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

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Wound Dressers' Wounds

Many of Oakland's wound dressers, those who tend to the victims and survivors of violence, and those who work the streets to keep the peace here, carry scars of their own, or still-open wounds.They don't talk about it much unless they have to, or unless it becomes relevant to a situation, but their work is forever confronting them with reminders of their grief. 

Here's an example of what I'm talking about: 

There are teams of intervention specialist in Oakland, who take to the most dangerous streets, at the most dangerous times. You can see them on International Boulevard at 85th, on Fruitvale, in West Oakland's Campbell Village. They wear white jackets. They station themselves or move in small groups to engage the street. Many team members have been in trouble themselves in the past. They know the signs of tension, how to listen to the street. They know ways to keep the peace, to at least, as one of them said to me one night on International, move an angry person past the impulse to retaliate violently. Get them past that first impulse, and a lot of times they won't do anything.

Seven years ago outreach team leader Ron Wysinger's son was killed in Oakland. His step-daughter was shot and killed on International Boulevard in the spring of 2011. One Saturday night barely half a year later I walk with him up the Boulevard. It's a cold night and for a while we stand, hands in pockets, in the florescent glow coming through the plate glass window of a busy corner market. Wysinger talks to a few customers who come and go. We watch the action in a lot across the street where drugs are being handed off and paid for.

There's a Latino block party in full force somewhere down 85th and the entire neighborhood vibrates with heavy bass lines and relentlessly cheerful accordion music. This used to be an African-American neighborhood, but for the last few years, as the black population of Oakland has decreased, it's become more ethnically mixed.

There's not much happening at 85th, so we make our way up toward 92nd, Wysinger ducks into a bus stop kiosk. Overlooking the crowded bench is a bright yellow movie ad featuring the whimsical snout of Miss Piggy. The kiosk air reeks of alcohol. He offers his card to a young man and asks him if he's looking for work. But the man is too drunk to understand much. A well-dressed kid walks by us and we all agree he is too young to be out walking. We enter a poorly-lit stretch of the boulevard. It takes us to a point right across the street from the East Bay Dragons motorcycle club clubhouse. This is the precise spot where Wysinger's step-daughter was killed a few months earlier. I look at him but his face is expressionless. He walks, says nothing. He has a picture of her pinned to the lapel of his jacket. 

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