Shots were fired last Tuesday night near 30th St. in West Oakland, disrupting the relative calm there since the tragic shooting death of a single mother on March 9.

The death of Chyemil Pierce remains on the minds of residents, Street Outreach workers and city officials who hoped the tragedy would spur lasting change following a firestorm of criticism of the Oakland Police Department.

Nobody was injured in Tuesday’s shooting, but neighbors took to Facebook to chronicle the event and keep one another informed.

“It may be the longest time we’ve gone without hearing gunfire,” said West Oakland resident Michael Woolson.

But the shots served a reminder of how stubborn the problem of violence in West Oakland can be. Street Outreach worker Adam Mayberry said tensions throughout the West Oakland are on the rise.

“We’ve been dealing with a lot of issues lately that threaten to jump off,” he said.

A few minutes later, team members broke up a fight between a young man and a woman. They hung around for nearly a half hour in case anyone felt it necessary to retaliate.

“We just want to be visible at times like this in case somebody wants to drive by,” Street Outreach team leader Akil Truso said.

A home near Chestnut and 30th Street had been a source of drug dealing and crime leading up to March 9 and the shootout that broke out just as Pierce was coming home with her three children. She shooed the kids into the backyard, but then was killed by a stray bullet.

A house on the 2800 block of Chestnut where a gunfight on March 9 broke out, killing Cheymil Pierce as she came home from work.

A house on the 2800 block of Chestnut where a stray bullet from a gunfight on March 9 killed Chyemil Pierce as she came home from work.

 

Oakland Police arrested seven men so far in connection with the shooting, including a 16-year-old boy now charged with murder as an adult. Nearly 100 residents turned up for a contentious meeting with police officials following the shooting, during which Capt. Drennon Lindsey said several efforts were underway to decrease violence in the neighborhood.

“That whole thing was about two girls who got into it with each other,” Street Outreach team member Ronald “Redd” Gage said. “They went and got their boyfriends and it just escalated. It’s stupid. Back in the day we’d fight and that would be that. Now, one ends up dead and the other in the pen. Everyone’s a loser.”

Local residents say they remain unconvinced that police are making sustained changes. Woolson said he avoids going down 30th Street altogether. Another nearby resident said she doesn’t fear living in the neighborhood, but it has chased away possible tenants and worried her friends that come to visit.

“I walk down 30th most days to go to work. The street scene has gotten much quieter. It might have just moved around the corner,” said the resident, who asked not be named.

During the March meeting, residents told police that the drug dealing and crime would move to a different house.

“I have seen a lot of the same activity –young people congregating in the street leaning into stopped cars — going on two blocks east,” Woolson said. “…the activity is very obvious.”

But a resident in one of the houses with a lot of people coming and going says things aren’t what they seem. On this night, kids had been gathering there to celebrate a high school graduation. Across the street people barbecued in another celebration of success.

“We want these kids here so we can steer them on a different path,” D.A. Lil’ Emperor said. “It’s an empowerment thing.”

He said the neighborhood is good and getting better. “We don’t have no problems with each other around here,” he said.

Street Outreach workers visited the neighborhood on Friday night. Victor Pouncil said he had extended family members in one house. Team leader Akil Truso said he and Emperor go way back and share a common bond in wanting to help young black men.

“This (mission) is where I get my drive from,” Truso said.

Street Outreach team members walk through West Oakland on Friday, June 12.

Street Outreach team members walk through West Oakland on Friday, June 12.

During the March meeting, Truso encouraged residents to work with Street Outreach to foster relationships. But building those bridges isn’t easy. Street Outreach focuses on young people on the margins.

“This concern is a constant,” Kevin Grant, Oakland Unite‘s violence prevention network coordinator, “Our work typically touches those who don’t vote or organize and therefore a continuation of the divide that exists on so many levels.”

Grant said a step forward will be to “build this relationship and trust to include the whole community in our work.”

Several homeowners in the neighborhood said they haven’t had much contact with Street Outreach and also feel a degree of responsibility to bridge the gap, even if they don’t entirely know how.

Josie Halpern-Finnerty, program planner for Oakland Unite, said some of the disconnect between Street Outreach and residents is by design, especially with limited funds and workers who could only do so much.

“They are supposed to function under the radar,” she said. “Their time is not supposed to be spent with people who are going about their lives. But, the ultimate goal is to reconnect the people they are working with back into the community.”

Numerous requests for comment over a ten-day period from Capt. Lindsey went unreturned. Police spokesperson Officer Frank Bonafacio said only that Capt. Lindsey had been notified of the requests.

Tuesday’s shooting also raised concerns about slow response times, which was a significant point of concern during the March meeting. Neighbors posted about the shooting on Facebook. Several said they were put on hold. The shooting occurred just before 11 p.m. and police didn’t arrive for nearly 40 minutes.

But while West Oakland residents grow weary with the slow pace of public safety, developers have targeted the area for its economic potential, according to an April story in the San Francisco Business Times.

“West Oakland didn’t become interesting to this regional market until this cycle,” said developer Rick Holliday. “It missed every other one.”

Holiday and several others have funneled millions into new projects in recent months. Woolson has noticed. A house at the corner of 30th Street and Chestnut, directly in the middle of the March 9 shooting scene, sold for more than a half a million dollars, up $200,000 from what it sold for previously, he said.

“I haven’t met the owners and don’t know if they’re aware of what happened in March,” Woolson said. “But I have wondered how they feel about paying so much and being a block away from all of that.”

For a historic neighborhood known mostly for its stubborn poverty and crime, West Oakland is rapidly changing even as those issues remain. Pastor Walter Martin, who has worked with Street Outreach for six years, said people on the street don’t even know the changes happening all around them.

“It’s sad,” he said, looking across San Pablo Boulevard at the comings and goings of those most afflicted by poverty, crime and drug use. “This neighborhood is going to slip right out from under them and they don’t even know it’s happening.”

He sighed and quietly murmered a small prayer before moving down the street. Just a few blocks away lives a homeowner who is also concerned about these changes, about displacing the long-time residents, but also about the safety issues that never seem to change.

“It seems like some gains are slipping (since the death of Pierce),” she said. “The neighborhood is at a crucial tipping point now. Some of the active attention may be fading. But there is still a lot to be done and a role for all of us to deal with a neighborhood that went through a tragedy and wants to get better.”

 

About The Author

 A. Scot Bolsinger has won more than two dozen press awards during his journalism career. He can be reached at abolsinger@oaklandlocal.com or follow him on Twitter @EffinArtist. His work can be seen at effinartist.com

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.