Besieged Oakland Residents Rally Against Gun Violence
by Ingrid Becker
Four more dead, 11 shot. That’s the grim tally coming out of another bloody weekend in Oakland. A tragedy of “epic proportions” is how District 4 Councilwoman Libby Schaaf characterized six killings that have rocked Oakland in the past week. And Vice Mayor Larry Reid is calling on the city to declare a state of emergency.
But Chief of Police Howard Jordan said that's unnecessary.
"We’ve been operating under a state of emergency already…we've asked for and received the same level of resources wed receive if we made a formal request. We've received assistance fro the Highway patrol,. We are seeking assistance from the sheriffs department," Jodan said at a press conference Monday afternoon.
One arrest has been made in the Friday killings, and police are looking for a second suspect, Jordan said.
Jordan blamed the spike in violence on a feud between two groups, which began last summer over the death of a young woman. Earlier this year the police department introduced the "100 block plan," where the city is concentrating resources on a small area that Jordan says accounts for 90 percent of violence.
While police, politicians and others grope for an effective response, some Oakland residents are mobilizing in an attempt to reclaim their neighborhoods.
On Saturday KQED health reporter Mina Kim and I met up with a group of concerned residents who call themselves Soldiers Against Violence Everywhere. A dozen men and women spread out on the four corners of E. 18th Street and Park Boulevard, about a mile from Lake Merritt, holding signs that read “Stop the Violence” and “Peace on the Streets.” They came to bear witness to a random shooting in late October that killed 27-year-old Clifford Mosby-Snead soon after he exited a transit bus.
The peace vigil was organized by members of True Vine Ministries and the SAVE coalition. The grassroots group is dedicated to building community partnerships and ending gun violence in Oakland, vowing to rally each week at a different location where a killing took place in order to raise awareness and support the surviving family members
For an hour, Saturday, they chanted, prayed and handed out leaflets to any passing car that would stop.
Members of the group said they were tired of the gun violence, calling it a public health crisis for the city and, in particular, its youth. “Say Something. Do Something” is their motto. In addition to lobbying for gun control and limits on ammunition, coalition members are also working to provide positive role models and programs through churches.
“It makes a lot of difference that somebody cares,” says SAVE organizer Teresa Butler. “We do care about your loss, we do, and we want you to rise above it, we want to make sure that you have hope, that there are people out here who will not let your loved one’s death be gone in vain, so we call out the names when we do this.”
Snead’s grandmother, 67-year-old Nolla Beasley, has been a resident of West Oakland since the 1950s. Attending the rally, she says she is heartbroken over the death of her grandson.
“Young [people] are getting guns,” Beasley told us. "It’s like [they’re] proving themselves by getting guns, and it’s just sad.”
Her own neighborhood has seen so much violence, she says, that neighbors no longer go out and mix as freely as they once did.
“So much violence is around and the shooting. When my grandson was walking I said, ‘Y’know, you can’t walk like you used to a long time ago.’”
Those rallying aren't the only ones who have violence on their minds. Just a few hours after the public meeting, a Vietnamese-born manicurist I’ve been chatting with for years confides in me that she is troubled and confused by what's going on. Last Friday, her father saw a man gunned down in East Oakland as he was walking to escort her daughter home from school.
This kind of gun violence is rare in her native country, she says, and experiencing it in the streets of Oakland is very hard to take.
Growing emotional, this refugee who works two jobs to make a better life for her family, says, “I love everything about this country except that.”