Left Coasting : Undaunted Oakland

Attempting to dream, amid gunfire

by Rosalea Barker

It gets really tiring living in Oakland. Practically every television newscast is straight from the police blotter. Murders. Marches. Mayhem. Mayoral recall. (Oops! That last one’s not from the blotter but from the OPD to-do list.) And it’s depressing that about the only optimistic thing to do last Martin Luther King Day (this year, January 16) was to attend a gathering called “Stop the Gunfire”. Here’s a report about the event on Tonya Love’s WordPress blog Love, Health, and Advocacy.

Like the confusing multiplicity of police forces and church ministries here in the Bay Area (and the States at large), the plethora of events that have been held aiming to curb the gun violence that plagues some sections of Oakland is mind boggling. Forums. Neighborhood meetings. Summits. Nothing seems to change, and yet the efforts continue, often completely under the media radar, but more commonly getting a few inches of column space or a minute on the news and then immediately forgotten.

But there may be one thread that will tie all the efforts together to have some lasting effect, and that is the notion of the New Civil Rights Movement for the Twenty-First Century:

Brother Earl Nicholas of Allen Temple Baptist Church imagining what the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would say to people who weren’t around in the Sixties civil rights era.

Several of the speakers at the event mentioned “the new Jim Crow”—referring to the use of mass incarceration as a means of racialized social control, and described in the book of the same name by former Oakland attorney, Michelle Alexander. One such speaker was Uncle Bobby, whose nephew Oscar Grant was shot in the back by a Bay Area Rapid Transit police officer as he lay on Oakland’s Fruitvale BART platform about to be handcuffed. The street violence in Oakland, Uncle Bobby believes, won’t be ended until police brutality comes to an end.

Two mothers who had lost sons to gun violence, and have since started non-profits, also spoke. Brenda Grisham started a foundation after her son died, granting scholarships to assist students from the neighborhoods where violence is most prevalent with training in the performing arts. Lorrain Taylor founded a group that provides a “family-focused continuum of care”, including “mental health and grief support, groceries, outreach, networking and advocacy”.

According to the event’s organizer, Rev. Harry Williams, both Oakland Mayor Jean Quan and a representative from the Oakland Police Department received invitations to speak at the gathering, but neither came, although a local city council representative did attend and said she wants “the movement to wage peace to build and build and build”.

The event ended with the appearance of local rap artist Mistah F.A.B. (Money Is Something to Always Have — FaEva Afta Bread), who read a poem he’d written just for MLK Day:

Mistah F.A.B “Still I Dream”

And, yes, the last word is “dream”.