As we set out, the killers are still asleep. They stay up all night. I imagine them playing video games in the wee hours and smoking a tremendous amount of weed. They sleep past noon but the march commenced at just past 11 a. m. On a loud speaker someone said, "If you have a family member who was murdered and you'd like to be in the front, please see me." The day was sunny and the marchers owned the boulevard. Police cars blocked cross-traffic for the first few blocks. Below 25th, East Bay Dragons on their motorcycles quietly took over traffic control. Sometimes you see them leading funeral processions of the killed. Three days later someone would walk up to their clubhouse forty blocks south of here and shoot one of them dead. I don't know if he was working traffic control that day, but we all appreciated their help.
There were hundreds marching, chanting, singing, praying for less bloodshed in the city, and slowly we snaked our way toward the lake and beyond it, City Hall. Oakland's homicide rate had dropped for five straight years. In 2010 there had been 56 fewer killings than in 2006, but some of us still felt it like a visitation of the plague. To us and to the rest of the country it seemed like Oakland was suffering Prohibition-era levels of violence. The goal today was to say it mattered, to publicly and en masse refuse to accept gunfire and bloodshed as a part of every day life in Oakland. It was nice that the members of this diverse crowd had given up their Saturday to march.
A few blocks south of the staging area, International is pure Latino. Men in cowboy hats jaywalk. Here in the Twenties the boulevard becomes a mixture of African American and Latino just before it gives way to Southeast Asian. And so at first we pass Dos Hermanos Bar and the Mitchell Hotel (advertising "TV"), and then come to Phuong Dong Sea Blue Cafe and Karaoke Bar and the Khmer Snooker Lounge (since burned down). Along the way there are scattered, sturdy, if rather run-down Edwardian-style houses turned apartment buildings. Asian children watch from behind windows. Their parents and grandparents come into front yards and cheer, take pictures and shoot video.
I keep to the outskirts of the crowd, neither marcher nor reporter, but something in between, too skeptical to march, too reluctant to report on this because I know it will make little or no difference. The walk finishes and the marchers gather under the bright sun at Frank Ogawa Plaza to hear speeches, rap music and bad poetry.
In view of the rally, at a little maze of tables set up under the linden trees just to the north of the plaza, local organizations are stacking up pamphlets and propping up posters, preparing to ask for donations, to recruit volunteers, to spread the word. From the tables you can hear the cheering, the prayers and chants for peace, rap music and bits and pieces of speeches, but business is slow in the shade. Under the trees are representatives of a handful Oakland programs that sit on the cutting edge of the Boston Miracle and Chicago Cease Fire model, the latter profiled in the 2011 documentary, “The Interrupters.” It’s a 24/7/365 prevention machine geared to keep violence from originating, or to keep what violence has happened from escalating, or to heal the wounds inflicted.
Much of this front-line work is done by victims, or former victims, by survivors of the killed, even by former perpetrators, original gangsters (OGs) making amends with a blessed vengeance. Their veteran status, and their wounds, give them authority; there are places here where a scar speaks louder than chants at a rally.
That afternoon elsewhere in Oakland, after the square has been cleared, two men are shot. One of them dies.