Say Something! Community Anti-Violence Meeting

Late last month, community members assembled at St Paul’s Episcopal Church to discuss Oakland’s violence and what is being done about it.  Speaking were:  Zachary Carey, Pastor, True Vine Ministries, Oakland;  Barbara Lafitte-Oluwole,  Program & Operations Manager, Oakland Community Organizations;  Stewart Wakeling, Director, California Partnership for Safe Communities; and Reygan E. Harmon, Senior Policy Advisor, Public Safety, Office of Mayor Jean Quan.  Here’s MOBN! board member Paula Hawthorn’s summary:

True Vine Church is in West Oakland. Its members are at ground zero of Oakland’s violence. It is said that a Black or Hispanic youth has a greater chance of being killed in West Oakland than if he was a soldier in Afghanistan  (although many of those killed are too young to even be in the army). Pastor Zack  and the congregation have started a group, Soldiers Against Violence Everywhere (S.A.V.E.) and the “Say Something” campaign, both striving to bring peace to the community.

Citing a recent column by The Chicago Sun Times’ John Fountain, Pastor Zack told us that the number of black males 14 and older slain across the country from 1976 to 2010 is 243,996; add to that number 51,892 black females ages 14 and older, plus five whose gender was not identifiable, and the total, not counting children, is 295,893 — more than the combined U.S. losses of World War I, the Vietnam, Korean and Mexican-American wars, the War of 1812 and the American Revolutionary War. From 1980 through 2008, 93 percent of black victims were killed by blacks. ”Think of this number”, said Pastor Zack. “We must think of this as a public health problem, one that we can address as a community, as we have addressed similar problems. Think of the “Just Say No” campaign to combat drugs, or the campaign against HIV/AIDS.”

The public health problem of black-on-black lehtal violence needs a public health campaign to stop the media and community silence around the problem, apparently caused by numbness on the part of the media and certainly caused by fear in the community.

This is why each week SAVE has a Stand-In at a place near where someone was killed, to note that a person died there and that this death should not go unnoticed.; SAVE holds an annual Peace March and Rally, in the fall, where Community leaders come together and encourage the community to Say Something. 

Stewart Wakeling works with cities to, implement Project Ceasefire programs.  As Oaktalk has discussed in numerous earlier posts, Operation Ceasefire is an innovative mixture of social support and law enforcement pioneered by David Kennedy and described in his book “Don’t Shoot: One Man, A Street Fellowship and the End of Violence in Inner-City America.

According to Wakeling, a successful Ceasefire operation must 1) be led by a high-level steering group 2) have exceptionally strong, dedicated project manager able to work across agency lines, who is no less than half time completely devoted to Ceasefire 3) be designed and carried out by an empowered working group including representatives from the criminal justice agencies, the clergy and service providers.  4) must be a core strategy of the OPD, federal enforcement, street outreach and community services and 5) be informed by best practice. Importantly, Cease Fire cannot be viewed as a program;  rather, it constitutes a dramatic change in a city’s organizational principles in responding to violence.  According to Wakeling, implementation that follows these recommendations can result in an effective Operation Cease FireI in Oakland.

OCO’s Barbara Lafitte-Oluwole, a leader in learning about and advocating for Ceasefire three years ago, spoke about Oakland’s previous implementation of the Call In program.  OCO convinced OPD to conduct a pilot program that involved the use of “restorative justice.”  This program turned the lives of several young men around, one of whom was introduced at the meeting. But the program did not involve all the elements of Cease Fire, the City did not measure violence reduction and there was no evidence that that program was reducing violence.  So the OPD suspended the program.

Reygan Harmon gave a shorter version of the presentation on the 100 block program she had given two nights previously at Council’s Public Safety Committee meeting.  Most significantly, Ms. Harmon stated that the city is committed to starting a genuine Ceasefire program and recognized the problems with the earlier effort.  The City has obtained a grant to hire a manager, and hopes to have the program in operation by June.   Attendees left the meeting optimistic that a real, effective Operation Cease Fire might be coming, but understanding that the City’s actions would have to be watched closely.

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