Oakland was recently identified by the FBI as one of the most dangerous cities in America, but its residents are taking charge by raising awareness to reduce the violence in their city through citizen activism.
The faith-based organization Soldiers Against Violence Everywhere (SAVE) is a group of activists whose mission is to bring awareness to the shootings and killings in Oakland. They want people to know what is happening in their city by rallying support for gun safety.
"Somebody died here, we need to care!" was the cry as 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. Drivers who slowed to hear their message got a card imploring them to "say something about the murder of our youth, the suffering of our families," according to recent KQED report.
Oakland residents feel like they are living in war zone, and walking the streets can be deadly. This year there have already been six killings. In December, a 15-year-old girl was fatally shot while walking to the transit station, and a week before a grandmother was killed when shooting erupted as she was walking home from a store.
There have been 550 murders in the last five years in Oakland, and residents are pleading with the city leaders to address the crime surge. The Oakland Police Department hired former Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton as a consultant in a move to create new avenues to reduce crime. A pastor from a local church, Zachary Carey, has been invited to lobby for a new state bill by Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner that would limit ammunition sales. Carey is not optimistic and believes gun violence is more than just a local problem.
Some who live in safer cities with less violence don’t believe the kind of crime that happens in Oakland could happen in their city.
By Jan. 4 there had already been 11 people shot and four killed, and reports in the news media called it “another bloody weekend in Oakland.” District 4 Councilwoman Libby Schaff and Oakland Vice Mayor Larry Reid called on the city to declare a state of emergency.
Oakland Police Chief Howard Jordan blames the rise in violence on street gangs. His department has created a 100 Blocks crime-fighting plan, in which the city is concentrating resources on a small area that Jordan says accounts for 90 percent of the violence.
In another report, the San Francisco Chronicle analyzed the rise in Bay Area homicides in 2012, noting the increase “was driven almost entirely by the region's three largest cities, San Jose, San Francisco and Oakland, where killings rose 52 percent in two years.”
The gun violence in Oakland has not reached the level of Chicago. Still, Oakland residents continue to mobilize local efforts through demonstrations and rallies to reclaim their neighborhoods and make walking the streets of Oakland safe.
Citizen groups recognize gun violence is a national problem, and gun-related crimes in Oakland reflect the larger issue nationwide. And until gun violence is addressed on all levels government and supported by the majority of Americans, change will continue to be incremental and unsustainable.
Dr. Garen Wintemute, who as director of the UC Davis Violence Prevention Research Program has spent 30 years researching violence in America, laid out his recommendations for violence prevention in an interview with the Sacramento Bee. His recommendations include banning all assault weapons; denying firearms to individuals with a domestic violence misdemeanor; and universal background checks on all gun sales, including those done between private individuals.
He also suggests that people with a history of alcohol abuse be denied gun ownership, which would have a difficult time finding support on a state and national level. Creating the criteria for defining “alcohol abuse” would have to include a criminal charge. Opponents might say also this would prevent people who have alcohol problems from seeking help. Indeed, the proposal is radical but deserves consideration.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) proposes in her gun legislation that current owners of assault weapons be allowed to keep them, but that gun manufacture and sales for and to civilians stop when the new law is passed. Dr. Wintemute believes this is not enough, and when Australia banned all assault weapons and sponsored a buy-back 700,000 assault weapons were taken off the streets, gun violence decreased significantly.
Whether the gun violence is in Oakland, Chicago, or Newtown, Conn., the loss of a life is no more or less precious. Stopping gun violence is a national concern, and activists like those in Oakland are moving to take back the streets and restore safety.