Scenes from the aftermath in Oakland:
stories of victims, survivors and healers.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Trauma Cache, Part I: The Calendar and the Killing

Backwards graffiti, 16th Street Train Station, West Oakland

The human urge to squeeze the trigger never checks the calendar.  Perhaps grasping for hope when they’re down or out of morbid shock when they’re up, like now, we tend to pay too much attention to the daily and weekly violent crime numbers in Oakland.  We assign them too much meaning.

Quan’s Objection
Certainly politicians and the newspapers do.  Precisely one year ago, then-mayoral-candidate Jean Quan reacted defensively when I suggested to her that violence should be a priority of the next mayor.  “We’ve brought the murder rate down,” she said.  

That was in June 2010, and so far there had been 37 homicides in the city, six fewer than June 2009, a modest number, and a more seemingly significant 24 fewer than June 2008. 

The Calendar and the Killing
The calendar year 2010 ended with 13 fewer homicides than the year before -- 100 vs. 87.

But what does it indicate, that in the twelve months since Quan’s objection to my suggestion -- mid-June 2010 to mid-June 2011 -- there have been 100-plus homicides, at least six more than between mid-June 2009 and mid-June 2010?

What does it mean? 

Nevertheless, in daily news reports of homicides, reporters habitually insert the current year’s number of killings-so-far alongside the total from “this time last year.”  These numbers shouldn’t bring readers much hope, as in 2010, or, in the case of June 2011, when we have already suffered 51 homicides, deeper despair. 

Portraits of the Barely Living
Notwithstanding that unhelpful habit, there is some really fine coverage here of Oakland’s violence and its impact; there is plenty of good writing and reporting and people should read it.  Scott Johnson’s Oakland Effect blog always delivers a good combination of hard reporting and even harder witnessing of the toll of violence on the living.  Recently, the Bay Area News Group has had its reporters go beyond the daily litany of shooting, death, community silence, “Police request anyone with information call Crime Stoppers,” to put together a valuable series describing in part what happens after the violence, and what life is like for the survivors of the killed in Oakland.  It amounts to a necessary, cumulative portrait of what the killing does beyond the sudden, brutal taking away from us of one person at a time forever.  

What the Survivors Find
The killing keeps on killing.  As I’ve written elsewhere, that bullet that kills it also ricochets.  The lasting impact of violence comes in the years of grief and pain and bitterness the living endure, in the trauma we cache away, that seeps out like bad medicine from some malevolent time-release capsule.  The lasting impact comes also with how those angry, despairing, lost walking wounded affect the community, or worse, the next generation.  If we ignore them, we ignore ourselves.

Not much the police can do about that, even if they had as many officers as they would like to have. 

Addressing the impact of violence and loss on the living is an imprecise, necessarily intuitive, always difficult process.  There are no templates for healing a grieving our wounded person.  There are no definitive checklists of symptoms of their grief, no precise timelines or confident prognoses for their recovery. 

For many, faith and family help.  

But many survivors get no outside help at all.  Fortunately, some find great stockpiles of fortitude inside themselves; they discover strengths they’ve never needed before and likely never imagined they’d possessed.  In these strengths they find the resources to make their own comeback. 

What I’ve witnessed in covering the aftermath of violence in Oakland is that those victims who go on to help and comfort subsequent victims usually seem the most healed themselves. .

Empty chair, abandoned station, West Oakland
Coming up: Trauma Cache, Part 2: A Moneyball Approach 
to Public Safety 

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