Oak­land barb shows pres­i­dent’s true col­ors

San Francisco Chronicle - - BAY AREA - OTIS R. TAY­LOR JR.

“Take a look at what’s hap­pen­ing in Oak­land,” the pres­i­dent said Thurs­day night on Fox News as he ab­surdly com­pared liv­ing in Chicago, Detroit, Bal­ti­more and Oak­land to liv­ing in Afghanista­n, Gu­atemala and Hon­duras. “It’s like liv­ing in hell,” he said.

Ig­no­rance is a hall­mark of white supremacy.

We’re of­fi­cially in a re­ces­sion and, as of Sunday, more than 125,000 peo­ple in the United States have died from the still­rag­ing coro­n­avirus. But the pres­i­dent was on TV dis­parag­ing cities with large

Black pop­u­la­tions.

The pres­i­dent talks like he has a hood cov­er­ing his face. Be­sides, you can’t see what’s hap­pen­ing in Oak­land to­day with­out gen­uinely ap­pre­ci­at­ing what hap

pened dur­ing the last re­ces­sion.

This is a piv­otal year in our coun­try’s his­tory. The over­whelm­ingly peace­ful up­ris­ings have pushed cities like Oak­land to mean­ing­fully ad­dress po­lice bru­tal­ity. The Oak­land City Coun­cil re­duced po­lice fund­ing by $14 mil­lion last week, but that’s not nearly enough to com­bat sys­temic racism.

If you be­lieve Black lives mat­ter, I urge you not to lose sight of the eco­nomic dev­as­ta­tion fac­ing marginal­ized com­mu­ni­ties be­cause of the pan­demic. And know this: Racial jus­tice won’t ever be achieved with­out sus­tained in­vest­ment in com­mu­ni­ties with his­tor­i­cal gaps in health care, ed­u­ca­tion and em­ploy­ment.

Those gaps widened dur­ing the Great Re­ces­sion, as the fed­eral gov­ern­ment bailed out the sink­ing banks and au­tomak­ers while un­der­wa­ter home­own­ers were left to drown. The me­dian net worth of Black house­holds dropped 43% dur­ing the re­ces­sion that fol­lowed the 2008 fi­nan­cial cri­sis, ac­cord­ing to a 2014 re­port by Pew Re­search Cen­ter, a non­par­ti­san think tank that con­ducts pub­lic opin­ion polling, de­mo­graphic re­search and con­tent anal­y­sis.

In 2016, the net worth of a typ­i­cal white fam­ily was nearly 10 times greater than that of a Black fam­ily, ac­cord­ing to the Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion, a non­profit pub­lic pol­icy or­ga­ni­za­tion.

In this coun­try, home­own­er­ship is a pri­mary source of wealth. Preda­tory lend­ing prac­tices used to ex­ploit low­in­come home­own­ers ac­ti­vated the fore­clo­sure cri­sis, wip­ing out eco­nomic gains for mi­nori­ties. In­vest­ment com­pa­nies snapped up fore­closed houses in Black and brown neigh­bor­hoods in West Oak­land and East Oak­land — neigh­bor­hoods his­tor­i­cally cut off from in­vest­ment — for lit­tle be­fore rent­ing and sell­ing at prices that peo­ple who grew up in the neigh­bor­hoods couldn’t af­ford. This opened the door to gen­tri­fi­ca­tion.

A 2018 study con­ducted by City Univer­sity of New York’s In­sti­tute for State and Lo­cal Gov­er­nance found that 37.6% of Black work­ers take home less than it costs to live in Oak­land. Al­most half — 46.5% — of Latino work­ers make less than a liv­ing wage in Oak­land while only 12.3% of their white neigh­bors do.

The dis­pro­por­tion­ate toll of the pan­demic on Black and brown com­mu­ni­ties is al­ready vis­i­ble. Black and brown peo­ple are more likely to work in low­wage in­dus­tries and, ac­cord­ing to a Cal­i­for­nia Bud­get & Pol­icy Cen­ter re­port, 64% of jobs lost in Cal­i­for­nia from Fe­bru­ary to May were in low­pay­ing in­dus­tries.

“This means that many of the peo­ple who have lost work were al­ready strug­gling be­fore the cri­sis and are un­likely to have a fi­nan­cial cush­ion to weather this down­turn,” said the re­port by Alissa An­der­son, a se­nior pol­icy an­a­lyst.

That’s what hap­pened. Dar­lene Flynn, head of Oak­land’s De­part­ment of Race and Equity, came to Oak­land in 2016 to ad­dress so­cial equity through pol­icy­mak­ing. Progress in pol­icy was hap­pen­ing be­fore the coro­n­avirus, aided by the un­mit­i­gated in­com­pe­tence of the pres­i­dent’s ad­min­is­tra­tion, halted our lives.

“We have a nice base­line across the city of peo­ple who un­der­stand what it looks like to ap­ply equity think­ing to pol­icy­mak­ing and de­ci­sion­mak­ing,” Flynn told me. “I’m not claim­ing that we’re fixed, but we’ve done that ground­work.”

The pres­i­dent would see how Oak­land is paving the way to­ward equity if he didn’t have an an­tag­o­nis­tic re­la­tion­ship with facts. In April 2019, Oak­land’s De­part­ment of Trans­porta­tion de­cided to drive a larger por­tion of the city’s in­fra­struc­ture bond money to the low­in­come neigh­bor­hoods in the flat­lands of East Oak­land. Of course, some res­i­dents were ag­grieved by the city’s at­tempt to ad­dress his­toric racial and eco­nomic dis­par­i­ties.

The re­ces­sion will put Oak­land’s progress in jeop­ardy.

“We all know when we’re broke, it’s re­ally hard to im­prove our­selves,” Flynn said. “There’s a way that equity can get set aside when it’s just about try­ing to keep the lights on and try­ing to get the garbage picked up. I’m very, very con­cerned about what an­other re­ces­sion is go­ing to do — not to peo­ple’s will to do some­thing, nec­es­sar­ily.”

It will take po­lit­i­cal will and money to ad­dress the gaps in so­ci­ety.

“To ac­tu­ally close th­ese gaps and help build wealth, we need in­ten­tional poli­cies to ac­tu­ally help African Amer­i­cans, help Lat­inx groups to cre­ate wealth,” Olug­benga Ajilore, a se­nior econ­o­mist at the Cen­ter for Amer­i­can Progress, told me. “When you have wealth, you’re able to weather th­ese re­ces­sions, th­ese set­backs, th­ese down­turns a lot bet­ter.”

You can’t tell me the money isn’t there. As part of the eco­nomic stim­u­lus pack­age, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment sent about $1.4 bil­lion to dead peo­ple, the Gov­ern­ment Ac­count­abil­ity Of­fice re­ported Thurs­day.

It’s yet an­other fail­ure by this coun­try’s in­ept lead­er­ship. There’s no won­der why the pres­i­dent whines when jour­nal­ists take a look at what’s hap­pen­ing in­side the clown car­ni­val that is his ad­min­is­tra­tion.

That’s why we’re all liv­ing in hell.

Harry Hamil­ton / City of Oak­land

Dar­lene Flynn, di­rec­tor of Oak­land’s De­part­ment of Race and Equity, says: “I’m very, very con­cerned about what an­other re­ces­sion is go­ing to do.”

Jes­sica Chris­tian / The Chron­i­cle

Fam­i­lies and pro­test­ers gather to hear speak­ers at a June­teenth rally at De Fre­mery Park in Oak­land.

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