J.D. Moyer

beat maker, sci-fi writer, self-experimenter

Like Boston, Four Dead

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.

Oakland Tech grad Donrita Henderson

Oakland Tech grad Donrita Henderson

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.

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Keith Head

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

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20 Comments

  1. I live on Chicago’s South Side (though I used to live at 90th & Macarthur) and I agree we don’t expect white people to die violently of gun violence. We live in a society of systemic racism that allows the young mother to be shot in front of her son. I can imagine no greater horror for my 3 year old boy and my eyes burn just thinking of it. Thank you for giving your deceased neighbors a voice. I applaud you for taking this on and questioning how do we stop it. I’m still to paranoid to jump on the Orwellian train but we are running out of choices. I have a hard time not going back into the bell jar when I sit with this for too long but I think you’re onto something with this comprehensive hard-hitting approach. And the buy back– everybody loves money. Isn’t that how we got here? Or is this barbarianism in our bones, we just don’t do it for the king. Or do we? I am so with you on the next generation. We have to teach them to love the fuck out of themselves; love themselves so fiercely that they operate out of an internalized map of righteousness that leads them, each step, closer to each other and the truth. Thanks for this. G’night.

  2. Boo

    Perhaps it would be more fruitful to consider the many many societies where people don’t live with this kind of fear, and how to get from where you are to something more approximately like that. I have lived in Asian countries most of my adult life. I walk where I please, anytime I want, and the thought of danger never enters into my mind. It is always a jarring experience visiting the US and having to start think of things like that again. Bullet points 3 and 4 would make the US closer to these societies. Also, would highly recommend ending the so-called war on drugs, which is instrumental in creating a permanent underclass, and taking steps to move to a less unequal society in general.

  3. Thanks for the comment Boo. I agree that the war on drugs in a farce and a waste of money. Oakland has made real progress in terms of decriminalizing marijuana at least.

    Re: Asia, I guess you are excluding India. I hear Japan is very safe. But vast swaths of the US are just as safe, yes? I think gun violence is highly localized.

    I agree that less dramatic wealth inequality would be a step in the right direction, but at the moment I’d like to throw my support towards local programs that can make an immediate difference (like Ceasefire).

    • Boo

      Hi JD, A quick trip to Wikipedia shows me that Japan has 0.4 murders per 100,000 inhabitants, India has 3.5, and the US has 4.8. So numerically India’s significantly safer than the US: over several months of residence in India, I got roughly that impression also.
      Regarding localized violence, Oakland has 26.3 murders per 100,000, which you are right, that does make vast swathes of “average” America seem peaceful in comparison.

      • I was thinking also of rape in India, but I am going off recent media reports and not statistics.

  4. You raise an important issue that’s also relevant to the Newtown shootings. Make no mistake, that event was tragic, but the steady rate of violence you describe is no less tragic. It’s just less visible. Less likely to be picked up by the media and less likely to result in significant legislative efforts. Thank you for bringing it up.

  5. JD – I’m just a bit older than you, I think…..63. I’m trying to backtrack and figure out when it became OK/acceptable/cool/necessary/required to have a gun and settle disputes by shooting someone or engaging in other forms of violent retribution. I think I trace most of this back to the time when pot (and other drugs) moved beyond recreation and became big business – that would be in the late 60’s/early 70’s. Goodness knows I certainly smoked more than my fair share of pot – I’m probably personally responsible for the disposition of several kilos (now a non-smoker). But somewhere in the 70’s, attitudes began to change. With the economic boom of the 70’s and 80’s was born (I think) the embryonic form of “all for me, none for you” and “Don’t f*ck with me or I’ll shoot your ass!”. Drugs changed – more potent, more available, more additive. I also trace it to early movies full of what’s now called gratuitous violence (The Godfather, A Clockwork Orange, Bullitt, Dirty Harry)…..movies with big stars that made it cool to be ultra-tough and mow down everyone in your path. Perhaps those of us who were raised before those movies came out could keep that violence in perspective. Children of the 80’s and 90’s were raised with this violence, not with Happy Days, Leave It To Beaver or even M*A*S*H* or Seinfeld. A member of my “second family” is a Sheriff’s Captain. He and many others in my family advocate for everyone having a gun for self-defense…..probably for good reason – here in Shasta County, on any given weeknight, we have one commanding officer on duty and two deputies for all of Shasta County (3,874 sq. mi’s.). If there’s a serious crime somewhere and, at the same time, your ex stops by to beat the crap out of you, good luck getting any help from the Sheriff’s Department – you had better be ready and able to defend yourself. When I moved here in 1979, there were no murders at all. The one murder we had in 1980 was a huge deal. Now we have several every week. I think it’s a systemic societal mental illness. I could buy a gun….I’m not sure I could shoot someone…..nor do I want to. Unfortunately, that won’t save me from the the person who would be more than willing to shoot me for no good reason – or the person on the street who’s a bad shot and hits me instead of the other guy. Now we’re all on edge and our freedom to engage in mindless evening walks down the street in what used to be a safe environment has been compromised. Up here, careful thought must be given to hiking out in our beautiful wilderness areas because of cartel pot grows……….ugh. Thanks for listening, everyone.

    • Interesting perspective, but intuitively gun violence doesn’t seem like a generational thing to me. We’ve had it since Day 1 in the U.S. (American Revolution, black slavery, Civil War, genocide of American Indians, Wild West, Barbary Coast, gangs of New York and Chicago, WWI, WWII, Vietnam, Korea, CIA drugs-for-guns trade and ensuing crack epidemic in Los Angeles, which spread to Oakland, Mexican narco gangs in CA, AZ, and TX). So really gun violence and violent role models for every generation. That’s my take anyway.

      • Well, when it comes right down to it, humans are inherently violent. I mean, wouldn’t you like to wave your magic wand and eliminate the crackhead who shot that mother? Interesting that after the passage of all those generations we haven’t done a better job of recognizing the self-perpetuating nature of violence. Yes, we’ve always had this behavior. Now, however, it’s so cool that people are even willing to have their deeds tattooed on their faces. Something has changed. We’re going in the wrong direction. We should’ve had a better handle on this by now. The fact that humans have been here for thousands of generations and their basic behavioral patterns haven’t changed all that much doesn’t bode well. Glorifying that violent behavior pretty much guarantees a bad outcome.

        • Respectfully I disagree … according to Pinker’s research we’re going in the right direction as a species (less death by violence). Better Angels of our Nature (linked above in comments) is extremely convincing in its arguments. Not only less death by war, but overall in both the U.S. and other parts of the world, murder and violent assault is trending down.

          This isn’t to say that local areas aren’t getting more violent. Oakland certainly fits into the cultural shift you are describing, with violence sharply increasing in the late 60’s.

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crime_in_Oakland,_California

  6. Anne Hawley

    I realize that you’re discussing needless deaths from human violence, which rightly belong in a philosophical and moral category of their own. But needless deaths by car vastly, vastly outnumber them. I think we SHOULD be outraged by gun violence–don’t get me wrong–but I wonder why we’re not more outraged than we are by traffic deaths. We even call them “accidents,” like “Oh, whoops, 32,000 people dead last year. Shrug. Can’t be helped.”

  7. All of the things you mentioned as solutions are band aids. It’s the same kind of things people in Oakland have been pushing as “local solutions” for going on 30 years. Education too, is a bunch of bullshit if there are no jobs. Hyman Minsky discussed that with LBJ in the 60’s. The only thing that will stop the violence is more economic equality and self-respect. That comes from jobs, and there is no way to really move the needle at the local level.

    Want the violence to stop? Push for a federal jobs program. Otherwise, it’s just the same old shit.

    • Perhaps I have suggested the same old shit, but I’d be happy for Oakland to receive any number of band-aids at this point. We’re hemorrhaging.

      Federal jobs programs are a good idea. But do they have a better track record at reducing violent crime than programs like Ceasefire? If so, I’d love to see the evidence. If you haven’t read David Kennedy’s “Don’t Shoot” (on the origins, successes, and failures of Ceasefire), I’d highly recommend it. It’s not a magic bullet, but when the program is implemented effectively, it has slashed violent crime rates.

  8. Hot, flat and crowded…….produces all kinds of lethal consequences. Those with education and opportunity are much less prone to violence – too bad so much of the world’s population doesn’t have access to either one. Desperate people commit desperate acts. Yes, for now, overall, violence has declined. Watch out, however, as we increase the “have lots” and exponentially increase the “got nuthin’s”. As the recent Bush tax cuts so amply demonstrated, those who were given the biggest breaks said, “Oh….thank you so much!”, and took their newfound wealth to the Caymans.

  9. Lady

    Umm I was a very close friend to Keith Head. I can kind of understand what you mean by his rap but if you knew Keith you would have known that he was one of the sweets, nicest, most compassionate persons you would ever meet. He didn’t have any enemies. It would seem like he was crazy through his music but he was far from it. He was very intelligent. He found something he was good at and was able support his family without being on the streets or gang violence. All in all your story is nice. I just wanted to be able to tell everyone who my friend really was.

    • Thanks for your testimonial. I am very sorry you lost your friend. Subject matter aside I listened to his tracks and enjoyed his music and lyrical style.

      • Lady

        Thanks and it will be ok one day at a time all of the family is praying that this doesn’t happen again. All in all it is a blessed day. Thanks for your article. 🙂

  10. I want to post this reddit thread/comment as a rebuttal to my own cavalier comments about security surveillance. As desperate as I feel about the violence in Oakland, state surveillance is not the best answer, and pushes the social structure towards a more authoritarian flavor.

    http://www.reddit.com/r/changemyview/comments/1fv4r6/i_believe_the_government_should_be_allowed_to/caeb3pl?context=3

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