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

Friday, September 26, 2014

"I still sleep with his shirt under my pillow"

Shoes of Oakland homicide victims

On their own in Oakland: a good time to be reminded of their bad times

Each of them talked about the call. It came at 3 a.m., or at 5 a.m., at 6 o'clock in the evening but it was summer so the sun was up and bright, still shining when they got to the hospital. None of them knew what to do in the moment. Some of them screamed. Some had to be told two or three times. Disbelief was common.

In Oakland, a quiet summer of 2014 has ended with a violent late September. There have been 3 killings, all of them young men, and there was a shootout in East Oakland in broad daylight. Still, homicides in Oakland are down for the second straight year and so it is the best time possible to be reminded of the human pain the killing causes, complacency being our tendency as a city and a species. Last night the Khadafy Washington Foundation for Non-Violence (along with My Baby Matters and Pleasant Grove Church) held a vigil for last year's victims, and many of their survivors came and spoke. 

With a microphone, before the small crowd gathered in the ampitheater in front of City Hall, they were remarkably strong, remarkably collected, though some cried. They all recalled their last encounter with their son or daughter or husband.
"We were in the kitchen. I'd brought home Chinese food. I asked him if he was hungry and fixed him a plate."
"Thank god the last time we were together we had a great time. We laughed a lot and I told her I loved her. The next time I saw her she was in a white box."
"He forgot his phone and called to tell us. I said it was getting late and it was time to come home. He said, 'Okay, Dad.'" 

One young women held her adorable and fatherless daughter in her arms and recalled times, back in 2006 and 2007, cutting out pictures of her killed East Oakland friends from the newspapers. She never thought it would hit so close. "He might have been into some things he shouldn't have," she said, "but no one deserves to die."

For the dead of 2013, 92 balloons
Some rambled a little, but of course you felt like you should indulge them. One mother had lost two sons within 19 days. A father whose beautiful young daughter was killed just three months ago said, as I have heard so many of them say, "I have good days and bad days. Today is a bad day."

The mother of Alan Blueford, killed by the police in 2012, recalled a conversation with Marilyn Harris. Harris' son was killed in 2000. Since then she has entered the new void that confronts shocked survivors in Oakland, to guide them back to life. Alan's mother told Harris she couldn't sleep and was having nightmares. "Get one of his shirts," Harris told her. "Fold it up and put it under your pillow." It worked, said Alan's mom. "I still have his shirt under my pillow every night."

Mallie Latham was there to lend support. His daughter Shanika was killed in 2012. (See No Manual: after the death of Shanika Latham). Rose Holman was there. Her son Lewis was killed in 2012. (See Life After Homicide: adrift in a churning tide for Rose's story)

John Lois, head of the Oakland Police Department Homicide Division hovered on the edges of the group, took a few calls on his phone, occasionally disappeared around a corner. Several times he was approached by mothers of the killed who knew him and he spoke with them patiently. Many, probably most, of the mothers are aggressive advocates for their lost children; they follow the investigations insistently. Tonight one said, "Oh they know me at the police department. I call them every week."

When Det. Lois spoke, he mentioned that homicides are down this year, which is fine, but it was probably irrelevant to most of the people in this particular gathering.

Despite taking place in the open plaza before City Hall, it was an intimate affair. A family affair. You got the sense that, except for Harris and a very few others, these people are on their own.                      
- J. O'Brien 

Read More - In the October issue of San Francisco Magazine - Guns Down. Don't Shoot. Inside Oakland's Operation Ceasefire by James O'Brien - how it works, whether it is working, and can it survive problems of funding and politics in Oakland.

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