Seneca Scott speaking at a mayoral candidates forum at Laney College. Credit: Amir Aziz

Oakland mayoral candidate Seneca Scott was arrested last year near a community garden he co-founded in West Oakland for allegedly brandishing a firearm at two people, according to police records.

Just after 10 p.m. on Oct. 30, 2021, Oakland police officers were flagged down by a man at the corner of Peralta and 8th streets in West Oakland. The man told the officers that he and another person had been “confronted” on the sidewalk by a third person, Scott, who had brandished a handgun at them, according to a police report.

The officers made contact with Scott and noticed the handle of a firearm sticking out of his vest pocket. The officers arrested him for carrying a concealed gun and exhibiting the weapon in a threatening manner.

Scott faces these charges while campaigning on the need to improve public safety in Oakland. At recent mayoral forums, Scott has said that the city’s crime rate is at unacceptable levels and that the police are failing to respond to 911 calls in a timely manner. In public and on social media he’s faulted the city’s leadership for not giving OPD enough resources, and he’s called for the city to grow OPD’s ranks to 900 officers from the existing 683. Along the way, he’s gained endorsement from pro-police groups like the Coalition for Better Oakland.

Following the arrest, the Alameda County District Attorney filed charges against Scott in December 2021 for carrying a concealed firearm in a vehicle and on his person and brandishing the weapon, all misdemeanors. The charges are still pending, and Scott is scheduled to appear in court in November.

When contacted by The Oaklandside today, Scott provided the following written statement:

Early evening on October 30, 2021, just hours after one of my immediate neighbors was shot in the face in his home while holding his infant, and still processing those emotions, I had received a report that two men were inside our community garden attempting to steal our water heater. I went to the garden and cautiously approached them. 

When I demanded they return our property, one of them brandished a large knife at me. In response to this threat, I revealed a firearm. At that very moment an OPD officer happened to be driving by. The officer was flagged down, and the man who pulled the knife fled the scene with our stolen property before the officers could stop him. Consequently I received two misdemeanor gun charges.

My experience on Oct 30, 2021 is one of the reasons I decided to run for mayor and completely integral to our campaign’s message. Far too many Oakland neighbors fear for their safety on a daily basis. As a city we must overcome our monumental crises of violent crime and lawlessness.

Due to my role as a community organizer, I am besieged by neighbors with horror stories of being violently assaulted and robbed. Currently in Oakland, the average 911 response time is 18.5 minutes. 20 percent of the time, no one picks up the phone. This is the devastating result of the 2021-2022 budget cuts led by the City Council that froze (essentially cut) 48 positions in response to 911 calls. Many of our neighbors are frightened to leave their own homes after dark. This is an unacceptable state of affairs to inflict on our neighbors and businesses.

I am running for mayor because no one should have to risk their lives and freedom protecting themselves to be safe in their own neighborhoods. We must be able to rely on our public safety officers to deter crime and enforce the law, so that I and other neighbors do not feel the weight of violence day in and day out. I am running for mayor to restore accountability and trust in our city to protect our citizens’ safety and wellbeing. We deserve better.

The Oaklandside was unable to independently verify Scott’s statement that someone brandished a knife at him or that property was stolen from the garden. OPD didn’t respond to a request for more information about the incident before publication of this story. We’ll continue to report on this issue and will update this story if we learn more.

So far in 2022, there have been 82 homicides in Oakland, nearly the same level as this same time last year, which was Oakland’s deadliest year since 2006. There have been 320 firearms assaults and just over 1,800 robberies this year. Oakland police have urged the public not to try to take matters into their own hands by arming themselves.

A co-founder of local entertainment company OakHella, which distanced itself from Scott this past weekend, and co-founder of Bottoms Up community garden, which is where the alleged incident with the gun occurred, Scott ran for the District 3 City Council seat in 2020 and came in third with 7% of the vote. 

During that campaign, he told The Oaklandside he felt OPD’s budget was too “bloated” and that some neighborhoods are over-policed, but he also said he feels there isn’t enough enforcement of laws in the city.

Last year, he founded Neighbors Together Oakland, a nonprofit describing itself as “a post-partisan organization of solutionaries who are active in being the change we want to see in our world,” which filed a lawsuit against the city to try to force it to carry out its Encampment Management Policy, which determines how services are provided to homeless camps while also banning camping in most parts of Oakland.

Another mayoral candidate, Peter Liu, was also arrested in 2021

Scott isn’t the only mayoral candidate who has been recently arrested on a firearms charge.

In January 2021, Peter Liu, who recently made antisemitic comments in a mass email, was arrested in San Lorenzo by Alameda County sheriff’s deputies for allegedly carrying a loaded 9mm pistol. 

According to a sheriff’s report, Liu called 911 and complained that there were trespassers on property he said he owned. When the deputies arrived, two people on the property said Liu had pointed the gun at them and an infant child in a stroller. The deputies arrested Liu and booked him into jail.

A search of court records shows that the district attorney did not file charges against Liu, who in past campaigns for mayor has advocated that concealed carry gun permits be allowed for Oakland residents. 

Liu wrote about the incident in one of the emails he recently sent to dozens of journalists and other mayoral candidates:

“My gun, Glock19, was taken away by Alameda County Sheriff in 2020. A bunch of squatters broke into a commercial building I own in San Lorenzo, not the commercial building I own in Oakland. This was night time, I held multiple squatters at gunpoint, called 911. One of the squatters had a baby in a crib and the rest of the squatters accused me of child endangerment and the Alameda County Sheriff claimed they can’t verify me to be owner at the time and told me they have to take someone into jail and they’ve decided to take me instead for child endangerment. To make story short, a few days later, my wife got multiple squatters arrested with evidence of the deed, I was release from Santa Rita jail with no charges. The Alameda County Sheriff still owes me an apology.”

The Oaklandside ran a search of court records related to all current candidates for Oakland mayor. We did not find any criminal cases involving any other candidates running for mayor this year.

Before joining The Oaklandside as News Editor, Darwin BondGraham was a freelance investigative reporter covering police and prosecutorial misconduct. He has reported on gun violence for The Guardian and was a staff writer for the East Bay Express. He holds a doctorate in sociology from UC Santa Barbara and was the co-recipient of the George Polk Award for local reporting in 2017. He is also the co-author of The Riders Come Out at Night, a book examining the Oakland Police Department's history of corruption and reform.