Over a hundred mourners held candles and prayed under a west Oakland freeway underpass Wednesday morning, where Antonio Ramos was shot and killed while painting a mural the day before.
“It’s a shocking moment. It's disbelief,” said Javier Rocabado, who designed the mural. “I saw my friend standing up and getting shot and next thing he’s on the floor dying for nothing.”
Before the shooting around 10:30am Tuesday, there were unconfirmed reports of an argument, after which an unknown assailant shot 27-year-old Ramos. The Emeryville resident later died at the hospital.
The mural’s project director David Burke was present at the time of the shooting, but says he saw nothing and only heard a gunshot.
“As muralists, when you go out in the community, you are totally exposed, your backs are to the street and you are about 3 or 4 inches from the wall. And it’s difficult to keep track of who’s around and you know to always be scanning and looking. But we were all working, and it happened in a moment. There was no time to react,” said Burke.
One ironic aspect of the incident is that the Oakland Superheroes Mural Project was itself a means to mitigate violence in the neighborhood, in this case working with students at West Oakland Middle School.
“The students go through a process where they learn about themselves, their strengths their weaknesses and think about what issues there are in the community that they want change,” said Justin Metoyer Mullon, who primed the wall two weeks ago to begin the painting process.
“They recreate themselves as a superhero character who addresses these issues in a non-traditional superhero way, in a non-violent way.”
“The premise of these projects is to promote peace and live in our communities. To actually break the cycle of violence that we witnessed first-hand yesterday morning. That is why we are out here in the first place doing this work,” explained Burke.
Bridget Chavis, who previously lived in the same Emeryville building as the Ramos family, called Antonio “a very young talented man at a young age,” who “loved skateboarding and artwork.”
“He had a heart and he helped out and he just was there for people. If you needed help, Tony was there,” said Chavis.
Chavis’ son David Burch called Ramos “a little brother.”
“I remember there was a time I was actually going to do a paper for one of my classes on him, as an artist…another great young man was taken yesterday,” said Burch.
“The value of life has gone down” said Marcus Norris, who has known Ramos since childhood. “People are ignorant. Instead of being able to conversate or talk like adults, or duke it out like men, they have to grab a gun like a child and not know what the f--k they’re doing with it.”
Oakland police said that as of Wednesday, the investigation was still ongoing and no arrests had been made.
City councilman Dan Kalb, whose district abuts the freeway underpass where the shooting took place, attended the vigil.
While Kalb said “There’s no magic solution to 100 percent eliminate violent crime in any city,” he added that there are ways to “dramatically reduce it.”
“We need more police officers, more investments in crime prevention programs, more after school programs, re-entry programs, job training. Those all have to be part of the solution.”
Chavis has since moved to Berkeley and says she believes “gangs are coming on the rise again” in the West Oakland neighborhood where the shooting took place. Her son has lost five friends in the last couple of years -- four to gun violence.
“Only thing I can tell him is just be aware, and if someone wants to be confrontational just walk away," said Chavis. "Run in fact and don’t engage into it.”
This mural was the third in a series of six that are planned. Burke said Ramos started out as a volunteer when they were painting the first one back in 2012.
“We were out there working on the first day and Antonio just walked up and said ‘Hey, I love what you guys are doing, I want to be a part of it.’ And he just started volunteering his time. And he just showed up every day and that was the beginning.”
This time around, the Attitudinal Healing Connection (ACH) hired Ramos as an assistant to help paint the mural. Ramos last contribution was a purple house, one of several local homes recreated for the mural.
“He was special,” said ACH Executive Director Amana Harris. “We don’t take on every volunteer that shows up… He showed up 100 percent and he had the skills and the talent and he lived in the community. He was a team player, he had a lot of love in his heart, he loved to paint. There’s a million and one reasons why he was a good fit.”
“He had a future. He was doing a community service in his own community, in his own neighborhood,” said Rocabado.
Project staff say the mural will be completed with Ramos’ image incorporated into it, and it will be dedicated to the fallen artist.
“It's personal now,” said Harris. “This is such a tragedy that we are committed to turn into fuel that will progress this project immensely and spread a message of intolerance for these types of incidents for anyone.”