It was business as usual on July Fourth in Oakland's flatlands. Hundreds gathered in the streets to set off illegal, commercial-grade fireworks, block traffic, shoot off guns, and celebrate the free-for-all that masquerades as Fourth of July festivities. Repeated warnings from law enforcement and media about fines, fire danger and possible injury were blatantly ignored.
There was some good news. Police were on city streets issuing citations to individuals setting off fireworks. In some cases, they were able to confiscate them. Thanks to Libby Schaaf, District 4 Councilwoman and mayoral candidate, for riding with OPD to observe large, hostile crowds close in on police officers who dared to approach.
Oakland Fire Department trucks did drive through neighborhoods, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives sent a unit to 14th Avenue to assess the situation, concluding that the lawlessness of the mobs was shocking. A local news station had planned to send a camera crew to film there, but canceled the assignment after it was determined too dangerous for staff.
Not surprisingly, the modest OPD, OFD and ATF presence did little to stop the illegal fireworks that started at sundown, and continued throughout the night. In fact, most neighbors agreed that this was the worst year yet. Things were so out of control near his home in District 5 that City Councilman Noel Gallo canceled his scheduled ride-along with OPD to safeguard his house.
When law enforcement and news agencies fear for the safety of their respective staffs, imagine what neighbors living near these explosive celebrations experience. Many don't dare leave their homes unattended because of fear of fire. Those who brave the crowds and request that folks stop the illegal behavior are booed and physically threatened.
City officials admit that there is little that the police can do because enforcing the fireworks ordinance puts them in harm's way. Local police and federal authorities fear being outnumbered by the crowds, and therefore do not confront and arrest lawbreakers.
We, who never took the oath to protect and serve, are left to fend for ourselves.
After many years of complaints, we can only surmise that it will take a major fire and/or riots resulting in serious injuries or deaths to muster the political will to condemn illegal fireworks and curtail them with robust law enforcement, seizures and an aggressive, well-targeted public education campaign.
The acceptance of this illegal behavior, by the public at large on up through the highest levels of elected government officials, earns Oakland its reputation as a city where anything goes.
What say you, Mayor Jean Quan and Oakland City Council members?
Wendy Jung is a member of the San Antonio Hills Neighborhood Association in Oakland.