Interview with Oakland Mayor Candidate Cat Brooks

Interview by La Voz East Bay comrades done on September 16, 2018
We are publishing our interview of Cat Brooks, who is running to become the Mayor of the City of Oakland, and is a long time community organizer in Oakland for high quality education and social services, and against police brutality and racism. Cat Brooks is a co-founder of APTP (Anti Police-Terror Project). We think she truly represents an organic fighter of the working class communities of color, and we think her community work and demands around fighting police brutality and establishing community-based models of public safety are very important and need to be further developed and radicalized. We interviewed her because we wanted to learn more about her campaign & because we think she is a working class candidate that is putting struggles at the center. In addition, her campaign wants to reverse the relation between bourgeois institutions of governance, like city council, and organized working people.
How has your past political work informed your platform and vision for Oakland?
I’ve been an organizer pretty much my entire adult life. I was raised in a political household. I always knew right is right as wrong is wrong, and you’re supposed to stand up for what’s right. My mother used to get arrested crossing the test site lines in Nevada. My grandparents were anthropologists and archeologists, but they specifically utilized their field to challenge white supremacy.
And then I went to LA to be an actress and because that’s what I thought I was gonna do with my whole life. I ended up in an organization called Community Coalition. It was an organization that was born out of the 1992 rebellion. That’s where I got my analysis:  people in the movement. That was my political home and there I worked on a bunch of issues from educational equity to land use to some stuff around police. Community Coalition is a black/brown organization and so we were doing a lot of black/brown organizing, which I think is some of the most critical work that we should be doing and it’s some of the hardest work to do, right. Because crabs in a barrel is a real thing, and white supremacy has done a really good job of pitting our communities against each other. And when people are suffering, it’s hard to ask people to see past suffering into analysis. But that was the most rewarding work I think I’ve done.
It was really around the educational work that I got brought to Oakland… and I got connected with Shaka and Black August, which is also where I met what would become the cofounder of a APTP (Anti Police-Terror Project), Tur-Ha, Carol, and Asantewaa. And then Oscar was murdered. Oscar Grant was murdered, and my “enough button” got pushed. Like every time I recall it, I can remember this really goes back to just being over it and just “no more”. And I cried and cried and cried and cried and cried. And I was doing communications work at that time. ….We formed Onyx and our idea was that it would be an overall liberation organization. And so we fed people and we did political education and cultural events, but we kept being pulled into the streets around police violence and we were responding both to things that were happening here at the local level because OPD (Oakland Police Department) was running amuck but also things were happening at the national level and we could pull thousands into the street pretty easily in those days.
That led to a bunch of really important conversations: What were we doing? Why are we allowing the state to set the terms for struggle? Why are we only responding when they kill us? We know that they harm us in a bunch of ways every single day. What was happening to families who are thrown into this mix and then well, meaning activists like us, slapped their loved ones face on a banner and hit the streets without ever having a conversation. And if we know that non-engagement is the proven way to reduce, officer involved violence, why are we not talking about what alternative models of safety look like? So out of all of that, we pulled all the people together that we’ve been working with across different incidents and started meeting, and that’s how the Anti Police-Terror Project was born with a way too long conversation about where the dash should go.
So I’ve been doing that work ever since and now I’m executive director of an organization called the Justice Teams Network, which is sort of statewide APTP (Anti Police-Terror Project) on steroids, and reusing communications, organizing and policy to dramatically impact the ways in which our communities.
So because I’ve done a bunch of work across issue areas, police violence, renters rights, living wage, land use, educational equity, I mean you name it and I had been in the trenches that we build a broad based coalition of people committed to a truly progressive Oakland. A lot of people asked me to run and we went through a pretty intense process of due diligence before we decided we were gonna run and here we are.
What measures would you enact to address the excessive use of police force, and as a long term vision, what alternatives do you envision to the use of police force in order to address public safety?
There’s a few things. One is as an abolitionist and as an unapologetic abolitionist, I don’t know what to do with people who commit egregious and horrific crimes against our community members. And so if we have to have police right now, that is where I want police to be focused on, dealing with things like rape and kidnapping, and creating community models for everything else. So [if a situation] doesn’t require a badge and a gun, I don’t want to send a badge and a gun. For every one police officer we hire, we could pay a living wage to three Oakland community members, train them in restorative justice, mental health, de-escalation and first aid. So that’s one thing. And that’s linked to what I said earlier about decreasing contact increases safety for people. The second thing that I would do is to replicate the model that Tur-Ha and his security company have in the Laurel. Which is utilizing security guards that are trained in community values. What they’ve done is they’ve created relationships with businesses and relationships with the community. And so instead of police, they trusted them and so that also decreases contact with the police. And so I want to pilot and replicate models like that that impact the conversation with public safety. The third thing is a zero tolerance policy, an absolute zero tolerance policy, for police abuse.
I would work with the Anti Police-Terror Project and other police accountability organizations to take advantage of SB 1421. SB 1421 just passed. It’s called the “right to know” bill. That means, for confirmed cases of excessive uses of force and or sexual assault, officers’ records can be pulled. And so what I would like community groups to do is submit PRAs and pull those officers’ records so we can put those officers on notice that they’re not welcome. So those are some immediate things.
We’ve never had a mayor that directed law enforcement to do things differently. For example I will no longer ask every single black and brown person that you pull over if they’re on probation or parole. … I want the legacy of the Cat Brooks administration to be that we’ve created a model that’s replicated across the country that ends the deployment of police officers to mental health crises. We know that 80 percent of the people that police kill are in the throes of a mental health episode. And so we could dramatically reduce the number of our loved ones that are being murdered if we just stopped sending police to deal with a crisis, all of that and then whatever else the community comes up with and pushes us to do.
In your platform, you plan to divert funds from overtime police spending to crime prevention and also to protect tenants and provide long-term housing. Is police overtime funding adequate for all of these projects, or are there other funding sources that could be made available?
I think we need to set aside a particular amount of money every year in the budget for social projects. I can’t think of what city it is, but they have what’s called like a 20/20 program. So $20 million goes into prevention services, and I’m not saying this is the right number for Oakland, but every year you know $20 million is going into housing and you know $20 million is going into preventative measures like social services, mental health education, etc. We need a set annual budget for preventive measures and housing. And so when people say well where you going to get the money, we’re going to say well $30 million of that can come from the unauthorized overtime of OPD.
We also have to expand our budget. I just want to have a real conversation with our folks, right? So I’ve learned a lot in my run and the truth is that while we have invested in a whole bunch of crap I don’t believe in, even if we had our dream people’s budget that we put forth during the last budget fight, there’s still not enough to go around. And so any mayor is going to have to expand the budget and then ensure that those monies go into the things that we care about, that actually keep communities safe. And we can do that in a bunch of ways. We can do that with the real estate transfer tax. We can do that through an anti-speculation taxes. We can do that through gross receipts tax. And that’s taxes on businesses. I’m staying away from homeowners and the people. How we make the more wealthy among us pay their fair share.
And then I’m interested in what equitable business development looks like. What are the kinds of companies, that we can bring, not big box stores that pay crap wages and won’t let people unionize, but what are the companies, what are the corporations, what are the fields that we as a city agree share our values? And then how do we put city dollars in a workforce training and development, so Oaklanders get living wage jobs. I’m also very interested in having a conversation with people about how we expand cooperatives in our city and to create a wealth and income, you know, for businesses in the city. And then yeah, direct funds to things that Oakland values.
How would you push back against the massive resistance that OPD would put up to any change in the status quo?
And that’s where the partnership with community comes in. I can’t do anything by myself. That’s where I’m hoping that organizations mobilize, in fact, organizations should be mobilizing now and I believe APTP is actually getting ready to launch a campaign because the negotiations around the OPD contract are coming up very quickly, and so we need the organizations on the ground to be knocking on doors and talking to people and asking them, do you want a park or do you want more police? Yeah, right. Do you want a library or do you want more police? Do you want mental health services? Or do you want more police? And I know even from listening to the report back from Ginale Harris, from the Oakland department of violence and prevention. He said that overwhelmingly, people do not want for five months prevention dollars going into law enforcement. They want it going into social programming.
So let us do smarter things with our dollars and actually keep communities safe. And my job is to work with community to lift up community voices and community demands. This is the time, this is the era of bucking the establishment. I’m returning the power to the people. So yeah, they call me mad. They’re gonna be mad when we win. Oh well, they don’t run the city. They’re part of it.
How would you address the issue of houselessness, both temporarily and more permanently?
So immediately, in the first hundred days we are opening up city owned buildings. We are partitioning them. We’re putting toilets and showers in them. We are partnering with the Oakland Unified School District in their abandoned schools that have toilets and showers in them. And we are partnering with Laney college to build tiny homes on public land. That’s immediate. I’m also a big supporter of Prop 10 and repealing the Costa Hawkins Act. I have faith that it is going to be repealed, and that means the city of Oakland needs to be developing in partnership with community, the most progressive rent control policy in the state. We’ve gotta demand inclusionary zoning from our developers. And if they don’t want to do that then they need to give us the in lieu dollars, so then we can build the housing stock that we need. We need to work with the county, the county is sitting on millions of dollars to help us address the mental health and the substance abuse and also the housing issue. (…)
What are your thoughts on OEA’s contract fight in light of the recent teacher strikes in other states, and UTLA that is planning to go on strike in the winter?
So I support the teachers union. I think it’s ridiculous that we are a city that starts police officers at one of the highest starting salaries in the country and our teachers literally cannot afford to live in the city that they teach in. I simultaneously am clear that the state and the former superintendent have gotten us into a situation where we’re about to cut 30 million more dollars and close 30 more schools. And that’s what I mean about the Oakland promise that Libby Schaaf (current mayor of Oakland) keeps touting. She has millions of dollars at her fingertip that could solve this problem. Millions. That’s where the money needs to be going: to teacher salaries, to supplies, to benefits and pensions for our educators. And I hope that a decision is made that supports teachers and they do not force a strike, but I will stand with teachers if and when they strike. (…)
How will you prevent collusion between local law enforcement and federal agencies to provide sanctuary for undocumented immigrants?
There is now a city policy resolution that is not just “no collaboration’. It is no city resources for ICE either. But I called Libby’s bluff. Alameda County Sheriff Ahern’s office is right down the street from her. He is collaborating with ICE. He was detaining our community members. He is exploiting our community. She says nothing about him. And his office is in Oakland. So that’s a stand I think the mayor needs to take. I think we need to do an audit of which kind of city data we’re collecting. You know, at one time it was a good thing when (former Mayor of Oakland) Quan did it, when she got our undocumented community members cars that they could use, banks and IDs that they could use. But now is there a concern that those things may be used to track our undocumented community members?
So I think the mayor needs to set up a task force, a council. What are all of the ways in which ICE could identify, track down our community members? And we must interrupt that pathway. And I think that sanctuary we’re talking about, it’s gotta be sanctuary for all. We’ve got to, we need to talk about sanctuary for undocumented community members, sanctuary for our LGBTQ community members sanctuary for our black and brown community members, sanctuary from fascists, sanctuary from cops, sanctuary from ICE. Sanctuary. Zero tolerance for hate and violence.
What is the role of cities like Oakland in achieving a just and equitable society beyond our local area? To push forward more socialist and anti-capitalist policies?
One of the things I talk about a lot is that when I traveled the country, people look to Oakland and how it resists. And I think that will be true when we build a truly progressive government as well. Like this, here’s the model for how you get there. And I think that that’s really important right now because the federal level is crazy. So locally is where we have to fight, and share lessons learned. And then identifying the progressive mayors and congress people that are being elected in what they’re calling the blue wave.
And bringing those people together and to uplift what’s happening. I was just at the Congressional Black Caucus. There’s some really progressive stuff happening all over the country. Right? But we’re not talking to each other very well. We’re all fighting for seats right now, but I think that’s gotta be one of the first orders of business is that Alexandria and me, and Iona and Ray – All of these people might like, how do we come together and set a progressive agenda for government and have each other’s backs when we’re attacked? Because that’s going to come too.
How would you directly involve all the people of Oakland, especially the working class and poor people of Oakland in achieving your goals?
So we call this the “People’s Campaign” because we’ve been building our platform in partnership with the people. We’ve been lifting up the solutions and the work and the courage and the fierceness of the Oakland community members. And I want to take that right into government. … So we’re getting ready to fight for policy around housing. I want tenants and unhoused people leading that way. Labor? I want rank and file union members leading the way. How are we going to partner with the school district? I want teachers and students leading the way. And I also want to take city hall outside of city hall. I think it’s ridiculous that if you are east of 73rd, you have almost no access to your city government and these meetings that happened at 2:00 on Tuesday afternoon. It’s absurd… I’m an organizer and I can build relationships. I think that’s the thing that excites me the most. We’ve got a base of people that know how to mobilize and push.
What’s your relationship to the Democratic Party? What do you think about the goal to build our own kind of working people’s party?
You know, that’s evolved over this campaign. When I first registered to vote, I registered as a Democrat. I grew up in a Democratic household. And then I didn’t like that being registered as a Democrat meant that like, particularly in primaries, if there were candidates that I liked, that I couldn’t vote for. And I took umbrage with the party for a number of reasons, right? The party has not been good to black people. The party has not been good to immigrants. Malcolm X’s ballot or the bullet speech is still very relevant today.
So when I first got into the race, I was still registered as an independent and then found out very quickly that there were forums and debates and things I couldn’t attend if I wasn’t registered as a Democrat. And there was support that I couldn’t get. And, I’m not totally disillusioned. I mean, so what I’m saying, this is not a zero sum game. I think that yes, we need to create a real people’s party and the Green Party, and we don’t have anything that’s doing it right now. We’re not reaching out to the people that we need to reach out. We’re not reaching out to working class people, we’re not reaching out to black and brown people. And while we’re doing that, I think people from within the Democratic Party should be banging like hell on the party for more progressive policies. And we’re seeing that and so I’m excited about that and excited when I saw Congressional Black Caucus, there’s all these young Democrats, but banging on the party. And so I think it’s both and. It’s sort of like we talk about radical reform and the way that abolition. We need to fight like hell for abolition, and we need to implement radical reforms right now to save people’s lives. So that’s sort of where I’ve landed that, that I am registered as a Democrat and I’m going to fight like hell from within while supporting the creation, development, evolution of a people’s party at the same time. I know that pisses some people off. We gotta fight everywhere.

Cat Brooks, APTP & other comrades

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