Neighbors gather at a block party in North Oakland as a part of last year's National Night Out festivities. Credit: City of Oakland's Neighborhood Services division

Oakland will once again be participating in the annual National Night Out on August 2, an event that allows residents to host a block party in their neighborhood without a permit. Founded in Philadelphia in 1984, The National Night Out campaign typically serves as an opportunity for local police to visit and speak with neighbors about community issues. 

The theme of this year’s event in Oakland is “311”—a reference to the municipal information and resources hotline that can serve as an alternative to 911 for some non-violent emergencies. 

Joe DeVries, a deputy city administrator, said Oakland is placing an emphasis on city staff from various departments engaging with neighbors. The 311 theme is an extension of Oakland’s ongoing effort to reimagine public safety, he said. Part of that effort included moving Neighborhood Services, a city agency that helps solve public safety problems, out of OPD and into the city administrator’s office. 

“Community policing and community safety and neighborhood involvement is something that goes way beyond the police department,” DeVries said. “If you have a problem in your neighborhood, it’s probably not going to be solved by the police department, it’s going to be solved by human services, or public works, or the department of transportation.” 

City officials and fire department and police personnel are planning on attending some block parties and passing out informational pamphlets related to 311.

The only requirement to block off a street and host a block party on Aug 3 is to register the gathering using the city’s online portal. The city doesn’t offer funding to help host block parties, but hosts will be given a still-undetermined gift.

Neighborhood Councils usually host National Night Out parties in Oakland, though DeVries hopes that other residents will feel inclined to also host a gathering this year. “You don’t need to be a block captain, you don’t need any special training, you just need to want to get to know your neighbors and make your neighborhood better,” DeVries said. 

While this year’s event is attempting to de-emphasize the policing aspect of National Night out, the Ella Baker Center has been hosting its own alternative annual block party since 2013. Dubbed the “Night Out for Safety and Liberation,” Ella Baker Center promotes neighborhood parties—without the police—so residents can hold discussions about what safety means to them. The event was created in recognition of the fact that while many communities of color suffer from high crime rates, they also have been harmed by over-policing and racial profiling. Individuals interested in this alternative can register here.

Although Ella Baker Center’s event was launched as an alternative to the official National Night Out, DeVries believes both events share a similar ethos this year. 

“I think we’re aligned with the Ella Baker Center on that theme now,” he said. “I think it’s going to take time for those who have historically not wanted to participate because it seems more police-oriented. It’s going to take time to regain the trust of those communities.” 

Correction: The original version of this story stated that National Night Out was occuring on August 3. It is being held in Oakland on August 2.

Ricky Rodas is a member of the 2020 graduating class of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. Before joining The Oaklandside, he spent two years reporting on immigrant communities in the Bay Area as a reporter for the local news sites Oakland North, Mission Local, and Richmond Confidential. Rodas, who is Salvadoran American and bilingual, is on The Oaklandside team through a partnership with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues and communities.