Pastors from Oakland, California's Black Churches Push for Action on Crime

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Frustrated with the city leadership and a spiraling crime rate, a group of pastors from Oakland's historically black churches have been flexing their political muscle to bring change to the city.

Last fall, the pastors successfully backed a City Council candidate, Lynette McElhaney, who unexpectedly defeated a leading candidate, Sean Sullivan, during the ranked-choice vote reshuffle.

In October, a pastor succeeded in persuading Gov. Jerry Brown to help the city's understaffed Police Department crack down on violent crime. His plea prompted the governor to offer patrols by the California Highway Patrol.

And last month, the pastors mobilized hundreds of their congregants to City Hall to show support for the hiring of police consultant William Bratton.

Support for consultant
The move was a dramatic demonstration of their organizing power, and it brought to the City Council chambers critical support for increased police services and the hiring of Bratton. The chambers have long been an arena dominated by police critics, who have, at times, drowned out other points of view.

Bratton is the former police commissioner of New York who is revered by some for leading a decline in the crime rate. But he is also reviled by others for his aggressive use of "stop and frisk," a tactic criticized in New York for disproportionately stopping innocent black and Latino people.

"I don't condone police when they do wrong things," said Bishop Bob Jackson, who leads Acts Full Gospel Church, an East Oakland mega-church. "But police are not doing the shootings I'm talking about. These are people in the community who are shooting each other up."

Councilwoman Libby Schaaf said the pastors played a critical role in toning down the often caustic antipolice rhetoric in the council chambers.

"It's been very powerful to have that voice at the table," said Schaaf. "It's phenomenal."

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SOURCE: San Francisco Chronicle
Matthai Kuruvila
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