As shootings continue in Oakland — even taking the lives of an 8-year-old little girl and a 66-year-old woman — and the nation reels over the court verdict that allowed a man with a gun to use it to kill an unarmed 17-year-old and walk free, one Oakland neighborhood says it is time to sit down and talk.

Some residents of the Laurel neighborhood on the city’s east side have started restorative justice meetings in the hopes of instituting peace and fending off violence in their little corner of the city by encouraging conversation.

“There is a lot of fear,” in Oakland these days, said Patricia St. Onge, organizer of the Laurel Restorative Justice Circles, with her partner, former Oakland City Councilman Wilson Riles, Jr.

“And when fear becomes the presenting emotion it really informs our reaction to everything in ways that don’t always promote community,” she said.

The couple have a long history as community activists. At this moment their aim is to counteract fear and build community trust through the techniques of restorative justice.

For National Night Out on Tuesday, August 6, they plan a big restorative justice circle and invite anyone to join them. It will be located on the Nafsi ya Jamii peace farm, which they are developing on their property at 3746 39th Street, Oakland. (For information, contact Nafsi@gmail.com.)

Restorative justice is a theory of, and method for, resolving conflict and promoting understanding that is increasingly being used in schools, including the Oakland public schools, in recent years. It’s about bringing together people who might not normally talk with each other, or who have a dispute, into conversation about what is happening, or has happened, between them. Following set guidelines, practitioners of restorative justice listen to each others’ stories, individually acknowledge when they may have caused harm to others, and discuss ways to repair the harm and live peaceful lives.

“It is ‘what happened, who was harmed and what needs to happen for that harm to be healed’” St. Onge explained. It is used instead of the “‘What happened, who is at fault and who is to be punished’ approach used in the criminal justice system,” she said.

National Night Out is a campaign for communities to come together for a night of block parties as a way to promote community and prevent crime. St. Onge and Riles agree with its goals and want to push the goals of National Night Out a little further. “Their slogan is ‘be the eyes and ears of the community.’ We say let’s also be the heart and the hands of the community.” Riles notes that their location includes a community garden and outside meeting spaces.

The couple of meetings held so far to build up to National Night Out have come at critical moments.

One followed the fatal shooting of 8-year-old Alaysha Carradine who was at a sleepover at her friend’s house on Wilson Avenue when bullets came through the front door and lodged in her tiny body. The location of that horrible shooting was only about a mile from 39th Street.

“A lot of people wanted to share their feelings,” St. Onge said.

Another meeting followed the Florida court ruling to acquit George Zimmerman from murder charges in the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in a Florida townhouse development. People were shaken up at that meeting too, she said, especially young African-Americans.

“We want to create a container, so that when things happen in our community we can come together and not feel so powerless and afraid,” St. Onge said.

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