Despite their idealism, most of the people I've met who work in Oakland's violence prevention community are clear-eyed about the city and its people. They're not cynical. They believe change is possible. But they're wary, leery, and it would be difficult to fool them or play them, the way some social workers are susceptible to being played. Certainly, there are Pollyanas and careerists who work in violence prevention. But more so there are hardened veterans of the City's bloodshed, people who have seen too much to be fooled, and who have seen too much not to try to change things. I have an article coming out in the April 2012 issue of San Francisco Magazine about three of these people. It's a long piece, but some passages didn't make the final version. Here's a short one, about how some of the violence prevention workers relate to the OPD:
They were realists. Many were former victims themselves. Some were former perpetrators. But, in general, they believed in cops. On the streets, they might keep their distance from the OPD, but they knew the officers and detectives and captains personally, and if sometimes they could get frustrated with it, they did not resent or hate the force. Probably they understood what it was up against better than any other civilians.
They also understood its limits, which I first began to see when gunfire broke out at a funeral I attended in East Oakland and police descended on the neighborhood like crows on a barren hayfield. Crows with machine guns. There were helicopters overhead. If I was impressed with the quick and overwhelming response, the looks on the faces of the neighbors, a combination of anger and powerlessness, suggested something else. And when I looked again at the long police picket lines and the police lights flashing up and down the block, the place seemed not so much under police protection as under siege. In East Oakland, cops were suspect. They were hated. They could make arrests, but that was where their impact on attitudes and lifestyles in Oakland ended.