1. Southern Roots?

    One of the first people I met when I started this project was a gentleman who, at his own request, shall remain nameless.  He lives in deep East Oakland, a bit outside our hotspot, but he shared some interesting insights that he then, and I now, think pertain to the wider geographic area.  

    One of these was the observation that in many ways East Oakland is a somewhat rural community.  Not, obviously, in the physical sense; it’s part of a big city. But in the sense that many of the people living here share a kind of rural mentality — a disconnect from the city’s epicenter and the structures of power; historical roots in the South or, in the case of the many migrants who live here, from the rural areas of whatever countries they call home; an appreciation for alternate systems of law and order, like motorcycle clubs, to take just one example, and so on.  

    This is obviously a gross oversimplification of a complex topic, but it is worth thinking about.  I’d like to see a study of the demographic history of Oakland — where people came from and where they are now. I’d like to know what experts in this field say about how people’s geographic history shapes what new forms of governance they choose to adopt in their new homes.  

    The gentleman in question put it this way. “Basically, these are country folk,” he said, “And that comes with a lot of things: distrust of government, lack of trust of cities and city people, an emphasis on privacy and community, and a sense that once you’re part of the community that trumps everything else.”  

    In my admittedly very short time here, I began to see some of those qualities in ways I never did elsewhere in Oakland, especially in the more affluent areas, where people tend to lead more atomized, individualized lives.  Again — a gross generalization, but something people in East Oakland seem to be thinking about a lot, at least from what I’ve seen.  

    Anyway, just some thoughts…

     

  2. Bullets Have No Eyes

    Month on month, crime is up in our hotspot.  With one murder, seven robberies, one shooting and seven residential burglaries, every category saw an increase since the last NCPC for police district 27 met.  

    And my particular block, it turns out, was the worst spot in the neighborhood.  ”Melrose and 50th is one of the hotspots this month,” said our local Problem Solving Officer (PSO), David Pullen, last night.  

    Pullen was referring to the massive shoot-out, a few days ago, that left one man dead and upwards of thirty bullet slugs scattered across four streets. 

    I’ve been to a few Neighborhood Crime Prevention Councils over the years, but last night’s, in our hotspot, was particularly interesting.  I, and I think many of the others who were there, learned a few things.  

    There was a pretty vigorous discussion about what ordinary folks can or should do if they’re witnessing a crime.  Officer Pullen informed us that when people give their names when calling to report a crime it makes the job of the police a lot easier.  

    Say, for instance, you see someone dealing drugs on your corner.  You call the police.  If you leave your name, the police can then go to the scene and arrest the people meeting your description based upon your call. They can use your call as a “reliable source of information” that will hold up in court.  Pullen said people’s names automatically go into the Computer Aided Dispatch system (CAD) and remain there for documentation purposes only. 

    If, however, you choose to remain anonymous, the police, if they show up at all, have to see something for themselves that gives them probable cause to stop somebody.  If they don’t see anything, even if they see the people matching the description you gave in your call, they can’t do anything.  

    It does get complicated.  Defendants have a right to know who their accusers are, so that information could be divulged in court later on. I asked if this was why most people chose to remain anonymous, for fear of retaliation. Maybe yes, maybe no, people said. No one knew if that information could be redacted in a public hearing if the safety of the original notifier was in jeopardy.  

    A lot of people were concerned about burglaries.  One woman, who identified herself as a Native American, told about her most recent experience. She left her house on Friday and returned on Sunday. She expected that she might be robbed, so she left a note to the would-be thieves.  It said something like: 

    "I’m an American Indian. The spirits will get you for this. Someone loves you."  (that’s a very rough and inexact, second hand memory, she said, but you get the point) 

    The thieves did come. They found the note. But…

    "They didn’t take anything," she told us, "They left money, jewelry, cameras…"

    Someone else spoke up and said that he sees strange things around his house in the middle of the day. 

    "I saw a guy fornicating with a prostitute around noon," he said, "I’m always picking up condoms, and there’s no police presence, that’s the main problem."  

    You have to call when you see anything, Pullen urged them. “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.” 

    There was a lot of frustration about a certain local “business” that most people are pretty sure is just a front for a drug dealing operation. People got pretty worked up about the lack of government response. No one was very happy with Libby Schaff, who was not present last night, but sent a representative in her stead.  

    One woman quipped, “Libby knowing about something and Libby doing something about something are two different things.”  I thought it was the best line of the night. 

    Still, evicting a business owner from a private property is tricky business, especially in Oakland. 

    "I understand that people are fed up," said Schaff’s stand-in, a woman named Natasha, "You do not deserve to have this kind of stuff in your neighborhood. We’d like to yank these people right out of your neighborhood but it’s not that easy. I can understand the frustration." 

    As if to emphasize the news from the NCPC, I returned home last night only to find four police cruisers parked at the intersection of, you guessed it, 50th and Melrose, the “hot spot” of our “hot spot.”  I rolled down my window to ask a cop what had happened.  

    "Oh, just people not being nice to each other," he said.  Turned out a car had been jacked. I went for a drive later on and there were police all up and down Foothill, stopping people, questioning. Something was definitely up. I had some tacos, went home.  

    Then I woke up this morning and went to get in my car. It wouldn’t start.  

    When I lifted up the hood there was a gaping hole.  During the night someone had stolen the battery.  

    At least they didn’t steal the whole car.  

     

  3. "These bullets, they don’t have any eyes."
    — A voice at NCPC.
     

  4. "They’re just walking in and out of our houses"
    — Woman at NCPC talking about the huge number of burglaries in the neighborhood.
     

  5. "Melrose and 50th is one of the hotspots of this zone this month"
    — PSO for our hotspot neighborhood, talkin tonight at our NCPC. This intersection, by the way, happens to be my home.
     
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  7. Amanda Smulevitz, 45, in one of a series of videos talking about riding buses, East Oakland and the plight of kids growing up in the flatlands today.

     
     

  8. Forty Goin’ Norty

    For Amanda Smulevitz, bus line number 40 is like a time machine. It takes her back nearly four decades to a past growing up in homes scattered across East Oakland, past the San Antonio park where she hung out as a teenager, past Wing’s Daily Kitchen on Foothill, where she and her parents used to order food, and at nearly ever stop along the way it reminds her of a story. 

    "For me it was always the forty," she said one day recently when we rode the bus together, "Back in the old days, when we used to take it up to Berkeley, we call this line the ‘Forty goin Norty."  

    The 40 runs from Eastmont to downtown, cutting right through our hotspot zone and servicing much of East Oakland’s population.  

    Smulevitz has seen a lot on the 40: fist fights, arguments, shootings, abuse, music, love and generosity.  

    There was a time when Smulevitz herself was one of the ones fighting.  People used to single her out, she says, maybe because they thought she was an easy target.  She wasn’t.  Once, when a girl sitting behind her tried to light her ponytail on fire with a lighter, Smulevitz turned around and punched her in the face.  

    In the early 90’s, she was riding the 40 when two young men got into a loud argument. It quickly degenerated into a fist fight and then spilled outside onto the street at the corner of Foothill and High Street, where one of the men started shooting at the other.  

    "Everybody was ducking down, people thought they were going to get shot," she said. 

    She has seen more fights than she can remember — dozens. Once she saw an angry woman hurl a stream of abuse at the bus driver and then spit on him. “I wanted to slap her for that,” she said. 

    But she has also seen a lot that makes her happy: friends reuniting on the bus after long absences, young people helping the elderly. “I love it when I see young people doing something courteous,” she said, “The guy in khakis and carrying a briefcase is just sitting there, but then the young thug stands up and helps the old lady who’s having trouble, I’ve seen that a lot.”  

    Smulevitz looked out the window as the 40 cruised down Foothill. She pointed out that none of the black iron wrought fences used to be here. Instead there were houses, yards, some ugly, some lush and beautiful, where she and her friends used to play, jumping over fences if they got in trouble, running carefree through the streets.  ”You can’t do that anymore,” she said.  

    Around San Antonio park, she recalled how there were two groups “funking” with eachother back when she was a teenager. She and her friends would meet in the park to avoid trouble.  You can’t do much of that anymore either. When we passed this week, there was a police cruiser sitting in the park, as if waiting for trouble.  

    We passed one of her old houses.  ”Oh, look, it’s blue now, and there are roses,” she said. 

    Smulevitz loves East Oakland.  People generally let you be yourself. It’s diverse. You can walk to the lake. People like to talk to you.  As we continued along Foothill, she began reminiscing about what the crack epidemic looked like when it hit here. It was bad, she said. 

    "As soon as crack hit, people started selling furniture, baby diapers, they’d lose their jobs because they’d be high and just forget to go to work," she said, "And it was so quick." She pointed outside.  At the height of the crack epidemic, these streets were filled with prostitutes, junkies, dope fiends and dealers.  "We went from having two "Ho Strolls" to having people hooking right in front of your house, there was just this huge demand. You had crackheads robbing people, and there was tons and tons of it right along this route."  

    She remembers Felix Mitchell’s funeral passing along here, too.  But she has no sympathy for the man known as Felix the Cat.  ”He ruined an entire neighborhood and countless lives, and he’s the coolest cat around? But if that’s all you know, who else are you gonna idolize?”  

    For all of that, Smulevitz says that most of the bus rides in her life have been nice. She enjoys the people watching.  She writes things to herself in her head, nurtures a latent creativity, enjoys the sights and sounds of other people’s conversations.  

    "I like the evolution," she said, "I get nostalgia for the way things used to be — I’d go into that Rexall and my mom would buy me a coloring book if I was good — but change is good, too."  

     

  9. Ceasefire Statistics?

    Okay, so here are some interesting stats purporting to show how effective Project Ceasefire has been in other communities:

    Boston Operation Ceasefire      -63% youth homicide
    Indianapolis IVRP       -34% total homicide
    Stockton Operation Peacekeeper  -42% gun homicide
    Lowell PSN      -44% gun assualts
    Cincinnati CIRV -35% group member-involved homicide
    Newark Ceasefire        No significant reduction in gunshot wound incidents
    LA Operation Ceasefire  Significant short-term reduction in violent gun crime
    Chicago PSN     -37% homicide, -30% recidivism rate
    Nashville DMI   -55% drug possession offenses
    Rockford DMI    -22% non-violent offenses
    Hawaii HOPE     -26% recidivism rate

    (Evaluation results demonstrate the approach is effective across different cities, groups, demographics and economic conditions. Source: Braga, A., Weisburd, D. The effects of “pulling levers” focused deterrence strategies on crime. Campbell Systematic Reviews 2012.) 

    Couple of questions:  

    Why didn’t Newark register any decrease in gunshot wounds?  

    What makes it work in one city and not in another?  

    Does anyone have the intermediary statistics for Oakland, who might be willing to share with us on this site?  

    Thoughts, anyone? 

     

  10. Our own Jane Tyska shows us in this great slideshow a little slice of life from the night walks we’ve been going on. Check it out.