Gun violence at this month's First Friday event is a tragedy for the young man who was murdered. It is also a tragedy for our City's emergence as a cultural destination, which was badly wounded in this shooting.
Yet, this tragedy is an opportunity for us to shape a collective response to violence that ensures safety for us all. We must begin by confronting our expectations and desires.
Certainly we have an expectation of safety in places like Uptown's Art Murmur. But, we should also have an expectation that communities like East Oakland be safe. Yet, one out of every five Oakland homicides occurs within a mile of Youth UpRising in the heart of East Oakland.
Sadly, the loss life in this community goes virtually unnoticed. Indeed, there is an unspoken expectation that these young people, poor and of color, will die violently. Quietly, many believe these violent deaths are of their own making, and most long for ways to keep this violence from bleeding into their lives.
This thinking, which is at the heart of our problem, is grounded in a profound lack of understanding about the precedent tragedy: their deaths are expected and accepted in Oakland’s collective psyche, and thus due as much to our collective failure as the person pulling the trigger.
Murder in our City is not a mystery. Instead, shootings and homicide in communities like East Oakland are a manifestation of the social, economic and educational realities that foreshorten the lives of our youth by 10 years compared to young people living in the hills. In East Oakland, people have tragically fewer options and lead lives characterized by untenable levels of unemployment and disrupted by severe instability that our legacy of disinvestment has created. Here, young people are pushed out of school by inequitable discipline practices, and few see any path to success in careers or life.
We have allowed hopelessness to grid the life out of some of our communities, which makes us all unsafe.
Our secret desire is for the problems of these poor black and brown children to be someone else's burden.
Yet last Friday's shooting reminds us their problems are our own.
Our natural tendency may be to be reactionary -- more cops! And, while we do need more officers, the police will privately admit they alone cannot make us safe. Instead, safety requires a collective effort which begins with accepting that as Oaklanders, we are indeed indivisible.
To make our city safe we can respond to this tragedy by building understanding and partnerships that allow us to see our safety is inextricably tied together. We can have the same sense of outrage for shootings in East Oakland as Uptown. We can realize that is in our own self-interest to be concerned about the conditions everywhere in Oakland. We can take collective responsibility for turning around the severe levels of violence and instability that threaten poor young people as the only road to safety for us all.
I hope that Friday’s events are a clarion call for Oaklanders.
Oakland is in crisis and Oakland needs you – at Neighborhood Crime Prevention Councils, at school meetings, at block parties, at City Council meetings, at volunteer events and school plays.
It doesn’t matter if you don’t have a child at the school next door -- go anyway – Oakland needs you involved.
I invite you to come to Youth UpRising. We have public events each week where Oakland youth perform, discuss and learn – the best of Oakland isn’t just on display in Uptown.
You can be the solution to violence in our City -- it begins with knowing our young people are not the problem to be solved but the solution to the problem -- -- join us!