By a group of concerned West Oakland residents

There is nothing about Chyemil Pierce’s death on March 9th that is not tragic. This fiancée, Kaiser employee, and mother of three young children was only 30 years old. She was hit by a stray bullet while trying to protect two of her children when a running gunfight broke out as they were walking together a block from her home on Chestnut Street in West Oakland. It is a common story in Oakland — and an incredibly tragic one. For us who live in the neighborhood, it is tragic because it should not have happened.

Anyone living or working in this neighborhood can tell you that this block has been dangerous for many months now. Even if nobody can say it publicly for fear of retribution, it is no secret. Drive-through drug sales have been easily visible to me, and there was a drive-by shooting in October. The primary house where this activity takes place was raided by the FBI last November, and from what I understand resulted in arrests, confiscation of weapons, and an eviction notice. It’s four months later, but the activity on 30th has only gotten worse there. Gunfire at this location is more frequent than ever – at least three events occurred in the last three weeks to my knowledge, and there was a fatal drive-by shooting a block away in January. We know this because we live here.

On the afternoon of Chyemil’s shooting this past Monday, an argument among a group of people on 30th street became so heated that at 4:32 pm, at least one neighbor called the police, also advising the dispatcher that there had been gunfire at the house two days earlier. At 4:45 pm, I heard a gun battle erupt with what sounded like dozens of rounds fired, resulting in one death and two injuries. By the time police arrived, the shooters had fled; individuals involved with this crime were reportedly connected to a shooting at Highland Hospital later that day.

All other issues aside: if any of the previous incidents or the FBI raid had resulted in decisive action, or if it had not taken almost fifteen minutes for officers to arrive on scene after the first report, is there a chance that Chyemil might have been saved, her family spared this unimaginable tragedy?

Of course, the situation is complicated. Oakland’s police are understaffed and overworked. Their relationship with many of the communities they serve is fraught with mistrust. Oakland, and particularly West Oakland, faces tensions across class and race lines as the income gap widens. Local youth suffer from bad schools and decades of inequality. It is increasingly clear that our entire system of justice and economics is critically flawed. We can’t solve those problems in a day, or a week, or a year.

But it is also simple: there should be no place, in our neighborhood, our city, or our world where a mother gets randomly gunned down in front of her children. On no side of any of these debates is that an acceptable proposition. This is a place where we all want the same resolution.

Simple changes around targeted policing are common sense, and we believe they would help. We especially hope that OPD would prioritize calls based on known and documented hotspots – and that there would be a place for dispatchers, PSOs, and responding officers alike to see that documentation immediately when a situation arises. When a call about a “heated argument” comes in from a known troubled spot, it should receive fast response. We also need sustained, targeted, investigative policing of the sort that we saw in 2011 and 2012 from the DEA and FBI.

We also want more done to connect local youth to better education and economic opportunities. As Reverend Gregory Boyle, a Jesuit preacher in Los Angeles who started Homeboy Industries to help employ formerly gang-involved youth, says: “Nothing stops a bullet like a job.” If one thing is safe in our neighborhood, it would be to say that we all hope for long-lasting change and streets no longer marred and defined by violence.

The Community Relations Officer for Beat 7X, Thomas Quezada, will be holding his bimonthly meeting with neighbors at 6pm on March 19th at the Willie Keys Recreation Center (3131 Union Street). Many of us who are both outraged and frightened by this will be attending as will Police Chief Sean Whent, and people are reaching out to Mayor Schaaf and Council President Gibson McElhaney to urge them to join us in coming up with constructive, effective plans of action.

The family of Chyemil Pierce has set up a donation account at Wells Fargo Bank. The account number of the Chyemil Pierce Memorial Fund is 2923997700.

Editor’s Note: This piece reflects an individual opinion and is not a reported story from Oakland Local. Oakland Local invites community residents to share their views about events and issues in Oakland. For guidelines, see:

For more information on posting to Community Voices, see The word on Oakland Local’s Community Voices posts.

One Response

  1. Saheli Datta

    It would be useful if the anonymous authors of the above piece would comment on this development — — since some might think this piece implies a desire for greater FBI collaboration with OPD, and that the proposed “fusion” center exactly satisfies that. Is this what the residents above what? What do these residents think of this plan? Do they share any of the concerns expressed by others that this may increase the oppression of protesters, dissenters, Muslims, illegal immigrants, labor activists, and people of color in general? Their desire for anonymity is understandable, but can they directly relate to any of those concerns–perhaps in ways that can be verified by Oakland Local’s editorial team without being made identifiably public?


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