Oakland Gangs Explored in Documentary

Dicovery Channel's "Gang Wars: Oakland" brings a new look to debate on violence in the East Bay burg

By Jackson West
|  Tuesday, Sep 15, 2009  |  Updated 4:45 PM PDT
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Oakland Gangs Explored in Documentary

Heart of Oak / Flickr

The sidewalk altars to the victims of violence in Oakland are an ever-present reminder of the city's desperation.

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A new Dicovery Channel documentary titled Gang Wars: Oakland estimates that there are 10,000 gang members in the city of only around 400,000.

That number is much, much higher than estimates from the Oakland Police Department, which bases its numbers on people identified as gang affiliated under state anti-gang statutes.

But community activists have a more nuanced view, saying there's a difference between organized criminal "gangs" and smaller, more loosely affiliated "crews" that are responsible for the majority of the violence.

Either way, the Oakland Police Department's gang unit was disbanded due to budget cuts by the city.

But while it can be argued that more police are what's needed for the city, it would likely be more effective to look into the root cause of young people turning to lives of crime.

The criminalization property and non-violent offenses and the abject injustice of high incarceration rates paired with little educational opportunity, for instance.

Sensationalizing the issue to appeal to a national audience that seems to see Oakland as a lost cause can't be helping.

Photo by Flickr user Heart of Oak.

Jackson West can't wait to see the documentary, but generally argues that anti-gang statutes are unconstitutional restrictions on freedom of assembly and association.

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