West Oakland residents filled a room in the Willie Keys Community Center to standing room capacity Thursday night, March 19, to voice frustration over violence on their streets.
The scheduled bi-monthly meeting of the Neighborhood Crime Prevention Council, Beat 7x, turned into a reaction to the death of third-generation West Oaklander Chyemil Pierce on March 9. Pierce was killed by a stray bullet while trying to usher her children to safety. A photo of Pierce was on display.
Much of the back-and-forth between those in attendance and the Oakland Police officials focused on response time and consistency with community policing efforts. At one point Oakland Police Chief Sean Whent tried to explain over rising complaints from the audience that dispatch decisions are not about sending an officer with nothing to do, but taking an officer from one call to go to another.
As if to illustrate the point midway through the meeting, five Oakland police officers in attendance rushed out to a shooting on 40th street, the border between West Oakland and Emeryville.
Whent said issues of response time and dispatch decisions that have drawn criticism since the shooting are under constant need of improvement.
“Answering 911 calls and sending officers out to the scene is our number one complaint citywide,” he said. “We are nowhere near where we should be. I’d be the first to admit it.”
Oakland police did offer solutions. Four of the people involved in the shooting that killed Pierce had been arrested. The crime house where the shooting had taken place had been cleared out. And three problem areas, including the 800 block of Mead, 32nd and San Pablo, and 34th and Peralta, would be addressed in future Neighborhood Crime Prevention Council meetings.
Police are forming a committee, including civilian neighbors, to change the St. Andrews Plaza at 32nd and San Pablo. Police Capt. Drennon Lindsey said the area needed environmental changes.
“We are seeking long-lasting solutions so we don’t have to deal with the same reoccurring problems,” Lindsey said.
Residents weren’t impressed. They want more police walking the streets who stick around longer on the beat. They want dispatchers sending police before shots are fired. The police, many insisted, don’t know the area, the crime, the drug trade and the criminals like they did.
“I’m beyond frustrated… It’s the same thing over and over,” Doug Taylor said, while another, Sennix Sams, shouted virtually identical words addressing Oakland police officials.
“Same thing. Same people. Same corner,” Sams shouted, despite appeals to keep civil.
Applause broke out.
“It’s just dumb luck my neighbors haven’t been killed like [Chyemil Pierce] was,” Thomas said.
Whent said the department would work to ensure the institutional knowledge would be better passed from those working the beat to new officers being assigned. He also said funding from newly passed Measure Z could provide more officers patrolling on foot and on bikes, which helps make them more accessible to the community.
“This helps build these relationships, which is certainly the cornerstone of community policing,” Whent said.
Tempers continued to rise, however. Moderator Natalie Thomas, chair of the NCPC, had her hands full keeping the meeting in order. She worked the room to calm tempers, even rubbing the shoulders of Sams when he grew so irate he rose and yelled across the room. Others, frustrated that questions were pre-arranged, shouted from the back.
“Nobody knows what’s going on,” one resident shouted about the police officers, dispatch and others tasked with keeping the neighborhood safe.
Councilwoman Lynette Gibson rose to spoke at the height of verbal jarring.
“I want to recognize there is a lot of pain,” she said, reminding her constituents that she entered office highly critical of Oakland police. “There is room to be critical.”
She also reminded them that these meetings must lead to solutions that will be both long-term and short.
“I am a West Oakland mother,” she said, citing her children and grandchildren live in the same community. “Let’s get that very clear. This is not esoteric for any one of us in this room because we are all aware it could have been one of our children.”
West Oakland Street Outreach worker Victor Pouncil, out walking the streets on his usual beat, attended the meeting. Street Outreach Team Leader Akil Truso encouraged people to reach out to those involved in crime on their streets.
“You have to deal with the street outreach team so we can help build a relationship with the guys you are complaining about,” Truso said.
Amid the growing emotional outbursts and overspilling frustration, Thomas urged the audience to rise in a show of support and a willingness to volunteer to help with genuine solutions. Nearly everyone rose.
“I hear you all acting as if there is no hope,” Truso said. “I’m stitting here. That’s me out there for 20 years. If I can stop doing it, then so can they.”