Discovery Channel’s ‘Gang Wars: Oakland’ Series Spreads All the Wrong Messages About Poverty and Minorities


Its been interesting watching the show and hearing the reaction to it.. Most people were kind of thrown because in ‘Tha Town’ we don’t usually talk about people in clicks with the word ‘gang’. Do they exist? Sure just as they do in all cities.. but this show tried to make it seem like Oakland was a mini LA…

Some people had a little bit of pride because so often Oakland is overlooked and underplayed, so any attention even if its one of notoriety is treated is embraced. If you aren’t gonna celebrate how ‘good’ Oakland can be.. then folks will celebrate how ‘bad’ and how ‘tough’ it can be… That’s not unique to Oakland or the ghetto, that’s an American thing. If you don’t believe me ask iconic artists like Toby Keith, our last president George Bush or just tune into any right wing talk show where you’ll find an abundance of blowhards who will tell you how we should torture people, be allowed to carry guns at presidential rallies and refer to anyone calling for peace un-American

Also absent in this series were the large number of people who work tirelessly to help change lives around. Way too many to name.. It ranges from the folks behind the Scraper Bike Movement to Silence the Violence to Nation of Islam to Leadership Excellence etc.. There’s no shortage.  This show made it seem like folks were just kicking back enjoying the mayhem..

Sadly many organizers will tell you point blank that oftentimes the police are the  biggest obstacles. Seemingly everyone has a tale to tell.. but should we be surprised?  Many of these Discovery Channel, National Geographic gang shows are really police shows.. These shows are set up in such a way that it allows police departments to have tangible tool to go negotiate higher contracts..and to justify more cops on the streets.

-Davey D-

Discovery Channel’s ‘Gang Wars: Oakland’ Series Spreads All the Wrong Messages About Poverty and Minorities

by Aimee Allison

The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie — deliberate, contrived and dishonest — but the myth — persistent, persuasive and unrealistic. — John F. Kennedy

Oakland-gang-warsThere’s a rising tide of Americans that is challenging the myths that media perpetuate about people of color, violence and our nation’s cities.

While challenges Glen Beck’s racially tinged character attacks and calls for the ouster of Lou Dobbs from CNN for profiling Latinos, these efforts are the tip of the iceberg in addressing racism in the media.

Take the controversial documentary that aired this week — Discovery Channel’s two-parter, Gang Wars: Oakland, which aired its final episode Monday night.

Yes, Oakland has a shameful homicide rate, like many other American cities. But by multiplying the number of gang members in the city and connecting the homicide rate with a cardboard stereotype, the myths themselves become dangerous and counterproductive.

The show offers unrealistic and simplistic explanations about why killings happen, who the people in the community are and what would make things better. It’s time for Oakland, and the rest of America, to dump the myths that have lead to ineffective approaches to safety — and that means calling out this show that feeds on our worst fears of the poor and of people of color.

Maybe the show’s producers formed their opinions about Oakland by playing the video game of the same name — but our tragedies are not entertainment. And, we all admit, there’s plenty of blame to go around for crime in our cities. We are all paying the price for letting go of the hand of young people.

But all the scorn in the world will not make Oakland, or even suburban areas, safer.

Discovery portrays Oakland from the narrow perspective of a gang task force making busts in the city’s economically disadvantaged east and west flatlands.

The grainy night shots, closeups of semiautomatic weapons, wailing sirens and shot after shot of black and brown tattooed bravado is horror-flick fun to some — but this is a harrowing reality for those of us in Oakland grappling with the persistent problem of violence.

Oaklandpolice-225And to make matters worse, the show claims there are 10,000 gang members in the city — a number refuted by acting Oakland Police Chief Harold Jordan. Since the show producers haven’t come up with where they got the inflated number, one can only guess that they lumped in people based on neighborhood or skin color.

Therein lies the essence of the problem.

If the show was your sole point of reference, you would get the impression that Oakland’s response to crime involves mostly white police kicking down doors, conducting dangerous high-speed chases and stopping AC Transit buses in mostly black Oakland.

Gang Wars: Oakland would have us believe the myth — as the voiceover in the show says — that law-abiding citizens have only one hope, which is more and tougher policing. The reality is far more complex — with the community itself taking a central role in creating peace.

“Young people are afraid, people want to protect themselves,” offers Olis Simmons, executive director of Oakland’s Youth Uprising. She adds, “the police can’t make the city safe without partnership with the community, and that cannot happen as long as the community feels it’s being infiltrated.”

Fear grows in darkness; if you think there’s a bogeyman around, turn on the light. — Dorothy Thompson

Here’s the biggest myth: That we can arrest our way out of our homicide rate. We can’t, and the Oakland Police Department agrees. Racial profiling and harassment won’t get us there — although the Oakland Police Department has cost the city millions in settlements for just those behaviors.

But here’s what we can do: We can hire our way out. We can school our way out. As a city, we believe that so deeply that we voted to pass Measure Y — to tax ourselves to the tune of $10 million a year to make policing more effective and to expand youth programs and community outreach. The community-outreach workers that make a small cameo in the Gang Wars: Oakland are the cornerstone of Oakland’s approach to making the streets safer.

And if you want reality — how about the fact that many Oakland guns have been traced k to a gun dealer in nearby San Leandro who couldn’t account for more than 2,000 guns in 2006, according to federal authorities. Let’s revive the national gun-control conversation, because stricter federal laws is the only way to impact easy availability of guns in Oakland.

Locally, the myths depicted in Gang Wars: Oakland carry real consequences. Forget about the visceral reactions from suburban coworkers or the couple you met on vacation when you tell them you live in Oakland.

The city’s own efforts to transform its neighborhoods are thwarted in the frenzy heightened by fearmongering shows. Racial profiling proliferates — when cooler heads and a balanced view on safety don’t prevail. Money is funneled away from youth and community programs. Businesses avoid opening in the city, and we lose valuable economic opportunities.

In Oakland, we are asking: Does this show reflect the true story of what’s happening in my city? If it does, what is my responsibility to make things better?

Here’s our reality from the streets of Oakland. Despite what you see on the Discovery Channel, Oakland’s young people, coming from under-resourced communities, have shown a remarkable capacity for success and leadership to transform their peers.

Nick James of Youth Together, an organization with programs in five Oakland public schools, discusses its successful work: “We teach young people how to mediate conflicts and help their peers heal from being exposed to violence and loss. Our youth are becoming change agents and are breaking the cycle.”

False history gets made all day, any day, the truth of the new is never on the news. — Adrienne Rich

“The stereotypes won’t make us safer, but a focus on hopeful efforts to support young people does,” says Xiomara Castro, co-founder of the Urban Peace Movement, an Oakland youth violence-prevention program.

She suggests an alternate ending to the tale told in Gang Wars: “Young people who have experienced violence can turn their lives around. But thankfully Gang Wars isn’t the end of the story. Let’s try a real reality show, where we invite cameras to follow the young people who have transformed themselves.”

Aimee Allison is host/producer of KPFA‘s Morning Show in the San Francisco Bay Area and co-author of Army of None (Seven Stories Press, 2007). She will launch a new local media hub,, later this year. This article is dedicated to the memory of 17-year-old Oakland Tech Student Desiree Davis, who edited the school’s yearbook and was slain two weeks ago.

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An Interview w/ community activist, author Kevin Powell-Why activists should run for office


We caught up with community activist, author and former MTV Real World cast member and  Vibe magazine writer Kevin Powell who talked to us in depth his run for congressional office in his native Brooklyn. In our interview he stressed the importance of why community organizers and activists should run for office. He says its important that people who clearly understand and have the community’s best interest at heart position themselves to leverage resources needed by the community.

Powell shared with us some of the pitfalls he made during his first bid for office. He also gives some keen advice for those who are seeking office.We also talked about the role celebrity plays or doesn’t play when seeking office.

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7 Ways to Save Radio Now

7 Ways to Save Radio Now

By Jerry Del Colliano


Jerry_Colliano-225(Rested and ready for this week’s NAB Radio Show in Philly)

The new National Association of Broadcasters CEO is going to be introduced to his constituents this week at the NAB’s annual Radio Show in Philadelphia.

There is little time to waste righting the ship from the ravages of radio consolidation.

I know what you know about Gordon Smith, a former Republican senator from Oregon but if Bonneville’s Bruce Reese had an influence in this choice — after all, Reese headed the search committee — then I am willing to cut Smith some slack and wish him the best of luck.

At the same time, I’ve got some suggestions for Smith — a man whose roots are in radio — that his new agenda at the NAB should embrace.

There is no time for business as usual.

I know. I know.

Associations are all about maintaining the status quo and protecting the shortsighted members for whom the CEO works.

But if Gordon Smith chooses that road, there will be no NAB in the next ten years and if one remains, it will be one that has been rendered powerless.

So here are seven suggestions as to how the new NAB CEO can save the radio industry and with the NAB’s Radio Show this week, now couldn’t be a better time to have a public discussion on priorities.

1. Negotiate with the record labels to gain advantageous rates for any terrestrial radio station doing new media projects

My friends in the music industry are having radio for lunch. They are just better at lobbying, better than radio at rallying the cause for more royalties. The RIAA and MusicFirst Coalition have already offered to work on a compromise with the new NAB head.

Look, I will always believe that radio deserves a free pass when it comes to the performance tax exemption because it has given the labels a free ride in publicity from which to sell its products.

But … that is increasingly looking like a lost cause.

A growing segment of the public doesn’t back radio’s position. Even though the NAB has been able to hold a slim lead in arm twisting among Congressional representatives, it’s about even with members of Congress backing the performers demand for repeal of radio’s exemption.

If Gordon Smith decides to fight until the last person is standing on this issue, it will be like Custer’s Last Stand. Radio is going to lose the battle over more royalties, sad to say, so it’s time to negotiate for a sweet deal before the industry only gets to pay more tax. That is, if you agree with me that royalties are coming to a radio station near you, then get something back in return.


Low, long-term and very favorable rates for terrestrial broadcasters who want to start new content streams on the Internet — rates separate and apart from other interests. This is one of the places radio operators will have to go for their future and now is a good time to nail down low rates and favorable conditions that will give broadcasters an edge over other competitors in that space.

2. Build strength through small operators

Past NAB CEOs have kissed the butts of the “big boys” for too long.

Look around, the “big boy”s are going down. Radio may very well be redistributed to smaller operators who want to make a last ditch try at terrestrial radio and new media together as a business brand. What a great time for the NAB to embrace the needs and concerns of these small or medium operators who are going to have to mop up the mess Clear Channel, Citadel, Cumulus and some predecessors have left for them.

3. Encourage small ownership

The future of radio — if there is to be one — is in smaller companies doing local radio well — and whether they know it or not — also doing original content as webcasters, mobile content providers and social network engineers.

Gordon Smith should lobby his former associates in Congress in whatever way would be helpful to give a break to small and medium operators stepping in to save radio. This means tax breaks (I’m sounding like a Republican) and government oversight but not heavy regulation (I’m sounding like a Democrat).

Loans for locals looking to preserve local broadcasting in smaller markets.

4. Do not oppose some deregulation

I can just see this scenario coming — the first Smith press release from the NAB trying to fight deregulation.

Consolidation as it was implemented was wrong and didn’t work.

But if the NAB comes out in favor of the status quo (which is likely), it will not be cooperating with the inevitable which is that either radio stations wind up in the hands of smaller local groups with some responsible oversight or it won’t last the way it is configured now.

What we have now is unacceptable and if the NAB espouses that, the NAB will be unacceptable.

5. Fight against the so-called Fairness Doctrine

No Fairness Doctrine — not now, not ever.

It won’t be needed if the NAB fights for local operators because these stations will guarantee that enough local voices will he heard on every issue.

This is non-negotiable as as tenet of our industry’s valued and hard fought freedom of speech.

I expect Gordon Smith to lead this fight for as long as it takes and keep in mind that freedom of speech is always under attack — unfortunately.

6. Get podcasting royalties that are favorable as podcasting is the next radio

Look around, no boom boxes — just iPods and mobile devices. The next radio will be podcasting and right now podcasters can’t even play music without going broke in a confusing set of rules pertaining to music on podcasts.

If podcasting is to be a key element of radio’s future, now is the time to lead the fight for fair, low and long-term rates to kick start the industry.

7. Pitch a big tent to become the National Association of Broadcasters and Content Providers

There are 80 million new listeners coming of age in the next generation. It’s fair to say they are not big radio listeners — they are mobile phone users, iPod owners and social networking devotees. Radio is morphing into other things and this is as good a time as any to welcome in new media to create one strong association for like-minded media interests.

If you feel as I do that the appointment of Gordon Smith is a good time to reset the agenda for the interests of the real radio industry and not just more of the same for consolidators, then feel free to forward this piece to your friends and associates.

And make these and other priorities known to the new NAB — after all, it’s your trade group. Why not show them who the boss is?

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