The massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut has opened a new national dialogue about guns and gun violence. In Oakland, where a recent violent crime surge has residents anxious, a group of committed demonstrators are pleading to be heard by the police, policymakers, and their own community.

Oakland residents at a SAVE coalition rally chant to honor a man killed at this intersection last fall. Photo credit: Ingrid Becker
Oakland residents at a SAVE coalition rally chant to honor a man killed at this intersection last fall. (Ingrid Becker/KQED)

“Somebody died here, we need to care! Somebody died here, we need to care!” was the cry rippling through a busy intersection near Oakland’s Lake Merritt on a recent chilly January morning. A dozen people spread out along East 18th Street and Park Boulevard, holding signs that read “Peace on the Streets.” They passed out flyers and postcards to anyone who would take them. The few drivers who bothered to roll down a window got a card imploring them to “say something about the murder of our youth, the suffering of our families.”

One of the demonstrators was Teresa Butler, who helped organize this coalition of residents concerned about the city’s deadly violence after her 18- year-old godson was killed by a stray bullet. The group is affiliated with the local church True Vine Ministries and goes by the name SAVE, which stands for Soldiers Against Violence Everywhere.

“We have to be soldiers, the way these people come out every week, in cold and rain,” Butler said. “Every week, diligent–to me that’s a soldier.”

Every Saturday they gather at the site of a recent murder to chant and pray. They’ve been at it for two years, in hopes of jolting a community exhausted by violence.

The new year has barely begun, and a half dozen more people are dead. In December, an Oakland grandmother was killed when gunfire erupted as she was walking home from a store. About two weeks later, a 15-year-old girl was fatally shot as she walked to a transit station. True Vine Ministries’ pastor Zachary Carey said with more than 550 murders in the last five years, Oakland’s residents are living in a war zone.

“Our numbers are just so out of proportion that it’s unimaginable the homicides and the depression that people are feeling in these communities,” he said. “It’s alarming that we’ve seen such silence from the community, the community leaders and the local and state politicians.”

Oakland city leaders have vowed to address the recent crime surge in new ways. Amid budget cutbacks to the Oakland police force, they’ve hired former Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton as a consultant. Pastor Carey and his church have been asked to take a leadership role in lobbying for a new bill by Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, AB 48, which would limit ammunition sales. But Carey said he believes nothing will change as long as people see deadly violence in Oakland as a local problem.

“When you hear about violence in America on the news, the tagline associated with it is gang-related,” Carey said. “Then if you’re living in Montclair, Piedmont, Walnut Creek then you’re like, ‘I’m not involved in a gang, that’ll never happen to me.’ But the reality is people that are being murdered now are not gang-related, they’re innocent bystanders, they’re collateral damage. So if they can be collateral damage, guess what, so can you and I.”

HOPING TO BE HEARD

SAVE coalition's call to rally in memory of Clifford Snead, who was murdered in October. Photo courtesy: SAVE.
SAVE coalition’s call to rally in memory of Clifford Snead, who was murdered in October. (Photo courtesy: SAVE.)The group gathered a few weeks ago, chanting for 27-year-old Clifford Snead, who was shot dead nearby shortly after getting off a bus in October:

The group gathered a few weeks ago to chant for 27-year-old Clifford Snead, who was shot dead nearby shortly after getting off a bus in October:

“Clifford died here, we need to care! Clifford died here, we need to care!”

“I think it makes a lot of difference that somebody cares,” Butler said. “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 people out here will not let your loved one’s death be gone in vain.”

Snead’s grandmother Nolla Beasley, was at the rally. She said she was touched. “I thank ‘em for this, I like this, at least it makes the community aware.”

Beasley said Snead, who was the father of a young son, had recently left a telemarketing job to try to get something better-paying in construction. “Two days after he passed, the construction job called. I couldn’t do nothing but cry.”

Beasley has lived in West Oakland since the 1950s. She said her neighborhood has seen so much violence that in the last 10 years she’s taken to keeping to her home with the doors locked after 6 p.m.

“I’m kind of leery just driving down the streets [wondering] who’s pulling up beside me,” she said. “It’s like I’m scared of the people.”

As the group gets going on a new chant, SAVE organizer Teresa Butler peered at a spreadsheet to see who they’ll be remembering next Saturday. “We’re already three months behind,” she said.

Butler said rallies for the six people who were murdered in the first few weeks of January aren’t even on her schedule yet. She said her group can’t keep up with the homicides. Still, they won’t give up.

“We have to do something,” Butler said. “We have to do something.”

Listen to the audio from The California Report:

  • http://www.facebook.com/lupita.gonzales.77715 Lupita Gonzales

    We need to get rid of all guns, not just assault rifles. It’s like we are living in the wild west.

    • Ran Den

      So that way only the criminals have guns? How stupid can you be?

    • josiah

      Lupita, that is tyranny. How would we get rid of guns anyways? By using guns to enforce, thats how. So in the end, it would be worse because there would be a civil uprising. What is needed in Oakland is: #1 Better leadership. #2 Better and more police. #3 A strong program that gets to kids when they are young, stays with them, and keeps them out of gangs. #4 A serious chase down of all gang leaders and make examples out of them. #5 clean clean clean the city. That means paint over all graffiti, rebuild the sidewalks, repaint, clean up the parks, put in new grass…etc.. “Getting rid of guns” is both impossible in this country unless enforced by deadly means and does not solve anything.

    • Alyssa

      Your sentiment is heard, though, Lupita. I know it seems that the guns are to blame–and, it’s true, they are. But so much injustice needs to happen in an individual’s life before he or she acquires a gun to commit violence. And while I don’t agree with the other commentators attack of your comment, the problem is systemic; it has a lot less to do with guns and is a lot more to do with poverty, desperation and institutionalized racism.

  • halligator

    Don’t expect the police to stop harassing minorities long enough to help. OPD says ” The judges are all a bunch of idiots,they believe anything we say.”

  • AlgorithmicAnalyst

    Reducing the mobility of criminals is the key factor. If the criminal element can’t leave their houses, they can’t be outside, robbing people in the streets.

    Strict enforcement of traffic safety laws is one way to do that, getting the criminals out of their vehicles.

    Stop and frisk is another way, to stop criminals from operating on foot.

    Both policies need to be implemented in a way that doesn’t reduce public support for the police. Allowing police to be lenient with people who aren’t a threat to public safety is one important factor to be considered.

    Curfews help also, by reducing the mobility of criminals at night.

    Saturation patrols also help. There is a curious perceptual effect that police patrols have. As long as the memory of having seen a police patrol in the area remains in the brain, there is a noticeable reduction of bad behavior, including bad driving behavior, as the memory of the recent patrol continues to be subconsciously projected outwards, even when the police are no longer around. But the more time passes without a police patrol going through the area, the worse bad driving (and other behavior) becomes.

    Various other already known best practices for reducing crime include shot spotter, surveillance cameras, DNA collection and testing, police anti-gang programs, electronic monitoring, using license plate and facial recognition software, etc.

  • johnny

    I find it sad that people in Oakland (specifically African-Americans) are murdered every other day by guns and no one says a word. But when white kids at schools are murdered, every politician and person wants to ban weapons. Kind of racist in my mind. If I lived in Oakland I would purchase an assault weapon ASAP. Good luck Oakland. The cops will not protect you.

  • Nick

    The problem I have with these demonstrations and “public cries for action” is that they’re non-descriptive and don’t actually call for any form of concrete action. The chants of “we need to care” and “we have to do something” are nice but don’t actually mean anything. If and when communities actually want to respond to injustices, there has to be a level of analysis of the power structures and an understanding of who yields leverage and power for change. Otherwise, these demonstrations are just illusions and are actually disempowering because community members see the demonstrations but no results and the participants also continue to demonstrate but see no results and will eventually stop.

    The desire for change much reach a critical mass where people not only demand economic and political investment of capital but are also self critical and take ownership of their actions. That could mean things like not only demanding more funds for schools but also community members holding themselves accountable and making sure kids stay in school. This could also mean a demand for jobs but also ingenuity and entrepreneurship that meet the needs of the people (ie. urban farms that are low-cost but high yield).

    No one pays attention to cities like Oakland because no one takes these kinds of demonstrations seriously. People believe that residents themselves are passive in the violence and crime. And it’s hard to find them at fault when these demonstrations have 12 people and make noise without concrete action steps.

    I love Oakland and hope things improve but we can’t just “hope” that things will get better. The simple complexities of economics of labor and disinvestment in education need to be understood before any hope can be actualized.

  • Easy-D

    Well I think people are trying to work more now then ever. People are careing and free spirited. But guns are not the problem its the person behind them. Take away guns we get death by a bow… Take the bow death by sword. Take the sword get the rope. Points here is good and evil. Some people need to get your comunities together and rise above evil. Im from AZ phoenix I think gun are stupid but I carry one. Every where I can. Not just to protect me but the people im around as well.
    Thanks for the time.

Author

Mina Kim

Mina Kim is evening anchor and reporter for KQED News and Friday host of Forum. Mina got hooked on public radio in 2004, during a brief fellowship with KQED's Pacific Time, which is no longer in production. She became KQED's general assignment reporter in 2010, health reporter for The California Report in 2012, and KQED News' anchor a year later. She was named Friday Forum host in 2014.

Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor