Oakland, Calif. - Lake Merritt has been a culture mecca in the Bay Area for decades. But increased crowds during the COVID-19 pandemic has caused the city to make a change.
"Just the weight of law enforcement and the fear of black and brown people and people were leaving and cops were being rude to people," said Anti Police-Terror Project Co-founder, Cat Brooks.
At the beginning of April, the city put additional safety measures, including heightened police presence, in place to address the impacts of large crowds on the lake.
The city is also cracking down on parking, noise, and vendors, who are no longer permitted on the lake.
"Last year around this time, because of the pandemic, I was actually homeless but now I’m out here and I’m lucrative," said Lake Merritt Vendor, D Sabir.
Sabir sells healing stones on the lake and says many vendors depend on work at the lake to feed their families. She says Lake Merritt has always drawn a crowd.
"The lake been poppin since the 90s, the 80s," Sabir said. "My parents came out to the lake and was doing everything and it was way more crowded than this."
"Since the pandemic things have really gotten crazy and gotten out of hand," says Melissa Edgar.
Edgar has lived near the lake for nine years and says she's always welcomed the Lake Merritt culture, up until recently.
She said she believed that the city didn't take action during the pandemic because of the social issues in the community at the time and fear of appearing biased.
"What that did was create what people are calling "the no po-po zone," Edgar said.
But, Brooks says adding police presence to the lake is a problem and reminds her of this 2018 incident, where a white woman called the police on a black family for barbecuing.
"So it’s been this two year battle and what I would say to people who feel like the only answer is the police is how are you going to feel when someone ends up dead," said Brooks.
Brooks says there's a number of things that could've been done instead of putting restriction on the lake in effect.
She says the city could have invested in The Black Solidarity Market, doubled down on the community ambassadors program already in place in Chinatown, or even hire people to pick up the trash.
"The city needs to make it clear that there is a zero tolerance for harassment," Brooks said.
Brooks says she's working with Councilmember Niki Fortunato Bas to address the increased police presence and help street vendors.
Brooks says that APTP is offering support to community members. If you experience harassment, intimidation, threats or harm due to the increase in policing at the lake, you can email APTP at email@example.com.