By Magaly Muñoz
Oakland community leaders held a press conference Tuesday morning in front of Le Cheval restaurant to show solidarity with the community via a one-day business strike to call for the city of Oakland to do more for public safety and retail crime.
Carl Chan, former president of the Chinatown Business Association, announced the strike last week at an Oakland NAACP press conference where leaders and supporters of the branch called for an investigation into why the city did not apply for state funds that would’ve given police enforcement money to investigate and prosecute suspects of organized retail crime.
The strike took place at over 100 small businesses throughout the city from 12- 2 p.m. after the press conference on Tuesday.
Le Cheval, a Vietnamese restaurant, was chosen, Chan said, because, in spite of its longtime status in the community, the upsurge in crime over the last few years led to the recent announcement that they’re closing their doors on Sept. 30 after 38 years at 1007 Clay St. in downtown Oakland.
A 2022 crime report from the Oakland Police Department showed that auto theft, commercial burglary and carjacking have gone up significantly in the last five years. Commercial burglary showed the highest increase by over 50% since 2018.
Chan said business owners are making certain demands to restore safety in Oakland, including direct resources to support small businesses and public safety measures from all levels of government.
“We want to also focus on the solutions, what we can do together to make positive changes,” Chan said. “We want to invite everybody, including our leadership. This is not about division, it is about unity.”
Several business owners were called to speak about their experiences, one being Chef Nijel Jones.
Chef Jones of Kingston 11, a former Jamaican restaurant and now reggae lounge, said that his windows were being repaired that very morning because of a break-in that occurred a few weeks ago.
He said aside from the break-ins, homelessness is also a huge issue in keeping people from coming to small businesses. He went on to tell a story of an unhoused woman who came into his restaurant, asked to use the restroom and when denied access, made her way to the kitchen and relieved herself on the floor.
Jones said he came to America with the picture that this is the land of opportunity but now sees that we cannot fix any of the problems in front of us. He said the problems that businesses are facing right now are systemic and not a matter of whether or not a restaurant can make a drink correctly, but a concern of safety.
“Oakland has been known as a city that is OK with violence and crime. We’re not,” Jones said. “Look at all these people here, we are here to say we’re not OK with this, we want to be safe.”
During the remarks from the speakers, audience members started to yell their dissatisfaction with what the community leaders were asking from the city. Some said they wanted immediate solutions and didn’t care much about the funds that were being offered by the state.
Izzy Ahmed, owner of Ole Ole Burrito Express, said grants like the $15 million from the Real Public Safety Plan only make sense if the city actually intends to prosecute people who break into businesses. He said the efficiency of the police is not what it needs to be.
Ahmed said one-time payments like they were receiving during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic were also not enough to cover the multiple break-ins that were happening to small businesses. He said his restaurant had been broken into four times in one month and after the first report of the incident, his insurance no longer would continue their coverage, and says he’s not the only one this is happening to.
He said it’s hard to stay afloat when there’s so much money going into repairs and when he feels like no one is getting in trouble for their actions, so the community stays unsafe.
“They’re [his employees] scared,” said Ahmed, who has shops at two locations: 2216 MacArthur Blvd. in East Oakland and 2435 Telegraph Ave. in Oakland’s Uptown.. “When they come in and the store is broken, they feel unsafe. It’s hard to even find workers right now cause it’s unsafe for everybody.”
Chan finished out the conference by saying he wants Gov. Gavin Newsom to pay attention to what the community is asking for and to visit Oakland in hopes of listening to the community’s needs.
“We want you to come and talk to us because we need your [Gov. Newsom’s] help,” Chan said. “We need direct assistance for the businesses. We need to find ways to keep everybody safe.”
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