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

Thursday, August 29, 2013

A plight, and a plea, for Oakland

September 12, 2013 - With 11 homicides in Oakland in August and September, and nearly 70 so far this year, Marilyn Washington Harris, as usual, is too busy helping the families of the killed to raise funds for the non-violence foundation she works through. This year alone, she has comforted and guided the families of 8-year-old Alaysha Carradine, 16-month-old Andrew Jackson, and dozens of lesser-known homicide victims in Oakland. I'm on the board and I can hardly get in touch with her these days. That's okay, I don't want to interrupt her work. All of her energy needs to be spent on her clients, or even occasionally on her own needs.

This is not the way Miss Marilyn would talk. She certainly wouldn't talk about herself. But she will talk about her work and especially the plight of her clients and what they need in the crushing, insane days after a husband or son or daughter or mother has died violently in Oakland. They need attention, love, clarity, guidance, information and a knowing ear. They need protection from exploitation, they need a friend, an advocate. And sometimes they need funds. When these sudden, dire needs remain unmet, things go from bad to worse, and the long dark path back to life, work, family, back to the community, gets far longer and far darker. It might even become endless. The city loses not just the person who was killed, but also it loses the survivors in their lasting grief and unhealed bitterness.

Mural representing 2011 Oakland homicide victim Carlos Nava

Councilmember Libby Schaaf, a native of Oakland, understands the need Miss Marilyn fulfills, and its impact on individuals and the city.
"Walking victims and their families through the complicated, heart-wrenching, expensive nightmare of a gunshot’s aftermath is a special calling – a unique skill. Grown organically out of her own experience as the mother of a homicide victim, Ms. Marilyn has become a guide on this tragic journey.
"Not only a guide down this sad road after violence, Miss Marilyn directs those effected away from further violence. Like other Interrupters, Miss Marilyn is a leader – she literally leads people away from the cycle of revenge, retaliation and more victims."
Marilyn Harris has been helping survivors through the muck for 12 years now, pretty much ever since she became a survivor herself, when her only son, Khadafy Washington, was murdered in Oakland in 2000, and there was no one to help and guide her. Khadafy was 18, and had just graduated from McClymonds High. Today, Marilyn gets some funding from the city, a small amount. She gets help from the venerable Oakland non-profit Youth Alive. But hers is now and always has been a nearly solitary, shoestring operation out of donated space with out-dated equipment in the Acorn. 

If Marilyn is to continue to serve Oakland's living victims of homicide, if she is to continue to serve Oakland, she needs your help. Learn more about Marilyn's work with survivors in the immediate aftermath of a homicide, and her ongoing care for them, at the links below. And please consider donating to the Khadafy Washington Foundation for Non-Violence or, better yet: 

As Councilmember Schaaf says, "We need to fully support Miss Marilyn to show victims the way. We all dream of an Oakland where the Khadafy Foundation is unnecessary. But until we have enough police officers, or jobs, or defuse the gangs, or get illegal guns out of Oakland, or reach our at-risk youth, we must support one who has had success, and who helps lessen the bullet's impact."

I couldn't agree more.

-Jim O'B.

Read more on the work of Marilyn Washington Harris and the Khadafy Washington Foundation for Non-Violence:

No Escape, No Surrender (San Francisco Magazine)
Life After Homicide Part 1 (Oakland Local)
Life After Homicide Part 2 (Oakland Local)
Miss Marilyn (Ice City Almanac)
Anniversary of an End and a Beginning (Ice City Almanac)

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Death like a public bus

A telling quiet hangs over Oakland this week. With the funeral of 8-year-old Alaysha Carradine behind us, and the killing of 66-year-old Judy Salaman fading into the past, there are no more victim profiles in the local news, or calls from our city leaders for change, for action, for something to be done to prevent further violence in Oakland. 

Backwards graffiti, abandoned 16th Street Station, Oakand
And yet, the city suffered three homicides last week. Three men were killed, ages 18, 22 and 43. As far as I can tell, OPD hasn't held a news conference to discuss any of the 3 killings. No council member has met with the neighborhoods. Unfortunately, these victims were of the gender, the ages, and were killed in the kinds of places where to the outside world, even to Oaklanders from outside their world, death is thought to cruise the streets like a public bus. It makes its regular stops. We hear its noise only as it passes. But we don't ride that bus and so we don't pay much attention to it, and it moves on.

This is a question I find myself asking several times a year: what is the thought process, what are the assumptions we're making, that lead us to shrug off killings like those that occurred last week? What specifically about those killings fails to cause the outrage, despair and anger we express so publicly when the victims fit a different profile? And if we were to feel similar outrage, despair and anger with each Oakland killing, instead of treating 97% of them like a passing bus we'll never ride, would things change?

See: Oakland's Civic Trauma
See: Read about today's killings, then forget


Saturday, August 3, 2013

Anniversary of an end and a beginning in Oakland

From the Khadafy Washington Foundation for Non-Violence:

Killed in Oakland, but his spirit lives
Sunday August 4th, 2013 marks the 13th anniversary of the shooting death of Khadafy Washington on the campus of McClymonds High School in West Oakland. Khadafy was 18. He had graduated just two months earlier. He was riding his bike that night. He died quickly, but his family's pain and struggle were only just beginning. 

Thirteen years later Khadafy's mom, Marilyn Washington Harris, and the Khadafy Washington Foundation for Non-Violence continue to support thousands of survivors of the well-over 1500 people killed in Oakland since that fateful night in 2000. 

Miss Marilyn started in the months after Khadafy's killing by conceiving billboards, which were distributed, 19 of them, about the city, with Khadafy's picture and the blaring question: Do You Know Who Killed Me? They were a stark reminder to a city sometimes in denial that too many of its young men were dying violent deaths. 

Soon she was organizing marches to bring attention to Oakland's problem with violence, and to the lasting pain families of victims endure. Privately, she would reach out to individual families in the immediate aftermath of a homicide, sending them mementos and reminders that they were not forgotten.

Then she began seeking them out personally, at their homes, the hospital, even at crime scenes, taking them by the hand to guide them through the craziness that descends on a family in the days and weeks after a loved-one's sudden, violent death. In their weakest moments, she protected them from exploitation, scraped up funds for the mostly poor families so that they could bury their dead with dignity and grace, and continued to counsel and care for them as they tried to get back to life. Today, as the violence persists, Khadafy's mom is Oakland's primary crisis responder, touching the lives of thousands of suffering Oaklanders. 

Through the life and growth of the foundation named in his memory, we like to think that Khadafy still lives and grows, and that it's his spirit reaching out to the survivors of Oakland's killed, those living victims of homicide, that it is Khadafy's spirit helping them begin the long process of healing, of finding some kind of peace and love in their lives and their city. 

Read more about the work of Marylin Washington Harris and the Khadafy Foundation for Non-Violence in San Francisco Magazine, "No Escape, No Surrender", and at Ice City Almanac "She's gonna help you get through it."

Jim O'Brien
Member of the Board

Khadafy Washington Foundation for Non-Violence