California Governor Jerry Brown, San Francisco Chronicle columnist Otis R. Taylor Jr., and Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf

What Brown v. Brooks Means For Black Folk, Conclusion

May 8, 2018

Much has happened around the Brown v. Brooks matter since we were last all together, but the basic dynamic we’ve outlined in the first five parts of this “What Brown v. Brooks Means For Black Folk” (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5) have remained basically the same. In the political, media, and legal battle between Elaine Brown and Desley Brooks that has grown out of the original 2015 physical confrontation between the two women at Everett & Jones in Oakland’s Jack London Square—the blows have continued to fall the most heavily on Ms. Brooks.

Earlier this year, for example, Otis R. Taylor Jr., who took up the San Francisco Chronicle’s East Bay columnist seat from our old friend, Chip Johnson, also took up Mr. Johnson’s longtime campaign against Ms. Brooks by calling the District 6 Councilmember Oakland’s “version of Donald Trump” in a January 30 column. Ms. Brooks is “dismissive during public meetings, peering through the eyeglasses propped on the bridge of her nose like a derisive schoolmarm,” Mr. Taylor begins his list of grievances against the Councilmember. “She exudes contempt for people who dare offer an opinion that conflicts with her own. She seems to speak only to her base supporters, those who agree with her messages no matter how unreasonable she sounds from her pulpit.” (“Oakland City Council has its own Donald TrumpSan Francisco Chronicle January 30, 2018)

How the above examples, or any of the rest of the complaints Mr. Taylor presents in his “Oakland City Council Has Its Own Donald Trump” column, actually show that Ms. Brooks has taken any actions in her Council career even remotely similar to those of the U.S. President seems to be a bit beyond my level of comprehension. But equating someone to the much-hated Donald Trump has become a popular—if lazy—way to slur someone in our community, so I suppose we ought to get used to it.

And so, right on schedule, Mr. Taylor’s Brooks-as-Trump theme was taken up and embellished only a few months later by Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, in a press conference announcing the mayor’s opposition to Ms. Brook’s re-election to City Council. CBS Local quoted Ms. Schaaf as making the claim at that April press conference that “[o]ne individual, more than any, someone who’s been nicknamed the Donald Trump of Oakland, who has engaged in unethical and abusive behavior has had a true impact, a ripple effect that really has infected the civility of the council chambers, as well as the professionalism of our city workers.” (“Mayor Schaaf Says Councilwoman Dubbed ‘Trump Of Oakland’ Must Go” CBS Local April 13, 2018)

Calling Ms. Brooks “the individual who is most responsible for creating dysfunction, drama and abuse” on the Oakland City Council, Ms. Schaaf was quoted by the San Francisco Chronicle as saying at that same press conference that “[t]he City Council could get wonderful things done in a way that is uplifting for our community and not destructive if there were a different environment. And without question, the person most responsible — not solely responsible, but most responsible — for creating that toxic environment is Councilmember Brooks.” (“Oakland Mayor Schaaf slams Councilwoman Brooks as ‘unethical’ and ‘toxic’San Francisco Chronicle April 13, 2018])

This, by the way, is how the FBI’s old anti-Black Movement Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO) playbook was set up to operate. “When an opportunity is apparent to disrupt or neutralize black nationalist, hate-type organizations through the cooperation of established news media contacts,” the COINTELPRO set-up memo read, “in every instance careful attention must be given to the proposal to insure the targeted group is disrupted, ridiculed, or discredited through the publicity and not merely publicized.”

Under this playbook, Ms. Schaaf cannot merely say she is supporting a candidate running against Ms. Brooks with better qualifications and a better plan to fix Oakland’s problems. Instead the mayor must demonize Ms. Brooks, Trumpify her, label the Councilmember as the anti-Christ, whose expulsion from the seat of power is the only way to heal the ills of our city.

This was a highly-effective tactic in the 1960’s and the 1970’s, when it was first employed. It is even more effective in the Trump/Russia/conservative Republican-style attack, social media days of today, the irony being that it is Donald Trump himself who has helped open the way for people to smear their opponents with the damagain, damning label of “acting just like Donald Trump.”

The process has become so ingrained in our current lifestyles that today, in fact, the FBI doesn’t even need to instigate or even be involved in any way such attacks against Black leadership. Often much of the news media and local government leadership and judicial officials all contribute actions—without even having to be asked or goaded—towards the same end: the discrediting and disempowerment of African-American leaders and leadership. There does not have to be a conspiracy, or a plan, or even a meeting between any or all of the principals down at an aiport hotel somewhere for all of this to occur.

The media creates disparaging labels about a target in its sights, a public official picks up and re-broadcasts those disparaging labels, and then the media, in turn, reports upon the public official using those disparaging labels that the media originally invented. Sometimes it goes the other way, with public leaders dropping an anonymous tip with the media, the media reporting and attributing it to “anonymous sources,” and then the leaders reading from the media account as verification of an unfounded rumor they actually began themselves. And so it goes, around and around, in a kind of echo chamber, that functions without anyone ever having to be in charge or setting the direction, like members of a crowd chasing and taking up the shout “stop that nigger!” without needing to ask why because, after all, niggers must be stopped because they might be getting away with something.

It is the type of demonization of African-American people and our leaders that we’ve come to know in the city of Oakland, California at least since the evenings when the first Black Pullman porters and waiters stepped off the platform of the 16th Street Station at the end of their run and thought that this might be a good place to raise their families, escalating exponentially during the time when the city became majority Black and African-American majorities sat on the Oakland City Council and the Oakland School Board and Black men served as mayor of Oakland for seven consecutive terms. “If it wasn’t for the Blacks,” the refrain began in the backrooms of City Hall and The Oakland Tribune, filtering down through the single-family neighborhoods from the west end of the city to the east, and there was no need to finish the sentence, because every ache and ill and downturn in fortune could be attributed to that cause.

This demonization of Black People and Black leadership in Oakland was manifest in the flight of white residents out of the East Oakland flatlands and the hills when African-Americans first began moving out there in numbers at the end of the second world war, for example, or in Jerry Brown’s pledge while running succeeding two Black Oakland mayors in office. “In his campaign for mayor,” the Wall Street Journal wrote in 1999, “Mr. Brown ... promised to dismantle the African-American-dominated political machine that presided over much of the city's decline since the 1970s.” (“As Mayor of Oakland, Jerry Brown Woos Business and Trumpets OrderWall Street Journal August 10, 1999)

While CBS Local in its “Mayor Schaaf Says Councilwoman ... Must Go” article that the mayor attributed her opposition to Ms. Brooks’ re-election to the belief that “Brooks has infected the level of civility in the council, caused a toxic environment and should be voted out,” the San Francisco Chronicle, reporting on that same Schaaf press conference in its own “Oakland Mayor Schaaf Slams Councilwoman Brooks” article, inadvertently, perhaps, revealed that what was fueling the mayor’s opposition had nothing to do with civility at all.

“Brooks has also created a firestorm among city government watchdogs by putting forth a proposal that would divert millions in public funds from voter-approved projects such as street repairs and park improvements and give them to several private job-training organizations that have backed her,” the Chronicle article reads. “Brooks is adept at rallying support when she needs it... She has won the backing of some progressives through clashing with the Police Department and advocating racial equity programs. On Tuesday, Brooks encouraged dozens of trainees of the job organizations and members of a union that would benefit from the proposal to pack a committee meeting in City Hall where the legislation was on the agenda. The attendance in the hearing room exceeded capacity and the meeting had to be moved to the larger council chambers, but the item ended up being pulled on the advice of a city attorney. Schaaf said the proposal—‘with an end goal we all support’—was an example of ‘the toxicity and the deception’ practiced by Brooks.

“To bring it forward in a way that creates discord, distrust ... to raise the hopes of residents that something like this can get done when the actual basis of the proposal is not possible under existing law,” the Chronicle article reported Schaaf as saying, “is deceptive to residents and it is harmful to our democracy and our local government.”

How many times have Black People been told that we would be able to get the things we’re asking for, if we would only learn how to ask for them in the “right way”?

Not suprisingly, Chronicle columnist Oris R. Taylor Jr. made a similar complaint about Ms. Brooks’ political advocacy in his January “Oakland City Council has its own Donald TrumpSan Francisco Chronicle column:

“In May 2016, [Ms. Brooks] hijacked Oakland’s proposed cannabis law by tacking on an equity program that initially benefited only residents of her and ally Councilman Larry Reid’s districts,” Mr. Taylor wrote. “It took the council months to rewrite the legislation, and equity program participants are now left figuring out the new terrain without much help from the city. Brooks repeatedly tossed up roadblocks to the city’s cannabis business permitting system without explanation—or challenges from her colleagues on the council. One preposterous proposal would have required every cannabis business to fork over 25 percent of its profits and at least one seat on its board of directors to the city.”

What Mr. Taylor failed to report, and perhaps did not even understand, was that the big-money interests who long kept marijuana sales illegal are now muscling in to take control of—and reap the financial windfall from—legalization. Ms. Brooks’ purpose in what Mr. Taylor called “hijacking” Oakland’s new cannabis distribution laws was to try to ensure that Black Oakland residents—many of whom were jailed in great numbers in the past for selling illegal weed—should now get a fair share of opportunity in the newly-legalized pot trade.

The fact is, one of the issues that Ms. Brooks has been a consistent and tenacious advocate for is fairness in allocating City of Oakland jobs, contracts, and other opportunities to African-Americans have too long been left out of the process. This hits at the heart of the financial and political interests of many who have long had their fingers in Oakland’s economic pie, and makes up a large source of the long-held animosity against Ms. Brooks in many of the city’s and region’s circles of power.

And this is where it is Elaine Brown who needs to take care. The political/social/economic forces that are working to bring Ms. Brooks down are the same ones who once worked to bring Ms. Brown and her Black Panther Party down, and look to be lining up do so again, once their work against Ms. Brooks has been completed.

We’ve already shown how Ms. Brown is being set up for future attack for her role in the Brown v. Brooks controversy in the San Francisco Chronicle by then-Chronicle East Bay reporter Chip Johnson immediately after Ms. Brown filed her lawsuit against Ms. Brooks and the City of Oakland (“Desley Brooks, Elaine Brown stamped from same uncivil mold” San Francisco Chronicle December 15, 2015) or, more recently, by political columnists Phillip Matier and Andrew Ross (“Break for ex-Panther who sued Oakland: Jury didn’t hear about other dustupsSan Francisco Chronicle February 10, 2018). Or, for that matter, the 2016-17 Alameda County Civil Grand Jury Report charging fund mismanagement against Ms. Brown and her non-profit Oakland & World Enterprises (OAW).

More ominous as far as Ms. Brown is concerned was the recent ruling last week by Alameda County Superior Court Judge Paul D. Herbert on a motion by the City of Oakland for a retrial in the Brown v. Brooks civil lawsuit. While most readers only paid attention to Judge Herbert’s admonition that Ms. Brooks had “lied” in her testimony at trial (a strange assertion that we’ll have to talk about in detail at another time), the real message in the ruling was in the judge’s handling of the money due her from Ms. Brooks and the City as a result of her victory in that trial.

While the trial jury had originally awarded Ms. Brown more than $4 million for the damages they believe she suffered in the Everett & Jones confrontation ($3.75 million from the City of Oakland, $550,000 from Ms. Brooks), Judge Herbert indicated that he intended to grant the City’s motion for a new trial unless Ms. Brown agreed to accept an award of some $3 million less. (“Judge says Oakland Councilwoman Desley Brooks lied under oath ‘many times’San Francisco Chronicle April 27, 2018 and “Judge: Oakland Councilwoman Desley Brooks lied under oathEast Bay Times April 27, 2018).

Aside from losing $3 million in the few minutes it took for the judge to issue his “offer” to Ms. Brown, why should this be ominous for her?

Had the judge simply vacated the jury’s verdict in the Brown v. Brooks matter and ordered a new trial—as would seem the right course of action to take if he actually thought there was judicial error in the original trial—that would have taken the verdict off the table as an issue to be used against Ms. Brooks by her political opponents in her Council District 6 November re-election race. Severely limiting the monetary award to Ms. Brown, while preserving the jury verdict against Ms. Brooks, keeps that campaign issue intact. But it also signals that Oakland and Alameda County’s political and judicial powers aren’t especially interested in Ms. Brown getting a financial windfall as a result of her battle with Ms. Brooks. How long might be, therefore—once the November elections are behind us—before the remainder of Ms. Brown’s jury award gets whittled away, or her funding for her affordable housing project for the formerly incarcerated gets pulled gets pulled by the city or the county or by both, and that her many opponents in government, the media, and law enforcement turn to Ms. Brown herself as the main focus of the campaign to take down Black leadership? How long? Not long, one would imagine.

And so the continuing dispute between Elaine Brown and Desley Brooks could end up taking both of these women down.

An interesting fact for those who follow such things is that Jerry Brown, who authored Oakland’s post-Black-majority “dismantle the African-American-dominated political machine” strategy, was both instrumental in the election of Libby Schaaf to his old post as mayor of Oakland, but also was the California governor who originally appointed Paul D. Herbert in 2013 to his position as an Alameda County Superior Court judge (“Governor Brown Appoints Three to Alameda County Superior Court” July 12 2013 official release from the office of California Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr.). I don’t mention this fact to allege any conspiracy between Mr. Brown, Ms. Schaaf, and Mr. Herbert, only that there’s a possibility that they may all still be on speaking terms.

However its source or methodology, how would such a double take-down of two leading Oakland African-American women leaders affect African-Americans in Oakland and the Bay Area?

In her career on the Oakland City Council, Ms. Brooks has focused on making sure that African-Americans and other non-whites get their fair share of jobs, contracts, and other such benefits from the City of Oakland. In recent years, for her part, Ms. Brown has focused on protecting the rights and enhancing the opportunities of formerly incarcerated folks—most of them African-American—to re-enter into the communities they came from once they have walked back out of the prison gates. Where the two women leaders’ interests have overlapped, in one important instance, at least, has been in holding the feet of the local police to the fire in order to keep them from breaking the very laws they are charged with enforcing, as well as to pressure them to enforce those laws fairly against the African-American and Latino people they are supposed to protect.

Those are two of the most important pillars of interest upon which the future of the African-American community interests in Oakland and the Bay Area hang, and that is one of the major reasons how that African-American community would suffer if one or both of these important African-American leaders is taken down by the ongoing beef between the two of them. In addition, allowing this battle among our leaders to continue to a bloody end will make it easier for such animosities and battles to be stirred up among other African-American leaders in the area in the future. Already this is playing out like the East Coast/West Coast beef between Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls, with organizations and leaders and inviduals taking one side or the other, and rivalries and animosities developing within our community that will take years of hard work to settle down. And that does not take into account the numbers of Black Folk in the area who are turned off from following any progressive Black leadership after the spectacle of Ms. Brown and Ms. Brooks duking it out for so long in the public arena.

There are legitimate points of policy and strategy over which Black Folk can, and must, disagree in order to ensure a better future for our people. But whatever originally sparked the confrontation between Elaine Brown and Desley Brooks, the manner in which that confrontation has played out is not the way such things should be decided.

It is regrettable that the original physical confrontation ever took place. But that ship sailed more than two years ago. But the damage to both Ms. Brown and Ms. Brooks and the Bay Area’s African-American community as a whole coming out of the continuing conflict growing out of that original confrontation could be limited, mitigated, and even stopped if the two leaders simply decided between themselves to simply stop right now and walk away from the fight.

Given how proud and wilful these two women are—two of the qualities that have made them such important and valuable leaders—as well as how bitter this rivalry has become, it is hard to see either one of them reaching out to the other to initiate a truce on their own. Too much blood has already been shed, figuratively speaking, to make it a likelihood that happening.

But that does not mean that there is no hope of ending this feud short of disaster for all sides. A peacemaker could do it. A mediator must arise, someone with a history in the Movement and the respect of both the African-American community and both women, to get them to sit down, and put aside their differences, and find a way to work themselves out of a mess that will ultimately do neither Ms. Brown or Ms. Brooks nor Black Folk as a whole any good.

So who among us is up to that challenge?


Contact Jesse Allen-Taylor at
Writing Pages Of J. Douglas Allen-Taylor