As Oakland officials consider balancing the city’s next budget, members of community-based organizations this week protested potential budget cuts to the city’s Department of Violence Prevention, which curbs violence only through diplomacy.

Members of the same groups also protested proposed increases to the police budget. Both items went before the Oakland City Council on Tuesday afternoon.

Mayor Sheng Thao has proposed cutting the budget of the Department of Violence Prevention by $3.95 million each year for two years. About 2,000 fewer people will be served each fiscal year if the cuts are approved.

“It really, really impacts us,” said Vamsey Palagummi, managing director for Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice, whose members protested Tuesday and who get funding for violence prevention from the Oakland Department of Violence Prevention.

Cuts could be costly

CURYJ and its allies organized Tuesday’s protest in front of Oakland City Hall.

Each group funded by the department is being told to cut their budget by 22 percent while city officials altogether cut the department’s Neighborhood and Community Teams strategy, Palagummi said.

Groups contracting with the Department of Violence Prevention serve mainly people of color. More than half of the people slain in Oakland killings are Black, according to the department.

For Palagummi’s group, cuts to the department would cost CURYJ $632,000, or half of the group’s budget.

Total police expenditures in Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao’s proposed budget would increase to $365 million in fiscal year 2024-25 from the current $353.2 million.

Not only will it reduce the services CURYJ provides, but it would put stress on his employees, some who could lose their jobs. Palagummi said his employees come from the community and are frontline workers such as violence interrupters.

Thao’s proposed budget freezes hundreds of city positions to avoid layoffs of city personnel.

Thao has proposed increasing the money allocated to the Police Department from the city’s General Fund as well as the department’s total funding each year over the two-year budget period.

General Fund expenditures on police would increase to $347.6 million in fiscal year 2024-25 from $337.5 million in the previous fiscal year and $335.2 million in 2022-23.

Total police expenditures would increase to $365 million in fiscal year 2024-25 from $353.2 million in 2022-23, according to city documents.

Protecting themselves

Members of the groups protesting Tuesday said police do not keep them safe. They said they keep themselves safe.

Benefiting from these community-based groups are youth, some of whom protested Tuesday.

Swai Lakai, a 21-year-old formerly incarcerated woman, has been doing positive things in the community for four years thanks to the help she has received.

She is currently a Dream Beyond Bars fellow with CURYJ, working to end youth criminalization while taking college classes at Laney College and Merritt College in Oakland.

Loana Piper, a self-determination advocate for the Young Women’s Freedom Center, said cutting the violence prevention department’s budget would rob young people of resources and safe spaces.

The City Council took no action on the budget Tuesday but continued the item to the June 26 special council meeting. The meeting is scheduled to start at 4 p.m.

City councilmembers must publish their amendments to Thao’s budget by June 14.

Keith Burbank is currently a fulltime reporter covering Alameda County and Oakland news for Bay City News. He has also worked on the Data Points project for Local News Matters, finding trends and stories about the region through data. In 2019, he was a California Fellow at the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism, producing a series about homeless deaths in Santa Clara County. He worked as a swing shift editor for the newswire for several years as well. Outside of journalism, Keith enjoys computer programming, math, economics and music.