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

Monday, May 20, 2013

Read about today's killings, then forget

Two killings this weekend in Oakland. (After two late last week following the Warriors' final game.) But it was the bare bit of information in today's news about yesterday's killings that struck me. As we learn more, it may change, but for now, these seem to be precisely the kinds of killings we hear about, then ignore. They occurred, with a depressing balance, in precisely the places we expect them to occur. One in Deep East Oakland, at 92nd and International, one on West Street in West Oakland. 

There's no description yet of the West Oakland victim, but the East Oakland victim is described as a 27-year-old male, shot "shortly after 4:30 a.m." 27. Don't know yet if he was African American, but for sure his age of death lands him right in, as I have referred to it in the past, the wheelhouse of urban murder. That is, most homicide victims in Oakland are African-American men between the ages of 17 and 39. And ultimately, their murders are shrugged off by the majority of the city. 

I remember being in the ICU with the family of Daryl Starks back at Christmastime 2010. Starks had been shot on a Friday night at 78th and Bancroft, a popular area in Oakland to get shot. Starks was 26, a dangerous age for a man in Oakland. He was in a coma. I remember sitting in the Highland waiting room (see the wonderful documentary about the Highland waiting room, called The Waiting Room) talking to his younger sister, 16, who herself had been shot the year before, in a park at Seminary and E. 14th, another hotspot in the dangerous Deep. Her shooting had made the TV news, but I knew Daryl's wouldn't. The details would seem too common. 

Daryl was shot while driving home from the store, which if he had been white in Montclair, or if he had been, say, 16, his story might have gained some attention. But given his age, his race and the location of the shooting, there was I believe a tacit citywide conclusion that his death was run-of-the-mill for Oakland and that, if he did not necessarily deserve to get shot and die, then likely at least he had done something wrong to put himself in position to get shot and die. And whatever that wrong thing was, it was a type of wrong thing, a type of mistake different from any mistake we might have made in our lives, worse than any wrong thing we had ever done ourselves. It had led to his death. So while we might be mildly sorry for him and his family, we weren't going to nurture our sympathy or cultivate some outrage. We weren't going to march for peace because Daryl died, or petition the government for new gun laws, or write about his murder or think about it much. (Ultimately Daryl's death did get a little publicity, as his family agreed to donate his organs.)

2010 was a relatively sane year for homicides in Oakland. There were 10 fewer killings than in 2009. Not one single homicide victim that year was white. But Daryl, who died five days before Christmas, wouldn't be the last murder of the year.

These two as yet unnamed homicides from yesterday, May 19th, 2013, bring the year's number of killings to 39. Some have generated publicity and hand-wringing. Even arrests. What was the difference between those killings and these? Between those killings and the killing of Daryl Starks? Is one life worth more than another?

by James O'Brien
twitter @icecityalmanac
author of Until You Bleed: The Caheri Gutierrez Story, a Kindle Single, available at Amazon ($0.99)
"Captivating" -Vision Hispana 
"Gutierrez is an unforgettable subject" -San Francisco Chronicle

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