justice Council. We review the month’s evictions, shootings, and conflicts in North Oakland as a council, and we work to organize monthly trainings, fundraisers, healing circles, and advancement of policies to implement a restorative justice alternative to sentencing in North Oakland. Each month we organize and gather 40 – 60 Oakland residents every second Friday at 6 p.m. at Bethany Baptist Church to walk the streets to show we care. We visit sites of recent violence, talk to neighbors, and embody the work of restorative justice and building public community safety. The gathering is growing each month, with more and more families joining.

A growing concern in Oakland: Private security for a select few, not public safety for us all. A trend that is sweeping through communities across Oakland undergoing rapid change is “private security.” Neighbors are banding together to crowdfund financial resources to hire private security firms to patrol affluent neighborhoods and neighborhoods that are rapidly gentrifying. This is all in the name of “making neighborhoods safer.” While these Oakland residents have every right to feel safe and to be safe, the question arises, “Does resource-intensive private security make the neighborhood safer for everyone, or just for the select few?” Does private security address any of the root causes of why young people are going to Temescal, Rockridge, the Diamond District and other spots to steal iPhones or carjack? Is there any oversight for private security to make sure that class- and race-based profiling does not occur? Who are the Private Security companies accountable to? There are too many unanswered questions for us to be investing in something with so many uncertainties and with so much opposition across Oakland.

Let’s as a commUNITY look at other models that are building long-term community safety for all members of our community, not a select few. Let’s support these proven measures for building community safety that are rooted in restorative justice. Here are just a small sample of amazing programs in Oakland that are building true community safety for all of Oakland’s residents: RJOY (Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth)CURYJCommunity Works WestPUEBLOAttitudinal Healing ConnectionPlanting JusticeEast Bay Boxing AssociationDestiny ArtsNorth Oakland Restorative Justice Council, Temescal Security Alternatives, and so many more.

We don’t need a moment for private security, we need a movement for restorative justice in Oakland. We challenge those who make contributions to private security initiatives to match their contributions dollar-for-dollar to one of the amazing organizations listed above. To get involved in the movement for restorative justice in North Oakland. subscribe to community restorative justice text alert by texting “Northoakland” to 95577, or join our google group, North-Oakland-Restorative-Justice-Alliance. More information is available at

Editor’s Note: This piece reflects an individual opinion and is not a reported story from Oakland Local. Oakland Local invites community residents to share their views about events and issues in Oakland.
For guidelines, see:
For more information on posting to community voices, see The word on Oakland Local’s Community Voices posts,

50 Responses

  1. Oakie

    Ah, “Restorative Justice” just sounds so swell, doesn’t it? It restores stuff, it’s justice: what’s to not like in that?

    And “food justice” is another good one. Who can be against food? And justice for food? Yeah, food should have justice, too.

    You see, Oakland’s kill zones are not the problem. People going out and obtaining illegal weapons are not the problem. Those same people buying ammunition for those guns are not the problem. Those same people loading those rounds of ammunition into those illegal guns are not the problem. Those same people making the decision to carry those loaded weapons onto Oakland streets are not the problem. Those same people with those loaded illegal weapons choosing to pull those guns out and pointing them at people are not the problem. Those same people, pointing those illegal loaded weapons at people, making the decision to pull those triggers are not the problem.

    The problem is that what the rest of the locations in Alameda County, in California, in the US that have far far less violence call criminal justice is just all wrong. What we need is Restorative Justice. [Just for comparison, violent crime nationwide is down over 40% in the last twenty years. Last year we have fewer murders nationwide than we have had as far back as 1954. This is not true in a few, sad places, like Oakland. The violent crime problem is not universal. It is local.]

    “What does that mean?” the unwashed and uninformed may ask. Well, according to this author, that means when a mother of a 4 year old is gunned down on our streets, then you collect money from those who did not do the shooting and give some to what remains of that family, and use the balance of the money to plant a fruit tree (does it have to be a fruit tree to be Restorative Justice? Which fruit must it be to best serve Restorative Justice?) and be very solemn. And, of course, paint a suitable mural.

    Forget the cops. We don’t need no stinking cops. Don’t you know cops aren’t Restorative? They just want to catch the killer and present them, with evidence, to the District Attorney for prosecution because those people should not be on the streets. How Un-Restorative!

    The author explains that the answer is to support the victims, not punish the criminals.

    After all, the criminals are poor, which is now defined as “structural violence” (Isn’t the English language wonderful when you can use it to define anything, except, you know, killing people, as violence?). They are youth (don’t call them “boy” however, that is not allowed!).

    Ergo, they are not responsible for each of those steps necessary to take in order to kill another person. People who kill have no agency. They are the victims of the world they are born into. What they do is inevitable, unchangeable by their own choices.

    And, of course, the obligatory Healing Circle. How could I forget. In conjunction with that fruit tree, we have a complete “philosophical framework worldview” for ending violence in the kill zones of Oakland. Good luck with that.

    Here’s what the receivers of bullets in the infamous First Friday gun violence and murder say about how they would apply Restorative Justice:

    See? Instead of all these unfocused and unmeaning words, here is how things really translate in reality: the guy who pulled out a gun, killing one, wounding several others in wild shooting, including these two bystanders, should have to pick up garbage as punishment. They shouldn’t go to prison because incarceration does not work [except everywhere else in the country]. According to the Restorative Justice belief system, it is enough they pick up a few pieces of litter for a few hours. I wonder if obligating them to wear those orange yellow vests is too much humiliation. One can only wonder as no guidance is provided in this article.

    I’m also interested in why our author does not show what his Restorative Justice would mete out as punishment for this:

    It’s noteworthy that I have never ever heard Restorative Justice theory applied to rape. Only murder. Why is that? If the punishment for premeditated murder is a few hours of litter collection, then what’s the RJ punishment for rape?

  2. Jim

    I can always tell when someone doesn’t really know Oakland. They call it the “Diamond District” instead of the Dimond District. It’s named after a person, not a stone.

  3. Len Raphael

    The Temescal neighborhood unarmed private patrol is starting midnight Sunday June 15th 2014 (tonght)

    Intervention Group, Inc. (IGI) will be providing unarmed patrol services for the area bounded by Telegraph to the west (but not inclusive of Telegraph), the south side of 51st, the west side of Broadway, and the north side of 40th for a 6-month trial period beginning June 15, 2014. The patrol will cover 16 hours a day (10:30am-2:30am), 7 days a week.

    Critics have made a mountain out of a molehill re Temescal private patrol. Many of the issues raised are real but hypothetical, especially concerns about profiling and abuse.

    The real mountain of policing abuse in Oakland is OPD. They all carry guns and their is no strong civilian review and discipline process.

    People concerned about poilce abuse, regardless of their position on private patrols, should sign the PUEBLO petition asking the City Council to create a ballot measure that would institute a Public Safety Oversight Commission similar to what SF and NYC have. An email to your council member and council member-at-large Kaplan would help too.

    Patrols are benign compared to sending one’s kids to private K-12 school. I understand and don’t criticize people for doing so, but make no mistake that deprives public schools of approximately 15,000/year for each private school student.

    Compare that to patrols. Even if you assume that the $300/year a resident could spend on that would otherwise have gone to a local charity, that $300 from a couple of hundred residents in one neighborhood pays for many more private patrol hours than the city gets from an OPD officer costing 200,000 each. Multiply that by many neighborhoods and there is a huge savings to the City budget considering that every “viable” Mayoral candidate and the entire city council are all hell bent on hiring at least 200 more police.

    More private patrols are the only hope we have of convincing the politicians to do a better job of policing with the cops OPD now has or negotiate large reductions in OPD compensation.

    Private patrols will save City budget money that could be spend on other vital services and programs.

    Len Raphael
    4922 Desmond St

  4. Matt of West Downtown

    Oakie gets it as much as this smoke blowing author does.

    Ideaology nor old fashion law and order is going to cure Oakland’s madness.

  5. OaklandNative

    “Restorative justice” is a beautiful concept. The participants have identified the root of the problem in their communities and are addressing it themselves.

    Some people “de-humanize” the victims of crime. They do this to justify or overlook the victimization of the people. They forget what they are doing to other human being. Read the comments about the murder of Trayvon Martin and the jury’s acquittal of Zimmerman for an example.

    The way I read this article, “restorative justice” restores the humanity of the victimized. The food sharing and ceremonies is the perfect way to plant the seeds of the people’s humanity.

    What so hard to understand about that? This is beautiful.

  6. A

    Sure it might be beautiful to you, but it still doesn’t do anything to solve the root of Oakland’s problem.

    I remember previous articles here in Oakland Local of all these groups, projects, and fancy names initiatives that was suppose to do all this good, but yet violence crime is still prevalent as well as robberies and burglaries.

  7. OaklandNative


    These people are doing something that works for them. That is not just beautiful for me, it’s beautiful for them. That’s the important thing.

    How can you say they do nothing? Is your whole experience with these organizations limited to reading about them in Oakland Local?

    I’ve been to such events. They can be very productive. Most important, they’ve created something beautiful for themselves.

  8. Oakie

    I understand why penny believes I don’t get it. The problem is that this isn’t our first rodeo, as A alludes to. I’ve witnessed for 30 years Oakland hosting all kinds of groups and leaders espousing similar messages of solutions to our mass murdering without ever solving the problem. In the time I’ve lived here, in excess of 2,000 people have been murdered within our city limits. It’s not going down.

    The defining similarity they all have is that the words sound so nice, and because they really have no meaning, they mean whatever you want them to mean. That’s a red flag for me, and penney doesn’t apparently see that or the danger of following that parade and wasting your time as more and more dead bodies sprout from the soil of Oakland. Strange fruit indeed. 41 so far this year, and that’s a number Queen Quan-fusion brags about.

    As OaklandNative points out, they’re beautiful. RJ is all about humanizing the victim in his view. So apprehending people for committing murder and putting them in prison does not solve that problem. One wonders if he would have been satisfied if Mr. Zimmerman would have apologized for dehumanizing Mr. Martin to his parents and done a few hours of litter collection. Would OaklandNative have viewed that as adequate punishment? Maybe he can respond.

    I am familiar with Lakeoff’s Rockridge Institute and his theories of the “Mommy” and “Daddy” frames. Here it is in living color. For me, I don’t care if the cat is white or black, I just want it to catch mice. Go ahead and try RJ and enjoy the wafting sounds of its beauty, but let’s evaluate it by watching the body count. It does not lie.

    Yesterday alone 4 people were shot, but the marksmanship was not adequate to claim a kill for those who perpetrated it. We have an out of control violence problem and suppressing it should be our highest priority. I’m not feeling it from RJ. All I hear are excuses and half baked soft handling of the perpetrators.

  9. OaklandNative


    Penny was absolutely right, you are way off base. Did you even read the article?

    Where does the writer, or even I, excuse violence? Where does the writer, or even I, coddle violent criminals?

    If you read the article, the organization is for restoring the humanity of the victims. How did you read that as defending their attackers?

    True, Oakland has criminals who commit crime (duh, for some reason, I need to point that out to you). That’s all you see. You and A do not see the good people in the community. Even when Oakland Local covers them, both of you criticize them. You don’t even want to see them.

    Whether or not you believe this movement will be the successful one, the fact that they started it proves that good people exist in the community.

  10. OaklandNative

    Oakie and A,

    By the way, if you read the article, you will note that there are many people involved with this event. This should prove to you that you two are not the only good people in Oakland.

  11. R2D2II

    RJ is indeed a beautiful idea. But it’s not really a solution to providing a better future for Oakland’s downtrodden, dysfunctional, victimized and exploited. Yes RJ can help to repair some of the profound damage due to our violent subcultures. What I think we really want is to stop the violent crime, to prevent violent crime and to build a better future.

    And, yes, private security for the more affluent is not a way to provide a better future for the city as a whole. Keep this in mind when you decide whom to vote for in the fall. Mayor candidate Schaaf among others is fully supportive of private security for the privileged, of which club she is a charter member. On the other hand, an ethical, community-based, fully-resourced police force designed specifically for Oakland’s cultural diversity, is well-worth investing in, despite the huge aversion to more taxes among our well-heeled who can easily afford to give more help Oakland and its financial burdens. Notably none of the mayoral candidates speaks of the financial obligations of the well-heeled towards the poor. Politically incorrect in Oaktown.

    There are lots of good models out there for dealing with Oakland’s destructive forces. Do a web search on innovative social programs in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. These programs are effective because they deal directly with family dysfunction due to poverty; destructive male-dominated subcultures; destructiveness of drug cultures; lack of economic opportunity for both men and women. Like it or not many of Oakland’s problems are very much akin to those in the Third World.

  12. Oakie


    I see your point. I am misled by:

    “Our question was, “what can we really do to support families suffering from physical, emotional and structural violence (like poverty), WHILE NOT CRITICIZING [the perpetrators] for being poor?”

    “…a campaign for restorative justice alternative SENTENCING for North Oakland (and all) youth.”

    “…’HURT PEOPLE [i.e. the perpetrators] hurt people.’ How to heal the harm [i.e. healing the perpetrators]? The answer was brought to us from …”

    “…approach to justice that emphasizes BRINGING ALL TOGETHER [that includes the perpetrators] by harm to address…”

    “…focuses on the NEEDS OF the victims and the OFFENDERS…”

    “We review the month’s … SHOOTINGS …. advancement of policies to implement a restorative justice ALTERNATIVE TO SENTENCING…”

    Plus my blog entry at FixOakland.tumblr. com I mentioned about the two bystander victims of the killing/wild shooting at First Friday who invoked RJ to object to prison for the murderer and recommending litter collection as their proposed punishment.

    Can you understand why I am confused BECAUSE I read the article rather than because I didn’t read it, as you suggest? The real problem is that I critically evaluate what is actually said and hold people to what they actually say and what they actually recommend as punishment for perpetrators of violent crime.

    I have no problem with all the RJ suggestions in regard to assisting the victims of our violent crime problem or gatherings to share food [is that what “Food Justice” is?], but when it comes to punishment and sentences for the actual perpetrators of violence, RJ is actively eschewing any punishment except sit-downs with victims and litter collection as far as I can see.

    That is where I find you “excuse violence.” Is that not accurate?

  13. OaklandNative

    RJ is not a cure-all. I don’t think any one action can be.

    RJ plants a seed for a specific issue in a specific community. The seed has grown for many people. It’s one brick at a time.

    I look at the hearts of these young people. We should nurture that as well.

  14. Oakie

    I can accept all that, no problem.

    The pernicious problem is that it is called “Justice” as if to imply a substitute for the normal meaning of criminal justice. It claims to be an “alternative” for the normal collection of punishments society uses against violent criminals, as I point out with the plethora of quotes from the article. It spends a lot of time criticizing normal criminal justice and why it doesn’t work. It suggests nothing except sit-downs between victim and criminal perpetrator as the replacement. It suggests no punishment other than litter pickup.

    So if they want to call it “Restorative but not really Justice,” fine. That’s pretty accurate.

    As I said, this is not our first rodeo with theories and movements and ideologies to address our continuing problem of violent crime. In a city of 400,000 that has resulted in thousands of corpses piled up in our morgues.

    The problem is that it continues to lay claim to being a substitute for criminal justice as we know it because it claims the problem is in the criminal justice, not the fact that we are not apprehending our violent criminals and punishing them for the crimes they commit.

    Once RJ is called on the carpet to defend what they actually say and propose, then all of a sudden it’s not a cure-all or the sole solution, there are many ways to attack the problem, it only plants a seed, etc.

    That is a deception by moving the goal post.

    And the worst feature of this RJ thing is that it diverts our attention from real solutions, like how New York City managed to drop their violent crime rate by 90% and empty their prisons to 50% occupancy. There are answers, if we have the cajones to find them and walk the walk. In the meantime, the bodies keep piling up. And the PTSD keeps infecting our young people and ruining lives for which they are not at fault: we are. That is the real scandal.

    If you are indeed so concerned with the “hearts of the young people” (and I think you are), then it is a terrible injustice to them when we don’t have our eyes on the ball. Those who throw up smoke and mirrors with this nonsense about RJ are part of the problem, not part of the solution. I’m fine with “Restorative but not really Justice” that you suggest but RJ is a fraud.

  15. OaklandNative

    They are proposing a broader discussion of justice. Look at justice as a two-sided coin. A person is victimized by a criminal. Justice for the victim is not just having the criminal arrested. Justice could also include emotional support for the victim. When a woman is raped, some might say, “She deserved it for (fill in the blank).” This dehumanizes the woman. RJ, as I understand it, treats the woman as a person who has been hurt.

    Many comments here have argued that we have been unsuccessful in addressing crime. So why do more of the same? RJ is something different.

    It is not perfect or for every situation. I don’t know how the rapist in the above example would be treated. Though if he has some emotional hurt, it might benefit the whole community if that hurt is addressed rather than simply punished. He could still be imprisoned, but looking at his hurt might help heal others.

    By the way, I did not suggest or imply “Restorative but not Really Justice.”

  16. Oakie


    I am earnestly trying to understand what is meant by the term RJ, I’m not trying to inflame or play gotcha. I am reading exactly what the article says and trying to understand exactly what the plain English says: not embellishing beyond, nor whiting out any part. And taking that approach, I do not see what you see.

    RJ as a “Broader discussion of justice.”

    Using your two sided coin, I am left with this based on what you say:
    Side one: Justice for the VICTIM by arresting and prosecuting the criminal.
    Side two: Justice for the VICTIM giving the person emotional support.

    Nothing in there to argue with, nor has anyone else among this diverse group of voices. It’s a straw man.

    What’s different between what I see in the plain English of the article vs. your description?

    Empathy, concern and support for the criminal: Viewing the criminal not as the person who committed the crime and thus responsible for the act but the victim of “structural violence.” [This alone is an atrocity committed by the author against any person who has been the victim of real violence]

    A gross reduction in penalties for the criminal, with no prison time at sentencing (considered ineffective in RJ) reduced to litter collecting community service.

    I have shown that with a long long list of quotes directly from the article which support this as critical components of what is defined as RJ in the article.

    At no point is anyone suggesting any reduction in concern or objection to increased support for victims. Somehow you imply this and I see no evidence of that being argued. The objection is entirely in regard to magically making the criminal into a victim. There is where the entirety of the objection lies, and you mention that not a wit. That is perplexing.

    The fact that our current regimen of policing and criminal justice has not reduced crime is not evidence that significant changes in the way we do policing and criminal justice would not reduce crime to “normal” levels. I point out that NYC has done exactly that and it is now 90% lower in crime and the 50% vacancies in their prisons demonstrate its effectiveness. They most certainly did not use RJ. I would claim, on the other hand, that RJ has zero evidence that it reduces crime.

    Why is it that you do not see that alternative? This doesn’t make any sense to me if our goals are to dramatically reduce the crime and its impact on our residents of Oakland.

    I am proposing the alternative phrase RbnrJ as a much much more accurate description of the philosophy in the article. In no way did I imply you came up with the acronym. I want full credit.

    And nowhere do I see, either by you or any of the RJ advocates stating exactly how it would be applied to Mr. Zimmerman or Mr. Mehserle. Those two infamous targets of vitriol by you and others, trotted out at frequent intervals, is completely missing. Why do you think that is? Do you think the RJ advocates have an iota of empathy for them when they self-righteously exhort us to have empathy for every single other violent criminal as victim? I haven’t seen it.

  17. max cadji

    Hello Oakie. Do you want to live in a safer community? Let me put it to you this way with some facts for Alameda County: Youth that get alternative RJ sentencing (where they work to correct the wrong they made and they get support from the community to do it) instead of going to Juvenille Hall have a 11% recidivism rate, youth that go to juvenille hall (punitive) have a 60% recidivism rate.

    So if we want to lower crime in Oakland committed by youth, which one has a greatly likelyhood of reducing crime?

  18. Oakie

    Hi Max,

    That is interesting and I’d like to know more. Is there source data you are using? I’d be interested in analyzing the available data and following it over time. I’m all for anything that works to improve the situation.

    Also, although it hasn’t been brought up here, OUSD has apparently gone whole hog (some might suggest “drank the koolaid”) on RJ. I’m interested in seeing any data from them that describes all the incidents that involve detention, suspension and expelling and the suspected misbehaviors that cause the actions taken. I’d like to see how that data looks before and after invocation of RJ.


  19. max cadji

    Hey Oakie,

    For OUSD check out RJOY (Restorative Justice For Oakland Youth) to see some of their work and to get connected to info about the actual OUSD program. The recidivism info is from Community Works West and its based on the work they do and track with Alameda County. Hit me up and I ll give you contact info for Community Works West and they can provide the data breakdown, the number was from a newsletter from earlier this year and was cited in the Temescal News and Review (their office is now in Temescal)

  20. Oakie

    I will. Do I use the web site to contact you?

  21. OaklandNative


    I don’t know if it’s realistic to expect many studies on this movement. I don’t know how new it is.

    However, common sense and experience support Max Cadji’s point.

    First of all, just as people here dehumanize violent criminals, many violent criminals dehumanize their victims. This dehumanization on both sides become excuses to hurt each other. RJ makes both sides humanize each other which minimizes hurting each other.

    Also, if you throw a young person in jail with other criminals, he will likely fit in that mindset. However, if he is taken out of that environment, he will more likely see it from a different perspective.

    RJ seems to combine these two factors of human nature.

    By the way, I am not involved in the RJ Movement. This article is the first I’ve heard of it. I am just looking at it with an open mind.

  22. Oakie

    Just a quick observation while reading through some of the documentation Max is suggesting:

    Alameda County’s RJ effort started in 2009 with a 3 year plan. About 2800 juvenile offenders are booked each year in Alameda County. Max is quoting a recidivism rate of 11% for those who go through the RJ program vs 60% for those who go to juvenile hall. I don’t see any numbers yet about how many of those 2800 go through RJ.

    Here is a description of how the program chooses who goes through RJ rather than juvenile hall:

    “Not all youth who come before Judge Bereola are eligible for restorative justice. The district attorney’s office screens candidates and recommends those likely to succeed. Youth who commit violent crimes or who are not eager to participate are not good candidates.”

    “… ‘Many victims don’t want anything to do with these criminal kids,’ he said. ‘Right now, I’m reviewing the case of a guy who pulled a gun on three adults and tried to rob them. This won’t go to that process. We’re taking the less serious or violent cases.'”

    I don’t draw any firm conclusions at this point, but I don’t think it would be fair to offer up that statistic quoted by Max without some serious qualifiers at the very least due to selection bias of eligible candidates which are not typical of the larger population. Apples: meet oranges. But I’m still planning to look further, with their cooperation.

  23. OaklandNative

    At this point, the program might not have many studies.

    However, talking to the particpants would give insight into the success of the program. Even if only a few are interviewed, that gives some insight into how well the program works.

    You argue that one cannot do a true comparison because participants are selected for the program. I disagree. Selection of participants would be part of the program.

    What if some of those participants were not in the RJ program? What type of person benefits most from the program? Those are important criteria to look at.

  24. Oakie

    In spite of all the yacking and posturing, what I want to know is whether RJ is effective, and particularly is it cost effective. I can say I don’t buy the theory, and I’m exhausted pointing out why and don’t wish to rehash that any more: what is in front of our noses is clear to me and I’ve shown why. If that’s not enough, you’re on your own.

    Max implies RJ is more effective than traditional juvenile criminal justice (as the rhetoric claims), and by putting in front of us this statistic he is showing a willingness to judge RJ by the recidivism rate compared to those who do not get diverted to RJ. I say fine, let’s judge it based on that which he suggests.

    If the recidivism rate of traditional juvenile criminal justice is 60% as he claims, but if in fact the selection process for participating in RJ as a diversion identifies a sub-pool that would have had a rate of something much less using traditional procedures, then it is not demonstrating the effectiveness of RJ. It’s why double blind testing and use of placebos is the only way science proves anything. It is very difficult to do that in this situation and why I think of social science as not science at all.

    What if that sub-pool, if not diverted into RJ had a recidivism rate of 5% if they had not been diverted (i.e. they are the kind of people “scared straight” by being exposed to the juvenile hall system) then RJ is not proven successful.

    I have no idea what the facts are here, so I’m just pointing out theoreticals which are pointless to use for debate.

    All I CAN say is that Max threw that stat out as a claim of a proof, and so far it looks more than suspect because of the nature of the selection process. I will also observe that will all that hacking I have not come across any other voice in favor of RJ willing to put a testable hypothesis out there. That is a red flag to me and I smell an attempt to make a claim based on bogus stats, almost always because the whole enchilada is bogus.

    I’m happy to learn more about RJ and objective performance tracking that proves its effectiveness (or not). The program at Alameda County has been going for almost 5 years now. If they can’t show evidence that they’ve had at least some impact on recidivism as a function of how much money it costs, then it probably should be killed. And if OUSD piles on by going whole hog with this dogma without any evidence that it accomplishes what it claims, then they are as incompetent as, well, as they have proven to be in the past.

  25. Oakie

    Thanks, I will. One data point of information I gleaned from them is that the Alameda County program capacity is 95 clients per year. Since they book 2800 per year, and divert 3500 to parents without booking, that is a minuscule program. I’ll also ask about the cost of this program and I think there are serious questions of scalability. If I wanted to select from a pool of 2800 only 95 clients that are not likely repeat offenders anyway, to put a thumb on the scale, it would be extremely easy.

    They also lay claim of the following governmental units eager to do the same:
    already started in San Francisco and Long Beach, and for introducing restorative justice to communities in Santa Ana, Coachella, and San Diego.

    Ladies and gentlemen, we have a rodeo.

  26. OaklandNative


    You wrote:

    “I can say I don’t buy the theory, and I’m exhausted pointing out why and don’t wish to rehash that any more: what is in front of our noses is clear to me and I’ve shown why. If that’s not enough, you’re on your own.”

    Unless you are working with criminals directly, it is not in front of your nose. You’re skeptical because the effectiveness has not yet been quantified or unquantified.

    However, there are many methods of research. Not everything can be quantified.

    You point out that only a few are selected. That does not prove or disprove anything. What is more important are criminals’ personal experiences with the program. Perhaps that would be a focus group.

    But theoretically, it makes sense.

    Interestingly enough, your “kick ass, get tough” attitude has been tried before. Can you quantify its effectiveness? You can’t keep doing the same thing and expect different results.

  27. Oakie

    Yes, as a matter of fact I can show the punitive system we have works :

    The highest US incarceration rate ever in our history was a peak in 2006. By 2012, crime is way down and the incarceration rate is down and the homicide rate in the US was lower than it was in 1963 (elsewhere, I erroneously stated 1954). All this decline happened in the midst of the Great Recession, and nary a whiff of Restorative Justice to be found. So much for that old canard that high crime is caused by a bad economy and punitive justice doesn’t work. So many false beliefs, so little time.

    And those numbers would be greatly reduced if we could just shut down this abhorrent “war on drugs.”

    I wonder what the murder rate in Oakland was in 1963, compared to our ongoing 90-130 annual body count now.

    I guess no one here cares since almost all of them are minorities and poor and we don’t know them personally.

    Except they care when it suits their dogma. The last time we had a murder in Rockridge was about 10 years ago on James Street, so the voters here can follow their leftist dogma and destroy the lives of so many in East and West Oakland kill zones without much reflection on what they have wrought.

    The problem in Oakland is that we think the rest of the country is as pathetic, crime wise as we are. That couldn’t be more wrong. The policing and criminal justice system we have in the US has, in fact, suppressed crime. But not in Oakland and a handful of other dysfunctional cities.

  28. Len Raphael

    No question that there is something(s) very different about Oakland that have consistently put us on the Kassey Kassum crime lists for years.

    Most likely a combo of social factors, primarily income inequality and black multi generational unemployment, insufficient number of overpaid cops, and simply bad ineffective police management.

    But if, for whatever reason and whatever the effect, we’re not as “tough on criminals” as other cities, then I’d expect to see a lower percentages of poor African American males in 20 to 45?, convicted of and incarcerated for crimes in Oakland, then for other cities with much lower crime rates. Anyway to get those stats?

  29. Oakie

    We’re different because we simply refuse to recognize what has been proven to work in crime prevention and demand that it get done. NYC has essentially an identical political profile. But unlike here, they got absolutely fed up with the crime and kicked the bums out of office. From 1994 to this year they did not have a Democratic mayor in office. DeBlasio is the first one since that time. They voted against their own ideology because they were fed up with crime. And boy did it work and turn the city into the safest large city in America.

    Here’s my explanation of how it got its start with Bratton running the subway police:

    What’s amazing to me is how NYC managed to be the first ones to do it without a role model to copy. But once they proved it could be done, all we have to do is figure out how it can be applied here. And there is zero interest and zero political will and no leadership to drive opinion. We continue to accept the same old same old. We have no outrage that the violence is out of control. On Saturday we had four persons shot. On Sunday we had five persons shot, all separate incidents. One died. We have 40 murders to date. Except for the bad aim and a matter of fractions of an inch, it could just as easily have been 48.

    It’s not “be tough on criminals” it’s be competent at policing, apprehending criminals and getting the message across that we are paying attention and watching, and we will get you if you commit the crime and prosecute.

    There is an amazing enigma, but you’re missing it: in 1980 the AA share of our population was almost exactly 50%. Today it is 26%. At both times an extremely high percentage of the culprits are/were AA males mostly in the 15-40 year age. How is it possible that the violent crime rate be equally as bad (nationwide violent crime rates have gone down 40% in that time)? The population from which it is drawn is half the size and yet the number of crimes committed is about the same. I simply can’t figure out how that can be.

  30. R2D2II

    Big difference between Oakland and NYC. Makes any publicly-desired policy initiative virtually a guaranteed failure.

    Oakland essentially has a failed government.

    Keep in mind what all the candidates who currently are in office in city hall and are running for mayor are doing about public safety. They are talking about doing something if and when they are elected. Are they doing anything right now about crime? No. Crime can wait.

    They haven’t even offered any plans for what they might do. One non-city-hall-incumbent has offered a rather detailed plan. Another candidate who used to hang out with the mayor has made some very big promises about all the things he might do about crime if he is elected.

    There’s nothing doing on crime right now and if we keep the same folks in city hall who have been there for many years, there will be nothing done after the fall election either.

    That’s what’s known as failed government.

  31. Oakie

    Ok, I’ve got one more data point defining RJ, and it’s an interesting case that would not seem to be mentioned anywhere in the article.

    So there was this tragic case where a couple of guys get a girl drunk, she became unconscious, and then they raped her, recorded the event and slapped it up on Facebook, and the girl is humiliated and commits suicide.

    Because the girl was not conscious and therefore could not resist the guys are not subject to an open public hearing where the dead girl’s parents can attend, and they are punished with a measly 30-45 days in juvenile detention for their crime.

    So the parents of this girl’s tragic suicide want to change the law so it won’t be hidden in a closed door private hearing and the punishment gets bumped to 2 years.

    I won’t speak to whether this makes good law.

    But a staff person at our very own Ella Baker Center fires off a letter to the legislature in opposition to the law change that would make the hearing open to the public in these circumstances and she also objects to an increase from the 30 days detention.


    Well, she’s an advocate of Restorative Justice!

    “Legislation like this actually doesn’t get us to the goal of preventing these tragedies,” Jennifer Kim from the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights said. “We have to look at alternatives. We really have to look at restorative justice, looking at programs educating the young people about their actions that can lead to these kinds of tragedies.”

    So, you see, according to RJ theology there is no room for punishing these two guys at all. They should have to write a letter and apologize and maybe some litter collection in yellow vests. And it’s society’s fault that should be remedied by additional tax money to produce advertisements and trainings sessions (giving the money to places like Ella Baker so they can give this person a raise!) to “educate” young people. Apparently it is not obvious that you should not get a girl drunk to the point of being unconscious, then film raping her and publish the video on Facebook. It must be taught. By people like the staff members at Ella Baker, for instance.

    Got it. Now I’m getting a better sense of what exactly RJ is. It’s a Get Out of Jail Free card for each and every violent criminal out there. Not sure if they get to have doubles on the cards. No one advocating RJ is saying if their “punishment” still applies if the same person commits exactly the same crime a second or third time. I’m afraid of what they would say, actually.

  32. A

    “These people are doing something that works for them. That is not just beautiful for me, it’s beautiful for them. That’s the important thing.

    How can you say they do nothing? Is your whole experience with these organizations limited to reading about them in Oakland Local? ”

    Oh Oakland Native,

    I can say they do nothing because year over year, the murder rate for the 15 years have stay steady (e.g. within one standard deviation from the median). I can say it does nothing because we’ve been ranked in the top 5 cities year over year in violent crime, robberies, burglaries, rapes, etc… I can also say they do nothing because this year alone there have been more gun shots fired than the previous years (thanks shot spotter!). The only thing that’s keeping people from getting killed is the thug’s bad aim (Thankfully!).

    No Oakland Native, my experience is from real world data and situations and not some feel good, non-measurable, non-effective, money grabbing program that promises the moon but falls very short of any sustainable progress. Results drive success. To think otherwise is being naive .

  33. OaklandNative

    Oakie and A,

    You’re basing your criticism on what you’re reading.

    People started the movement on what they have lived. Participants see the effectiveness. Maybe if you participated in some of the events, you’d think differently.

    It is a specific movement for a specific community, If it works for them, it works.

    And, yes, MY reading about it is truly beautiful. But like you two, I’m only reading about it.

  34. R2D2II

    A little history of RJ may be helpful for those who enjoy thinking about it.

    It has conceptual ties to South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. One of the chief purposes of that was to take extraordinary steps to bring a nation together where there had been incredible levels of violent crimes based on racism. Whether or not it has been successful in the long term is debatable.

    RJ is an effort to take the social processing of crime, of dealing with both victims and perpetrators, away from the government. Under conventional theory of governance crime is essentially an act against the state. In this sense RJ is appropriate for Oakland because of Oakland’s governmental failure and because of larger, state and federal, governmental failures with regard to criminal justice.

    Bottom line don’t expect government, local, regional, state or federal to do anything regarding RJ that is more than token. RJ will remain no more than something intriguing to think about, for those who devote much of their time to thinking about things. Justice is government turf and government don’t give up turf.

  35. OaklandNative

    I agree. Considering the distrust of governmental justice, RJ could be a very creative alternative.

    In theory, it has a lot of potential.

  36. Oakie

    That’s interesting context regarding the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. I did read references to that:

    I appreciate you pointing out the government&state/social system power struggle that RJ represents at its most fundamental level. And in that sense, it’s entirely theoretical because of the turf strength of government and the failure of Oakland governance to accomplish anything productive in the field of crime prevention.

    I see RJ as a theology being drunk like koolaid by our dominant political power centers who do not want a policing and criminal justice system to actually suppress the violence because it would most heavily affect persons who are minorities and poor, and in their view not responsible for their violent actions with the unstated implication that they do not have agency.

    That is clearly more important to their dogmatic belief systems than to recognize that it is mostly poor and minorities who are in fact the victims of that violence, including the PTSD as a manifestation of the bleak world they live in. And there are far more victims than perpetrators in our kill zones, but for these folks the focus is always in defense of the perps. To the victims they offer an apology letter. To the perps, they offer Get Out of Jail Free cards plus a few hours of litter collection. Seems like a pretty bad deal to me.

  37. R2D2II

    “The failure of Oakland governance to accomplish anything productive in the field of crime prevention.”

    That’s it in a nutshell. Our self-styled “progressive” elected officials are anything but that in accomplishment. It’s all rhetoric.

    Oakland remains, as it has been for decades, bound by institutional racism and the abandonment of those most needing help from government.

    It’s truly unfortunate that so many Oaklanders who are moved by the idealism and potential virtue of things like RJ avoid looking squarely at what our “leaders” actually do (or especially don’t do).

  38. OaklandNative

    Speaking for myself, I am not “progressive” or “liberal.” As I’ve said before, I am not involved with RJ, but it looks like an interesting and practical alternative.

    I also see RJ as getting away from “progressism.” It’s a way of saying that the work has to be done without waiting for the government.

    I don’t see it as a simple aplogy to the victims and a hug to the criminals. I see the focus as being on the victims. I see it as making the criminals look at their victims and see what they’re doing to others. This does not say not to punish the criminals. But punishing is not always enough.

    If the only incentive for not committing a crime is punishment, then the criminal’s focus is only on avoiding punishment. It sends the message that if he becomes craftier, then he doesn’t have to think about hurting someone. We’re at that point now.

  39. R2D2II

    “If the only incentive for not committing a crime is punishment, then the criminal’s focus is only on avoiding punishment.”

    You got it. Criminals, when they are not psychologically incapable of cognitive and emotional development (only a very few are not), need positive environments in which to become fully socialized. Our criminal justice system is mostly not a positive environment for growth and change, although some felons are able to mature successfully in prison and go on to be productive socially.

    The problem in Oakland is that the establishment has neglected to provide both an ethical community policing environment to prevent crime where it is preventable as well as the positive, supporting social and economic environment which allows would-be criminals the chance to join society as a whole as good citizens.

    Thus we all suffer. Oakland does not become the city it might be and should be, and good folks are victimized by bad folks who haven’t grown up. Far too many poor folks have lives completely disrupted and torn apart by violence.

    We can do a lot better, but our first step is to clean house in the establishment in city hall. I’m afraid that we don’t know how to clean house. It means accepting that we have made bad decisions as voters and community participants in the past. It means trying a lot harder to vote intelligently and focus our community efforts better in the future.

  40. OaklandNative

    I agree with you. And yours is a strong argument in support of RJ.

  41. R2D2II

    As a further reflection on privatization of public police services I suggest the following essay by Tim Redmond, former editor of the Bay Guardian on the original very popular “Robocop” movie and its recent sequel.

    The original “Robocop” was directed by Paul Verhoeven who has produced a number of high-quality antiwar films. His “Robocop” is essentially a critical essay on the evils of privatization of government services, in particular police services.

    Oakland in its embrace of quite limited privatization of policing seems, at both the neighborhood and government level, to be a very reactionary place, even by 1980s standards.

  42. Len Raphael

    R2, read the robocop piece and found it completely irrelevant to the situation in Oakland that has forced a variety of residents to fund unarmed private patrols.

    We are using private companies to do what the City should have done with public employees but would/could not because of a web of the political power of municipal emloyee unions, union contracts, State law mandating hiring criteria for police, and City mismanagement of both finances and OPD.

    If OPD hired a second tier of officers at substantially lower compensation levels, OPD could afford to assign officers to adequately patrol neighborhoods while getting to know the people. The residents could get to know the officers and push to get rid of abusive, incompetent, or just lazy officers. If OPD were to do this even starting now when many highly paid officiers are retiring (often on medical leave) OPD would eventually not consume such a large portion of our general fund.

    Len Raphael

  43. R2D2II


    Sorry but you simply fail to see the larger point.

    Which is that democratic government failure can lead to privatization of functions that properly belong to government and not to private citizens. The reason to limit the raising of armies and of police functions to government means democratic accountability.

    Of course is a pop culture dramatization and simplification of this problem.

    The salient problem in this day and age is the privatization of so much military function in the wars of the Middle East. If you don’t understand the ethical consequences of this privatization you should spend some time reading.

    Hiring of private security patrols in Oakland is nothing serious as yet. But it is an indication of a serious failure of democratic government in this city. A government which cannot protect its citizens is, quite essentially, a failed government.

  44. R2D2II

    A couple of bad sentences above. Corrections:

    1. The reason to limit the raising of armies and control of police functions to government is intended to assure accountability.

    2. Of course Robocop is a pop culture dramatization and simplification of the problem.

    I mentioned it because it appeared recently on a website devoted to progressive thinking about government which is often worth reading.

    Oakland’s ridiculously high rate of violence and the ongoing suffering of its poorest communities is not at all a joke. Nor is the ongoing failure of government even to admit to the depth of the problem.

  45. Len Raphael

    Privatization of military functions is very serious. And yes I have very direct knowledge of that because both my sons served In Iraq and Afghanizstan, one as green beret officer.

    I would add that the militarization of police in America is even more immediate a problem for Oakland residents.

    No, I don’t see that the hiring of unarmed private patrols that are contracted to respond to any resident’s call for assistence to be some major start of a slippery slope with armed private militias imposing vengence on opposing militias or residents.

    If anything, I see unarmed private patrols as calming the divisive fears that lead to personal profiling.

    Yes the private patrols are the residents compensating for government failure. No one I know would say otherwise.

  46. Len Raphael

    R2, yes there are risks to privatizing using even unarmed officers. Similar to the risks of using them as guards in retail stores, magnified in numbers but unarmed unlike stores.

    Weighing that against the unacceptably high risks of certain crimes, even in affluent areas here, leads to our reluctant decision to organize private patrols.

    Many of the organizers I know, did spend years trying to improve various Oakland govt functions, including public security.

    My untested theory is that once people join together for mutual aid such as this, they are more not less likely to demand improved services and accountability from Oakland govt. I can dream, can’t I?

  47. R2D2II

    “Once people join together for mutual aid such as this, they are more not less likely to demand improved services and accountability from Oakland govt.”

    I usually feel this way. And it is true that the increased concern about crime among Oakland’s privileged has brought the problem forward for more talk among the pols than previously.

    Still it’s only talk. Very little in terms of concrete plans. No acceptance in the city hall establishment for decades of failure to protect our most vulnerable people. If you’re a hill dweller you’ve always gotten enough attention. East Oakland not nearly so much. Mayor’s race packed with the usual suspects. Media almost entirely deaf to the complexity of the problems.

    Maybe by fall the campaigns will be much more lively and there will be some in-depth exploration. Mayoral forums with a dozen-and-a-half candidates with two minute soundbites just isn’t enough.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.