Boston lost four in the marathon bombing. In the last four days, four people have been murdered in Oakland. No terrorism, no mass injuries, but still, four valuable lives lost.
On April 24th, around 9pm, 21-year-old Donrita Henderson was murdered at 54th and Shattuck in front of her four-year-old son. I regularly cross 54th St. when out for a night walk in the Temescal neighborhood.
On April 23rd, 22-year-old Keith L. Head, aka K.O. Da Bandit, was shot to death near the corner of 13th Street and Broadway. Downtown Oakland. I had my 40th birthday party at a bar not far from this location.
Earlier on the 23rd, a 21-year-old woman driving her car in East Oakland was shot and killed during an attempted robbery. The police have not yet released the woman’s name.
On April 22nd, 23-year-old Terrell Reams was murdered by gunfire near 90th Ave.
I get why we haven’t shut down the city of Oakland and engaged in a citywide manhunt, with the help of the F.B.I., to apprehend the murderers. Unfortunately, a murder-a-day (or close to it) is business-as-usual in Oakland. We have a widespread culture of violence, thousands of cheap illegal handguns, an understaffed police department, and many citizens who fear and mistrust the police (considering the past behavior of the Oakland Riders, this isn’t unreasonable) and refuse to provide helpful information.
Here’s another ugly truth. Whites who get murdered get more attention and more resources, and a higher percentage of their killers are brought to justice. Most of the murder victims in Oakland are brown-skinned.
It’s easier for me to feel for Donrita Henderson, a young mother taking a walk with her 4-year-old son in my neighborhood, than it is to have much empathy for Keith Head, a San Francisco rapper whose songs were filled with misogyny and drug-dealing. Even so, I can relate to him as a music producer, and for being an idiot at the age of 22.
But the victim’s worth as a human being isn’t the point. No matter your transgressions or character flaws, being shot to death is too severe of a penalty.
People get murdered for different reasons in Oakland. Often it’s a beef, an argument that escalates into murderous rage. Other times it’s a botched robbery. Ultimately it’s all the same reason … a bullet enters a vital organ, damaging it beyond repair.
So what can we do?
- We can hire more police officers. Quan’s budget has been criticized for dedicating too much of Oakland’s budget to police and firefighting, but what else are we going to do? Yes, OPD cops make more money than cops in other cities, on average. But being a cop in Oakland is f*cking dangerous. And besides, the contracts have already been negotiated. I’m willing to pay more in property tax if it means I get a reasonably staffed police department in return.
- We can make better use of technology. We’re expanding the use of ShotSpotter, which is good. But I’m ready for more. Orwellian surveillance state, bring it on. I want hidden video cameras under every dark freeway overpass, and spy drones up above. I don’t care who knows I’m taking out my garbage at 3:34pm, or drinking wine in the middle of the street at 6:45, or pissing in my backyard because I’m too lazy to go inside to the bathroom. What I want is for coldblooded murderers to be caught and imprisoned, as quickly and efficiently as possible. In 1999 I read David Brin’s The Transparent Society. His main argument was that a surveillance state is dangerous unless the watchers can also be watched. Well, if the head of the CIA can’t keep his own sexual affair a secret, I’d say we live in a completely transparent society where the watchers are well watched. Nothing is private anyway, so let’s catch some violent criminals.
- We can get guns off the street, any way possible. Buyback programs are a good start. We did it in 2012 — let’s do it every year.
- We can invest in public schools, early childhood education, youth programs, and job training. This is the long game … it doesn’t produce instant results. But early childhood education especially helps make better human beings, with improved impulse control, who are nicer to each other. That’s what preschool is for, right?
- We can implement programs that are empirically demonstrated to reduce violence in the short-term, like Ceasefire. Despite the recent murders, Ceasefire has taken some killers off the streets. Oakland residents should support this program.
Except for the fear of being shot, I love living in Oakland. Great weather, great food, and with the exception of the idiots running around shooting people, great people. I grew up in Oakland and Berkeley. The East Bay in my home.
I’ll move if things don’t improve; the rate of violence is too damn high. But I’d much rather see Oakland get peaceful and thrive.
Edit: after reading this article on neurobiological factors related to violence, I’m reminded to consider public health factors as part of the solution, including:
- lead testing, lead reduction
- campaigns to reduce smoking and drinking for pregnant mothers
- nutrition for pregnant mothers
- early childhood nutrition
- campaigns to reduce child abuse