Last weekend was an especially violent one, even for Oakland. On Friday, four people were killed, and over the rest of the weekend, 11 people were shot, though not fatally. There were 126 homicides [PDF] in Oakland last year, cementing the city's distinction as one of California's more violent urban centers. Oakland certainly doesn't have a lock on gun violence. Other cities like Stockton are struggling, too. But the situation in Oakland has been going on for some time now, and locals are giving a lot of thought to what it means to live under the constant threat of violence.
As part of KQED's occasional series, "What's Your Story," Oakland native Caheri Gutierrez (pronounced "Carrie") shares her story about working with at-risk high schools students after she herself was shot in the face as a teenager. Guiterrez is a Violence Prevention Educator for Youth Alive, an Oakland non-profit with a mission to prevent youth violence. Below are excerpts of my conversation with her:
"I was just in the car and all of a sudden I started to feel like I was getting electrified. It was really intense shocks from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet. The guy that was driving, my friend, starts screaming that he’s been shot.
I reached over to him to try to help his hand and that’s when he looked at me, and he was like, ‘Oh my God, Caheri. It’s you. They shot you. They shot you.’ I touched my face and my hand just went inside of my face.
Five days later, I wake up at Highland Hospital and my hands are tied to the hospital bed. I have tubes coming in and out of my nose and out of my mouth. It was hard.
Some of my family members are, you know, gang-related, and so is my brother. And I remember my uncle asking my brother, ‘Who did it? Where are they from? What are we going to do? Are we going to get them?’And things like that. I couldn’t talk but I was just like, ‘NO. This cannot happen to anybody else.’
While I was at the hospital I was connected with an intervention specialist. Her name was Tammy Cloud. I got out of the hospital a month later. And Tammy comes to my house and she was like, ‘I think you should come to this program and talk to the high school students about getting shot and how you think about life now.’
Besides my personal story, I teach them a curriculum about violence. It makes me feel like I make a difference. It makes me feel very hopeful because I am a victim to the violence that happens in Oakland. And I’m one of the many victims. And when you talk to someone and you can give them an example of what can happen, I think they really soak that in and they think twice about hanging out with people who are gang-related, or even picking up a gun. Ever since then, honestly, I feel like getting shot happened for a reason."
Listen to Caheri Gutierrez's story:
You can also read Caheri Guiterrez's blog.