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Oakland NAACP chapter's focus on public safety sparks debate, pushback

Oakland NAACP chapter's calls for more police funding faces pushback
Oakland NAACP chapter's calls for more police funding faces pushback 03:29

OAKLAND – The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, or NAACP, has a storied history in the Civil Rights Movement. But now, fear over crime in Oakland has ignited a debate over what messages should be coming from the local chapter of the organization.

When it comes to the issue of crime, the local chapter of the NAACP has been front and center. On Monday they gathered to criticize the city's missing of a deadline that may have cost millions of dollars in funding to combat retail theft.

"As you know, we have been fighting for public safety all summer," said Oakland Chapter President Cynthia Adams. "We have heard from the community. We have heard from the NAACP. This is a civil rights matter. Remember, this is a civil rights issue. What is going on in Oakland is a civil rights issue.  The buck stops with the mayor!"

The group was galvanized by Mayor Sheng Thao's firing of Police Chief LeRonne Armstong, who is African American.

But there are those who object to the use of the NAACP's name to push for more law enforcement funding, saying it contradicts the organization's historical struggles.

On Tuesday, some local activists held a news conference in downtown Oakland to express their outrage.

"The Oakland branch is currently using its position to hijack the legacy of the historic organization and using it as a weapon--a weapon!--against their opposition," said Doug Blacksher, host of the Black Business Round Table.

"So, we have come here today to demand that they make a reverse on all of their positions--except for the bringing back of Chief Armstrong. But they must start operating in a manner that serves this community," said community activist Cathy Leonard.

Civil rights attorney Walter Riley said he has been involved with the national organization since the 1960s, but he discontinued his participation on the local level because of the group's controversial positions, including the recent criticism of Alameda County District Attorney Pamela Price.

"I have an allegiance to the national organization and the work that we were doing at that time, and the work that the national organization is professed to be doing at the present time," said Riley. "I say, shame on the local leadership for their attack on Black leadership here in Oakland."

"You mean to tell me we need to talk about what you want to talk about instead of public safety?" said Bishop Bob Jackson.  "Public safety is the number one problem in the city of Oakland right now!"

The Pastor of Oakland's Acts Full Gospel Church is a local NAACP member and frequent speaker at their events. Jackson said it's not a political fight over individuals. He said it's about what's happening out on the streets.

"The NAACP just stood up to say we need to do something about public safety in the city of Oakland," said Jackson. "There was nobody talking about public safety! All these people that are coming out of the woodwork talking against what we're saying? And they're against what we're standing for? How in the world can you stand against public safety when people are dying on our streets?"

The opponents have sent a letter to the national organization, requesting they do something to bring the local chapter back in line.

The problem is, both sides feel they are speaking for the majority of Black residents in Oakland. So, the debate continues, as if the fight against crime and the fight against injustice cannot co-exist.

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