Tag Archives: crime in oakland

A Tale of Two Cities

Is Oakland a world-class destination city, worthy of attracting visitors and new residents from afar? Or is it the robbery capital of America, 2nd in overall violent crime–bested only by the failed city of Detroit? Can it be both?

Wednesday night my Friends of Art Murmur gallery visit was disrupted by an unfortunate and all too frequent incident. My friend’s car was broken into, window smashed and a few items stolen that had been stowed out of sight in the trunk. At least one other car on the block–ironically enough, owned by an Oakland Tribune crime reporter–also suffered the same fate.

As the reporter and I chatted about our own experiences with crime in Oakland, a spate of recent crimes came up (81-year-old woman in my neighborhood shot in her home during an attempted burglary in broad daylight, East Oakland woman losing two sons to gun violence within one week, etc.) and I got to thinking… how can our city ever be a world-class destination when crime is so persistent and rampant, when residents lack the basic assurance of safety?

police-officersNow I’m certainly no expert on this topic and I understand it has long-standing historical and complex roots, including: gross income disparities, failing public schools, high unemployment (as high as 45% in pockets of Oakland, despite the overall rate of just under 10%), distrust of police, under-staffed and under-funded police force (see chart at right), and the list goes on…

And I also understand that the city is attempting to take steps to address the issue, with new programs like Operation Ceasefire and the recent engagement of external consultants to produce three reports to improve public safety in Oakland. The third and final report is here for those who are interested:  “Addressing Crime in Oakland, Zeroing Out Crime, A Strategy for Total Community Action” though it seems many were underwhelmed by this report and its lack of specificity.

It acknowledges that “Oakland currently is a community plagued by an unacceptable level of violent and non-violent crime. Perpetrators of the violence not only victimize individuals but create a sense of fear and disorder throughout the city.”

And it does affirm that police resources are lacking, but the overall message seems to be that we have many other resources at our disposal and if we can simply think more creatively, coordinate better, and get more citizens involved, that the situation will improve.

I know in my neighborhood of upper Dimond, neighbors are taking action through coordinated online communications regarding crime, and are considering the hiring of a private patrol service at a cost to be paid by residents. While this may help reduce burglaries and robberies in our neighborhood, I can’t help wondering why we should have pay for our own private security services, and how this might impact other neighborhoods that can’t afford to do so.

I don’t have any answers… but I’m curious to hear your thoughts.

PS – I did get to see some art last night, but only half the show.  Will post about that later…

A New Year…

I was hoping for some inspiration for my first post of 2010… a new year, and a new decade. But alas, the inspiration was elusive.

I thought maybe I’d come up with some top ten lists to share (because afterall, people love top ten lists), or simply some sage words… a mantra for our city and its people for the coming year(s), but nothing offered itself.

I decided to look back through photos I’ve compiled over the past few months, for something appropriate… something positive, something meaningful.  And I was struck by this message on a local church not far from my home… it fit the bill perfectly.

west oakland baptist church, church sign, church message

When I think back about the past year and the changes I’ve seen in this city I love, I’m aware of a plethora of positive developments, many of which I’ve tried to highlight with the creation of this blog. But I’m also nagged by the awareness that Oakland made headlines across the nation last year, not for the amazing revitalization projects underway in our uptown/downtown districts or the burgeoning and bridge-worthy art & restaurant scenes, but for the senseless murder of an unarmed man on New Year’s Day (Oscar Grant), and the subsequent killing of four police officers in March.

Oakland typically ranks in the top ten most dangerous cities in America; ranked number five in 2008/09 and number three in 2009/10 in the oft quoted annual editions of Kathleen O’Leary Morgan’s City Crime Rankings.  And though current statistics seem to indicate an overall drop in the crime rate for 2009 (Data: Oakland crime down 10 percent in 2009 by Kelly Rayburn), there’s no denying that there is still far too much crime in Oakland. I witness it personally in my corner of West Oakland… the sound of gunfire no longer fazing me as it once did. And that is a sad statement indeed.

I know it is a complex problem. We live in one of the most racially diverse cities in America. I see this diversity as an incredible asset… it’s one of the things I truly love about Oakland. But I am aware that with it, too, comes conflict, especially where social inequities exist… the result of failing families, failing schools, and more. It’s hard to blame some in my community for making a living selling crack, when they lack the skills or education for much else. But there’s no denying that this way of life brings violence and tragedy, not just to those immediately involved, but those nearby as well.

My hope for our great city is that as it grows into the 21st century, it will better serve all of its residents, not just those who can afford homes in exclusive neighborhoods or private educations for their children… gentrification no longer displacing those with the least means, but better development that benefits everyone. This may sound lofty or naive, but I believe it can happen. At least that is my hope. Because in a region rife with affluence, it’s amazing to me how many in our city have so little.