Oakland is a city with its share of struggles: crime, gun violence, under-performing schools. Kevin Grant is working to change that. He is a former Oakland gang member who now works against youth violence by literally taking to the streets. In his work with Oakland Unite, Grant intervenes in retaliatory violence and works to keep parolees from going back to jail. He was awarded the California Peace Prize last November. KQED’s Forum with Michael Krasny talked to Grant as part of its First Person series. Here are some highlights from the interview. Edited transcript …
Kevin Grant on the Availability of Guns:
If a hundred oak trees fell in Oakland, they would have federal dollars trying to find out what Rocky Mountain Spider Fever Tick was eating them. If a hundred spears of broccoli went bad, they’d trail it all the way back to the store it was sold at and the plantation it grew from and everything else. A hundred kids are dropping. We need to find out where these guns are coming from while we’re doing our thing, because without the tools, the kids would have to go back to what I grew up with: fighting, and that’s much safer and healthier than laying each other down with these long weapons.
[They’re] shooting 223’s—these are military style ammunition that they’re getting down with today … Somebody needs to put some dollars into trailing these guns, because these kids are buying guns on the street for amounts of dollars you wouldn’t believe, and that means that the supply is grand. [My] kids is getting… what they call “long things” for two, three hundred dollars off the street…
I was a black man, and when I was getting arrested in Oakland, every cop who arrested me was white, right? So I had that, and then I grew up in the system that helped feed that [concept of racism]. It wasn’t ‘What’d you do to get back here,’ it was, ‘Who arrested you?’ You know, ‘My parole agent.’ It was everybody else’s fault.
So then I had to—for me, this is what helped me—I had to start taking ownership… ‘Okay, but wait, maybe it was that pistol and me shooting at that dude, maybe it was that half a kilo of dope I had in my trunk when the police pulled me over…’
So what we do [is] we address the [level of racism] and let them know “A,” it’s a real problem, and it’s gonna affect you in this way. But let’s not feed a “B” into it so you end up getting caught up with a “C.” So we say a) racism and jobs and differentiating on all that stuff is real—yeah, we ain’t gonna fake that, but b), you don’t wanna add to that a parolee, another number, another this… so we push it there but don’t let them feed off it.
On Oakland Police Department Hiring Consultant Bill Bratton:
Okay, me and Oakland P.D., [HoJo], my guy— we have a gangster relationship; he lets me stay in my lane, and I let him do his thing. I don’t know [Bratton], right? I don’t know his history. I stay on the flatlands and keep my view, oftentimes, out of that atmosphere up there because really, honestly: a) I can’t do nothing about it, b) it ain’t none of my business as long as Jordan told me it’s not gonna affect what we’re doing… [Bratton’s] gonna eat well. I ain’t mad, I try and eat well too— so I ain’t mad at him for eating well, but I’m not gonna confuse what I gotta do with some politics.”
On Stopping the Cycle of Retaliation:
We’ve gotten good at stopping shootings two and three because shooting one has happened. And one of the things in Oakland and many other flatland communities like Oakland [is] there’s a retaliation factor that you can pretty much bank on with the youngsters.
So we are pretty successful, but there are times when a loved one will be like, ‘Kev, I respect what you do, and I always respect, but dude shot my sister. When I see him, I’m gonna do him.’ And so there’s times when the lay has been too fat for us to redirect it, but oftentimes we’re able to get in, and what we find is it’s very important to buy some time as their cooler heads prevail.
You can listen to the full interview here: