On Monday’s edition of CNN This Morning, senior national correspondent Kyung Lah reported on the out-of-control crime in Oakland, California, with murders in broad daylight and undeterred gang groups targeting everyone. The network gawked as residents fled the city and were being told by police to carry air horns for protection. The biggest concern for one CNN talking head was that runaway crime in liberal cities was a boon to Republican arguments about law and order.
“While homicides are down, robberies, burglaries, and rape are all up by double-digit percentages. Everyone we talked to says it doesn’t matter your race, your income, everyone seems to be a target,” Lah noted after (figuratively) parachuting into the city to gawk at the situation.
Lah interviewed one resident who was fleeing the city, fearing for the life of her son. On the flip side, there was one resident who chose to stay and was following the police department’s ridiculous recommendation to arm herself with an air horn. Surprisingly, airhorns didn’t stop her neighbor from being shot and killed in broad daylight:
Lah seemed to whine that “frustration has spilled over in community meetings” and “anger” was being “directed at leadership, like the newly-elected district attorney, who has been on the job just seven months.” She failed to mention that progressive DAs were largely responsible for the current crime spree in America as they largely stopped prosecuting criminals in the name of social justice.
But she did speak with Darren White of the local NAACP chapter, which was calling for more prosecutions. “When I walk out of the house every day, I want to be safe. So, if that calls for some — whoever commits the crime to be prosecuted, so be it. But we want it to be fair and just,” he said. “We’re not trying to say, you know, mass incarceration and arrest everyone. We want the people that are out here committing these violent crimes arrested and charged.”
During the panel discussion following Lah’s report, CNN senior political analyst and anchor John Avlon also pushed for more prosecutions. “And the point is the balance seems to be decidedly off. I mean what you saw in that is a city that is breaking down. And when that happens, that unleashes all sorts of focus,” he warned.
But he gave the game away in a follow-up comment when he used a dog whistle to caution that Republicans stood to gain politically from liberal cities having high crime rates. He warned that there needed to be a strong response to the crime or else “you are breeding reactionary forces politically.”
“This is just about actually public safety. This is about protecting people. And it shouldn’t be politicized,” he lectured.
Jessica Washington of The Root was also on hand to defend the Defund the Police movement and claim they were not to blame for the crime surge. According to her, Oakland was spending too much money on police: “Oakland has continuously increased their police budget … And you know, I think the argument is they actually did decrease community violence intervention program funding in this year’s budget.”
Avlon noted that they only raised the police budget about “two percent” for 2023.
CNN This Morning
August 8, 2023
6:44:47 a.m. Eastern
POPPY HARLOW: In Oakland, California, as the city’s crime rate grows so much, so too are calls for action. It’s not just residents sounding the alarm. The situation has grown so dire the local NAACP chapter has called for a state of emergency.
Our Kyung Lah has the reporting.
[Cuts to video]
KRISTIN COOK: I love Oakland. It’s very hard for me and my son, especially my son.
KYUNG LAH: So Kristin Cook is leaving Oakland, California. After living here her entire life.
COOK: I can’t take it anymore. I got to the point I was too scared to leave my house.
LAH: Cook blames brazen assaults and robberies in broad daylight, break-ins and home invasions across the city as Oakland sees a surge in reported violent crimes this year compared to last. While homicides are down, robberies, burglaries and rape are all up by double-digit percentages. Everyone we talked to says it doesn’t matter your race, your income, everyone seems to be a target, including carjackings, like this one.
[Dash cam video of carjacking]
COOK: Now, they’re carjacking people at stop signs. And my son is about to start driving. [Transition] The fact that I am being pushed out because I emotionally can’t take it anymore is horrible.
LAH: But Toni Bird is staying. She lives with a locked front gate and five security cameras. Bird says Oakland police recommended steel braces for residential doors, and air horns.
TONI BIRD: The idea is if you set it off, your neighbor would hear it, set theirs off, and more people are alert that there’s danger.
LAH: Her neighbor across the street, 60-year-old retiree Dave Schneider, was shot to death in June trimming his front tree during the day. He died as Bird and other neighbors tried to save him.
BIRD: I’m not looking for the perfect, safe place. I’m looking for a place where the elderly, women with children, aren’t targeted. I think we can all agree that that needs to change. And so I feel like it will change. And that’s why I’m staying.
LAH: But saying open gets tougher every day for Troy Welch, own of Laurel Ace Hardware.
TROY WELCH: There’s about six of them that comes in.
LAH: Welch’s store was robbed just hours before we met him.
WELCH: They went through our cash registers. And this is my office. But you’ll see they went in, they tried to take a sledge hammer to it. Tried to lift it. And he’s going to figure out they ain’t – they aren’t getting into that safe.
LAH: Welch says he loses 10 percent of his merchandise to theft. So common this year he leaves his registers empty and open, tired of replacing them.
WELCH: It’s more brazen. Sometimes more violent I think than what it used to be.
LAH: How long does it take for police to arrive?
WELCH: Forty-five minutes.
LAH: Forty-five minutes. Is that typical?
WELCH: That’s probably fast.
LAH: Frustration has spilled over in community meetings. Anger often directed at leadership, like the newly-elected district attorney, who has been on the job just seven months.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It’s unreal!
DARREN WHITE (Oakland NAACP): I’m a black man, born and raised in Oakland. When I walk out of the house every day, I want to be safe. So, if that calls for some — whoever commits the crime to be prosecuted, so be it. But we want it to be fair and just.
LAH: Darren White is with the NAACP Oakland branch, which penned an open letter to their city blaming failed leadership, the defund the police movement, and anti-police rhetoric for creating a heyday for Oakland criminals.
WHITE: We’re not trying to say, you know, mass incarceration and arrest everyone. We want the people that are out here committing these violent crimes arrested and charged.
LAH: Do we need more cops on the street?
WHITE: Yes, we do need more. Every community needs police.
LAH: Franked by partners in the city, Oakland’s interim police chief, Darren Allison, says Oakland is taking a comprehensive approach to fighting crime.
LAH: And they all say that the crime feels different now. Why is that?
DARREN ALLISON (Interim police chief, Oakland): So, I think because it is pervasive, not just localized, or even may have historically seen maybe gang group violence, I think that feeling has become that it’s everywhere.
LAH: From cops to crime prevention, funded for 712 officers, Allison says he has 715 on staff.
ALLISON: So, what you’re seeing is changes in bail, changes in sentencing.
LAH: Are you saying you need tougher punishment on the back end?
ALLISON: It’s everything. It’s not just enforcement and punishment. I think accountability comes in many forms.
LAH: Kyung Lah, CNN, Los Angeles.
[Cuts back to live]
BLACKWELL: John Avlon, Jessica Washington are back with us.
It more than feels different. The numbers show that in certain categories it’s up double digits. The question is the balance here of enforcing the law, getting people who need to be off the street off the street, but also not going too far in the other direction.
JOHN AVLON: Absolutely. But that’s always the question of the balance. And the point is the balance seems to be decidedly off. I mean what you saw in that is a city that is breaking down. And when that happens, that unleashes all sorts of focus. We forget that I think sometimes that public safety is a fundamental civil right.
And the fact that that NAACP branch came out and spoke harshly about, this is out of control. We need to just stop this revolving door approach to justice. There needs to be sentencing and prosecutions in a way that’s consistent with equal rights and justice. That’s not too much to ask.
And you see these stats, you got to take action because it’s unleashing massive forces. You can’t effectively have situations where, for example, you know, mass theft, going into stores and, you know, grabbing things under $1,000 is effectively decriminalized.
HARLOW: But explain why that matters.
HARLOW: So, John’s pointing to the fact that the law reads now — I don’t know if it’s state, if it’s just California, or if it’s national, but that if – if it’s under 1,000 — what did you say?
AVLON: Under $1,000.
HARLOW: Under $1,000.
AVLON: I believe it’s California or it’s — it’s per store –
AVLON: Because it’s worth the hassle to prosecution.
HARLOW: Under $1,000. If you steal $999 of stuff it’s a misdemeanor.
HARLOW: It’s not – and – and so a lot of people are pointing to things like that and saying, this is leading to it just continuing.
JESSICA WASHINGTON: Yes. And I think that we can look at specific laws and say, okay, maybe this one needs to change. But I think the overwhelming message is, what happened here was the defund movement. And what happened was getting police off the street. I think that’s what we saw in the NAACP letter. And the thing is, that’s not what happened.
Oakland has continuously increased their police budget. And so – and you can also – you can quibble with, it didn’t match up with inflation. There’s different arguments about whether or not they’ve increased it enough. But they increased it by 18 percent from 2019 to 2022. They increased it again this year. So, this isn’t an issue of, we are taking police off the street. There were no layoffs in the police department in this year’s budget.
And you know, I think the argument is they actually did decrease community violence intervention program funding in this year’s budget. So, are there things that we could be doing that we are not doing? We are funding the police in Oakland and yet there is still crime. So, are there other methods that aren’t this trade-off that we could be investing in.
AVLON: Look, I think it’s a two percent increase this calendar year. But to you point, I think it’s – it’s about the larger movement that’s associated with that disastrous term defund the police. It’s about cops backing off. It’s about feeling the prosecutions aren’t going forward. That, you know, that there is this revolving door issue approach to crime and punishment, which you heard people in the piece complain about, including the police officers.
HARLOW: We can look at – you can look at places like Camden, New Jersey, that have completely restructured, redone their police force. I was reporting there. I mean this was years ago. But it was incredibly successful, saying this isn’t working, and a complete overhaul.
AVLON: And, look, this is an area that should be open to innovation, but you need to separate intentions from results. And if public safety is dropping down, if people are feeling unsafe, not as a matter of perception but hard reality, as you heard that woman crying in the street because she has to leave Oakland because people are getting shot, you know, out in broad daylight they’re getting their cars stolen, that demands reaction or you are breeding reactionary forces politically. This is just about actually public safety. This is about protecting people. And it shouldn’t be politicized.
BLACKWELL: All right, John –
WASHINGTON: I wouldn’t –
BLACKWELL: Go ahead, quickly.
WASHINGTON: Yes. Oh, sorry, I was just going to say that, you know, it is true that this is about action, but I would think that the folks who are saying we have tried policing over and over again and our community still feels unsafe. We’ve increased the budget and are saying, what about these other methods that we haven’t tried, we haven’t invested in. Those are not people who don’t care about safety. Those are people that care deeply about their community. And I think sometimes we pinpoint those as individuals who do not care about keeping the streets that. And that’s just not born out.
BLACKWELL: All right, Jessica, John, thank you.
HARLOW: Yes. And great reporting by Kyung. Our thanks to her.