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    Why I Support a Department of Race & Equity in Oakland

    1-Photo-RebeccaKaplan(1)The City of Oakland has many reasons as to why we should be a leader on racial justice and social equity, but despite a diverse and dedicated population, and the efforts and work of many over the years, there is still much that needs to be done. In order to ensure that Oakland makes improvements that are lasting and comprehensive, we should create a structure for durable change. Oakland has been designated the most diverse city in America according to Priceonomics, and has been historically at the center of movements for justice, including the first racially inclusive union organizing. The reality of continuing disparities—in unemployment, city contracting, criminal justice enforcement, health, and more—are ongoing, creating real gaps between the lives of people in Oakland based on race.

    The gap in household income is real; white household income is more than double that of African Americans. White household income in 2012 was $81,159. African American household income in 2012 was $35,050. Asian American household income was $45,238. Latino household income was $44,455. The disparity in Oakland needs attention and cannot be resolved through the work of short-term consultants, but requires ongoing leadership roles within City government to be a central hub for ideas, problem-solving and making sure solutions are really implemented.

    There are many important reasons for developing a Department of Race & Equity, including the following:

    First, it is acknowledged that in the past, City Council has authorized actions that have not been implemented. Authorizations made by City Council should not be ignored, nor should they be prioritized as low-importance, particularly when it is in regards to equity. We need to make sure that the administration follows through and completes these authorizations to ensure that the city is actively moving towards justice.

    Years ago, we fought for a disparity study to examine the contracting practices of the City of Oakland; the City Council authorized and funded this action. Nonetheless, it has not been completed.

    The disparity study is not only important, but it is also telling of operation tactics in Oakland. The last disparity study that was conducted, about 7 years ago, showed that there was a huge disparity in contracts by the City of Oakland. It discovered that Oakland’s contracts were going to businesses owned by white men, almost exclusively, and, in fact, were going to only a handful of businesses. A follow-up study was supposed to be conducted, but none had been done.

    Secondly, the disparity in unemployment throughout the City of Oakland continues to be incredibly wide. In fact, if we look at the national data, the gap between white unemployment and black unemployment is no better than it was in 1950. Although this data is not exclusive to Oakland, we nonetheless have the responsibility to do something about that here.

    Third, we need to look at what is being done around hiring when companies get city business and contracts. The on-going disparity of who gets hired once these contracts are awarded to the companies is an issue that continues to require more attention.

    Further, there are other areas that don’t seem as a big a deal at first, but have a long-term impact, such as where the city focuses its advertising for hiring and contracts and how that correlates with whom the city attracts. We had certain jobs and contract opportunities for which we got very few applicants, and when I inquired, we discovered that the ads were run in only one paper, a predominantly white read paper. This is problematic, because it elicits disparity as to the kinds of applications we receive.

    We need to take action in the continuing disparity of incarceration. Although this is a big picture issue and, of course, goes far beyond Oakland, it is a root cause for family division, is a cost to human lives, and results in billions of wasted taxpayer dollars for the prison system. Recently, we received some of the Oakland Stop data that showed racial disparity in police stop enforcement, and we continue to have an on-going major disparity in terms of who gets incarcerated.

    Leadership to help advance the goals of race and equity would, of course, go beyond these examples I have listed, as there are also concerns about inequitable distribution of public services, blight, and more, as well as important steps needed to be taken to ensure that Oaklanders of every race, religion, sexual orientation, disability and gender are fully respected in our city. These goals warrant efforts on behalf of the people of Oakland.

    We need to continue the effort to work actively for justice because justice doesn’t just happen by itself. And I believe that this is one example of how we can do it, by authorizing and hiring the right people so it’s handled in an on-going manner.

    Another way we can expand equality and justice in Oakland is by adequately providing a safe place for LGBT homeless youth, many of whom find themselves on the street because of the prejudice they suffer at home. Similarly, many in the transgender community need our support as they, too, are ostracized for being true to who they are.

    We must provide resources, outreach, safe spaces and more to guarantee that all of our residents get treated with the dignity, care and respect that they deserve. We can make a change and be the change to become a more equitable Oakland.

    Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan was elected in 2008 to serve as Oaklands citywide councilmember. She was re-elected in 2012 and serves currently as Vice Mayor. She is working for safe neighborhoods, for local jobs and for a fresh start for Oakland. Vice Mayor Kaplan graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, obtained a Masters degree from Tufts University and a Juris Doctor from Stanford Law School.