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

Monday, December 30, 2013

A sub-100 year: what history tells us

2013 is coming to an end and some in Oakland want to, if not celebrate, then find hope in the city's homicide number for the year, which will be that rarity since the early 1970s: fewer than 100. Maybe this is the beginning of a change that will be permanent. No question, it will have been a far better year for the city than 2012, when over 130 people were murdered here. 

Of course, tell that to the families of the nearly 90 dead in 2013:

Oakland's Civic Trauma
Cold Bodies, Cold Analysis, Chilling Irony;  
Read About Today's Killings, Then Forget;  
OPD Chief on Young Murder Witness;  
Death Like a Public Bus.

No one has ever told me how or when we will know that we have genuinely shed our murderous character as a city. It's important to remember that the homicide numbers have fallen below 100 here and there (see this brief history of the homicide rate in Oakland), and that politicians have touted those numbers as progress every time, and that eventually, usually quite quickly, the numbers have surmounted 100 again, sometimes by a lot. As recently as 2010, there were 95 homicides. Then in 2011, there were 110. In 2012, 131.

And anyway, as I wrote back in June of 2011: 
The human urge to squeeze the trigger never checks the calendar. Perhaps grasping for hope when they’re down, or out of morbid shock when they’re up, like now, we tend to pay too much attention to the daily and weekly violent crime numbers in Oakland. We assign them too much meaning.

Quan’s Objection
Certainly politicians and the newspapers do. Precisely one year ago, then-mayoral-candidate Jean Quan reacted defensively when I suggested to her that violence should be a priority of the next mayor. “We’ve brought the murder rate down,” she said.  

That was in June 2010, and so far there had been 37 homicides in the city, 6 fewer than June 2009, a modest number, and a more seemingly significant 24 fewer than June 2008. 

The Calendar and the Killing
The calendar year 2010 ended with 13 fewer homicides than the year before -- 100 vs. 87.

But what does it indicate, that in the twelve months since Quan’s objection to my suggestion -- mid-June 2010 to mid-June 2011 -- there have been 100-plus homicides, at least six more than between mid-June 2009 and mid-June 2010?

What does it mean? 

Nevertheless, in daily news reports of homicides, habitually reporters insert the current year’s number of killings-so-far alongside the total from “this time last year.” These numbers shouldn’t bring readers much hope, as in 2010, or, in the case of June 2011, when we have already suffered 51 homicides, deeper despair.
              - From Trauma Cache, Part 1: The Calendar and The Killing
Again, I hope the 40 fewer homicides from last year to this really is the result of police re-organization or Ceasefire or whatever else the politicians will tell us has turned the tide. But it will take time, it will take years, maybe even generations, to know if we have gained some peace. There were 3 homicides as the calender turned, 2 in East Oakland, 1 in West Oakland.

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