Like a sweep at the Oscars, the Ceasefire program and its many partners won most of the awards at the Oakland Police Foundation’s Neighborhood Champions Awards this past Saturday. This is based on the current success of Ceasefire in significantly dropping the rate of violent crime in Oakland.
The awards honored the full network of Oakland’s Ceasefire program: police leaders, district attorneys, the faith-based community, human service and outreach workers, and all the citizens who actively contributed to East Oakland’s 28% reduction in violent crime last year. The event was co-sponsored by the Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and Make Oakland Better Now!
Multiple awards went to Rev. Dr. George C. Cummings, who is the Pastor at Imani Community Church, and has been the co-chair for the Ceasefire steering committee. Rev. Cummings, and also Rev. Zachary Carey of SAVE, shared their insights regarding violence in Oakland with over 200 people at the awards ceremony held at Acts Full Gospel Church on 66th Avenue.
Awards went to key staff and “violence interrupters” at Oakland California Youth Outreach (OCYO), the clergy and congregations directly involved in supporting the current Ceasefire program, three Alameda County District Attorneys working with the Ceasefire program, Reygan Harmon, the city’s project manager for Ceasefire, 14 OPD officers, and Melinda Haag, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California.
Bruce Nye, CEO of Make Oakland Better Now! (MOBN), praised the work of SAVE (Soldiers Against Violence Everywhere) and Pastor Zachary Carey for their Saturday actions to witness and speak out about the violence in Oakland. Nye said Pastor Carey and SAVE supporters are examples of “living faith out loud.”
Carey said he has lived in Oakland his entire life, growing up near 105th and San Leandro Boulevard. “Now 50 years later… it’s night and day how it’s changed. I love Oakland… and I can live anywhere in the country and raise my children. But that would be the coward’s way out.”
“We have to do something about this violence,” Carey continued, “that has taken over not just Oakland but all of urban America…. For this generation of young people, this is your Civil Rights moment. ”
Raising the award above his head, “[This is] on behalf of all those who have died in this city. I don’t receive this for Zachary Carey, or for True Vine Ministries, but for everyone who has stood with us on the block the last four years, and we are trying to encourage other churches to get involved, but if it’s the last thing I do, if I have breath in my body, I will say something about the violence!”
Captain Ersie Joyner, who grew up as an at-risk youth in Oakland, received a President’s Award for his work with Ceasefire and gang case management. “I am Captain Ersie Joyner and I stand before you today as a 23-year veteran of the OPD… When I grew up in East Oakland, I hated the police.”
Captain Joyner said that, in spite of police operations that put hundreds of criminals away, the Oakland homicide rate had remained in the 120-160 range. He added that Ceasefire is the first operation he has ever seen that “really, truly is making a difference.” He said that the people being honored, “…all the law enforcement people, the outreach people, the D.A.s, the people who work the streets… these are the relationships being forged right now that are going to carry this city into the next few decades. ”
Earlier, Greg Brown, chair person of the Oakland Police Foundation, told the audience, “…we are here to celebrate … a most significant reduction in violent crime and gang crime in the city of Oakland in decades,” and, “it is a great privilege for us to be able to say thank you to these people for all their hard work, the risks that they take, and the creativity that they bring to us.”
He also introduced Mayor Jean Quan, who was recognized for being a long-term supporter of Ceasefire. She mentioned the ongoing contribution of Reygan Harmon, who championed the Ceasefire cause and worked the city side of the program while still on the Mayor’s staff, even before there was funding for a full time coordinator. “We knew this program could save lives,” Quan told the audience.
“I also want to thank the churches,” explained Quan. “We particularly want to thank Dr. Cummings for leading, …and lastly I want to thank the [OPD] Chief, because, bottom line, to make these resources happen, to provide the police officers to do the followup and get the results, really takes a commitment by the Chief.”
Chief Whent followed the Mayor and described Ceasefire as a committed three-way partnership of the community and clergy as key components, with human resources and the police. “When we work in partnership, we can all do a lot more than we can working individually,” Chief Whent said. Then he added, “Today, as of this week, non-fatal shootings are down 40% for the City of Oakland.”
Rev. George Cummings, the Pastor of Imani Community Church, gave a keynote address on the history of Ceasefire after accepting his award. “About 8 or 9 years ago, as a part of my participation in OCO, we became deeply concerned about the issue of violence in the City of Oakland and began to research what were possible solutions to the problem… We discovered the Ceasefire model and that was introduced to the City at a meeting at Imani Church about 7 years ago. We brought some members of the Boston program and members of the clergy and others who had worked in that program to the church, and the police chief at the time, to the church… Council member Jean Quan and others were there and we learned what the program was about. And between then and now, the Ceasefire model was attempted many times in the City of Oakland. ”
“But what is critical about Ceasefire is partnerships… if you do not have all of the key partners in place, Ceasefire will not work.” Rev. Cummings said with emphasis. “…We are deeply grateful for the partnerships with the Mayor’s office, and with law enforcement, and service providers and community agencies, and faith leaders who are committed in partnership to make it work.”
“Ceasefire, properly speaking, focuses like a laser light on those who are the primary perpetrators or those who are most likely to be affected by gun violence… we came to understand that 60% of the homicides were occurring in East Oakland between High Street and the San Leandro border. We began to focus geographically on that area. ”
He added that the message to these individuals is, “We will not stand silently while you shoot and kill members of the community. We want you to put the guns down. We are prepared to work with you, we are prepared to offer alternatives, because you can not tell somebody to stop doing what they are doing to eat if you do not have an alternative for them.” He said in 2012 we had 132 homicides, but the rate in 2013 was 94, representing a 28% drop.
“A second component of Ceasefire is what I would call our Night Walks. Here the faith community plays an important role. For the last 15 months under the leadership of Rev. Damita Davis-Howard, we have walked those neighborhoods.” He said the Night Walks helped to change the feeling in communities “where people feel that nobody cares.”
“Another component of Ceasefire is the service providers … and here Oakland United, what used to be called Measure Y, is involved. And we have many of our street outreach workers here today. And there are others,” Cummings said.
“So here we are, at the beginning of 2014,” Cummings said in conclusion. “We’ve got some challenges, we’ve made some headway, and if we can continue the focus, I believe that we can make a difference in this city and make this city a safe and healthy place for all of our members to live.”
The Oakland Police Foundation was created in 2002 by an endowment from an Oakland police officer. The mission of the Foundation is to create public safety partnerships and to focus on the needs of the police officers and the at-risk youth of Oakland.
The complete photo album of the event is available here.