Oakland Councilmember Noel Gallo,
OPD Chief Sean Whent in background.
PHOTO/Steven Tavares

OAKLAND CITY COUNCIL | Oakland Councilmember Noel Gallo cares deeply about the wayward children of his city. At least, his council colleagues say so. However, members of the Public Safety Committee said they couldn’t buy into a proposed youth curfew detailed by the Fruitvale District representative. It was also an idea even Oakland’s chief of police believes would further stretch an already thin force.

Councilmember Libby Schaaf, now a potential mayor candidate next year, said youth curfews are not productive use of our time. “Things have changed,” said Schaaf since the last time the issue came before the council in 2011. “Our resources are even more strapped than when we had this last discussion,” Schaaf said. She added, not even Police Chief Sean Whent is interested in enacting the ordinance right at this time. “He knows this is the not the best use of our limited resources.”

Like Schaaf, Councilmember Lynette Gibson McElhaney, said the city would be better served by focusing on chronic absenteeism by its students and figuring out how engage youths in more productive endeavors. But, McElhaney also noted, “Oakland has failed its youth.”

Councilmember Dan Kalb, who has consistently opposed youth curfews, agreed and said, OPD should be concentrating on stopping high-level crimes and responding to 911 calls. “If there stopping a bunch of 16-year-olds out at night, I don’t think that’s a good use of their time,” said Kalb.

In describing his proposal, which he made clear was not yet an ordinance, but a discussion, Gallo said it is aimed at getting youths under 18-years-old off the streets after 10 p.m. and also provide three youth action centers for kids who need assistance overnight or academic support. He asserted other cities like San Jose are able to provide similar services for juveniles, while others have also used non-emergency portions of firehouses to house help centers for troubled young people.

In response to critics who say curfews will increase the chance of teenagers heading to Juvenile Hall, Gallo said. “I don’t want to lock up anyone. Why would I want to do that?” Doing so, he added, would only put more teenagers in an even deeper hole within society.

However, over 50 public speakers at Tuesday’s night’s length committee hearing passionately disagreed and tore into the Gallo’s proposal. Some called it an opportunity for OPD to target minority youths, while others, some frequently using expletives to convey their point, attempted to accuse Gallo of turning his back on his Latino heritage by authoring the specific proposal.

The vitriol against Gallo led him to call on police to escort two audience members from the council chambers. When Gallo asserted every U.S. city has a curfew, the audience, made mostly of young people, responded with cries of “bullshit!” “You know what?” said Gallo, as he pointed upward to the gallery. “I’m going to respect your opinion and you’re going to respect mine.”

Tony Coleman, a West Oakland businessman, asked why the city does not spend more time on creating new jobs for young adults and charged Gallo with grandstanding with an issue that has failed in council’s past. “If it ain’t worked before, it ain’t going to work now,” said Coleman.

A young Latina woman berated Gallo for proposing an idea that could disproportionately harm members of his own ethnicity. “You should be ashamed, you’re La Raza and you should know our struggles.” Another, while rapping his thoughts, added, “Mr. Gallo, are you feeling guilty?”

Gallo, clearly miffed by the voices of opposition from the long line of speakers and his own council mates, admonished Schaaf and McElhaney for making “excuses” for the city’s youth. In pointed remarks relayed by Schaaf regarding the police chief’s opposition to his plan, Gallo said to her, “He works for us. We don’t work for him. Your ideology is wrong.” With the proposal to enact youth curfews again in shambles, Gallo ended his remarks by saying, “Don’t make excuses for my kids.”