BY: Jelane Dugan
Lake Merritt, Oakland California Lake Merritt is now the black and brown micro economic marketplace in Oakland. Due to covid-19, black and brown people all in between spectrums are out of work and need income generating opportunities. Black and brown business owners and creators continue a long tradition of sale and trade with the Oakland community at Lake Merritt. However, oppressive activity from Oakland police and city officials has been recently dispatched at Lake Merritt in an effort to suppress the new economic growth for black and brown people. “The city of Oakland they come out and consistently harass us. When the police tell you to leave- now I can’t speak for anybody else – but I’m not gonna die tryna sell this. I’ll find another spot”. Sudan the curator sells jewelry at Lake Merritt and has gone through the full gambit of trying to freely operate a business with the city of Oakland. “They tell you that you can get a peddlers permit but after you get fingerprinted and everything you never actually get anything in the mail.” Oakland’s city officials have also rolled out a few impromptu restrictions spontaneously including permit regulations and hefty fines.
Nick Christian sells Ibada Tea at Lake Merritt. Hibiscus tea is his hot seller. “Police will take pictures while you set up which is harassment. Send tickets in the mail. They try and ticket you to death. Last Saturday the Fire Marshall, Police and Fire Department came and told everyone with no permit to leave. They thought that we would fear that but we came back the next day” David Ocasio, A Puerto Rican American who sells health and wellness, cancer fighter and anti-inflammatory products with cbd that are topical and consumable has been at the lake since Juneteenth. “They are here to scare us” “A lot of people get scared” The most obvious sign of oppression perpetrated by Oakland police and city government is the row of covid-19 related no parking signs along Lake Merritt’s lakeshore avenue accompanied by a barrier of orange cones that restricts any traffic from driving past the vendors. These unplanned impromptu measures have only been taken Oakland’s city government around the black micro economic business area and it has the vendors and the public confused. Just down the street the farmers market has no signage regarding covid-19 safety or social distancing. “A lot of people haven’t worked on the side across the street from Grand Lake Theatre. I have. I have seen how they set up and don’t social distance and don’t wear masks”. “They have a regular set up, there is not much 6 feet spacing being enforced. It’s the same as it was before covid. It’s not a superior covid friendly place.”-David Ocasio The farmers market seemed to have more problems than just that as there were vendors set up on public parking structures, in front of stores and even right under the freeway next to a wild pigeon habitat. It seems as though the vendors and community of Oakland have taken notice to the extreme prejudice exercised in the enforcement of impromptu oppressive policy by the Oakland Police and Oakland city government and are speaking up about it.
Meanwhile, Oakland’s mayor Libby Schaff has been hard on Lake Merritt vendors all but condemning her native creative black and brown micro economic start-ups and business owners. The mayor was recently interviewed on ABC 7 news bay area with her interview video next to local Oakland business vendors saying “What pisses me off is when out of towners come to our city and produce a harmful environment just to make a profit” –Libby Schaaff. The irony in Mayor Schaff’s statements has gained many Oakland community members attention as they have known Libby to welcome out of town businesses, land developers, and organizations to profit from Oakland’s community while removing or allowing the removal of some of Oakland’s historic entities like the Oakland Raiders. Residents will claim that customers and non-vending patrons of Lake Merritt have caused a disruption in their community. As Oakland deals with racial injustice, covid-19 and an overall ignorance to the plight of black and brown Americans, the amount of people looking for their necessities and vices has increased at Lake Merritt. In order to provide a safe environment vendors have separated booths eight to ten feet apart and provide hand sanitizer and in some cases masks. All in an effort to show that the Oakland lake Merritt vendors are a growing and responsible group of entrepreneurs.